Our last stop in Japan
15.11.2008 - 20.11.2008 19 °C
We left Kyoto on the bullet train back to Tokyo, with the intention of stopping off at Fuji to take a look at the revered mountain, but due to the rain and poor visibility we decided to give it a miss. We found ourselves in Asakusa, and our third hostel of the stay in Japan. The owners of Khaosan hostel very kindly upgraded us from a shared dorm to a private bunk bed room, which was quite a relief. As we ended up arriving at dinner time, we grabbed some take-out from the local department store, which was delicious. In Japan the department stores are pretty well organised (no surprises there), with upmarket stores on the ground floor (or the first floor as it is in Japan, which can get a little confusing in lifts), not so expensive stores then on up, to the top floor, which usually comprises of restaurants. Quite often the basement contains deli-style food counters where you can choose from an extensive range of take-out food, all of which is really fresh and tasty. It's also an upmarket supermarket with a comprehensive selection of imported and general foods. That evening we decided to go into Shibuya and have a few drinks. We started in Coins Bar, and had a couple there. Before heading home we grabbed a couple of drinks from a convenience store and sat in the centre of Shibuya for some people watching. A small group of Japanese Uni students came and struck up conversation, and we really enjoyed talking to them and their English was excellent, despite their protestations to the contrary. They kept mentioning 'Big Ben' which amused us, and of course 'soccer' which is very popular here. When we asked them what teams they supported, their replies were 'Manchester United', 'Chelsea' and 'David Beckham'! Brads swapped music interests with Kenta, before we headed off to catch the subway back to the hostel.
Our Japanese friends!
As it was a Sunday the following day we thought we'd make a second attempt to see the crazily dressed kids in Harajuku Park. We met Ash, our friend from Kyoto at the station and tried a different entrance to the park. This time we were more successful - the first group we came across were the rockers, with quiffs and leather jackets. They had a stereo blasting out 50s music and had all the associated dance moves, with lots of twisting and the guys smoothly throwing the girls about. On the pursuit of more strange and wonderful fashions we found an interesting group doing what seemed to be a broom dance, which consisted of synchronised sweeping and banging of their brooms. As impressive as it was, we wondered whether they had seen Dick Van Dyke doing something similar in Mary Poppins and had missed the point somewhat.
A broom dance (?!)
That seemed to be it really, we assumed that the drizzle had kept away the main crowds of kids. In the distance we could hear the unmistakable beat of dance music, and as we drew near, it slowly dawned on us that we were indeed heading towards the sweet sound of drum'n'bass. We suddenly found ourselves in a throng of young people, with music coming from all around and the familiar sight of dancing, sound systems and food stalls. The poster stuck to a tent confirmed that this was a dance festival, in fact 'Tokyo Dance Festival' - we couldn't believe our luck! As we danced furiously in the rain, we realised that Ash had wandered away, but we knew that we would be staying until the bitter end. As the night drew in, the sound systems slowly came to a rest and so we headed off for some dinner and a walk around the area.
A sight for sore eyes! Tokyo Dance Festival.
As luck would have it, we came across quite a few outrageous fashions that evening and even saw three Yamanba girls. These are the very essence of outrageous fashion, with bright almost white blonde hair, fake tanned skin, white lipstick, heavy make-up and glitter stickers on their face - and then of course their clothes are mad too. They were looking at some things on a stall with tourists attempting to surreptitiously take their pictures. Having an inkling they probably dress like that because they actually enjoy having their photo taken, Anna just politely said 'Sumimasen' (excuse me in Japanese), and then gestured towards the camera. This bought on serious posing and the surrounding tourists madly taking pictures. Satisfied that we had seen one of the 'not-to-miss' sights of Japan we headed back to our hostel.
Some Yamanba girls
The following couple of days we realised that we had run out a steam a bit but wanted to make sure we went to all the places that we had planned to. So, on the Monday we visited Akihabara, the electronics district. This was obviously something very much enjoyed by the both of us, especially Brads. High rise stores selling every type of electronic item you can imagine, paired with Manga, computer games and soft porn. All these things seem to come together quite often in Japan. There were also quite a few 'Maid Cafes', where the waitresses dress up in French maid outfits. Just like anything else to do with sex here, there was an element of the cute and dressing up, and it all seemed entirely harmless and socially acceptable. We found another retro arcade and we ended up staying in the area well in to the night. On Tuesday we mooched around Shinjuku, another 'must see' area, but there wasn't much there apart from the official Sanrio shop and a few more high rise buildings.
Anna and the largest Hello Kitty statue in the world (apparently)
In the evening we headed over to Roppongi, which is famed as the seedy, Soho-type area of Tokyo, which turned out to be very un-seedy and nothing like Soho. We were actually quite disappointed, although we did visit 'Roppongi Hills', an up-market office and shopping area which has been constructed to get rid of the stigma attached to the area, and it seems to have worked.
On the Wednesday we headed off for the Imperial Palace. This ancient palace and gardens is considered the most 'must-see' attraction of Tokyo, and usually first on a list of suggested itineraries, the irony that we'd left it until the last day didn't escape us. We came out of the subway in Ginza, the up-market shopping district we had visited the previous week, as it offered us another chance to see the amazing buildings and another Sanrio shop. Just after we arrived we were commandeered by a lady with a clipboard, and within minutes we seemed to be giving an interview for Japanese TV. Brads really wasn't too happy as you can imagine, so Anna ended up answering all the questions, which focused almost entirely on the strange combination of which travel guide we had brought with us and the availability of food in department stores. We ambled over to the Imperial Palace and Gardens. As the Government still uses this area for various embassies and the main parliament building, tourists are only really allowed to see the gardens, but they were impressive nonetheless. It was mad to imagine the type of world these Emporers would have lived in, secluded from the hustle and bustle of the everyday people on the outside, and we enjoyed the views and serene atmosphere.
The Imperial Palace
Our final night in Japan was sad, we had enjoyed our time so much, and had fitted in an enormous amount in to what was actually rather a short space of time. We already felt that we had been away from home for so long and the next stretch of travelling seemed to be a little daunting to say the least. We wondered what China had in store for us.