10 September 2008

zomg tokyo! day 3

Before we begin, I'd like to make a few more observations about Tokyo. One of the most obvious and inescapable characteristics of the city is the humidity. The average humidity is 62% or greater, all year round. While humans tend to become sticky and uncomfortable in such conditions, insects couldn't be happier. Happy insects like to party, which apparently includes eating my legs. The current count is five very itchy bites. Now, some might suggest that I just buy some bug spray. While this would be a perfectly good solution in an English speaking country, I don't want to risk spraying my annoyingly sensitive skin with a chemical that is, at best, most likely bug repellent.

Restaurants in America generally provide patrons with 4 sugar packet types. Real sugar, fake sugar in yellow packets, fake sugar in blue packets, and everyone's favorite, fake sugar in pink packets. Here, there is fake sugar in pink packets, but there are only a couple so that there is enough room for the different types of real sugar. There usual kinds are standard granulated, lumps of white, and lumps of brown sugar.

And on with the show...

Day 3 (8 September)
Yesterday was spent exploring Harajuko and Aoyama. We took the subway, with its clean, cushioned seats, to Harajuku, then proceeded to walk in the exact opposite direction of the entrance to Meiji Jingu Shrine. By then, we were both quite thirsty, so I hunted for water in a convenience store while Matt played navigator. Hmmmm... which weird brand of water should I get? Obviously not the one I chose. It turned out that electrolyte water is really awful GatoradeVitaminWaterLemonade stuff. Apparently something being a clear liquid labeled water does not mean one should assume that it is water.

After a change of directions and two bottles of Evian from a vending machine, we made it to the entrance. Once again I was very impressed with the change from urban environment to tranquil forest. As long as you consider the insect symphony to be serene, that is.

Despite some interesting architecture, I must admit I was not overly impressed with the actual shrine, possibly because we were not allowed anywhere near it. I was, however truly awed with how the shrine came into being. After Emperor Meiji and Empress Shoken died in 1912 and 1914, respectively, the people of Japan built the shrine in their honor. Volunteers donated and planted over 100,000 trees from Japan and across the world to create the forest that surrounds the shrine. Since being established on 1 November 2008, the forest has blossomed to 170,000 trees.

Various amulets and charms are sold in a stand inside the courtyard. They cover everything from doing well in academia to finding a suitable mate. We selected one for safe travel, as well as a ceramic bell in the shape of a very round Japanese woman.

Next came Takeshita Dori, which was easy to find since we had passed it earlier on our excursion in the wrong direction. The best US analogue is a street in China Town, in Manhattan, but with more legitimate stores. Everything is catered towards teenagers and college students, with a definite emphasis on punk clothing. Since I really don't need another pair of bondage pants, I settled on some awesome socks. Since you can never have too many pairs of awesome socks. Especially ones with pandas.

No trip to Harajuka is complete without a visit to Condomania. Or so our guide book claimed. In reality, it is an incredibly small shop with nothing that I hadn't seen in an American drug store before. Waste of time.

Another equally disappointing store was Kiddy Land. Unlike the previous purveyor, the owner did not choose to stock the shelves with the store's namesake. Instead, Legos and various random toys that one might find at Spencers lined the aisles.

Thankfully, things took a turn for the better at Oriental Bazaar, a general Japanese souvenir store. Four floors of stuff, though only the main floor was worth perusing. Chop sticks, tea sets, fans, and pretty much everything else you'd expect. Much of the merchandise would accurately be described as overpriced schlock aimed at naive tourists, but there are some nifty finds to be had.

After all this walking, hunger started to take its toll. That didn't stop me from ducking into Bvlgari, where I noticed a small sign indicating a cafe and chocolaterie a mere flight of stairs above us. Needless to say, we had lunch at Bvlgari, and it was good.

Continuing down Omotesando Dori, we reached Aoyama, which is accurately described as a "yuppified version of Harajuku." The main attraction are the collections of Japanese designers. Neither Matt nor I were particularly interested in spending 19,700 yen on a t-shirt, so we were soon back on the subway towards Nihombashi.

One subway exit goes directly into Mitsukoshi, the giant department store, so we ended up reconnoitering the previously unexplored floors. I found a ski vest with a fur trimmed hood and shiny black Burberry skirt that is reminiscent of The Matrix. Miraculously, I hadn't seen either in any Burberry store, both American and Japanese, before or since. Despite knowing better, I tried on both. And as per usual, they fit me perfectly. Then, to my surprise, Matt said I should get the skirt. Not wanting to spend such an outrageous sum on a skirt, I said I shouldn't. Fine, I'll get it for you then. But... You've been wanting a Burberry skirt for a long time, this one looks great on you, and it's not available in America. I stopped protesting, and started deciding which shirt I'd wear with it for our dinner on 17 September (our 4 year anniversary).

With weary feet and grumbly stomachs, we trekked 100 meters back to the hotel for collapsing and dinner. Dinner was soon followed by sleep, and so ended day 3.

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