the conclusion of traipsing japan ::::
Days 11 and 12: We are back full circle, in Tokyo. It’s all for the kids! We made good on promises to find a cat café, visit the Pokémon Mega Center, and buy Hello Kitty items.
We depart Kyoto full of savory and sweet pastries (again), and speed our way to Tokyo.
This is our last Shinkasen (Bullet train) ride on the trip. The ticket has a character in the upper right corner that means “child” for a child fare ticket. It looks like a dancing person.
We spend our last days in the well-known Harajuku (原宿) area of Tokyo. Its train station is alongside the famed Meiji shrine, which we’ll see at the end of the trip. Takeshita Street (竹下通り) is a pedestrian shopping street in the Harajuku area, especially popular with Japanese teenagers for cute fashions and such. I did not see Gwen Stefani appropriating anything.
Cats, we must see cats, the lovesick pet people in the family said (basically Peach, the animal lover). The cats at this cat café are very docile, constantly handled by staff, brushed, silent, appropriately introverted, and visibly bored. But when the treats come out, I actually hear a few squeaks escape from their furry mouths. Look at the freaked out white one waiting for a bite. Ha ha!
Per Grub’s request, we visit the Pokemon MEGA Center just before dinner and are told by the store clerk to not handle the packaged cards because the cards can get “injured.” Woah. You are intense, dude.
For the record, we did not “injure” any cards. We buy some and “torture” them at home.
And dinner to refuel, because catching Pokemon is waaaaaay too meta here. These are called “Old Style Chinese Cold Noodles with Egg, Pork, and Vegetables.”
Spicy Dan-Dan noodles (not the P.F. Chang version, thank god):
We waddle home, full of cat hair, Pokémon cards, and noodles. I am so full. Of. Noodles.
Day 12: Today is the day for Sky-Girl’s request for Hello Kitty. We have a Swiss breakfast at World Breakfast AllDay, because why not, complete with potato rosti and cheese, neither of which I’ve seen for almost two weeks.
The kids order the French breakfast, plated with beautifully placed meringues and fruit:
We visit the busiest intersection of the world in Shibuya, right where the Hello Kitty store sits. Sky-Girl makes some important purchases here. She immediately beelines to the candy and proclaims that’s what she wants, no other gifts or toys. We buy her a cutesy lollipop, which she insists on eating as soon as we get out of the store. We warn her, watch out, walking and eating a somewhat tenuously connected marshmallowy, crunchy lollipop could result in dropping it.
Yeah, Sky-Girl drops her lollipop. Dirty, wet sidewalk. Lots of foot traffic. Less than 5 minutes.
We get her another one. She waits to eat it this time.
By far, Hello Kitty store is our greatest find today, not for Hello Kitty propaganda but Gudetama. Another character by the Sanrio company, Gudetama is a lazy depressed anthropomorphic egg yolk with a butt crack. Very popular in Japan. My new favorite thing. The characters ぐでたま spell his name with four syllables (gu-de-ta-ma).
Look at him. It’s like a guinea pig without the claws! Fabulous!
See, he’s gasping as the soy sauce quenches his thirst or frightens him. Or both. I don’t read Japanese but I’d like to think these are decent interpretations.
To get the full effect of the busy Shibuya intersection, we sit in the L’Occitane Restaurant (as in the makeup company, but food) tiered above to take a video, which didn’t turn out all that well. But the drinks! Eat had a green tea latte and I had a Honey Lemon Tea Soda. It was almost $10. Eek!
Then lunch! Train stations are dotted with great restaurants. We find this ramen place in a whole underground mall. I try the seaweed ramen. It’s exactly what I expect, but a litttttttle more boring. It’s very briny, which I normally like. This wasn’t as well balanced and more of an in-yer-face ocean taste with bland chicken. The broth just doesn’t compare to the tonkotsu.
I briefly walk through the Isetan Department store with Peach — and leave when we see the cost ¥7800 (about $780) for a pair of shoes. Yup, nope. Takeshita Street looks more and more interesting at this point. We have a fair dinner and prepare for our last full day in Japan.
Breakfast today was … disappointing. So much potential.
Bland tuna, little to no marination, chewy. Even the plump egg yolk did not redeem it. “Hawaiian poke salad” –pffffftttt. Even the lighting sucks. This is a perfect real-life example of my favorite lazy egg yolk, Gudetama. He refuses to move atop the unmotivating fish.
These are the peri-gardens outside the Imperial Palace. The stacked branches of the trees and sway of the trunks makes them look like they are slow dancing.
When the water is calm and the duckweed clear, the reflection of this bridge looks like a pair of glasses. The Imperial Palace is the building beyond the bridge in the center of the photo below. The palace is the current residence of the imperial family, located at the former Edo Castle. The Tokugawa Shogun, who we also learned about in Kyoto at Nijo Castle, were prominent here. They had residences here and in Kyoto. When the shogunate was overthrown in 1868, the Imperial residence and country’s capital were moved from Kyoto to Tokyo. It was destroyed during World War II and rebuilt.
The kids are pretty done at this point. Eat is tired. The humidity is oppressive. We all wander back to the apartment, then I’m ready to take some last moments by myself in another shrine or temple. Even with tourists, people respect the space and noise generally. One can easily wander alone in these holy places, without interruption despite a crowd. We are in a state of alone in the thick of busy. The focus comes naturally with the careful tending to the beauty and the respect for the sacred.
Meiji Shinto Shrine (明治神宮 Meiji Jingū) is the Shrine dedicated to the deified souls of Emperor Meiji and wife Empress Shōken. They are actually entombed in Kyoto. The shrine is located on 170 acres of forest and land, an area revered for its history and a respected place of relaxation. Over 100,000 trees were donated from all over the world to make this space. Tokyo is a city of about 13 million people (38 million if you count the greater Tokyo area) and it still manages to protect *huge* green space in the middle of the city. That’s amazing.
The Meiji Jingu Nationwide Sake Brewers Association annually offers sake to the enshrined souls at Meiji Jingu. This is a wall of sake barrels wrapped in straw in dedication near the south entrance path. Each barrel is about 2-3 times as big as a human head; this was a very tall wall.
This is the largest torii gate (ōtorii) leading to the main shrine made of hinoki (Japanese cypress). This one was actually rebuilt and dedicated in 1975 with a donation from a “pious benefactor.” It was originally built in 1920.
The gardens were originally set up as a diamyo yashiki (大名屋敷), a feudal lord’s mansion. The third shogun Iemitsu Tokugawa visited this garden. Empress Shōken spent many hours in the gardens, of which she cherished the iris garden here.
The Kakuun-tei (tea house) was built by order of the emperor as a rest house for the empress. It burned in the air raid during World War II but was rebuilt in 1958 with benefactor support. The flash of orange in between the rice paper walls and windows is an attendant to a party just beyond the walls.
Just beyond that Iris garden, there is Kiyomasa no Ido (Kiyomasa’s well). This is one of the most famous wells of the Edo period (circa 1603~1867), said to be have made and engineered by the famous samurai, Kiyomasa Kato. The water remains a constant temperature all year around and irrigates the iris garden. It doesn’t look really full, but that circular area with the rocks is brimming to the top with clear water. It is a natural spring, very pure, and thought to be healing. But…
… no drinking!
Emperor Meiji was a key figure in the Meiji Restoration, an event that shaped Japan’s ruling bodies back to practical imperial rule. The emperor still exists today, living in the Imperial Palace that we visited earlier, though more a figurehead, the prime minister the one who makes decisions.
In 1912, the Japanese Diet (legislature) decided on the shrine’s construction to honor the Emperor and Empress after their deaths. It was completed in 1921. It was destroyed during air raids in World War II and rebuilt in 1958. The main shrine is currently undergoing renovations in preparation for 2020 and to replace the copper roof. As such, it wasn’t visible to take photos of the outside.
A break to get the rest of the family, Nepalese food for dinner (not photo worthy and almost as disappointing as breakfast), then to Takeshita Street for sweets:
All over Japan, there are plastic models of menu items, some perfect replicas of the actual food. Usually presented in flashy brightly lit windows, they entice passersby to salivate and feel compelled to purchase meals and sweets.
Or rile up three American children that they practically lick the glass for a taste.
We order — the real desserts — then we’re off to bed with a sugar rush and a repack of our bags for our trip home tomorrow! Already!
Day 14: To the airport. The airport lounge food really isn’t that exciting to post. So, my final thoughts after a picture of candy (because this was obsessed over by the kids, like, the whole trip):
I recommend those of you who have never traveled outside the country to do so as soon as you are able, especially if you are American, even more so if you a white American. I don’t mean crossing a border to Mexico for a beachy week in Cancun. Camping in Winnipeg, Canada for a weekend isn’t quite it either. Go somewhere completely unfamiliar, where you feel uncomfortable. But don’t take dangerous risks, like showing up in a country where there is an active coup d’etat. Find a country you want to know more about, do some research, then go when financially possible. Don’t go on a mission like a “white savior” either. Don’t be all colonial about it. Just be still and learn. Go off the beaten path and don’t necessarily try to be a tourist (though sometimes it’s hard not be pegged as one visibly).
I want you to get in the midst. One meaning of midst is “being surrounded by.” Put yourself in situations where you will learn more than you could from a book or a you tube video. Order the “weird” dish on the menu (because it’s not weird, you just think it is). Take the train to somewhere less frequented by tourists. Visit a important religious site and realize that most of its followers are good people and not out to kill you or spite you. Be polite. Be gracious. Respect the differences around you. When you come home, respect the differences around you even more. The United States is filled with differences. Yet, we are more the same than different in the end. When more people understand this, the better off everyone will be in this world.
Back to “normal” life. Maybe with a bit more Gudetama. Yassssssss.
One year ago: aunt mary’s salsa
Two years ago: tagliatelle with poppy seeds and prosciutto
Three years ago: one-eyed chihuahua cocktail