We hopped onto the tube which took us to Meiji-jingÅ«mae station. Outside, we got our bearings and walked towards the nearby city park. This surrounds the Meiji-jingÅ« itself – the shrine to the Emperor Meiji.
Right by the gates, an artist had spread out a lot of examples of his work in front of a little sign that said “free”. We pawed through them and I popped three silk paintings into my rucksack when the artist himself appeared. He talked to Noriko in very fluent English (which was weird, with him being Japanese) and suggested a donation as he needed to buy supplies and materials… here we go.
I’m used to the occasional haggle like this in SE Asia but you usually end up haggling over a couple of bucks. This guy was after 5000 Yen to start and haggled himself down to 3000 – around Â£25. Youch. Even the street art here is expensive. Needless to say, Noriko returned her paintings and we walked on into the park.
The first thing we saw was an enormous torii, standing what must have been 25 feet tall. Beautifully carved from gorgeous, smooth dark wood and dominating the walkway. There were others within the park as well. A wall of wine casks, donated to the emperor, lined one approach to the central shrine.
Despite the throng of tourists, the area never felt crowded as it was so huge. We took pictures and Noriko chased down a couple from India so she could have her photo taken with the woman in her sari. I’ve found one thing about Noriko – she’s not afraid to ask people for their photo!
As luck would have it, a wedding ceremony was beginning as we were there. The parade walked slowly up from the entranceway, through the courtyard and through a doorway we couldn’t enter. Polite but firm staff ensured the parade wasn’t disrupted, but nobody stopped tourists and locals alike taking pictures and video. The bride looked fantastic in a traditional white robe but of a very different style to that used in the West. A shame we couldn’t witness the whole ceremony.
Just outside, we saw another couple – obviously just married – walking to their car. They very kindly posed for photos as their driver waited and I have to say I am very happy with the one I snapped of them gazing into each other’s eyes. Mind you, I think they were actually saying to each other “We should go now – they’ve taken enough pictures”!
We next headed into Shibuya itself, only a short walk away. For some reason there was a massive police presence just outside the park, but we didn’t feel like asking why. There’s a thing about seeing 20-30 policemen standing together that makes you think that perhaps moving on is a better idea.
It didn’t take long to walk down to Shibuya station (this one on the JR Line), right by the famous Shibuya crossing. If you’ve heard of the way people cross the road in Japan in their hordes then this is the place to see it at its best. Tourists and people with much more expensive looking cameras were amongst the crowds and dangling from any vantage point to video the thousands (I do not exagerrate) of people crossing the road when the little green man came on.
I can honestly say I’ve not seen so many people moving in such close proximity since the last time I was at a festival and a band had just finished. It’s the closest thing I’ve experienced as one huge body of people heads one way (away from the stage) and another heads the opposite (towards, for the next act). At the Shibuya crossing, this happens every 3-4 minutes. Parents – keep a close eye (or a tight hand) around your progeny. If there’s somewhere a child could get lost, it’s here.
We walked around for a couple of hours, just eyeballing the place. We popped briefly into an incredibly noisy Pachinko parlour. Pachinko is a simple enough game – feed little balls into a machine and try to get them into the holes – and very popular in Japan. The parlours are crammed with machines, all of which are noisy in their own right but the trend seems to be to pump even louder music in to attempt to muffle it.
Another shop of note was a pet-shop with a very small floor space, very tiny glass cases for the cats & dogs they were selling and ridiculously high prices. The animals were all well cute, but one poor little puppy was jumping around and smacking his back against the ceiling of his case. Others were just begging to be let out. I’d have bought them but at upwards of Â£300 per animal it was out of my budget.
One surprise was a very public tattoo shop. I was under the impression that tattoos were reserved for Yakuza (hence the “no tatoo” (sic) signs on a lot of the onsen), but it seems Japanese youth are getting more and more westernised as time goes on. Having said that, they’re more likely to go for small and subtle than a huge dragon across their entire back.
Misa finally turned up around 7:30 as she’d been delayed at work. My thanks to Noriko for being a wonderful host and staying around for so long! Misa mentioned there was a gathering of Couchsurfers that evening and we decided to hold on for them to arrive so we could say a quick hello.
This we duly did and we ended up in an English theme bar in a basement somewhere. Typically Japanese, the “menu” was expensive and people actually queued for their drinks. So much better than the normal Saturday night melÃ©e where you stand there for 20 minutes yet never get served.
I think I purchased the most expensive bottle of beer in my life. One of the export bottles (i.e. small) of Newcastle Brown Ale which worked out at over Â£6, and at a guess near the Â£9 per pint mark. Ouch. But it was worth it, just to say I’ve done it. Downing a cold bottle of Dog in an underground English theme pub in Tokyo with Japanese, French, German and Norwegian company.
You really can’t beat travelling.
The night ended back at Misa’s where she very kindly rustled up some late dinner, even taking into account my non-seafood awkwardness. We talked football for some time – she’s a mad footie nut and off to Italy to see some live games soon. I was all tuckered out, though, and had to excuse myself early on as I couldn’t keep my eyes open. My apologies to my kind host for that. It most certainly wasn’t her company!
As well as only having had a few hours’ sleep the previous handful of nights, I had to be setting off from her house at 5am the next morning. I couldn’t risk sleeping in as I had a flight to catch!