The Yamanote Line is the JR track that encircles Tokyo. If you want to get anywhere in the city, this is the line to travel. These trains literally come every three minutes. So if you miss one or you go the wrong direction you can easily get on another one.
Bernadette, Alexis, Kenny, and myself were supposed to go to Sea Disney on Saturday, but Friday night they were feeling under the weather, and at the last minute we decided not to go. I was doing alright. Bernadette reminded me that it was my vacation so I didn’t have to let it live or die around their schedule. I felt bad for leaving them, but it is my vacation and she didn’t need to remind me twice. I headed down to Tokyo for the day. The Super Hitachi runs from Mito to Ueno Station with three stops. It’ll get you into the city in an hour. That’s blistering fast considering the Joban rapid line will take two.
While I sat in the train I pulled out a Tokyo guide I had picked up from the Unizo Asakusa Hotel and began to go through the sights. There was the Imperial Gardens, Tokyo Tower, Lolitas in Harajuku (uh, not listed in the guide), the sky promenade in Shinjuku, and why not, I’ll even swing by Akiba for a bit of shopping. I circled the places I was interested in and when I dropped into Tokyo I hopped onto the Yamanote line to go from Ueno to Tokyo and begin my whirlwind tour of the city.
Tokyo Station empties out into a massive center city. The train station and all the skyscrapers that surround it are filled with upscale stores. This is not the place for me, so I believe. I’m not apart of the fashion elite. I would fit right at home in a Jusco, still I walked through some of these department stores. I then went on further to the Imperial Garden. It’s surrounded by a moat and there’s one or two bridges that lead inside. To visit the garden you get a special pass which you have to return upon exiting — I guess this way when they hand out and receive back all the passes they know that everyone’s gone. It’s like a zero-sum game.
If you want solitude in the center of Tokyo, come to the Imperial Gardens. Once you’re through the gates and buffered by the stone walls the jack-hammering, the incessant honking and din of cars motoring down the streets disappears. It’s quiet here. There are a couple of small museums you can visit that show off the Emperor’s swag from visiting other countries over the years. I generally ignored it. I wanted to see the garden. Show me the manicured trees, the meticulously kept grounds, and the stone walls that you carefully rebuilt stone by stone over the years. I came for the epic-ness. I came to be thrown back in time to the Edo period in the small space that survived, untouched by the modern world and time itself.
That’s what I came for. I don’t care if the King of Scotland gave the Emperor a fancy toy boat. Ironically, I’ll probably devote a blog post to the toys that I got from Japan because…I think you might care.
There’s a part of the park where a vast field of dried grass covers a flat field. People sit out there and picnic and rest. You can lay on the grass. It looks damn nice, especially with the blue sky over us that day. I opted to stay on my feet and kept walking around snapping photos and videos. This is how I like to spend my time — on the move, but if I come back, I’ll lay on the grass and stare at the blue sky.
I left the Imperial Garden and headed back to Tokyo Station. There’s one thing here I wished I had taken a picture of. A homeless man had made himself a little umbrella hut under one of the concrete pylons. It was constructed entirely of umbrellas and looked pretty solid for something that might blow away in the wind.
I was back on the Yamanote Line and heading to my next stop, Tokyo Tower. Tokyo Tower’s not the highest building in Tokyo anymore. It’s not the best observatory, but I choose this because it seemed to be iconic, even if it is kitsch. One of my favorite sentimentalist Japanese movies, Always: Sunset on Third Street takes place in 1950s Tokyo. They’re rebuilding after World War II. It’s about a family that runs a small auto shop called Suzuki’s (maybe or maybe not related to the big auto manufacturer). They’ve just hired a new mechanic — a girl that just got out of school who’s looking for work. They live next door to a struggling writer trying to make it big while running the candy shop he inherited from his folks. There are glorious melodramatic moments in the story between the famiily, the writer, and the girl he falls in love with. It takes place under the backdrop of Tokyo Tower being built and that’s why I wanted to see it.
Tokyo Tower sits on a hill and you walk up to it, gazing up at its magnificent grandeur as you approach. I entered the shops around Tokyo Tower first and had a Pink Waffle — think of it as an Auntie Anne’s but they make a waffle and smother it with ice cream and chocolate. I looked at all the campy Tokyo Tower toys to buy — keychains, globes, puzzles. No, I thought to myself, I won’t buy any of it. Just show me to the tower.
For 1000 yen one adult can go up 150 meters to the first observatory. Once there you can pay 600 yen to go up another 100 meters. I figure, I made the journey all the way out to Tokyo Tower — why not go up? The real price of going up 100 meters more is that, it will take you an hour. You have to wait for your number to be called. I spent time on the first observatory and I recommend you immediately buy your ticket for the special observatory if you want to go higher, but honestly at the end of the day that extra 100 meters was not worth it. You get the same view at a slightly elevated angle. The observatory is smaller and packed tighter and there’s nothing else to do there other than gaze out at the city. I really didn’t get the sense that I saw more than I could at 150 meters. I snapped pictures of the buildings below and got a good panorama view of Tokyo from the sprawling city to the bridges over the bay. That’s really about it. You can dine at the cafe on the first observatory. There’s a shop there the size of a closet that a thousand Japanese tourists will try to squeeze through. So do yourself a favor and enjoy the 150 meter high view and move along.
I stayed long enough to see the sunset.
As I walked away from Tokyo Tower, I turned around and snapped this postcard picture:
An even better one:
There were two things I wanted to see here: the temple and Lolitas. Since I couldn’t find the temple, I saw the latter just by walking around. Once I got off the Yamanote Line, I was back on the streets of Harajuku I ended up following several people around making a loop about the shopping district. Harajuku’s known for its high fashion and all the shops reflect that. Now, imagine Akiba stuffed to the brim with electronics, DVDs, anime, and toys. Harajuku is the same but with fashion. I don’t know if all the stores went up eight stories, but I bet they did. There are Lolita shops that effuse pink. They love them some pink in this country. Men wear pink without embarrassment. I don’t know what the official reason is, but here’s my take: everywhere you go they wear gray and black — the business men, school kids, everyone except for the one girl that’s dressed in a bright kimono. So then there’s only on way to not be so plain and lifeless. Wearing something pastel. Pink doesn’t carry the same stigma that it does in America. It doesn’t scream pansy and they love it on everything here. We just think it’s gaudy.
I managed to catch sight of a few dour looking Lolita as I walked around, and since there was nothing else I could find to see in the night, I headed back to the Yamanote Line and breezed off to Shinjuku.
So, before I blitz out of Harajuku, why Lolitas? I have a thing for girls in period clothing (obviously). The subculture’s always fascinated me. Don’t call it a costume. Don’t mistake it with anime inspired maids — it borrows influence from Lolitas not the other way around. This is youth rebellion. It’s girls that got tired of of the modern world and the hyper-sexualization of their society so they dressed down. Rococo style. They dress for themselves because they got tired of being treated and paid like second class citizens with the only future prospect of popping out babies. At least that’s how I understand the fashion movement. There’s an air of elegance about it; I suppose that’s what I like the most.
If you want to find more about Lolitas watch Kamikaze Girls. It explains the fashion and a take on the mentality of it. That aside, it’s a damn good movie to boot. Lots of good moments. Plus if you like Fukada Kyoko, you can’t go wrong.
Honestly, by this point in the evening, all I did was have dinner here. The stores were closing for the night anyway. The JR station connects with a department store and on the eighth floor of that store there’s a restaurant floor. I had sushi there and was on my way. I vowed as I left that I would come back to Shinjuku to see it in the day next time.
I cut across Tokyo on the Chuo line to avoid going around the Yamanote Line — it was a lot shorter this way. I stopped off at Akiba for some quick shopping — I figured I’d grab a figure or two and then be on my way back to Mito.
I arrived here back at midnight. I thought I could take the Super Hitachi back, but for some reason I thought I couldn’t — but the joke’s on me, because you could, and I learned that a day later. I ended up taking the Joban line back to Mito and enjoyed the two hour train ride.
It was a long Saturday filled with sightseeing and I did see everything I wanted too. What I like most is that I didn’t extensively plan anything. It’s all spontaneous. Off the cuff, if you will. I must travel this way more often. It’s fun to explore on your own. When we had considered going a year ago we looked at doing tour groups, but honestly, what’s the fun in having someone hold your hand? I like to explore.
The next day, Sunday, it was Kairakuen Garden in Mito. The day after, one final stop in Tokyo and I do something absolutely ridiculous and nerdy: I go to a maid cafe.