Tokyo is not Tokyo without Asakusa, Harajuku, and Ginza. The three points of interest are a must see for those who stopover in Tokyo, Japan. Our recent group in the autumn tour to Japan went to the three places.
Harajuku, a district in Tokyo that we toured on our second day is the hub of Japan’s youth culture. It’s known to be the birthplace of the Japanese cosplay. There are a lot of trendy stores and interesting cafes there. Also, a beautiful shrine is founded in Harajuku, too.
We started our morning with a pleasant walk through a dense forest to the Meiji shrine. The lovely forest is man made with trees from different prefectures in Japan and some around the world, too. This shrine is dedicated to Emperor Meiji and his wife, Empress, Shoken. The Japanese people highly respected Emperor Meiji and Empress Shoken because they opened the world to Japan.During our walk towards to the shrine, we saw many Japanese kids dressed in traditional kimono. We were rather fortunate to witness this ancient traditional rite of passage known as the Shichi Go San meaning Seven-Five-Three. It’s a ceremonial ritual that originated sometime around the 10th century for three-year-old girls and boys, five-year-old boys, and seven years old girls celebrate their “growing up”. The Japanese kids are dressed up in fine clothes, often in a traditional kimono or a fancy western style dress or suit. Parents take these kids to the shrine to drive out evil spirits and wish for a healthy life.
During our walk towards to the shrine, we saw many Japanese kids dressed in traditional kimono. We were rather fortunate to witness this ancient traditional rite of passage known as the Shichi Go San meaning Seven-Five-Three. It’s a ceremonial ritual that originated sometime around the 10th century for three-year-old girls and boys, five-year-old boys, and seven years old girls celebrate their “growing up”. The Japanese kids are dressed up in fine clothes, often in a traditional kimono or a fancy western style dress or suit. Parents take these kids to the shrine to drive out evil spirits and wish for a healthy life.
Along, our walk through the forest towards the shrine, we passed by many booths with huge and bonsai chrysanthemum (mum) flowers. They were set up for the 2016 Chrysanthemum festival in all of Tokyo. The Meiji Shrine was one of many sites that held an exhibition where we amused ourselves in the Japanese ability to make the flower so big or so small. And upon arrival to the shrine, we witnessed two weddings, an Oshichiyas where a newborn gets acquainted with other family members and protective spirits. There were also a couple of purification rituals, of a new car and with what seems like a company’s new business product. We were so busy taking pictures and Peggy was busy explaining to the group about the Meiji shrine and all the events that were going on.
After more than an hour at the Meiji Shrine, we moved to the famous Takeshita Dori that is the place for Japanese youth culture. It is lined up with trendy boutiques, outlets, and cafes. We were blessed with a sunny day and the Halloween spirit for that we saw so many interesting people dressed up for the day. We can’t be sure if they’re dressed up regularly or for the Halloween event. Everyone was in great spirits and having a grand time making fashion statements in their clothing, accessories, and hair-do. It was a Happy Halloween afternoon.
We also made turns from the Takeshidori to the backstreets where we explored hidden boutiques, cafes, and art galleries. There we stopped to visit the Design Festa Gallery. This gallery had over 70 display spaces of all sizes and exhibited university student’s artwork. It is an interesting place to explore and to learn about young uprising Japanese artists. The gallery also has an outdoor cafe and Okonomiyaki restaurant. We agreed to a lunch of the “all you can eat” Okonomiyaki. There at the restaurant, we cooked our food at our table, flipping over our Okonomiyaki like hot pancakes. We were entertained and enjoyed the tasty food, too.
Contrary to what many people think, Harajuku is for the young, it is not. There is another upscale shopping street nearby that is on the Omotesando. The street is one kilometer long and lined up with Japanese elm trees. The trees were about to turn red for autumn. The area caters the older fashion conscious Japanese. There you’ll find brand shops and fine cafes. It’s a nice place to go for a stroll. We went there after our lunch and by coincidence walked into a Halloween parade while heading down for the subway to our next destination, Asakusa.
Asakusa is one of Tokyo’s oldest district that has survived many natural and war disasters. Asakusa is an interesting place to visit. It has the famous Buddhist temple, a shrine, an entertainment district, shopping streets and the Sumida park with the river. Asakusa can be easily explored on foot.
The main attraction in Asakusa is the Sensoji Buddhist temple that was built in the 7th century. It’s the oldest and most colorful temple in Tokyo.
As soon as we got off the subway from Harajuku, we found ourselves standing before the Kaminariom gate, also known as te Thunder Gate. There were two giant wooden statues looking down to us and the big famous red cochin that is popular among tourists hung under the gate. We took photos of ourselves like all other tourists in Asakusa. After a couple more photos, we passed the gate onto the old Nakaminse shopping street that leads us straight towards the Sensoji Temple.
The Nakaminse street has always been a shopping street for many centuries. The vendors changed over the years from selling fresh produce or foods for pilgrims who came to visit the temple to souvenirs for international tourists. As we walked passed many vendors that sold local snacks of Osenbei that are rice crackers and Ningyoyaki, a kind of Japanese cake with red bean paste filling. There were many other interesting foods you never see in the USA. Clothing such as the Yutaka or T-shirts can also be found there, too. Traditional Japanese toys and other commercial goods such as a folding fan, umbrellas, bags, and hats are could be found on this street.
Asakusa was Tokyo’s leading entertainment district before the war. It was the site for kabuki theaters and the red light district was situated there. Also, Japan’s first cinema opened in the same area. Though while a large portion of the district was destroyed by air raids during World War II, we could only see what was left.
We hurried over to the Sumida river were able to have a glimpse of the Sumida Park with water taxis. And we saw some rickshaws taking tourists on a ride. Across the bridge were interesting architectures and the Skytree that is the world’s tallest broadcasting tower.
By the time the sun was ready to set, we took the subway to Ginza for the neon lights and dinner. Ginza is said to be one of the most expensive real estates in the world. The place lights up beautifully at night. We went to the Chou Dori street where all the illuminations were and crossed a famous pedestrian crossing on that street. From the four corners, we saw the old Ginza Wako building with the clock tower that is the symbol of Ginza and diagonally across was the newest building on the block, the Ginza Place, that features the Nissan and Sony showroom. There were many other fine stores and restaurants too. Many stores have set up their windows or their buildings with fascinating artistic displays. Some have a kind of light show with movies on the building, not on a giant screen. Ginza is a good place for window-shopping, a night stroll, and fine dining.
Eating in Ginza can be quite expensive and so we opt for a hole-in-the-wall at the Yurakucho Station that is a part of Ginza district. Though What is a hole-in-the-wall, many have asked? The Merriam-Webster dictionary describes the phrase to mean a small and often unpretentious cheap looking place bar or restaurant that is not fancy or expensive. This is where we went. Though our place was actually a real hole in the train station wall. Someone dug out debris to create space for cheap eating and drinking some years ago. A few Deaf Japanese friends joined us for a couple of beers and small dishes. We enjoyed our evening with new and old friends in our hole-in-the-wall in the high-class Ginza district.