The sixth day started with Austin eating all of the eggs at the breakfast buffet, as usual. However, this day would be unusual as we would be traveling to different sites around Tokyo and given time to explore. First, we went to Asakusa to visit Sensoji Temple and Nakamise Street. The Sensoji Temple is an ancient Buddhist Temple built in 7th century AD. It was very interesting to see the structure of the different buildings on the larger complex as well as the large crowd we were walking through. We saw many women dressed in yukatas (a summer kimono) taking pictures in front of the different structures. It seemed like this was popular, as some of the shops we passed offered yukata rentals. Just outside of the temple area was Nakamise Street, a large area of street vendors and shops. Some people decided to keep exploring around and made it out to the Sumida river.
The original Pokemon video games (developed in Japan) included a part of the game where players could enter a large department store with many stories and specific groupings of items being sold on each floor. Growing up in the United States, this did not make a lot of sense, but upon visiting Akihbara, it started to make sense. Akihabara’s two main attraction points were a mall and bookstore. The mall was seven floors, with the lower floors resembling technology and department stores and the upper floors having current popular culture branded items (such as Pokemon, Star Wars, and Super Mario). The book store was nine floors tall with different types of manga books on each, though it was very tough for us to decipher the difference between types of manga books because we couldn’t read the language. There were also some sections dedicated to hobbies such as trains and automobiles.
We then went to Meiji-jingu Shrine & Harajuku; the Shrine was part of a larger park where many tourists and locals were walking and enjoying the scenery. Meiji-jingu is a Shinto Shrine dedicated to Emperor Meiji, who reigned from 1867 – 1912. The shrine was built in 1920.
Across the main road next to the park was a small St. Patrick’s day festival (as our big day out in Tokyo happened to be March 17th). Many people living in Columbus have visited the Dublin Irish Festival – the core concept is that a group of first, second, and third generation Irish living in America put on a large cultural festival, complete with Irish dancing, traditional folk music, exhibits, a lot of food, and games like Gaelic football. The festival here in Japan that we stumbled upon was much smaller than the festival in Columbus, but still had much of the same types of stands and presentations; there was a street rugby game, a live band, and some typical Irish food. The most interesting part of this festival, however, was that it was put on by Japanese people (as opposed to Irish immigrants and descendants); everyone in the live band playing the Irish folk music was Japanese. One of the contacts from Japan International Cooperation Center (JICE) told us that they did not know about St. Patrick’s day in Japan until recent years, so it is small but growing as a celebration.
Harajuku was an extremely crowded shopping district. With the sheer number of people walking around, it felt like being in New York City, but the streets were extremely quiet and peaceful with no shouting, horns honking, litter, or unpleasant smells. One thing that really stuck out was the customer service we encountered. In America, we’re used to retail workers being indifferent (more or less) to their jobs, and it quickly became clear that Japanese retail workers will bend over backwards for customers, requested or not, which was interesting to see. For example, Dennis had finished trying on some shirts in Adidas and went to see some of the shirts back to their racks. Even though he was only about 20 feet away from the rack, an employee quickly ran up with a smile, took the shirts, and put them back. Similarly, Jacob was looking at shirts and a store employee would not let him fold the shirts back up himself, insisting that he let her fold them.
After Harajuku, we returned to our hotel to relax and get ready for the big travel day ahead of us. Before going to bed, Ethan led a group down the block to a mall that had a 60th floor observation deck looking out over Tokyo. It only cost ¥900 (about $9), and the views were amazing.
Read the next post! Kakehashi Project 8: Sunday Scaries
Or read from the start! Kakehashi Project 1: Pre-departure and Travel Day