The time change hasn’t quite set in for us yet, so we’ve been waking up at 4am ready to start the day. Today, we got up and planned out the route we wanted to take through Tokyo, drank some vending machine iced coffee, and watched the local news. In all honesty, the local news was my favorite part of the morning. In fact, I think it’s a great way to start any morning. Here’s a clip:
From there, we took the train to Shibuya. The trains start running around 6am and end around 9pm. At just about any time of the day, the train stations are overwhelmed with people. Here’s a typical path we take from the Magome station to Gotanda on the Toei Asakusa Line.
Our goal was to grab some breakfast, which was pretty difficult given how early it was. We ended up eating at a place that specializes in raw egg, rice, and meat bowls. I wasn’t really feeling it, but Kaelin seemed to enjoy herself.
From there, we headed to Starbucks to use the free WiFi and got amazing views of the iconic Shibuya crossing. It’s hard to get a picture that shows everything that makes this crossing so attractive to tourists. First, the Shibuya station is a central hub for a few train lines that go in and out of downtown Tokyo – that places quite a few people in and around this area at any give time. Second, Shibuya in itself is a bustling area. There’s a mall, small shops, restaurants, and semi-suburban housing.
Finally, Tokyo crossing are hot spots for marketing. The towering advertisements for car dealerships, theatre shows, and girl bands characterize most major crossings near train stations. My favorite angle of this same crossing is this photo I took from the second floor of the Starbucks building.
From there, Kaelin and I took a train a bit north to look for the Shinkjuku shopping area. We wandered around for a few minutes and found the Meiji Jingu Shrine and Yoyogi Park by accident.
Japan built the Meiji Shrine in this garden area that was once a popular visitation spot for Emperor Meiji and Empress Shoken. The nation started construction in 1915 after Emperor Meiji’s death in 1912. The project unified the Japanese public and garnered support from civic associations and youth groups, who contributed to the funding. Construction commenced in 1920, which marks the reference point for the heavily advertised 100-year anniversary celebration.
As a side note, the public has helped to fund the shrine on more than one occasion. In addition to the original financing drive, the public also contributed to the rebuilding of the shrine after American WWII air raids demolished several structures. Presently the government has a dual mission to preserve the integrity of the original garden, while also carefully adding new structures and plant life in preparation for the 100-year celebration.
Today, the shrine draws visitors from around the world who come to see the secluded green area in the middle of the city. The shrine also attracts local visitors by providing a relaxing green space for days off work. Finally, the shrine serves its original purpose as a sacred ground.
On the way out of the shrine complex, we passed by this wall of sake barrels, all wrapped in rice paper labels. We’ve yet to try sake here, but I’m sure we’ll get around to it eventually.
After walking the full grounds of the Meiji Shrine, Kaelin and I went on a search for lunch. We took a train to Yoyogi, a high-style neighborhood in northern Shibuya. Eventually we came across a secluded dining alley known for its Mexican influence.
We found a serve-yourself bakery tucked into a corner under the stairs and decided to give it a shot. I got a cheese bagel and a slice of french toast bread (both delicious) and Kaelin got a stuffed pastry, similar to an empanada.
From there, we took a train and headed further north to check out the government buildings, which offer free access to their skyline observation decks. On the way, we came across a vending machine and bought some Pokemon juice. I don’t think I’d buy this V8-style drink in bulk, but it was alright.
The vending machines themselves are pretty interesting. Whereas most US vending machines sell similar drinks (Coke, Pepsi, Sprite, lemonade, water…), the vending machines here are varied. In fact, the variety prompts a scavenger hunt as you attempt to find “that one drink I like.” Although the machines themselves are really common – they’re on every block and sometimes come in pairs – there isn’t a strict organization of brands or drink types. The machine outside of our condo offers a few brands of iced coffee, juice, and soda. Down the block, you can find many more coffee selections and flavored water. And if I’m craving familiarity, some machines sell RedBull.
When we finally arrived at the government building area, the rain had picked up and the sky had darkened a bit. We took the elevator to the observation deck, but the views were blocked by the fog. We plan to go back when the weather clears up, so I’m hoping we get some awesome views in the near future. For now, I’ll add that the government office area reminded me a bit of downtown Houston.
Next, we went on a search for a TV show-inspired restaurant, the Toyko Ghoul cafe. No dice. It looks like the Tokyo Ghoul place shut down in the time between the 2015 photo and our visit. There’s still another place that looks like it might offer a Tokyo Ghoul experience – we like that show a lot – so we’ll probably venture out this way again in hopes to find it open.
To end on a bright note, we’ve gotten pretty good at taking the trains. Our phones died just after those last photos, so we had to do a bit of guesswork to get home. Luckily we’ve learned a few of the stops, so we headed back toward Shibuya and then took the Asakusa Line from there. Yay us!
More fun tomorrow.