In usual EPIC FAIL style, apart from never completing any travel blog series of entries I’ve started (or never even starting any at all, for Sarawak, Siem Reap and last year’s UK/Ireland) and wholly failing to write anything here about the awesomeness of my last three birthdays, my wedding or my honeymoon, I just realized while packing for tomorrow’s trip to Japan (to Kansai region and the Takayama festival this time), that for our February trip to Tokyo, I only managed to capture a few hours on the day we arrived!
So in a comically pathetic attempt to improve this record, I now present: DAY TWO of Tokyo!
We were lucky enough to be able to meet up with the closest thing we had to a local expert, our old hallmate Hsien Li, who was in Tokyo for a one year research stint.
After morning mass at the Franciscan Cultural Centre near Roppongi, she took us to Gonpachi, which, depending on who you believe, was either an actual filming location for the teahouse in Kill Bill or merely Tarantino’s inspiration.
Happily ensconced in our booth, we caught up with Hsien Li over nice inexpensive food (Frommer’s is so right when it says that from the outside you expect this place to be much more exclusive than it is) and lots of ocha.
Sated, we hopped on a bus to Shibuya, which is exactly what one expects it to be like from TV, and walked through it to Yoyogi Park. I tried out my A650IS’s swivel screen at a flea market we passed along the way.
The Sunday atmosphere at Yoyogi Park was great, with lots of bands strategically spaced out along the pathways, tinny-amp-sound-projection-length apart, some clearly dressing and performing to be noticed, others earnestly performing boy-band J-pop.
Tokyo’s rockabilly boys and girls were also out in force, and we joined their crowd of very entertained onlookers for quite some time.
Encircled by our gawking, they danced completely without self-consciousness, sometimes interacting with each other as they struck poses and whooped when a new favourite song started playing, sometimes absorbed in their own personal enjoyment of the music. It was pretty delightful to watch.
These rockabillies sure don’t do things by halves.
Hsien Li and Alec finally managed to tear me away from the rockabillies and we headed to the famous bridge where the Harajuku kids congregate. It’s an interesting experience being there, not quite like what I expected. I’d always assumed the sole motivation for dressing up like that and turning up there was to see, be seen, and pose for tourists, or else why not hang out with your friends somewhere more pleasant and spacious than the side of a bridge? But although they tolerate the crush of tourists jostling to photograph them, most of them are far more focused on their own little social groups and don’t play to the cameras at all.
Of course, I joined the throng of tourists too. This photo has garnered more views on Flickr than any other from my Tokyo set so far, probably because before a Flickr commenter informed me that the girl on the left was cosplaying the guitarist of Dir en grey, I just assumed the girls were gimps and tagged the photo accordingly.
Elsewhere along the bridge: a “Free Hugs” girl, a swarthy middle-aged man facing away from the pedestrians and into the road, blasting U2 on his boombox and screaming along in Engrish even though his voice was so hoarse it was nearly gone, another guy in his 20s/30s dancing wildly to music on his headphones which no one else could hear. Again, I know nothing about J-rock or cosplay iconography, so I have no idea who this girl on the right is. These living dead sure dress nattily though.
You’ve seen this one before, but I still love her so I have to include her here too.
It’s amazing how the tranquility of the Meiji shrine is only minutes’ walk away from the madness of Harajuku, in the middle of a forest. It was the first of many Japanese temples and shrines in muted green and weather-beaten wood that I soon realized I liked much better than their gaudy Chinese equivalents.
There was a wedding in process at the shrine. Although I’d initially thought none of my photos of the wedding procession would be any good because I was reluctant to charge forth and get too much in their faces, I somehow like how this one turned out, especially the beautiful expression on the bride’s face.
After this, we parted ways with Hsien Li, who had been a marvellous guide and incredibly tolerant of my incessant photo taking, and went to the Ukiyo-e Museum to try and understand what the big deal is about Japanese wood block paintings. Apart from the process of production, which clearly requires great skill and dedication, I unfortunately still find the aesthetic of the finished products rather unappealing.
Much walking, some gleeful cosmetics and toiletry buying for me, and a Maisen tonkatsu dinner later, we were ready to call it a night. But this first real day in Tokyo had done serious battering ram damage to the anti-Japan fortress I’d built in my prejudiced heart. The days that were to follow continued this assault. Oh and lastly, photoblogging a trip to Japan just wouldn’t be properly done without documenting some kawaii. We spotted this more than life-sized snow couple along Omote-sando. KAWAII!!!