Last day in Tokyo
Trip Start Nov 03, 2008
19Trip End Nov 16, 2008
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One last day in Tokyo. I set out in the morning to squeeze in a bit more sightseeing.
Is there a temple behind all those people?
First, I headed to Asakusa to see the famous Senso-ji Temple, one of Japan's oldest and most famous Buddhist temples. Near the station, there was a robotic clock that kind of reminded me of a scaled-down glockenspiel. The streets leading from the temple gates to the temple are lined with all sorts of souvenir shops, stores, food stalls and places to rip you off.
This was one of the first places that really felt like a tourist trap. It was packed with people shoulder to shoulder, pushing and shoving their way through the souvenir shops that led up to the temple, and it seemed like everyone was out to make a few bucks selling junk. Too bad, because you could kind of make out that the temple is pretty, once you looked past all the people.
It's like Park Avenue, but more expensive
Ginza has the distinction of being possibly the most expensive piece of real estate in the world. It's a shopping neighbourhood full of the flagship stores of all the most exclusive brands - Gucci, Prada, Tiffany's, Swarovski, you name it, Ginza's got it. Everyone in Tokyo is well-dressed, but the ultimate well-heeled shop in Ginza, and I felt even more under-dressed than usual. There are also a couple of affordable stores wedged in between all the high-end stores, like Zara and H&M, and they were so packed with shoppers that people were lined up for blocks outside waiting to get in.
They're wearing what?
"Harajuku Girls" is the nickname given to the Japanese girls who dress up in odd or over-the-top outfits and hang out near Harakuju station, usually on Sundays. Well, today is Saturday, but since I'll be on a plane tomorrow, I headed over to Harajuku to check out the oddest in youth culture in Tokyo. Off of the main shopping streets, there are small streets and lanes filled with shops selling clothing from basically every youth subculture in Tokyo, from goth to punk to manga and everything in between. Being Saturday, there weren't too many obvious "Harajuku Girl" candidates around, though I did spot a few. Mostly, there were just crowds of shoppers everywhere. Oh, and apparently the Free Hugs movement has made it to Japan.
One last shrine
The Meiji Shrine in Yoyogi Park, right near Harajuku, is one of the most popular Shinto shrines in Tokyo. Being the weekend, there were families dressed up everywhere, with the women and especially the children in fancy kimono, heading to the shrine to pray and to take pictures. After all, all little girls love to play dress-up, and Japanese girls get the ultimate dress-up experience. There were also quite a few weddings taking place at the shrine, and lots of people just milling about in the park and the gardens, enjoying the afternoon.
Out on the town
For my last night in Japan, I headed to Roppongi, Tokyo's ultimate nightlife neighbourhood, with a few of my hostel dormmates. Roppongi appears to be the gathering point of choice for travelers and expats; we saw English, Irish, Aussie and Kiwi spots as well as lots of American chains. Not too authentic, perhaps, but there were plenty of hip and trendy Japanese people out enjoying themselves there. I think if I lived here, I'd have to invest in a whole new wardrobe.
Anyway, I'd love to be able to claim to have had a true Japanese style meal for my last dinner here, but instead, we found a pub and had pub grub. Not even Japanese pub grub. More American or English pub grub. I would claim to be disappointed, but, truth be told, after two weeks of noodles and raw fish, it really hit the spot. We had a good time over a few beers, and it was a nice way to say farewell to Japan.
More Tokyo observations
- As is typical for very big cities, the people in Tokyo are the most hurried and least friendly in Japan. Not that they're rude, mind you, but they were much warmer elsewhere in Japan.
- Also as expected, the people in Tokyo are the most diverse anywhere in Japan, and us westerners stand out a lot less than we do elsewhere. More people speak English here, too.
- The feeling of alienation is rampant here. With all of the neon signs and shopping malls and cafes, it's really easy to get lost in a crowd of 12 million people. There's something very anonymous about the feel of Tokyo, probably more so than other large cities I've been to.
- There's a shrine in every neighbourhood, but there's a McDonald's on practically every corner. Torii gates and Golden Arches alike are usually open 24 hours a day. No, I didn't eat at McDonald's; I never do. I did visit quite a few shrines, though.
So, the trip is basically over, and I'm off to the airport in the morning for a long travel day home. More from the other side of the Pacific!
Up next: Lost in Translation.