Lots of photos from Meiji Jingu, Harajuku and Odaiba09 January, 2013 by Chad
The Meiji Jingu Shrine is one of those must visit spots for those traveling to Tokyo. Personally this would be something like my 10th time here. Since I’m always traveling with new people, always found myself visiting either Asakusa or Meiji Jingu on the first day of each trip. Today in an attempt to cover some of the most basic sights around Tokyo, we’ll be stopping by Meiji Jingu in the morning and hopefully spend the rest of the afternoon over at Odaiba.
This morning we tried walking to another different station from our apartment. There are a good 3 or 4 accessible Metro Subway stations from where we lived, though at varying distances. Suitengumae Station ended up being a lot closer than the Kabayacho station that we had used the past two days. Granted, they both served different lines, so there might still be the need to visit Kabayacho, but we decided then to use Suitengumae whenever possible instead.
Our apartment was located just beside the Metropolitan Expressway Fukagawa Bridge from which there was an amazing view of the Sky Tree to the north and the Sumida River to the south. We found a Lawson convenience store on the other side of the bridge and a new 7-Eleven that was just being built.
Suitengumae Station was just under the T-CAT terminal, which operates buses to Narita and Haneda. Pointed it out to Eri, since she’d need to take a bus from here back to the airport on Monday.
Amazingly, we managed to reach Harajuku early for once. Yan asked that we meet him at what he referred to as “the cosplay bridge”. There aren’t any cosplayers in Harajuku since, ever.
Figured he meant Jingubashi though. The bridge is just outside Meiji Jingu. Visual Kei posers sometime hang out there during the weekends. These days you’ll mostly just find lots of tourists hanging around the bridge looking lost or gaijin holding up “Free Hugs” signs.
Randy remembered a chocolate croissant shop in Harajuku that he had visited many years ago with his parents. We found it just beside the three way pedestrian overpass that connects Meiji Jingu, Yoyogi and Harajuku Station. He ran in to help us get some. Though small, their trademark Choco Cros were really nice.
Met up with Yan outside of the Meiji Jingu Shrine and we began the light uphill hike through the forest up to the main shrine. Will keep things brief, since we already have a more elaborate guide to the Meiji Jingu.
Always enjoy the stroll there. What makes Meiji Jingu special, is that though it looks like the shrine is located in a natural dense forest, the entire 175 acres of forest was actually planted nearly a decade ago by hand. The 120,000 trees were actually donations planted by some 110,000 volunteers to honor the Meiji Emperor and create a treasure for future generations. It’s a beautiful, selfless act that can be read about better here.
There were a bunch of tents set up along the last stretch of path before the main shrine. It was the Meiji Jingu’s annual chrysanthemum exhibition. We stopped a while to take a look at the various flowers and bonsai arrangements that had been donated to the shrine for display.
The rest stopped to wash their hands at the fountain before the shrine. Could tell that Randy really been wanting to try this for a while but felt a little awkward since the rest weren’t really spontaneous with this sort of thing.
Didn’t purchase any charms this time from the juyosho amulet office, since I already have a whole bunch from previous visits. They make great gifts for friends back home though I’m still in the process of giving them out.
Always end up looking through the ema tablets. These are the wooden plaques which people write their prayers on that you’d see around Japanese shrines. The ones at Meiji Jingu are hung around one of the two really large trees outside the main building.
You will usually find ema for sale at the amulet office, though in some cases like at Meiji they are available from a separate building. The act of purchasing one is just one example on how Japanese have streamlined religion. Regardless of religion, people are going to make donations to places of worship in hope of some sort of gain. Ema and omamori are just a more transparent version of this exchange.
Being a popular travel spot, a lot of the ema were written in English and other languages. Some were prayers, while others asked typically asked the tree for money. A good many others were giving thanks to god for letting them come to Japan. There was a depressing one in English about being alone in Tokyo and an amusing one in scribbly Japanese (likely from a kid) about wanting to become an idol.
We were in quite the rush for time this morning, so there wasn’t time to explore the rest of the grounds. For those who do have the time, there’s a nice park further beyond the shrine where the treasure museum is located.
Moving on, it was back over to Takeshita Dori, which is the image of Harajuku most should be familiar with.
While marketed as fashion central overseas, most of the shops located along the single, long stretch of Takeshita Street cater toward Japanese kids and teenagers. Harajuku specializes in gaudy, often gimmicky clothing that you’d be embarrassed to wear anywhere else in Japan (though they might actually be wearable in Singapore).
In their defense, the clothing found here can be really cheap, even by Japanese standards, though the shops often sacrifice on quality to meet its audience’s budget. The focus is on coming up with new potential trends. Pretty much all adults, even young adults would be better off shopping elsewhere though.
Still, regardless of time or day, there are always people at Takeshita Street. It’s especially popular among tourists, who come here in search of its reputation. It wasn’t too bad today since it was a weekday but it gets really rowdy on weekends. It’s worth visiting Takeshita Dori at least once, if only to brag about surviving the crowds here.
Based on our party composition, the reason why were here was of course to visit the AKB48 Official Shop Harajuku. Yan wanted to drop off a birthday present for one of the AKB48 members, Takeuchi Miyu. There used to be a collection counter for such stuff on the first floor of the building but it was closed off today.
It also used to be that you’d had to book a visit to the AKB48 Shop in advance online. The requirement has since been lifted, so you can visit all 3 floors without any prior reservation now. It’s mostly just the typical AKB48 branded stationary and souvenirs snacks but fans will want to visit anyways just to take a look inside. In a rare move, photography is allowed.
There managed to be even less things for sale at the AKB48 Shop than before. It was in a pretty bad state, with sparse shelves and most items sold out. The AKB48 shop we chanced upon in Osaka was much better stocked.
We found some note paper upstairs for where you could write some greetings to members who had upcoming birthdays. The messages today were for Kasai Tomomi and Sato Sumire. Randy dropped off something for Sato and helped pen a note to Kasai for a friend back in Singapore.
The basement of the AKB48 shop was perhaps the worst off. All of the groups CDs and DVDs were scattered here. Lots of old singles were put on discount. It doesn’t look too good when even the source has to take some off the retail price.
The only thing I found of interest here were full bodied decal sisters of the AKB48 members. Wouldn’t it be amusing (in an embarrassing way) to paste this onto stuff? Many members were sold out though. Manage to convince Eri to purchase one to paste on her luggage bag.
Worked out way further down Takeshita Dori. Needed to visit the 7-Eleven about midway through to get some money from the ATM there. Had finally unblocked overseas withdrawals last night.
Yan spotted one of these Calbee+ shops which he took a detour into. He’s quite the sucker for Japanese Snacks. Came out with some cheese covered chips. Randy was tempted to get some too but managed to resist the urge.
Made a quick loop around Harajuku Street, opposite of Takeshita Dori, which is where more of the actual local independent labels are located. Ended up being perhaps a mistake since we’d end up spending a lot more time in Harajuku than anticipated.
Yan entered this teenage clothing store that had this stuck out tongue motif which he liked. He had seen this motif somewhere before in the past. I believe Funky Bass had a limited series of clothing with the design. He ended up getting a few pieces of clothes here and a necklace which according to him look like one that Takeuchi Miyu owned, but later regretted when he realize that it wasn’t the original brand that he had expected.
Harajuku shops do this a lot, knocking off each others designs. At the end of the day, all of their clothes come from the same mass produced factory sources in China anyways.
Stopped by the Radio Evangelion Store on the way back to Harajuku Station. It’s in one of the hidden side streets along Takeshita Dori beside a shop selling second hand Vivienne Westwood items and one of those “hip hop” stores with shady Nigerian touts pretending to be African American.
The number of black hustlers have multiplied at least threefold in recent times. It’s definitely is one of my least favorite aspects of Harajuku. The touters can be often found along the main street harassing passersby. They mainly target Japanese youths and aren’t afraid to grab you. Was approached by some this afternoon, though replying back in better English often takes them aback.
It was already nearing 3 and we had yet to have anything substantial to eat. Decided to make a trip to Shibuya for Midori Sushi and perhaps stop by the SKE48 Shop along the way. There were still requests from the folk back at Singapore to fill.
Walking toward Shibuya, something was clearly amiss when I saw another shop in place of the SKE48 store. Turns out that this SKE48 Shop had recently closed down too. So much for that.
Midori Sushi is located along the bridge connecting Mark City to the JR Shibuya Station. It can get pretty crowded there during peak hours, with queues spanning the entire stretch. Since it was well past conventional lunch timings, there wasn’t much of a wait this afternoon.
I stop by Midori at least once each trip. It’s one of the best places to get sushi within Tokyo. Servings are some of the largest around town and though not nearly as cheap as the sushi we had in Osaka, prices are still some of the most affordable, especially when considering the quality of fish served.
A set meal costs around SGD$20 on average. The most extravagant sets will set you back between 2,000 or 3,000 yen (SGD$28 to $42). Though there is no real comparable equivalent in Singapore, attempting to order the same fishes would set you back a good many times more.
I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves. If you haven’t already visited Midori once, definitely do.
We’d hurriedly make our way to Shinbashi Station after lunch to catch the rail over to the man made island of Odaiba. We had left central Tokyo far later than expected, so the sun was already setting as the we passed through the familiar Rainbow Bridge.
Since it’s separated from the main land, traveling to Odaiba costs more than most other places. Apart from car or water taxi, the only other transport that services Odaiba are a private subway and Yurikamome light rail, all of which cost between 300-400 yen. Alternatively, you could walk over the bridge for free, though it’s a good 3 or 4 kilometers on foot.
I personally tend to take the Yurikamome over. Just the scenic ride alone is well worth the price of the ticket. The downside is that you have to board along one of the stations along the south east coast of Tokyo, whereas the subway operates all the way from the city center. I’ve yet to had the opportunity to take the ferry over though, will try that some time.
The Yurikamome is a small light rail much like the LRT system in Singapore. Even the stations along the line look more akin to the ones we have back in Singapore, with their full height barriers. Like the LRT, you get these really wide viewing windows in the Yurikamome for a great view of Odaiba and the Tokyo Bay area.
We’d be sharing the space with a couple of young Chinese ladies and two very excited Japanese women. Judging from the baggage, they likely weren’t from these parts. As soon as the train took off they started running from window to window to take photos and recordings on their tablet and camcorder.
I really enjoy visiting Odaiba myself. There are easily enough sights around the island for a full or even multiple day trip. Unfortunately, we didn’t have much time left so we’d need to skip and breeze through most of the area.
To save some money, you can stop off at the first station on the island, Odaibakaihinkoen and walk over to the rest of the shopping area. There’s a long overhead walkway that cuts through the island connecting Odaibakaihinkoen to the Tokyo Teleport Subway Station and Aomi Station which was further down the Yurikakome. These three stations are where most of the shopping areas are concentrated in around Odaiba, with the rest of the island mainly being parks, offices and convention areas.
We’d walk over to Aomi Station at the other end of the island first. Spotting the new Diver City along the way, we made a mental note to drop by there later.
First time visitors to Odaiba would immediately notice how different a place it is to the rest of Tokyo. There are plenty of land to go around the island and wide open spaces everywhere. The individual malls here are huge too, with large low rise complexes being the norm. It’s like stepping into a whole different country.
Venus Fort is located at the other end of the island. It’s a large family themed complex split into multiple parts. I’ve covered it quite a few times in previous visits already. Families drive over during the weekends to spend some time here but it was nearly empty on this weekday evening.
One key feature of the mall, is that it is pet friendly. You’re allowed to walk your dogs in the mall and its shops freely.
We were here today for Eri to grab some stuff from the pet store there. Didn’t have much time to walk around but Eri did pick up some dog food from the pet store to bring back home. Apparently it was much cheaper here. Randy spent most of the time eyeing a tiny white Pomeranian in the adjacent pet store.
A Japanese couple sat beside the kennels inside the pet store. The lady there was holding onto a young Shiba Inu. Since before we had arrived she was already pleading with her boyfriend/husband to let her have it, whereas he seemed more keen on getting another breed.
There was a life sized dog statue outside the pet store. A couple of guys passed through with 3 huge huskies, one of which calmly started urinating on the statue. The pet owner had to stop to clean up the mess. He was probably used to it, since he came equipped with a cloth and disinfectant spray.
Caught our breath at a pantry in the middle of the Venus Fort before moving on. It’s main function was probably as a baby corner but was actually quite huge and well furnished with sofas and vending machines here.
On the way out, we stopped by the Toyota MegaWeb showroom after the rest spotted this replica ship from the One Piece anime/manga. There was actually some sort of One Piece event going on at this and the other malls in Odaiba in support of the new movie.
Stamps featuring One Piece characters were scattered around. The rest were fans so they searched for something to stamp on. We keep encountering similar stamps everywhere we go but are never ready with anything to stamp them on.
Diver City was just around the corner from Venus Fort, well at least in Odaiba proportions.
We stopped by a 7-Eleven at the entrance while Yan and Eri attempted to get tickets for DisneySea. Considering that she only had another one more full free day before returning to Singapore, it was a good idea that she visited at least one Disney park tomorrow. Both Randy and I had already been to DisneySea and weren’t too keen on returning, so we let the two spend some time together. In the meantime, we had some other interesting plans for tomorrow.
The two tried asking the staff at 7-Eleven for help, but the staff there weren’t quite sure how to operate the ticketing kiosk either and were pointed to a Lawson at Tokyo Teleport Station instead. When we were about to leave however, one of them came running out having figured out how to get it to work.
Randy bought this Macha ice pop while we waited for the two to settle the tickets. Perhaps it was the weather, but despite having visited Japan a number of times, I realized that I never had the opportunity to try out their combini ice cream. Apparently the Macha one was really good.
Passing through the first floor of Diver City, most of the shops here were mostly targeted towards travelers. There were a number of souvenir shops and the Odaiba Glico shop had relocated here too. Found another Calbee+, this one has a giant plush mascot at the entrance which Randy promptly took some self shots with.
Nothing of particular interest at the Glico and souvenir shops, just lots of tiny knick knacks and novelty snacks like this infamous boob pudding. Apart from the omiyage shops, the rest of the ground floor was taken up by a large food court, which was rare, except in touristy places like this. Though we hadn’t had the time to look through, the upper floors at Diver City seemed to house lots of budget international clothing brands.
Just past the food court, we found the exit to where the life sized Gundam was displayed. We last saw the Real Grade 1/1 Gundam Project in Shizuoka just before the March 11 disaster. It had reportedly sustained some damage in the earthquake. I’m not too familiar with Gundams, but from my layman observation there were some minor differences, such as the decals being different.
Having the Gundam settle at Odaiba seems like a conscious effort to promote tourism, both local and overseas. It probably explains the choice of tenants at Diver City too. For those who want to take home a piece of this particular Gundam, there’s a small trailer truck just beside the statue selling exclusive goods pertaining to the Real Grade Gundam.
There’s also a Gundam museum upstairs and a small Gundam Cafe and Shop just beside the statue. We checked out the Cafe and Shop but there really wasn’t much inside at all. It somehow even managed the amazing feat of being less stocked than even the AKB48 Cafe Singapore, back when that was still around.
There were just a few general Gundam themed goods for sale, while the “cafe” portion of the shop was really just a drinks and snack counter which doubled as the shop’s cashier. All they sold were coffee, churros and the Gundam Taiyaki that we had seen in Akihabara. Fans looking for a Gundam dining experience will want to check out the Tokyo or Akihabara Gundam Cafe and Bar.
Headed over to the other side of Odaiba where Decks and Aqua City are located. This is the more scenic pier area facing Tokyo and the Rainbow Bridge. Definitelya the more couple-ly side of Odaiba, with lots of boutiques and restaurants facing the waterfront. It’s a popular spot among Tokyoites for wedding banquets. The Partire Tokyo Bay Wedding Village where you can plan and hold the actual wedding is conveniently located on Odaiba too.
Spotted a Lego Land on the second floor of Decks, but rather than a full theme park like the one in Malaysia, it was simply a small Lego branded amusement center. Headed upstairs to show the rest the quaint Daiba Itchome Shotengai, a period themed shopping district which I had came across earlier this year with Gage. Itchome Shotengai attempts to mimic a 1960s Japanese street, except that it is located on the 4th floor of the Decks mall.
There are quite a few interesting things to see around the shops at Itchome Shotengai. The novelty stores here carry snacks and goods from decades past. There’s also an old amusement center, with old mechanical arcade and pachinko machines, as well as video games from the 70s and 80s. No doubt a nostalgic experience for older visitors.
Was telling Randy that it would be totally idealistic, coming to these sort of places for dates. One ought to be envious that there are no shortage of such places in Japan, whereas most Singaporean couples would be hard pressed coming up with new places to visit or impress their dates with.
Even after visiting Tokyo this many times, there are always new places to explore and new sights to see. But those who’ve been to Japan would realize that pretty much every scenic or touristy attraction in Japan doubles as a popular date spot for locals. There are an infinite number of things to do here as a couple, but only so many you can visit alone without feeling out of place. Yes, Japan is made for dating.
Found a space dedicated to photobooths at one corner. Rather than the Japanesey, gyaru booths of the past, the current models went with a western photo shoot and fashion magazine theme full of Made In Japan English. Was quite intrigued so took a look inside.
The few that are exported overseas didn’t have a thing on the new ones here. The booths come with their own translucent umbrella setup for some nice soft lighting and judging from the Canon EFS lens sticking out, there was probably a DSLR in there. Pretty sure there are all sorts of algorithms built into the machine to help automate the photo “-shopping” processing too.
At the back of the shotengai we found the “Odaiba Takoyaki Museum”, which was just a food court that served only takoyaki. There’s also a small gift shop along the back that sold tacky takoyaki themed merchandise, mostly the same stuff you’d find in Osaka. There were some interesting amezaiku, Japanese candied animals on display here though.
On the way out, we stopped at one of the previous snack shops where Yan bought some ramune and had difficulty figuring out how to open it
In contrast to all the other retro themed shops, there was also a Korean idol goods store just opposite it. A couple of Japanese girls were messing around a machine outside the store that allowed you to print out customized cellphone covers with their favorite boyband members. Again, no 2PM goods inside.
Headed over to the adjacent Aqua City shopping complex, where most of the clothing stores and restaurants are located. We stopped at the Joypolis on the way out first though. Momoiro Clover Z were on all the advertisement promoting the amusement center. Randy checked out the brochures. Would be an interesting place to visit given the opportunity but the steep entry fee meant that it’d only be worth entering if there are a good few hours to spare.
The first thing the rest spotted inside Aqua City was this Capcom store on the first level. It carried a pretty extensive collection of video game related goods, more so than the AKB48 or Gundam shops we’d seen today. Wasn’t really my thing, so got bored quickly and found some other shops to look at outside. Randy walked away beaming with happiness after purchasing a Bio Hazard / Resident Evil artbook for cheap. Apparently it was rare and had long sold out elsewhere.
There was a Coca-Cola branded clothing store beside the Capcom shop. They actually sold some really nice vintage looking checkered shirts. Ended up getting one of these there in S size which fitted perfectly. Was pretty satisfied by the purchase, since it was one of the few occasions going around where I actually managed to buy something.
Eri wanted to get one too and asked if there were any smaller ones but the shop assistant replied that it was for men only. Turned out that the material shrinks when washed though, so is a little tight now.
While I was testing out the fitting, the shop started to close but the staff waited around patiently for us to finish. We had really arrived too late. All of the shops at Aqua City were already closed or in the process of closing. It was a waste, since there were lots of shops worth visiting here.
The only shops that opened till later were the restaurants and eateries upstairs. Wanted to take a look around but Yan insisted on eating at the Kua Aina burgers there. Double checked with Randy if he was ok with that, since part of the reason why we came to Odaiba was as had promised him that we would find something better to eat today, as it was his birthday.
Turned out that Randy had forgotten this himself, or was probably beyond caring already, so Kua Aina it was.
Felt a little bad for him, but Kua Aina does serve a mean burger. It’s easily one of the best fast food places you can visit in Japan, though not the kind of place you’d go for a birthday celebration. Many will be happy to know that there are all sorts of customizable options when it comes to placing your order at Kua Aina. But we all ended up with some variant of avocado burger.
The prices at Kua Aina are a little steep, 1,000 yen for a burger, or an additional 200 yen for a combo. But it’s well worth the price. All of their outlets are located in other great chill out places. The following pictures were taken from the window-side seats that we got.
The staff there informed us that it was nearing their last order timing of 10 PM but we could stay around up till they closed at 11. Didn’t stay around for long though before heading back, since those going to DisneySea would have a long day ahead tomorrow.