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22 Days in Japan, Day 3: Shibuya, Shrines, Love and AIDS

July 2, 2010 in Featured, Travel

Well, I have to admit I did a little better this morning, waking up at around 5:30 am. If this trend keeps up I might be back to normal in oh, a week. Damn you jet lag!

This entry is part of a series, 22 Days in Japan: A Series »

I stop by the 7-11 for another milk and breakfast donut (this is also turning into a trend) on the way to the train station. I take a big bite out of my donut and almost gag. I find out, the hard way, why being able to read and actually reading the wrappers in Japanese helps. A lot. It’s a damn curry donut! What the hell! Who puts curry in a donut anyway? I look around for someone to blame for this travesty, or at least to share my pain, but at 7 in the morning there’s just nobody hanging out in Minami-senju.

So I force myself to eat the rest of the donut. Damn you Japan! Damn you jet lag! Damn you curry donut!

After the morning’s excitement I take two trains over to Shibuya, Tokyo’s Time Square area. I should probably mention that I purchased a SUICA card the night before, which is especially handy if you’re going to be taking the Metro. You pay 2000 yen for the card and you get 1500 yen automatically loaded. Sure, that means you lose 500 yen overall, but swiping the SUICA is a hell of a lot more convenient than buying tickets every time. You can buy the SUICA at most newsstands in the stations, although I’m not sure if you can get it from the ticket counter. Just look for a gray/black and green SUICA sign.

But back to Shibuya station. It’s bustling with people on their morning commutes, and I don’t see many touristy, jet-lagged, baggy-eyed people like me wandering about. I make a futile attempt to find the Shibuya Mark City mall, but after going up and down the escalators I can’t find the entrance to the place, so I end up leaving the station. Outside, it looks a little like Ginza, a little quiet in the early morning.

Shibuya is quiet in the early hours of the day.

Shibuya is quiet in the early hours of the day.

I walk through the streets of Shibuya, aiming somewhere in the general direction of Shinjuku. Along the way I pass the Yoyogi National Gymnasium, a funky shaped circular building, and take a side trip through Yoyogikoen, a dusty-looking park filled with trees and more dust. There’s not much to be had here except for some bird-watching, people-watching, and dust-watching. I can’t even find any actual sporty areas (tennis court, basketball court, etc). I guess it’s more of a walking park. Frankly, I’m not even sure what possesses me to go in.

Love and...AIDS?

Painted on a bridge leading to Yoyogikoen: Love and...AIDS?

I explore Harajuku for a bit. Harajuku is a major clothing district, and during the day (and night) it’s pretty busy, but at 10 in the morning it’s dead. And everything’s closed. So instead I make my way to Meiji-jingu Shrine, which is in the center of this giant forest. It’s quite a walk, and don’t expect too much reward for the effort: the shrine really looks like any other shrine that you will end up seeing in Japan. And you will end up seeing a lot. You can buy the typical knickknacks like good luck traffic charms and fortunes, but the fortunes aren’t in English unlike in Asakusa. When I get to Meiji-jingu there’s a wedding ceremony already underway, and that’s sort-of, kind-of interesting. Mostly it’s a good excuse to sit down and rest after a strenuous morning.

On my way back to Harajuku I stop at a Subway for some lunch, or more specifically because they have a sign outside that’s advertising the Beef Kalbi sandwich. Beef Kalbi = Korean BBQ = Awesomeness. I can’t ignore a sign like that. So I saunter in and attempt to order in Japanese. All in all, it works great until I realize I have no clue what the counter girl is asking me (what type of bread?) and the conversation abruptly dies, like a fart in the wind. How embarrassing.

If you’re in Harajuku, there’s one street that has a lot of little clothing boutiques and shops and is seriously packed to the brim with people (okay, mostly schoolgirls and tourists). I don’t know the name, but here’s a picture of the entrance:

Harajuku, in front of the KDDI Design Center

Harajuku, in front of the KDDI Design Center

It’s across the street from the KDDI Design Center on one side, and the Harajuku JR train station on the other. You can also get some excellent crepes here.

Admiring Harajuku's impressive crepe selection.

Admiring Harajuku's impressive crepe selection.

The reason I mention the KDDI Design Center, other than the fact that it has free internet for 30 minutes, is because it does have a small stage on the first floor with free concerts by up-and-coming artists. I manage to grab a seat in the second row and have the luxury of being about 15 feet away from JR&B singer Chihiro (not to be confused with the immensely popular, and older, Jpop singer). It’s a very intimate environment and not something that you’d expect to find in the USA.

I spend the rest of my day lounging around Shinjuku and buying shirts that will inevitably shrink two sizes too small.

…continued in 22 Days in Japan, Day 4.

***

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