Oh sad day ... this was our last full day in Japan. It was a Sunday and Sunday we had especially reserved for the Harajuku district. Sunday is when the teenagers come out in all their fashion glory. This is where Gwen Stefani's entourage pretends to come from, and this is where you can see authentic Gothic Lolitas, cosplayers (people who dress like anime characters), gothic maids, and other fashion subcultures like wamono, and decora.
But first, we had to pretend we weren't just there to gawk, so we went to the Meiji-jingu temple. I like this temple, because as you walk up to it, you pass a section of barrels dedicated to the temple. On one side is a wall of sake:
On the other a wall of fine burgundies:
I was kind of sad that you didn't get to take a glass as you stroll through. Bu I suppose it was sacred now that it was dedicated to the temple.
The Meiji period was the period where Japan really opened up to the West, and the wine is a symbol of these new ties with the outside world.
Inside the grounds, a Shinto wedding was taking place. I thought I was pretty special to be there at the right time to catch this procession, but in the next ten minutes we saw three other weddings, so I guess it was just a really good day to get married.
At the temple were also stands filled with wooden prayers that people had left. Most were in Japanese, of course, but many were in English. A lot of them were really sad and I felt kind of bad for reading them. Others were more hopeful and some were funny. I noticed a whole bunch for passing tests so that the people could come to the United States. For some reason, those made me a little sad also.
After the temple, we headed back out to Harajuku and the ultimate teen queen shopping street, Takeshita-dori. I think the most amazing thing about the bridge where the Harajuku girls/boys gathered was the way the tourists crowded around to take pictures like it was a zoo or something. I even heard one woman saying "Where are the goths? The guidebook says the goths should be around here somewhere!" And then her embarassed son saying, "They're right here, mom!" With that "God, you don't even know what a goth is do you?" undertone.
This girl is dressed in a maid outfit, which is one aspect of the gothic lolita style. The style has evolved so that nowadays it is more just frilly black dresses with petticoats and tiny little top hats, and I think the maid look is now a separate style.
After checking out the fashion zoo exhibit, we went to the shopping street itself. We almost got through without J. having to shop in any stores with me, but I suddenly felt this very magnetic pull.
This store had so many shoes! I really wanted to buy some, but then when presented with so many choices I sort of froze up and had to run away.
Of course, when I ran away, I ran directly into these absolutely frightening mannikins:
!!!! What the hell? Yes I'm absolutely dying to rush right into the store with the screaming clownface mannekins and buy some clothes. I think maybe they are supposed to look really happy, but to me they look like something someone on acid made.
When you've been exposed to something like that fairly early in the day, then you're going to have to calm your nerves before proceeding. Luckily, there was a crepe stand nearby.
I love the crepe stands here because they were absolutely tailor made for your most stereotypical idea of a young girl's desires. They were all pink and had names like "Heart Angel Cafe" and the crepes were loaded with ice cream and chocolate sauce and various other sugary confections. I chose the plainest crepe, that also seemed maybe the most healthy. It was blueberries and a generous dollop of cream cheese. J. got some monstrosity with bananas and ice cream and whipped cream and sauces. We found a quiet area off the beaten path and our creamy sugarbombs fortified us for the rest of our journey.
And we needed them. This is what the crowd on the street looked like:
Ridiculous. But the weird thing was, for some reason, when you actually walking in it, it seemed crowded, but not that crazy crowded. Then you turn and look and see that you came through THAT and you want to faint.
After we made it to the end of the Takeshita-dori, we made our way to Omotesando, another shopping district. While there, we stopped in Kiddyland, a giant toy store with every type of branded product you could ever want. It is also home to some of the scariest toys you will ever see:
Cripes, those dolls are worse than the mannekin. Apparently they are very popular, but I think I would feel very uneasy having one in my house in the middle of the night. They are called "Blythe" dolls and apparently were originally made around 1972 and were quickly discontinued based on the facts that the sensible children of the 70s found them horribly disturbing. An artist brought them back to popularity in recent years when she began photographing one, and they have found new life in Japan.
After Kiddyland, we went into the new shopping mall Omotesando Hills. You guys, this is the best shopping mall I have ever been in my life. It is beautiful. I could live there. The levels slope gently upward so that you can meander all the way from bottom to top without climbing anything. The architecture is such that you constantly feel kind of sheltered from the fact that you are in a mall, and they have gentle nature sounds concealing the fact that there's a buttload of people there shopping with you.
I really did like it here, even though all of the shops were too expensive for me. We did stop into a sake shop on the top level and do some shopping there. They have tasting available and we got to taste some really interesting stuff. One of our purchases was a sake bottle with space aliens on the label, and the bottle had really been in outer space! Who does not love space sake?
After Omotesando, we stopped for a late lunch at Maisen, a restaurant situated in an old bathhouse whose specialty is tonkatsu, which is breaded and deep fried pork cutlets. More particularly, their main specialty is tonkatsu made from kurobuta pork. Kurobuta is black pig and is considered the pork equivalent of kobe beef. It is exceptionally succulent due to the marbling of the fat in the pig.
J. went for the kurobuta plate and man, he was not disappointed. It really was something special. It was extremely juicy and rich in flavor. I compared it to my own regular pork and there was a huge difference.
I wasn't hungry enough for the regular lunch plates, so I got the kids meal. This is a typical Japanese sandwich and I was glad I ate one while I was there, since the were everywhere. The sandwiches consist of white bread with the crust removed surrounding fried cutlets of pork or chicken in a sauce and that's it.
I actually really liked my sandwich. The bread was soft and made way for the crunchy, juicy pork, with the tonkatsu sauce incorporated into the sandwich. Tonkatsu sauce is a sort of sweet spicy sauce made with ketchup, Worcestershire sauce, soy sauce, rice wine and other ingredients. I am pretty sure this one had applesauce in it as well, which went well with the pork.
After our late lunch, we walked back to our hotel by way of Aoyama, a shopping district of high fashion and cutting edge architecture.
This is the Prada store:
Not only is it as lovely as a jewel, but I thought it was kind of funny that Prada was designed in such a way that if you had enough money to shop there, you could also be sure that everyone outside could see that you were shopping there.
Our walk back to the hotel was really long. Perhaps longer than we though it would be. We were exhausted and it was a while before we could go back out again. In the meantime, we rested and watched some Japanese TV. Japanese television is something that words can just not adequately describe, as you can see:
This was a show about animals, where they would show the contestants a video about a kind of animal, and then they would have to guess what the answer to a question about that animal would be, and whoever got it right would get a stuffed animal in their points tube. In this round, they watched a video about a llama and then for this question they had to dress as llamas and show how they thought one llama would react to a new llama. Apparently this guy thought it would make a weird face at it.
We also drank some of the sake I had purchased earlier that day. This is sparkling pink sake:
It was really lovely, light and fruity with the sparkle of champagne. I'd never had sparkling sake before. We had to drink it there because the clerk at the shop told us it might explode if we took it on the plane. That would have been very sad indeed.
Once we were fully rested, we went out for a few drinks at an expat bar. I was really tired and just needed to hear people speaking my language for a while.
Afterwards we had room for one last dinner in Japan and we decided to try something new. In addition to the typical Japanese foods, Japan also has its own burger chains. The one we liked the looks of was called Freshness Burger. How can it not be good with a name like that? We wandered the late night streets looking for a Freshness Burger and finally found one that was open and ready to serve us.
This is the Freshness burger. A tall and definitely fresh looking burger. J. had the burger, which looked way better to me than any fast food in America, except In and Out.
I got a cheese dog. I only eat a hot dog about once a year, but I think this was a good time to do it. The hot dog was crisp and delicious and it had the little tie thing on the end that makes it seem more authentic. I love it when the hot dog has that. I was loaded with so many onions, that I had to let most of them fall off so I could more fully enjoy the massive amount of cheese that was globbed on there. The bun was really soft but also a bit toasty. It was a really good last meal, even if not exactly traditional Japanese.
And that (finally!) concludes my photo tour of Japan. I'm afraid we are a little bit nostalgic now, so there may be several Japanese themed posts in the future.