Shinjuku, Shibuya, and Harajuku
Once I saw Nakano-shinbashi station’s entrance, I immediately knew why I missed it the first time. You can see it here; I wasn’t looking for the Tokyo Metro sign. I was looking for a station more grandoise like Shinjuku Station, the only Japanese train station I had seen so far. Nakano-shinbashi is a small station that feels like the MUNI Metro stations in San Francisco. Luckily the train fare purchasing system was fairly simple, so I easily bought a passbook for the train and headed down to the platform. The station’s interior was under construction, so there were signs everywhere displaying “Go-chuui kudasai/please be careful.” I had just missed the train so the platform was empty when I got there. I wasn’t sure if all the doors on the platform would be in use so I posted up in the middle and waited. Within a few moments, people started to show up and also wait for the train. I remember thinking “Everyone is going to stare at me because I obviously am not Japanese” and I had the feeling that Nakano was not an area tourists frequented. But no one was rude or stared at me, which was actually nice. I had heard from other bloggers or friends that I should get used to stares, but I didn’t experience it at all (or I didn’t notice it, but I am sure I would have noticed it once as I was in wide-eyed puppy mode the entire time and was looking at everyone and everything!)
The process of catching the train wasn’t different than riding the train in San Francisco; the only major different is that Tokyo’s train system is like if San Francisco’s system was extremely efficient and multiplied by 100. The line I was on (Marunochi) only had one simple transfer to get Shinjuku (you literally exit the train and walk maybe 5 steps to wait for the transfer), so after a 10 minute ride I was there. I got off at Shinjuku station and followed the flow of passengers out to the ground level and ended up in front of a UNIQLO. We have UNIQLO in San Francisco, but this UNIQLO was different because all of the signage said ビックロ (“Bikkuro”) instead of ウニクロ(Unikuro). I didn’t realise it until later that week when Noriko explain it to me, but that store was a special collaboration with Bic Camera, one of Japan’s largest electronics retailers, hence the name (Uniqlo + Bic Camera = Bikkuro!). I love shopping so I easily spent about an hour in that UNIQLO alone. SF’s UNIQLO is fairly large, but the Bikkuro was larger and had more inventory. It also had electronics for sales due to the special collaboration. I really regret not buying one of those cute fans!
After doing a bit of shopping in UNIQLO, I decided to head to Shibuya Station. Once there, I checked out the famous Hachiko statue and took in the famous Shibuya Scramble crossing. I had no plans at all for the day, so I wandered around until I found an arcade chain called Taito. Japanese arcades are amazing, and the UFO catchers in the arcades are no exception. There were so many varieties of machine and about a quarter of them were filled with Rilakkuma goods. The sheer amount of Rilakkuma items sent me into a frenzy as I tried my luck at several machines. So here is my Taito story: I had tried my luck on maybe 4-5 different Rilakkuma machines spending an undesirable amount of money. I got to the Mushroom Garden Deluxe machine and an employee was nearby. He saw me try and fail, and after a quick conversation (my Japanese was still a bit rusty at this point) I realised he was asking which one I wanted. I told him the "green one in bed" (why I blanked on the word mushroom is a mystery—it's in my vocabulary!) and then he moved it to the very edge. It still took two more tries but I finally got him! Feeling confident with my employee-assisted UFO catcher success, I felt a little hungry so I went to the McDonald’s next door.
Now I know some people feel you shouldn’t eat McDonald’s in another country, but I personally think if a country has a McDonald’s menu that is unique to that area, you would be crazy not to try it! McDonald’s Japan has some pretty unique menu items, but I knew a lot of them are seasonal. I was stressed out ordering because although I knew Japanese fast food workers speak a different form of Japanese (it’s very polite), I didn't realise how different it would be than casual or textbook Japanese! I was super confused by actually hearing the formal language used for customers outside of a classroom, so I just ordered the first unique menu item I saw—a teriyaki burger, small fries (s saizu) and an orange juice (reason #453 why I love Japan: you can get juice at almost any fast food restaurant and it costs the same as soda.) After that somewhat unhealthy lunch decision, I decided to get some exercise and take a quick walk 20 minute walk to Yoyogi Park.
Once inside the park, I was playing the role of tourist quite well, which means I was constantly reaching in my pocket to take my phone for an Instagram opportunity. One time I pulled my phone out and the transfer ticket I had for the train flew out with it. It then flew over the fence and landed just out of my arm’s reach. I had to crouch down, grab a stick, and “rake” the ticket back over to me, nearly crawling under the fence in the process. Afterwards, my knees had a gravel imprint all over them. I’m sure I looked like a crazy 外国人 (gaikokujin = foreigner) too, but I got that transfer ticket back so it worked out okay (when I told Noriko this story, she was like “why didn’t you just climb the fence!?” At the time, I didn’t want to walk off the path, but looking back, I probably should have just climbed over and grabbed the transfer, ha!).
Yoyogi Park has a famous shrine inside of it called Meiji-jingu. Meij-jingu was built in 1920 and houses the spirits of Emperor Meiji and Empress Shōken. Meiji-jingu is huge and has a really interesting history. I honestly knew little to nothing about it before I somehow ended up here. I'm really glad I had a unplanned day of wandering. I spent almost two hours in Meiji-jingu and Yoyogi Park alone, but it was a wonderful experience. Solo sightseeing with no set plans is quite nice. After walking for about half an hour, I made it to the shrine. It was a little crowded, but not nearly as bad as the shrines I would later visit in Kyoto. I performed my first temizu (ceremonial cleansing done before entering a shrine) and then entered the shrine. I recommend visiting Meiji-jingu if you are ever in Tokyo because it’s easy to get to (right next to Harajuku-station) and is a beautifully constructed shrine in a lovely park.
After viewing the shrine, I exited and took a break in an open field in the park. There were vending machines (of course!), so I grabbed my first warmed canned drink. Ah, the vending machines…yet another thing I miss about Japan—the abundance of high-tech vending machines!
After I took a break in the park, I checked out to Harajuku, which is right next to Yoyogi Park. Harajuku is a fashionable part of Tokyo and it has a famous street called “Takeshita Dori” (Takeshita Street). There are a multitude of boutiques and stalls selling all kinds of fashions, ranging from adorable accessories to lolita goods to everyday wear. I bought a few things, but this is where I sadly realised that most clothes in Japan come in a Japanese S or M (which is like an American XS or S size) or that the clothes are “free size,” which is one size fits all. In Uniqlo, I could easily find my size but I realised here that the less global brands didn’t offer the same sizes. Because of this, I couldn’t wear some of the clothes (the cut wouldn’t be appropriate for my height/it was too tight/etc). That said, there were still tons of cute things I wanted to try on but didn’t have a chance to because of how crowded it was in each shop. I planned on going back on a weekday morning (this was late afternoon and there were tons of students hanging out and shopping), but this was actually the only time I spent in Harajuku and never went back. I am still sad about this! Next trip I will spend an entire morning shopping and trying things on to my heart’s content! After I finished exploring Harajuku, I had plans to get shabu-shabu with Noriko and some friends, so I caught the train towards Fuchū. We had shabu-shabu at a place called Kisoji—it was delicious!
Business Dinner in Osaki
The next day, I had a business dinner for my company. I decided to be a little fancy and wear a blazer, which was a terrible idea because it ended being super humid that day. I had breakfast at a nearby curry shop in Nakano and then headed to Tokyo station to find the Rilakkuma Store. I got super lost in the station because I forgot how to read a Japanese address and completely ignored that the store was located in below the ground floor! I spent nearly an hour walking aroundm inside and outside the station, looking for the freaking Rilakkuma store. It ended up being located directly below the station. My frustration subsided as soon as I found the store because it was another example of Rilakkuma Paradise. Sooooo many Rilakkuma goods! I kid you not, I spent another hour in that store alone. It’s not even that big, but I had to inspect everything. One of the girls working there was super sweet and was just as excited about Rilakkuma as I was, so she kept showing me different items and asking me what I liked best. I spent an unspeakable amount on Rilakkuma items and looked around at the other shops in the station. There were so many character stores—including a Lego store, a Ghibli store, and a Sanrio store. There was even a shop selling LINE character goods! I decided to stop by the Gundam Cafe inside the station as well. I am not a Gundam fan at all. During my anime days, mecha never interested me. But at that moment, I wished I was a Gundam fan; the menu and interior were all Gundam themed but I didn’t understand any of the references. The strawberry fruit blended drink I ordered was pretty good though!
Afterwards, I made my way to Osaki. The dinner was at a restaurant near the client’s headquarters, located in an area called Gate City Osaki. The best way to describe this area is an office park near a train station. I was really worried about being late to a client dinner, so I got there really early—3 hours too early. The area was very cute, but it’s not a touristy area at all so there wasn’t much to around there. There weren’t many noticeable shops or cafes near the complex (besides a Lawson), so I opted for a Burger King. I never eat fast food in the US because there isn’t much in San Francisco. But in Japan, two days in and I was eating it daily! I am glad I killed time in Burger King because it allowed me to photograph the food. How perfect is that tray arrangement? Also, I love the liquid sugar (often called gum sugar) available everywhere in Japan. It’s perfect for iced coffee. Every cafe and restaurant has it available, but I have never seen it in the US.
It started getting dark, so I decided to walk around the Gate City Osaki building and ended up finding a bookstore/cafe, which is where I killed time until the business dinner. The clients we were meeting were not actually my personal clients, but my Japanese coworkers’ clients. They all had visited my office in San Francisco when they came to the US on a business trip for a meeting with my Japanese coworkers. I have studied business dinners in Japanese classes several times and the lessons were pretty accurate. Everyone has a good time and there’s a lot of alcohol involved. The restaurant was an izakaya where you remove your shoes and get your own private room. It was a great experience and what I assume is a typical Japanese business dinner. One of the clients wanted me to try awamori because I never had it before—it was awesome! After the dinner, I headed by to Nakano and called it a night.