Meiji-Jingu, Harajuku and Great Tempura

Amazingly we got up at a civilised hour on Sunday morning. By 8:30am we were downstairs having breakfast. I’m ashamed to say my food trials continued here. The buffet included a wide variety of food from Chinese dumplings and stir-fry, to chicken nuggets, beef rissoles, scrambled eggs, to rice and more traditional Japanese items.

I looked around but because I was going to take so long deciding, sent Glen in instead, who came back with a plethora of things. The plates come with six or nine squares on them so you can get a bit of everything. I eventually settled on toast, cereal and a piece of grilled fish. Though not much, it was effort to keep me going for a while.

We met Bec just after nine and set off for our day’s sightseeing. The first thing we saw was the Tokyo Marathon, the route going near the hotel. The streets were closed and lined with spectators. Thousands upon thousands of people streamed past. I think the total number of participants was 37,000, which actually seems small compared to the number we saw. We watched them for a while before navigating around closed streets and over walkways to emerge near the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building.

The building has some of the best (free) views of Tokyo – however, it’s closed on Sundays so we just walked past. It’s quite an interesting monolithic design, something you’d expect the Soviets to build. It’s grey, tall, has multiple antennae and cylindrical structures in the middle. Definitely puts you in mind of ‘government’. The building is near the Shinjuku Central Park so we walked through there.

I’m not sure whether it was because of the marathon, or it’s a Sunday or we were in the government area but the place was practically deserted. It was really pleasant, and walking through a little bit of nature made it even better.

Swords and prayers

Our next stop was the Sword Museum, which was tucked away down a side street and housed in a very unassuming museum. They’re going to be moving it in 2017 (or maybe 2019) to a much nicer area on the edge of a lake with some gardens, but until then it’s stuck in a 1970s building, in two rooms. Entry was ¥200. We looked around the swords, a really interesting feature being the hamon (the shape that appears on the blade) which can look like waves or teeth or anything. That was cool.

We had a bit of a sit before walking south to the Meiji-Jingu shrine and gardens. Like Central Park, it’s amazing to find some a large tract of green space in the middle of such a busy, built-up modern city. The Meiji-Jingu shrine was pretty busy, mostly with tourists. The prayers/ceremony weren’t on at the time. Near the shrine was basically a wall of sake barrels. Sake is used in the ceremonies. The different characters and colours make for an impressive feature.

Gothic Lolitas, bears and monsters

Exiting the park we arrived at Harajuku, an area famous for its youth counter-culture and their wild costumes, such as Gothic Lolita. We stopped for a bite before heading down Takeshita Street, hoping so see something wild (like all the other tourists filling the place). I did see a Japanese in some great clothes, the guys being the most surprising. One had bright red hair, a thin red coat, and lots of black with these massive boots. He was just walking along holding his girlfriend’s hand.

When we emerged at the other end, we found a shop called Line Friends. We think it’s a cartoon character – a bear – and his (?) friends. The design is adorable and there’s a giant teddy bear in the store where we had our photo taken. We impulse bought a few pins and an eye mask before leaving to go to the Monster Cafe.

This, like the Robot Restaurant the night before, was a request from Glen. It was, like the Robot Restaurant, really weird. You can sit in different themed areas inside, all decorated in bright colours with plastic plants and animal heads and unicorns. There’s loud music, staff dressed in outrageous costumes, and a show! The food is themed, full of colouring (monster pasta, which was basically coloured spaghetti) and sugar, and a bit revolting. I can’t think of an equivalent in Australia. Despite it’s weirdness, we did it and it was an experience. What more can you say.

The Dog and dog tired

Next up: Shibuya Crossing and the Hachikō statue. The Hachikō statue commemorates the story of a dog – Hachikō – who would wait for his master at the station every day until he returned. The man died while he was at work and never came back so the dog stayed there until he died. Heartbreaking.

Looking at the station now, its hard to imagine such a story taking place there. It’s at the busiest intersection in the world and it feels it. We joined in the throng crossing the street then entered the shop across the road to try and get a bit of a view looking down on everyone. There’s a Starbucks on the first floor but they keep the shades down to discourage people from going up there to just look out the window.

We looked at a few shops down the street after that but our legs were failing us and we didn’t have any burning desire to see anything particular. We headed back to the hotel and had a nap, and boy, was it good.

The best tempura

We were a little more prepared for dinner this evening, with Bec having found a tempura restaurant on TripAdvisor. There was a bit of a wait when we got there but that wasn’t bad considering the reviews told us to book ahead for dinner.

We were seated at a counter where the chef prepares the food. We ordered a set menu that came with rice, miso, pickles, prawns, lotus root, eel and fish, and then we added some shrimp-stuffed mushrooms. We watched him prepare it all and serve it individually over the course of the meal.

We were given a laminated card that described what to do with each of the different accompaniments, so the salt is for ‘touching’, the sauce and the radish is for dipping, and the radish/tomato is for ‘adding’. The chef also made recommendations on what we should add to each of them. (And he even asked if I spoke Japanese, perhaps I said arigato gozaimas correctly.)

It was delicious and hands-down the best dining experience we’d had in Tokyo so far (an easy feat, I know). The restaurant is called Tempura Tsunahachi if you’re interested.

After dinner we headed to Shinjuku Ni-chome, the gay district, where 200 bars are crammed into five blocks. One bar that was recommended to us was barely more than an opening in a building and a place to stand on the sidewalk. We had a drink, got a bit frozen outside, and then walked home through the Golden Gai area (restaurants and bars not targetted for gay people) and had a quick look at a temple (quite pretty in the evening when no one was around).

It started to rain on the walk home and we went the wrong way for a bit so we were glad to get back to the hotel at about 11. Another full on day.

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