Adventures of the 2016 Sakura Tour to Japan: Tokyo’s Westside

We know that Tokyo is a very big city with several districts. The geography of Tokyo is often defined by the set up of the Jr. Yamanote Line into central, northern, eastern, western and southern areas. Each area has a different history and landmarks.

The Westside of Tokyo includes these popular funky districts Shinjuku, Harajuku, and Shibuya. The trendy fashion scene is in Harajuku and Shibuya. Also, the neon-lit streets are the brightest in Shinjuku and Shibuya. The districts are somewhat modern than old, except for the magnificent Meiji Shrine surrounded by a beautiful and quiet manmade forest in busy Harajuku.

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The southern tori gate to the Meiji Shrine.

We began the third day of our tour at the entrance there is  a massive tori, a gate into a forest with more than 100,000 trees transplanted from different regions across Japan to the Shrine.  We followed a wide path into the deep forest and lost sight of the city, the buildings, and busy people.  At the center of the dense forest where the Shrine is located, the air is thought to smell and taste fresh.

A group photo before the Meiji Shrine. Though you can only see happy smiley faces and the roof of the shrine.

A group photo before the Meiji Shrine. Though you can only see happy smiley faces and the roof of the shrine.

The shrine is dedicated to Emperor Meiji and Empress Shoken who many Japanese people respect. The history involving the Emperor goes back to a period in Japan when the country opened up to the world and joined powers.  It was a time when Japan modernizes with new scientific technology and governing systems. This period is known as the Meiji Era of Japan.

At the shrine we took part in Shinto activities, such as purifying ourselves with water before entering the shrine, making offerings at the main hall, writing out our wish on an ema (wooden plaques) and buying charms.

Wine Barrels

Wine Barrels (photo by Muriel Freedman)

Sake Barrels

Sake Barrels (photo by Muriel Freedman

 

 

 

 

 

 

Other interesting sights at the front entrance to Meiji Shrine are the sakedaru, the wooden sake barrels covered in straw blankets. And the wine barrels stacked together on wooden frames. These sake barrels are brewer’s offerings to the Shrine for prosperity. The Japanese believe that sake unifies people with the gods.  Also, there are wine barrels. The wine barrels rather tell about Japan’s ties with France.  Emperor Meiji and Empress Shoken enjoyed French wine very much. The barrels are empty and stand as decorations of donations by people to the Shrine every year.

Bruce Herzig, Gayle, and Doug Ellis discuss Japanese arts. (photo by Muriel Freedman)

Bruce Herzig, Gayle, and Doug Ellis discuss Japanese arts. (photo by Muriel Freedman)

Following the Meiji Shrine, we took a coffee break at Omotesando and then continued to wander through hidden streets and alleys of Harajuku.  We saw a lot of art.

One of many graffiti in the alley between the galleries. (photo by Peggy Prosser)

And we stopped at the Design Festa Gallery that opened in 1998 by college students in Tokyo. Today the gallery has expanded to include more rooms, a café, a restaurant, and shops. There’s an alley with graffiti that connects the main gallery to a newer second gallery.  We explored the place and found fascinating artwork.

 

The guys and gals at the back-end of the pictures are taking off plates of fresh sushi while others at the photographer’s end had to wait. (photo by Peggy Prosser)

Afterward, we went for a sushi lunch. Our lunch was served from a rotating conveyor belt where plates of fresh sushi move past every counter seat. Instead of placing an order, we simply pick our sushi from the moving belt. Each person’s bill is counted by the number and color of plates of consumed sushi.  All members sat at a counter from one end to another end.  We could see each other clearly. Some of us signed loudly and joked about persons stealing plates of sushi off the belt while some of us at the far end had to wait. The sushi was delicious and the services were fun.

The cost of the sushi we ate is based on the color of the plates. (photo by Peggy Prosser)

The cost of the sushi we ate is billed by the color of the plates. (photo by Peggy Prosser)

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Everybody does a selfie at Takeshita Dori in Harajuku. Look far down to see the narrow street filled with people. (Photo by Peggy Prosser)

A full stomach didn’t put us to sleep instead it gave us the energy to snake walk through wild and crazy Takeshita Dori, a narrow fashion street with a lot of stores. Takeshita Dori is the birthplace of many of Japan’s fashion trends.  It is a haven to fill anyone’s fashion quote from Hello Kitty stuff to frilly or gothic kinds of clothing, unusual shoes, and accessories and make-up.  A lot of interesting shops are found along the side of this street.  In no less than an hour we reached the end of the street near Harajuku station.  There we turned around and looked down and out to the bustling Takeshita Dori. There we took interesting photos before hopping on the JR train to Shibuya, our next destination.

Our next stop, Shibuya is another district in Tokyo popular with shopping and entertainment. It’s one of Tokyo’s most colorful and loud city.   It’s packed with fashion shops, nightclubs, and entertainment centers.   Shibuya is rather more a center for youth culture and entertainment trends.

The famous Shibuya Crossing. (Photo by Peggy Prosser)

The famous Shibuya Crossing. (Photo by Backpacker Lee)

A prominent landmark of Shibuya is the large intersection known as the Shibuya Crossing. The intersection is decorated with various advertisements and with neon lights at night. There are giant video screens on buildings that face the intersection, making it a famous representation of modern Japan.   The crossing becomes flooded with people each time the walk light turns green, making it a popular photo and movie spot. The Shibuya Crossing has appeared in many movies that involve a Tokyo scene.

The beloved Hachiko statue. (Photo by Peggy Prosser)

The beloved Hachiko statue. (Photo by “Japanese Culture”)

Also the famous bronze statue of a dog named, Hachiko stands outside of Shibuya station. Hachiko is remembered for his loyalty to his master. The dog waited for his master every day in front of Shibuya Station and continued to wait even after his master sudden and unexpected death. Many people know the story about Hachiko who waited for 9 years and several months for his deceased master’s return.  It’s a sad story about a dog who loved so much.  The site of the statue is one of Tokyo’s most popular meeting points.

We also went to check out a couple of department stores, the LOFT, and MUJI.  Both stores are Japanese stores that offer a variety of cool things for the house and personal use.  At one point we stopped on a floor by MUJI that sold furniture.  The floor had a showcase with a floor plan of the Japanese furniture they sell.  Some members were fascinated by the smallness of a Japanese room floor plan, the size of the furniture and the simplicity. We agreed to try the Japanese furniture. We sat there for a few long minutes in great comfort.  Some of us didn’t want to get up.

Members testing MUJI furniture at MUJI store in Shibuya. (Photo by Peggy Prosser)

Members testing MUJI furniture at MUJI store in Shibuya. (Photo by Peggy Prosser)

Finally, the clock struck five and dinner called us to come.  We left Shibuya for Shinjuku the site of our dinner of Japanese style pasta.  Most of us ordered a Japanese pasta topped with Japanese vegetables and soy sauce.  Next, we went to take a look the bright lights from Kabukicho, Japan’s largest and wildest red light district.

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Bright neon lights at busy Kabukicho in Shinjuku. (Photo by Peggy Prosser)