Tokyo 日 3: Exploring Shinjuku, Harajuku and Shibuya

While the servers might have been slightly stressed when we changed tables, I think they forgave us the chaos as they saw our awe of the view.

View of Shinjuku

North of Shibuya lies Shinjuku a business and administrative centre of Tokyo. As with so much of Tokyo, Shinjuku should be seen at night. However, in such a big city one needs to prioritise. We therefore ventured into the streets of Shinjuku in the daylight hours.

Shinjuku Station
Shinjuku Station

We started on the western side of Shinjuku Station walking up the main street, which offered several massive shopping opportunities, including a Muji Store with a canteen in the basement. It am starting to get the feeling that Tokyo is all about shopping till you drop. Though not as luxurious as Ginza, Shinjuku is definitely a wonderful place to spend a few hours and a credit card.

Shinjuku street
Shinjuku street

But Shinjuku is also known for another type of shopping. This is where you find the infamous red light district Kabukicho. We only saw it in daytime, before the neon lights turned the kinky ladies clubs into colourful beacons.

Shinjuku street
Shinjuku street

But what caught my fascination – in the anthropological sense – were the many clubs for women. Unlike red light districts in Europe, Kabukicho seems to cater to both men and women. Massive billboards showing charming and boyish looking gentlemen decorated the streets. This is where the restrained women of Japan go to enjoy a few hours of freedom from an otherwise very male dominated society.

Host club advertisement in Kabukicho
Host club advertisement in Kabukicho

Kabukicho however is also known for a real size Godzilla, which rises above the buildings. In fact, it is merely a head, but it looks real, the way it peaks above a large building.

Godzilla on the prawl...
Godzilla on the prawl…

I love this part about Japan. They are not afraid to add massive figures in the cityscape. Not only are the commercials central in many of the commercial centres both in Osaka and here, but their inclusion of massive crabs, blowfish, dragons and now Godzilla breaks up the store fronts.

Shinjuku store signs
Shinjuku store signs

The rectangular and boring high-rises become playground to disruptive commercials for eateries or cinemas, which again become iconic for the cityscape.

Shinjuku store front
Shinjuku store front
Lunch on the 6th floor

After hours of walking through Shinjuku, I was more than ready to find a place for lunch. After crossing the tracks, we came upon what will be one of the best lunch experiences of our trip.

View of Shinjuku train tracks and Yasukuni Dori
View of Shinjuku train tracks and Yasukuni Dori

We try to keep a reasonable budget, but when we crossed paths with a 6th floor restaurant called Yakiniku-Tei Rokkasen and offering a 1.5 hours grill buffet and a view over Shinjuku, we just had to try it out. It might be one of our most expensive restaurant visits in Tokyo, but in all fairness that is only because I am comparing it to the cheap sushi eateries in Shibuya.

Mouthwatering tasty meat
Mouthwatering tasty meat

And we did not regret spending our money on these 1.5 hours of delicious heaven. First we were seated in a cubicle with no window view, but it didn’t take long for me to wiggle us into a booth with a view.

Crab and fish
Crab and fish

While the servers might have been slightly stressed when we changed tables, I think they forgave us the chaos as they saw our awe of the view. We spent our time both eating and taking pictures from our seats.

On the grill
On the grill

The food was absolutely amazing. If there is one thing the Japanese know how to do it is greasy meat. They are in no way afraid of the fat, which at the same time is not a thick layer on the one side of the meat, but intricately woven into the meat served. It brings out a mouthwatering juiciness, which is hard to compare.

Buffets in Japan are limited to the extend that you have to pay for any dish you have not eaten, making it less likely for people to order too much. A very good way to stop food waste – except when you get the brilliant idea to check out the pig feet. We had to hide them under napkins and other items because we simply couldn’t eat them. Being from Denmark I am pretty used to eating various parts of the pig, but I swear to never order pig feet again in my life.

Odakyu Department Store in Shinjuku
Odakyu Department Store in Shinjuku
Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building

After finishing our lunch – apart from the hidden away pig feet – we ventured into the business and administrative part of Shinjuku and towards the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building which offers a free view of the city from its 202 meters high observation deck on the 45th floor.

Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building
Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building

Yesterday in the Marunouchi Building, we had seen Tokyo by night. This afternoon, we got to see the city under a light cloud cover as it spread before us from Shinjuku.

View of Tokyo Tower from Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building
View of Tokyo Tower from Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building

It is always a thrill to stand so high and look down upon such a massive cosmopolitan city, which from high above seems to be one single human made organism. The clouds which in the horizon seemed heavy with rain gave it all a dramatic effect.

Mode Gakuen Cocoon Tower
Mode Gakuen Cocoon Tower

After a short walk around the not so attractive business and administrative part of Shinjuku, we returned to Shinjuku Station. As the worlds busiest train station this is a place where you can get easily lost.

Sompo Japan Building
Sompo Japan Building

We almost got separated when on our way through a tunnel in the station, I came past a small stand, where you could have your glasses cleaned by placing them in a tub of water and the wait 60 seconds while they were shaken clean of dirt.

Tokyo installation of Robert Indiana’s LOVE sculpture
Tokyo installation of Robert Indiana’s LOVE sculpture

My glasses have never been this clean before, but the 60 seconds it took were enough to loose sight of my boyfriend – even with newly cleaned glasses. Thankfully he’d waited further up the tunnel, or I might still be running around this massive station searching for him.

View from Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building
View from Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building
Harajuku and Meiji Jingu Shrine

It was already getting late as we reached Haranjuku Station, but with a slight addiction to temples and shrines from our stay in Kyoto, we decided to check out the Meiji Jungu Shrine.

Meiji Jungu Shrine
Meiji Jungu Shrine

Unlike the many shrines and temples we’ve seen so far Meiji Jingu is a modern shrine dating back to 1920 when it was built in commemoration of Emperor Meiji and Empress Shoken.

Ema - Votive plaques
Ema – Votive plaques

Emperor Meiji has also given name to the Meiji Restoration, which brought about feudal Japan and the samurai class in favour of a modern state. Emperor Meiji was the first emperor of this new Japan. He came to power in 1867 at the very peak of the restoration.

The wooden structures of Meiji Jungu Shrine
The wooden structures of Meiji Jungu Shrine

The Shrine is placed in a small forest in the middle of Tokyo, which by itself is surprising to see. It takes ten minutes walk to reach the Shrine from the busy hustle and bustle of Harajuku.

Wine barrels from Bourgogne
Wine barrels from Bourgogne

On the way to the Shrine we passed a stack of wine barrels from Bourgogne which has been consecrated at the Shrine to the spirit of world peace and amity. Well what is better than wine to assure amity and peace. The information spoke of the Meiji period as one of enlightenment and the emperor as having integrated Western influences through culture and food to Japan.

By gaining the good and rejecting what is wrong,
It is our desire that we’ll compare favourably
With other lands abroad

Poem by Emperor Meiji

Meiji Jungu Shrine chōzuya - for the ceremonial purification rite temizu
Meiji Jungu Shrine chōzuya – for the ceremonial purification rite temizu

Returning to the bustling life of Tokyo, we ventured down  Takeshita Dori in Harajuku. This is the beating heart of Japanese teenage culture. Here you find every other person wearing a maid costume or cosplay outfit and most shops selling items, which seem as if My Little Pony threw up a rainbow.

Entrance to Takeshita Dori
Entrance to Takeshita Dori

It is all so over the top cute that I can’t shake the feeling that it is a sign of a society where women are still objectified to the extreme.

Maid at entrance to candy store
Maid at entrance to candy store

Whether this is the younger generations attempt to rid themselves of the strict social norms of earlier Japanese generations or if they simply redo them in a sexist way, I cannot tell, but to me there is a certain sourness to the cuteness.

All ages can dress for cuteness at Entrance to Takeshita Dori
All ages can dress for cuteness at Entrance to Takeshita Dori

Nonetheless or maybe because of this, Harajuku is an interesting place to visit.

The Harajuku Barbie Store
The Harajuku Barbie Store

But my feet were starting to hurt and after a short stop in KiddyLand, we walked slowly towards Shibuya to enjoy the crowded streets and commercials one more time.

Zofka

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