Harajuku!

Harajuku!

Since being up so late, I slept in this morning which was nice. I walked around my neighborhood until I found a little cafe and I sat and wrote for a bit. In the afternoon I decided I wanted to check out Harajuku so I headed there via train. I got off at Shibuya and walked from there to Harajuku which was less than a mile. I’m glad I did because it was the coolest little neighborhood. I ended up popping into an “anime” café, where food and drinks were anime themed. It was one of the most relaxing cafes I’ve been to. Probably because it was super small and cozy and they were playing anime cartoons (only set to music) on a television. There were two boys doing their homework next to me and I could only think that I’d choose this over the library as well.

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Amezakui, Robots and Karaoke.

Amezakui, Robots and Karaoke.

As a kid I was always obsessed with the art of glass blowing. I wanted to be a glass blower as a profession, but clearly that didn’t take off. When I saw a picture of Amezakui, which is like glass blowing for sugar candy, I knew I had to try it. I found the place that sells them, and then found their head office. Luckily, the office does offer workshops, albeit all in Japanese. They have an instruction sheet in English, so that was good enough for me, I signed up.

I walked there on a quiet, sleepy Sunday morning in the neighborhood. Streets were empty besides a few joggers, elders playing croquet and occasionally some folks off to work on a bicycle. I arrived far too early so I decided to look for a place to eat and warm up. I definitely could have used a warmer coat. There weren’t many places open but eventually I came across one. It was the most charming cafe! They were playing quiet music, had warm blankets and gave me an English menu that included a map and history of the town. After finishing my breakfast, the barista gave me a complimentary piece of tiramisu. Then, upon leaving, they gave me a cookie that said thank you on it! It was such a sweet hospitable experience. I also stopped at another Shrine on my way there. I love how these Shrines are placed in very populated areas of the city (or perhaps vice versa, the cities were built around them).

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WanderLOST in Japan ;)

WanderLOST in Japan ;)

I admit, my first two days in Japan included me getting lost a lot. Regardless, I was enjoying the experience because I usually stumbled across something interesting. My first impression of Japan is that the people are very formal and polite and that the city is very clean and well organized. I opted for a taxi because it was late and I didn’t have a working cellphone to use for navigation. It cost me though, that, or I just wasn’t used to paying so much after being in Thailand for 2 weeks.

I arrived at my hostel (in Asakusa) and the first thing I needed to do was get a SIM card and warmer clothes. I grabbed my warmest outfit and headed to a Family Mart where the reception said I could buy a SIM. I ended up finding it after a few wrong turns and bought one. I struggled to get it to work but I think I was just tired. I finally realized I needed WiFi to set it up… so I went back to my hostel and set it up. Success! Then, I went to a shopping mall I found nearby and bought a bright yellow sweatshirt. Which later turned out to be a poor choice because it came quite obvious I was wearing the same thing everyday.

I decided I should get a bite to eat too so I wandered around until I found a place that looked cute. It was super small, like San Fran small, and I was seated upstairs next to a table of 12 businessmen enjoying themselves and occasionally standing up to give a speech. My table had a stove on it (Hibachi) so they cooked my meal in front of me as I enjoyed a Sake and tried to figure out how to eat it off the stove with this little tool they gave me. I noticed that the neighborhood was starting to close down which sort of surprised me being that it was only 9:30pm on a Friday, but I was tired anyhow so went back.

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The next day I wanted to see the world’s largest crosswalk in Shibuya so I found a subway station and hopped on one. I was pleased at how easy it was to get there, a straight shot and took about 25 minutes only. In which those 25 minutes I enjoyed the most delicious strawberry flavored bread in the shape of a heart. I’m going back there tomorrow just to buy the one shaped like a sumo wrestler. The subways were super quiet too, but I guess people didn’t really talk on NYC subways either.

After watching people cross, I got a Sakura Pink Milk Latte at Starbucks did some shopping. The first store I went in I could have spent hours in. It was a mix of little snacks, makeup, paper good and they were all so stinking cute!!! I ended up getting the most random things like CosPlay contacts, Thank you cards written on candy, Disney Character lipstick, Peter Rabbit bath salts, and Pokemon surprise inside candy.

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Next, went into this clothing store that was full of teenage Japanese girls, exactly who I want to dress like. I needed warmer clothes anyways so I ended up treating myself to two pairs of pants, 2 new shirts, and new pair of kicks that will cover my ankles (so I don’t have to wear socks with my Toms anymore, it really wasn’t a good look despite my efforts). I worked up an appetite after all of the shopping, so found a spot that served great ramen and plum wine.

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I wanted to checkout Shinjuku and decided to walk there since it’s only 2 miles away. To my delight, the walk passed through a park and then a forest. I entered the Shinto shrine gate and then to the shrine shrine, Meiji Jingu. It was rebuilt after being destroyed in WW2 so it was in good condition. I ended up doing this thing where I could get my fortune. Fortunes are very popular here, but they are all written in Japanese. I’ve learned that Google Translate has a photo option take a picture of words and it translates it for you), so I was able to figure out what mine said!

 

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Shrine Gate
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Hand washing before entering the Shrine
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Sake Barrels

Once in Shinjuku I walked around a bit, but then decided to take the train back to Asakusa. It was not as straight forward as my train there but after stopping to ask for help twice from the information stands I was able to figure it out. Back at the hostel I saw a poster for a place that was nearby and had a DJ playing. The music didn’t start until 8pm but I was hungry so I went early thinking I would just hang out. The place was super cool. The bar tender was a Canadian with dreadlocks and she handed me the menus which were written on old cardboard boxes. I sat down on the couch next to a friendly dog and enjoyed an avocado taco and warm sake.

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After eating I suddenly felt very tired so rather than stay I decided to head to a public onsen bath (comes from hot springs) and then home. The bath was only 1 block from my hostel, and down an alley. I saw pictures of what the store front looked like so I was able to find it. I love the history of the public baths. People went to them not for a spa like experience, but literally to bathe because very few houses had baths in them back then.  I walk in, put some coins into a slot for a ticket and some soap and then head in. I hand a guy at a desk my tickets and he points me to the women’s bath.

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You put your things in a locker, I’m talking everything. Then you head buck naked with your soap in hand into the shower area. After a good washing under a shower that is waist high (I opted not to sit on the stool they provided and just squat which was awkward), I went into the first bath. The water was as hot as a hot tub would be, maybe 102 degrees fahrenheit? I used the jets to massage my back, then went into the electrical bath. If you’ve ever done STEM treatment for an injury that is exactly what it feels like. Your muscles tighten and contract and while some find it painful, I thought it was great. While in there, an older woman started asking me where I was from and then proceeded to read my palm and told me I would make lots of money. Great fortune, but the nakedness of it all made me want to keep moving. I went to one that was semi-outdoors and it was an ice bath! It reminded me of jumping in the lake and after a Sauna. I jumped into the hot one next to it to warm back up. I think I probably spent a total of 20 minutes in all of the baths. I felt refreshed and slept easily.