asia,  japan,  travel

Beating heart of the city – Day 1


Despite setting my alarm to wake me at 8 am, my internal clock decided that 6 am would be better. After a shower, in a tub with a ceiling just high enough to fit me, and a chat with the husband and sister, I got myself ready for the day. My itinerary was somewhat loose, as I only had a few specific sights I wanted to hit. A quick spot of yogurt for breakfast and I was off. The Oak Hotel is conveniently located just half a block from a subway stop. I negotiated the ticket dispensing system, deciding on a not-so-cheap day pass for ¥1000, before hopping on the Ginza line bound for Shibuya. The quiet humming through the crisp white-tiled stations was a welcome change from the grungier, rickety El in Chicago. Shibuya is the last stop of the line, so I was soon out of the station, attempting to get my bearings. I’d been there once before, at night, and it was markedly different in the day light without the flash of multi-coloured neon signs everywhere. It was still too early at 9:30 am for most of the shops, but I did take a quick pit stop at Starbucks for a cookie and hot chocolate.

I wandered through the shopping district, which had a surprising number of people out and about at 9 in the morning on a Sunday–though I suppose with 12 million or so people, you’re bound to see someone fairly regularly. By happenstance, I caught a glimpse of what looked like a market or festival up the street, so I decided to investigate. Market stalls and vendors lined a boulevard (which I later discovered was the Earth Day market), selling mostly local wares, organic produce, even organic beer. I heard the faint strains of a drum beat, which I followed into something called the “Incredible India” festival. In a small amphitheater, a Japanese drumming group was performing. It was fabulous to just sit and listen to the enthusiastic drum beats under the morning sun. After the performance, I wandered across a pedestrian overpass into an adjacent park (Yogogi Park) and consulted a map before heading in the general direction of Harajuku. The park was full of all sorts of folk, joggers and what looked to be photography students, people doing yoga and having picnics.

I came out of the park into the more familiar area of Harajuku and headed down to the popular Takeshita-dori, which at 11 am was already in full swing. I entered the fray of wall to wall people, mostly Japanese youngsters, though I did notice a marked increase of foreigners. I stopped off for a Harajuku classic–whipped cream and ice-cream filled banana crepe. From there, I wandered through the main shopping district and up Omotesando for aways. My bafflingly heavy purse was starting to wear, so I decided I’d return less laden with big cameras and things, if I wanted to actually do any shopping. So I hopped onto the subway and headed out to the commercial district of Shinjuku.

The subway stop was right at my intended destination, the Tokyo Metropolitan Government office building, a soaring twin-towered building with two free observatories on the 45th floors. I was whisked up the elevator and was soon taking in panoramic city views. Apparently, on clear days, you can see all the way to Mt. Fuji; however, it was somewhat hazy today. The city was impressively large, an intricate maze of buildings extending off into the haze. I caught a glimpse of something going on in the plaza below, so I headed down to check it out. It appeared to be my day of stumbling across random festivals, as I walked into the colourful “Music and rhythm: Tokyo Kids 2010” celebration. There were five or six stages set up around the plaza and a plethora of different drum groups from around Japan (and one from Korea) performed. The music from an Okinawan drum group reminded me of music from the old movie “Teahouse of the August Moon” with Marlon Brando. The award for the awesomest hat of the day would have to go into the lead drummer in the Korean group, with his fabulous circular-brimmed hat with a wooden peg with a long ribbon attached that would swing around the peg every time he moved his head around. The happiest-looking drummers were probably a group of highschoolers who looked just so darn cheerful pounding away and dancing around. It was certainly a fun festival, and I do love me some drum music.

My feet were pretty beat, so I hopped back onto the subway and headed back to the hotel. I had intended on taking a quick rest, changing my shoes and going out for dinner later; however, I accidentally fell asleep waiting for my pictures to import onto the computer. By the time, I woke up it was late and I could hear rain pounding away on my window, so I opted to stay in. A long but satisfying day indeed.

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