A brief stop-over on our way to Kyoto
09.11.2008 - 11.11.2008 21 °C
Having checked out of our hotel and started our journey to Yokohama, we decided mid-way through the train ride to change our plans slightly and have another day in Tokyo. As it was a Sunday we knew this was the ideal time to try and see the kids who dress up in crazy outfits and costumes and hang around Harajuku Park. We weren't sure where we would be the next Sunday and didn't want to miss the chance. We found a locker in one of the central stations, dumped all our stuff and headed off into Tokyo. We felt really proud of ourselves at this last minute change of plans. We have a tendency to over-plan things, spending hours on the Internet researching all eventualities. One of the things we are hoping to gain from this trip is spontaneity and maybe not relying on planning quite so much. And so, as we hadn't really looked into where we were going that much, we were soon a bit lost, having just walked to the general area and sort of expected to see the kids just milling about. We soon found ourselves in a small pedestrianised street with scores of people walking in both directions, with shops selling over-the-top outfits. The closest thing we can compare it to would be Camden Market, as it had the same electric atmosphere, was certainly alternative and the crowd were younger than we'd seen. We were unsure where to go but were enjoying just walking around marvelling at everything. Mainly a shopping district, there was an eclectic range of fashions on display in the windows. We soon spotted a small group of westerners with a map and heard the familiar sound of English. This turned out to be Mike and Paul who were also heading into Harijuku Park for the same reason, so we all set off together. These guys had just moved to Japan from the UK to teach English to Japanese School kids and were very helpful, giving a few pointers on where to eat, what to eat and where to go for a drink in the evening. We'd picked up a few things ourselves over the last couple of days, so we spent the afternoon swapping funny stories and info on Japanese life. Once we got to the park, we were chatting so much that we took a wrong turn and ended up at Meiji shrine, with loads of kids smartly dressed in Kimono etc. We found out later that this is called a 3-5-7 ceremony, which takes place in November and December, when parents take their children of these ages to be presented in a temple to a monk. We had a really nice time looking around the park and then the surrounding area, even if we didn't see the kids dressed up as we'd hoped. Mike and Paul introduced us to Yoshinoya, a Japanese fast food restaurant. The food was certainly fast and quite tasty, even if it contained raw egg! We all had a mooch around Shibuya in the early evening, which holds the famous pedestrianised crossing running over the middle of the main junction. We found there are quite a few crossings like this, but this is certainly the busiest. We really liked Shibuya, it was busy and young, and we felt very relaxed. Mike convinced Brads to try some pickled Octopus. For someone who doesn't even like fish, this was quite a big step. Needless to say, he didn't really take to it, but felt accomplished for having tried something so different. We left Mike and Paul as they were starting an evening of drinking, retrieved our bags and rode the train to Yokohama.
Paul and Mike
Although originally a city in its own right, due to the urban sprawl of Yokohama and Tokyo, it is now considered part of the Greater Tokyo Area. When we were on the train there was no defining point at which Tokyo ended and Yokohama started. The city sprung up around a port town, with lots of history and is now one of the most multi-cultural areas of Japan due to immigration. We immediately felt that we had found a much truer Japan. For starters people didn't seem to have as much money, up until now it appeared as though the demographic of Japan was solely middle class, whereas here it was obvious that some of the people were really quite poor. There were also signs of rubbish and the buildings weren't as impeccable and new as we'd seen. You could see that everything was well maintained, but maybe they didn't have loads of money to keep things in perfect condition. The neatness, uniformity and respect was still evident everywhere we looked though, and we couldn't have felt safer.
We checked into our hostel, A Silk Tree, which was located on the top couple of floors of a residential building, and was a tiny little room. It was really clean and had all the amenities we needed, so even though the fold out mattresses didn't quite fit the width of the room, we were still very happy. The thing that made it even more exciting was we finally had access to the Internet. We had assumed that Japan would have free Internet everywhere, due to the obvious technical undercurrent, but actually this is far from the case. Everyone has phones with full web browsers ready to connect, along with TV and loads of other features. In fact, they don't use text messaging at all because they just send emails to one another using their phones. We used the opportunity to catch up with family, Darren and the cats, and felt a whole lot better because of it. That evening we walked around the corner, to visit China Town to get some dinner. One of the reasons we chose this hostel was the close proximity to the largest China Town outside China. It felt like we had stepped into another country. It was a bit overwhelming, as we were just getting used to one culture and then suddenly we were presented with another. Panda related merchandise was ubiquitous, and the overall theme was definitely food with pretty much every other shop front a dining establishment.
Finally getting a connection
The next day we had a lot planned, so set off quite early. Our first stop was the Christmas Shop. We really enjoyed the walk there, through the residential suburbs. We noticed that the houses were really small and the cars were quite big. We wondered where they kept all their things, as there didn't seem to be enough room inside to fit furniture, let alone the astounding range of appliances we had seen for sale. The Christmas shop was a marvellous thing, possibly the most Christmassy place we'd ever been to, and it's open all year round with accompanying soundtrack of carols - you would really have to love Christmas to work there! Anna spent a long time just walking around and around muttering 'Santa' and 'Snowman' under her breath.
After purchasing the smallest thing we could, we went next door to the tin toy museum. This was one of the reasons we had come to Yokohama and we weren't disappointed. We had been a bit worried because a couple times when we had visited a supposed 'museum', it had turned out to be nothing more than an expensive shop that specialised in one range, so we guessed this didn't translate so well (Brads was particularly disappointed when the 'candy museum' in Tokyo had turned out to be nothing more than a very small sweet shop). There were literally hundreds of tin toys, all different types and some were incredibly old. Aiko, the girl from the Christmas shop next door came and gave us a tour, telling us the history of quite a few of the toys, including showing us the original toy that inspired the 'Toy Story' creator's idea for the slinky dog character in the film.
The Tin Toy Museum
We then toured around the city, walking to the harbour through a park. The park was ridiculously neat, almost like a Disney version of a Japanese park, and deserted. We noticed the park attendants trimming the trees with secateurs, which seemed very time consuming, but showed a love for detail. We also saw other trees wrapped in bandages, presumably to protect them from the cold. We had a look at Landmark Tower and the surrounding skyscrapers, and headed back to the hostel, after having walked for over 8 hours in total. That night we had a delicious meal that we had picked up from the supermarket by the harbour. We had found a variety of take out food when we were there earlier, and although we didn't really have a clue what anything was, we decided to try our luck and it turned out pretty much everything was delicious.
Tree bandaged for the winter
Sky-scraper opposite Landmark Tower
So, after a short stint in Yokohama we packed our bags and the next morning boarded the train for Kyoto. We really enjoyed Yokohama, but couldn't have stayed for more than two nights, especially when we were itching to get on with our travels.