Tokyo Lights

This morning I leave Kyoto for Tokyo. I grab a taxi and head for Kyoto Station. Japanese taxis are a treat – immaculately clean with antimacassars on the headrests and chairs, the backdoor opens automatically for you and the drivers always get you to your destination safely. I’m way early, but I can sure fill in some time shopping for snacks. Did you know you can get Green Tea flavoured Kit Kats? Well you can and they are delicious! The Japanese have a knack for presenting things and it makes you want to buy snacks just cause they are wrapped pretty! 

Quirky fact – On May 5, 2011, Tokyo’s Shiodome Nihon TV Studios witnessed one of the greatest human feats of all time, when 21 members of the Caless Dance School squeezed into a Mini Cooper. The reason? Quite simply, to see if 21 women could squeeze into a Mini Cooper. Why else?

This is how fast the Shinkansen goes…
The trip takes about 2 hours via Shinkansen and this time I’m lucky enough to have a spare seat next to me so I don’t have to contort myself for the trip. Can I just say, that some Japanese girls spend an inordinate amount of time prepping themselves and looking at themselves in the mirror! Brushing and rebrushing their perfectly straight hair – it’s amazing. I’ve never seen anything like it!

About 15 minutes out of Yokohama Station, a couple of old ladies across the aisle start cooing – I’m wondering what the hell is going on, when I see people start to get their cameras out. Apparently Mt Fuji is clear today, and of course I’m on the other side of the train so I miss it. Hopefully I’ll be able to see it from the Metro Govt Buildings in a couple of days, because I missed it last time also.

I have to change trains at Shinagawa and I have 2 minutes to do so. Two minutes! That’s near on impossible to get from one platform to another in these public holiday crowds. I get stuck behind a crowd on the escalator and I’m wondering what happens if I miss the connection, but up ahead there it is, the exit I need to get onto my train. Coming down the escalator, I can see the train is there. I can hear the chiming noise indicating that the doors are about to close, but I’ve got too much in my hands to pick up my suitcase. In seconds, I reach the bottom of the escalator and fly across the platform, leap onto the train, with my suitcase flying behind me and I make it onto the train JUST before the door closes. Talk about a leap of faith – must have been pretty amusing for the other passengers to watch!

You’re probably well aware that Shinjuku Station is officially the busiest station in the world. In 2007, it registered an average of 3.6 million passengers per day. On a more peculiar note, however, it also has more exits than any other station – over 200 at the last count. It’s a massive complex which includes shopping centres and department stores and is so large that part of it actually lies outside of Shinjuku Ward and into Shibuya Ward. Nonetheless, I arrive at Shinjuku, and I don’t even get lost.

Welcome to Shinjuku
I’ve chosen to stay where I stayed last time I visited, at the Best Western Astina Shinjuku….in Kabukicho. Yes, I know it’s a red light district, and No I haven’t chosen this location for my love of naked karaoke. I just really liked the hotel last time and I wanted to feel comfortable that I would know my way around a bit, so Kabukicho is it (not to mention that I have since discovered Zara and Topshop are both about a 6 minute walk from the hotel, which absolutely sealed the deal!). Anyway, its apparently now rare to see Yakuza wandering through Kabukicho.  So no worries.

As today is Sunday, this is the day to head to Yoyogi Park and the Meiji Shrine. Sunday means people watching day, and that’s exactly what I want to do – rockabilities, goth lolitas, bands and mostly likely some of Gwen Stefani’s Harajuku Girls – all sorts of people gather here to hang out.

Meiji Shrine is a shrine dedicated to the deified spirits of Emperor Meiji and his consort, Empress Shoken. Located in Harajuku, Meiji Shrine and the adjacent Yoyogi Park make up a large forested area within the densely built-up city. The shrine was completed and dedicated to the Emperor Meiji and the Empress Shoken in 1920, eight years after the passing of the emperor and six years after the passing of the empress. The shrine was destroyed during WWII but was rebuilt shortly thereafter.

This weekend at most of the shrines I have visited, there have been small children dressed in traditional robes, which I think is part of the 3-5-7 Shinto ritual to bless the children for good health, but it doesn’t always occur on the actual day, because people are so busy, they choose a date around the usual date?  Not sure – so don’t quote me on that – all I know is there’s lots of adorable looking little kiddies around!
There was also some kind of vegetable and fruit thing going on – not sure what that was all about, but check out this fruit and veg boat!
And there was also what looked like the remains of a chrysanthemum festival, which occur at various locations around Tokyo and Kyoto at this time of the year.  I thought these ones below were particularly stunning.
But I can’t find the cool kids, so I leave it for the day and spend some time shopping at Oriental Bazaar, Kiddyland, Mango and Zara. Despite thinking Kiddyland would be a one stop shop for all things doll-like (well it is if you like the bare-breasted manga type dolls), its the only one of the shops I come out of empty handed! Back to the drawing board for Miss Lola. I’ve got so many shopping bags, people are staring! I swear it’s only because I got a huge bag at Mango for a new winter coat that I bought – on sale of course.

At this point, the best thing to do is to head back to the hotel to drop off my purchases, and hopefully it’s time to check in, which it is. I’ve booked a single room and it’s really cool, complete with my own chaise lounge! Such a good value hotel!

Best Western Astina Shinjuku
So what to do with the afternoon. Well of course I need fruit, so it’s off to Isetan’s basement, which is basically a massive food fest of all sorts of fresh, baked and pre-prepared goods. I don’t think there’s anything you can’t buy here. I spend $20 on fruit – an apple, a small container of diced pineapple and a punnet of raspberries. Yes I can hear you – $20 for that! But you have never seen such awesome looking fruit as this! Truly! The apple itself is worth every penny of the $6 that I paid for it.

Leaving the fruit aisle, I head to Tower Records to pick up some CD’s from a couple of Japanese artists that I like. One of my favourites – Headphones President – put a new album out this year, and whilst I could have ordered it online, I thought it would be far more awesome to get it from Tower Records.

Checking out Shinjuku Gyoen Park is also on the cards. They have just spent months renovating their greenhouse and I’ve heard that it’s another great spot in Tokyo to see the Autumn leaves, so when in Rome…

Families enjoying the autumn leaves
The new greenhouse
From inside the greenhouse
Joy of joys – a late flowering cherry blossom
The greenhouse is a little reminiscent of the inside of the new Gardens by the Bay in Singapore, but on absolutely nowhere near the same scale.
The plan was to go to Roppongi to see the Christmas lights at Tokyo Midtown but I couldn’t (couldn’t be bothered) trying to work out how to get there without transferring trains.  I actually got on the train, and then turned around a couple of stops later, cause I was tired then, and started imaging trying to find my way out of the station when I was beyond the point of thinking (though I have noticed that it doesn’t seem quite so hard to find my way around as last time – I haven’t had to carry my suitcase so much either).  So I stuck to the lights of Shinjuku instead.
Dinner was at a little place of Yasakuni Dori, which pretty much specialised in wine and pasta.  My serving of Gorgonzola and Walnut Penne was tiny, which was probably a good thing, because it meant there was room left for a blueberry crepe at Crepes Marion, which looked good and tasted good for about the first 2 bites, but then it was all just too much!  Gotta do it though!
P.S – check out Shinjuku after dark (ie. that’s any time after 5.30pm!):

One thought on “Tokyo Lights

  1. All sounds just wonderful, although I was actually holding my breath when reading about the train transferral at Shinagawa. I really thought that you were going to say that you missed it. But, I have to say Pet, well done! Love you xx

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