Thursday, September 11, 2008

The weird and the wonderful at Harajuku

Day 7 (Sun, 1 June 2008)

It was a bright and sunny morning... whazzat? Sun's up?? Hallelujah!! Our first sunny day since Disney. And no better day for it too, today we're going to explore Harajuku - the youth district.

But first, breakfast. Hotel Edoya's buffet breakfast is included in the room charge. Unlike the one at Palm Terrace Hotel, the selection is much smaller and mostly Japanese style. They have a dozen choices of pickles, grilled salmon, tamago (egg), a sweet bean salad, miso soup, rice and rice porridge. On another table, there is a mini pseudo-Western selection comprising sausages (which tasted chewy like lap-cheong), salad and hard rolls.

The two tables were squeezed into a tiny room, only about 4 people could fit into the room at any one time. I have to point this out: you see the rice and soup bowls in the picture? They're made of styrofoam!!! The Japanese make styrofoam Bento boxes that look like wood, doesn't surprise me that they also make styrofoam bowls that look like ceramic. Methinks the Japanese are many things, but environmentally-friendly they are not.

I think Lesley-Anne and Andre were missing the breakfast at Palm Terrace. They're not the only ones. Somehow we can't appreciate pickles at breakfast.

Out in the sunshine, we took the subway to Meiji-Jingumae station (it's right next to and linked to JR Harajuku station). Harajuku is also a hop, skip and jump away from the famous Meiji Shrine. Now, we're not really interested in visiting shrines but I'd read that it has a fabulous iris garden which is considered the most beautiful in Japan. Since we were here, I thought we should take a look.

Here on the left is the torii (gate) to the shrine (or rather, the walkway to the shrine which is some 800m away!) Torii are part of the Shinto religion and passing under them supposedly purifies the worshippers' hearts and minds before they pray to the gods.

We walked along the path for a bit and came to the entrance to the iris gardens. There's an entrance fee. We walked on eagerly around the park, following the signs. After a while, we realised we were at the exit. Did we miss it? Where on earth was the garden? This was what we were expecting to see:

Finally, when we retraced our steps, it dawned on us that we had passed the garden without realising it. Here's why:

In the entire patch of green, there was a grand total of 3 irises!! What nobody tells you is that the irises come into full bloom only for a while in mid-summer. It was only the beginning of summer, so they were only starting to wake up. The gardens were also supposed to be blooming with azaleas in spring. Like this picture on the left. But what we actually saw is on the right.

Too early for irises, too late for azaleas. We had to resort to taking pictures of pictures. For this, they charge admission!

Felt a little ripped off, but never mind lah. We walked around the rest of the gardens. This on the left was a well belonging to one of the Lords from the Edo period. Pure water supposedly gushes out from it all year round.

On the way back out towards Harajuku, we saw this wall of barrels. They contain sake and are used for ceremonial purposes.

From the old and religious to the new and funky. Harajuku is truly a happening place. There's so much going on! We saw some very interesting advertising gimmicks (pictures below). The one on the left is actually a truck with two live women. I have no clue what they were advertising but there was a huge crowd watching their every movement.

We walked over to Takeshita Dori, the shopping street of Harajuku. This was the scene that greeted us:

Wah, mayhem! But very interesting. Here, there are budget shops galore and we went into a Y100 shop - 4 floors of bargains, everything at only Y100 each! Takeshita Dori also had a lot of cheap food on the go, from crepes to pizza. Too bad we didn't try any, we didn't want to spoil our lunch, which was...


We really wanted to try sushi and I had read some great reviews online about this Sushi Kaiten place just opposite the Harajuku station. It's basically sushi on a conveyor belt, with different coloured plates denoting different prices. Prices start from Y60 (S$0.80) so it's very affordable.

We had to wait for about 20mins, there was a long queue. The place is quite small, only one round of conveyor belt and counter seats. No booth seats. The sushi chefs are in the island and you can see them making the sushi for the conveyor belt or as per your order.

To say the sushi was fresh would be an understatement. I think if the fish was any fresher, it would be wriggling on the plate. I don't have pictures to show what we ordered because we were too busy eating! (I looked through my pictures and realised they were mostly of empty plates).

It was extremely good value for money too. You could order a plate of 5 different types of tuna sushi (including the coveted tuna belly) for just Y680 (S$8.90). We tried the tuna belly sushi, it was melt-in-your-mouth quality. I've never had anything like it. This was the most expensive item in the restaurant and still it was only Y510 (S$6.60) for two generous pieces. When it comes to sushi, my kids can really eat, so when our bill only came up to something like S$47, I was shell-shocked. What? Did they forget to count half the plates or something?? No, again the low tax, no service charge, free ocha and towels really made a difference.

After a very satisfying lunch, we thought it was time to see if the Harajuku kids were out yet. By then, it was already getting crowded. By the way, if you want to catch all the action at Harajuku, you have to go on a Sunday. That's the only day the teenagers will make their appearance. Anyway, this was the crowd in front of Harajuku station waiting to cross the road.

We walked over to the bridge area where the teenagers are said to gather and we saw that they'd already begun to congregate. Many of these kids dress up as their favourite anime characters. Among the girls, the two favourite looks are gothic or Lolita. They all come with matching trolley bags (presumably to hold their clothes and accessories) and readily pose for pictures. These were some of the groups we saw:

But for Lesley-Anne and Andre, this was not the highlight of Harajuku. The highlight was in the form of a 7-storey mega toy store called Kiddy Land. And if you think this is just a place for kids, think again. It has an entire floor dedicated to electronic toys and gadgets, I saw "boys" of all ages at the store.

Andre just went gaga. I think he could have stayed at the store all day. Although he did go "eeeee!" when we went to the Hello Kitty floor and was bombarded by an onslaught of pink.

When we finally managed to pry Andre away from Kiddy Land, we walked down Meiji Dori, the main shopping thoroughfare, towards Shibuya station. Nothing much to see. It was mostly lined with upmarket boutiques and we're not exactly your boutique type (we're more the pasar malam type).

On the left is a picture of the many vending machines that can be found in Japan. They're quite something - they don't just dispense drinks, they dispense anything from umbrellas to food.

Interesting fact: Shibuya train station is the third busiest train station in Tokyo, with something like 9 different rail and subway lines and get this, 2.4 million commuters passing through its gates A DAY. There was a scene of the famous Shibuya crossing in the film Lost In Translation.

The Shibuya station building is occupied by Tokyu, a massive department store. When we went to check it out, we found a kids playground on the roof. You would think that after 3 days at Disney, Andre would no longer be interested in these mechanical coin-operated cars. But no.... maybe he was still smarting from the fact that we didn't buy him anything from Kiddy Land (don't judge me till you see the price tags).

Time to get dinner. We went to the basement of Tokyu, which was the Tokyu Food Fair. For a while, we completely forgot about dinner, we were too fascinated by the humungous range of food. Ready-to-eat food, pre-packed food, fresh seafood, meat, veg, fruit, you name it, they have it.

On the left below was the selection of sushi. On the right was the fruit section.

And this, I have to show:

Nope, you're not seeing things. Those melons cost a whopping Y16,800 (S$218) a pair. They cost as much as one room night at Hotel Edoya!! Melons are prized presents in Japan, mostly given as corporate gifts. I couldn't believe they were just casually displayed on the rack. At that price, I would have locked them behind a glass window. I was so paranoid I kept telling Andre "don't touch!"

Anyway, no melons for us. We bought sushi and Bento boxes back for dinner. For fruit? We had dried prunes.


monlim said...

Anyone reading this, the sushi kaiten place at Harajuku has since closed for good, so don't go looking for it *sob*!

Anonymous said...

OH NO!!! I have put that on the 1st of my list for the Harajuku visit. I even printed out the shop front so that I will not miss it.
*sob* *sob*


monlim said...

I'm glad you saw this comment, Chris! Wouldn't want you to go all the way and be disappointed. I just remembered Lilian saying she made a beeline for the restaurant on her second visit to Harajuku only to find that it has shut for good. Sooooo sad!!

Anonymous said...

Mon, I'm read & read your Japan trip dunno how many time liao, just in case I miss out anything. ;-P

monlim said...

Chris: Heh. Oh, Lilian recommends this ramen place, if you're looking for a substitute for the sushi kaiten. So exciting! When do you leave? If you have other questions, feel free to email me lah :)

Anonymous said...

Mon, thanks for the link, I forgot lilian also got post on Japan, ok, will stay up tonite and read. I'm leaving on the 23rd Nov, just a short trip, mainly to 'test water' (intend to do a long trip after my girl PSLE next year) and to bring my kids to Disneyland/sea.

The amount of reading I did, I'm better with the Tokyo train system now than the Singapore one....hahaha.

Ok. Will email you if got some more questions. Thanks for the offer.