Shibuya and Surroundings

In the interest of not falling too far behind in my posting, I’ll get pictures up with some comments and then can go back to fill in stories and details later.  Saturday we headed to Shibuya, the center of Tokyo youth fashion.  The main intersection at Shibuya – (the one that when you’re in Times Square in New York makes you think, this looks like the “Shibuya of the US!”) is the one featured in Sophia Copola’s “Lost in Translation”.  Some two million people a day pass through this intersection.

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We started our day with a quick bite at one of the commuter restaurants near the Ueno train station, a simple meal of katsudon (fried breaded pork cutlet topped with scrambled egg and served over rice) and soba (buckwheat noodles).

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As we waited for the train, Tawn took care to observe the various signs warning as to correct behavior on the trains.

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We arrived in Shibuya and spent a few minutes just taking in the sheer number of people.  Unlike Manhattan’s Times Square, which stretches over several blocks, Shibuya’s crowds converge at one single intersection.

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There is a free shuttle bus for the area.  But what really struck me about this bus was an observation that Tawn made: here in Japan there are cartoon characters used all over the place: signs, advertisement, logos, announcements… anything and everything can have a cartoon character and still be taken seriously.

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We met Taro and his friend Kathy near the station and then went to Taro’s favorite ramen restaurant.  This one specializes in noodles that are slightly thicker than the average.

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The restaurant only seats about twenty people, mostly along a counter.  Before you enter, you select what you want on a vending machine near the front door and pay there.  Your order is transmitted to the kitchen and you receive a small ticket in exchange.  Don’t read Japanese?  No problem – order by picture.

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Our table came with a wide range of condiments: Pickled ginger (pink), toasted sesame seed grinder, black pepper (in the can), toasted garlic, and fresh garlic.

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Our soups arrived – a traditional one for me and a spicy version for Tawn.  The difference that makes this ramen so good, Taro says, is the soup.  Instead of being just one or the other, the soup is a mixture of pork and fish broths.  Sure enough, it was the best ramen I’ve ever had.

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You’ll be glad to know I wasn’t the only one taking pictures.  Taro had a new Panasonic Lumix camera that had superb low-light performance and macro function.

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After lunch we did some sight-seeing / window-shopping in Shibuya.  There were these funny little fake cacti plants done up to look like desserts.

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We went to the park that runs along the northwest side of the Imperial Palace’s moat.  With two windy days since our arrival the cherry blossoms were largely descimated.  But to give you an idea of what it would have looked like, see this picture below.  You can still see the cherry blossoms – now imagine them with about 20 times as many blossoms, hanging down the bank towards the water.  That was what it was like a week earlier.

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This is one of the most popular paths both for cherry blossom viewing and general strolling.  There were plenty of young lovers enjoying the breezy spring weather.

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Where there are people there are invariably ice cream vendors.  Some locals were posing for my camera.

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Tawn tried the seasonal specialty: sakura flavor.  Notice the color-coordinated shirt!

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In addition to ice cream vendors, since the weather was a bit chillier today than the day before, there was a roasted sweet potato vendor, using a wood-fired oven in the back of a truck.  Very creative arrangement.  At 300 yen ($3) per potato, these sweet and hot morsels were perfect for warming us back up after the ice cream.

We walked from the moat towards the Yasukuni Shrine.  This beautiful shrine is the official home of State Shintoism.  It is also the shrine regularly in the news when a Japanese prime minister goes to pay his respects to the war dead, outraging residents of nations such as Korea and China that see this as Japan’s continued unwillingness to acknowledge and come to terms with the attrocities it committed during World War II.

The extensive museum there definitely tells the history of the so-called “Greater East Asian War” from the Japanese perspective.  It is useful to understand how they see things but also easy to see why neighbors who suffered at Japan’s hands take such offense.  I could go into a lot more detail here but won’t do so right now…

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Above, the sun setting through the fading cherry blossoms at Yasukuni Shrine.

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There was some fascinating architecture in this part of town, including the striking Italian Cultural Institute building.  This neighborhood (surrounding the shrine) reminded me a lot of downtown Seattle, actually.

That evening, we met up with HP and Mark (from San Francisco) and another couple with whom they were traveling.  Taro took us to an amazing (and amazingly hard-to-find) Okinawan style restaurant.  His camera’s low-light capabilities were put to good use and once I get all the pictures from him, I’ll do an entry just on that meal.

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Meantime, in the same neighborhood as the restaurant we came across a vending machine corner that had just about everything in a vending machine you could want: drinks, cigarettes, underwear, socks…

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Finally, we headed to Shinjuku, Tokyo’s nightlife district, for some drinks.  This was just one corner of the city that looks like something out of Blade Runner.

Up next… Hakone.

0 thoughts on “Shibuya and Surroundings

  1. *Mouth watering*So those cacti aren’t desserts?And those ramen are hand made, aren’t they?All these tours aside…is what’s going on in Thailand affecting your return?

  2. Two million people pass through that single intersection? I was overwhelmed with Times Square- I can’t imagine what I will feel when I am at Shibuya!Can’t wait for the next post…

  3. i loved the vending machines and even a meal inside a train station was good. I ate so well when I was in Japan… miss it lots.  Oh and I read your previous post on strawberries – yes it’s absolutely the best!  We have a Japanese supermarket in NJ that I go to and they import the strawberries.  I remember the price being $25 for a small container.  I was really tempted to buy it. 
    We never got to visit Ueno though but it sure looks pretty!

  4. Ordering food from the vending machine is very popular in Japan specially in TYO  where those restaurants which are smaller in size…quite conv….though…

  5. We’re glad that you are have a wonderful vacation! Emily has been very excited to look at your pictures since she just finished a unit at school about Japan. She learned a few words in Japanese and I told her that she would need to try them out on you the next time we talk.

  6. @Wangium – Hi Jason – it looks like the protests have been cleaned up (put down?) and will have no effect on us.  As for the long term, you can bet that the underlying issues are not resolved.  Still, remember that the media conveys only the most exciting images.  In reality, the area of protests was like the Civic Center in SF – in a city three times the size and seven times the population.

  7. Beautiful post.  I’m still thinking about the sign asking people not to put their feet in other people’s faces.  If only. . . .
    I love the pink bus!!!!!
    Happy traveling!

  8. Great photos. I love that Tawn is a snappy dresser – he looks so sharp all the time. nice food photos – I didn’t realize at first how big the bowls of soup were. Wow.

  9. Seriously though… you and Tawn must be ballin to be able to go on all these trips all the time! Lol. I envy you two!! =PDid you guys see that one “behavioral sign” at the train station telling people to keep their drama at home? Lol! It’s a picture of a woman talking on her cell and the comic-like sign shows the woman at the beginning stage of the call (IIRC) and escalating to her yelling. It’s hilarious. I can’t remember if I took a picture of it the last time we were in Japan.Anyway, can’t wait to see your next set of photos! Enjoy!!

  10. Great post! I love the order-by-picture vending machine and the rest of your fabulous photos! Looks like you and Tawn had a wonderful time. Can’t wait to read the next entry.

  11. @yang1815 – Hai!  Hai!  Hai!
    @Dezinerdreams – Yeah, it is a pretty amazing thing to watch the ebb and flow of the crowd.  Especially because they stop all vehicular traffic and let all the pedestrians cross, which when viewed from above looks a little like the contraction of the universe, followed by an explosion and then an expansion…
    @waiszeblogs – $25!!  They’ve good but… maybe not that good.  Especially if they’ve been flown halfway across the world.
    @brooklyn2028 – I assume you have contacts in Tokyo but if you do want any recommendations, I’m happy to share the details.
    @agmhkg – Yes, while not great, the good in vending machines and convenience stores is better than you might expect.
    @ZSA_MD – I’m glad you’re enjoying them.  Truthfully, I feel like I’m putting them together a bit slap-dash.  But if I wait until I return to start writing, I’ll just gloss over the details or never share them.  Keeping up as best I can, even in a rush, makes sure the fuller story is shared.
    @minhaners – I figured you could make some cakes that look like those cacti.
    @ElusiveWords – That’s very nice of you to say, Matt.  I’m sure I’m not nearly good enough to do travel journalism but I’m glad you enjoy the entries.
    @jojobaDESIGNS – Thanks.  Yeah, the bus is cute.  Can you imagine how much more pleasant American commuters would be if their public transportation looked like that.  We all need more Hello Kitty.
    @murisopsis – Tawn says thank you.
    @stevew918 – If you stand to eat, the calories don’t absorb as much, right?  LOL
    @euphorie – Glad you enjoyed the entry.

  12. I truly love each post. Since Mohamed and I travel fairly often, I have been emailing your entries to him, and sure enough, he is hooked on you too.

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