These travelling blog posts have been moved here from my old blog – they were originally posted on the dates as shown, and could contain errors – years have passed since they were originally posted (and my memory was never that great) and I may not have got things right at the time as it was!
Day Seven – 5th January 2008
And so we started the day by heading out to nice, peaceful Mount Takao (高尾山, Takaosan) which was a grand idea after the crazy goodness of DisneySea.
We travelled via Shinjuku and since that’s the main station (it seems) to travel to outer Tokyo and beyond we decided to buy tickets for Hakone as we’d be travelling there soon for the hot springs.
Judging from the photos online, it seems like it would be best visited when they’re experiencing Autumn (end of November), but ah well. There is a cable car and chair lift leading halfway up the mountain. From there, the ascent to the summit takes about 45 minutes. Hiking the mountain from its base doubles the walking time.
We expected the mountain to be a lot quieter, but there was a decent amount of people around. Not quite to the level of the temple at New Years or Asakusca on any day though, so we were fine with the crowds.
So then it was time to get on the air lift chairs. We didn’t realise that they were exactly like you get at ski resorts. You just kind of… wait for one to come along and sweep under you, and you sit and go. No bar holding you in, no strap to cling to and we had a backpack and a camera each to cling to already. The friend I was with was afraid of heights and I’m not that fantastic when there’s a semi-big drop below you at times, and just rough wood panels to fall on at others, but we tried to distract ourselves with the great view and not focus on how steep it all was.
So we got to the top of the incline, and were happy!
But then as the incline passed, we found we weren’t even halfway there and it only got steeper. So that was just like another ride from DisneySea and the excitement wasn’t over yet.
Along the way there was someone there to take your photo, and you could then purchase it at the top of the chair lift if you wished. The photos are done so quickly you don’t have to wait for them at all.
The mountain is utterly wonderful – peaceful and serene and you can take all the time you want. While we were there it starts getting dark in Tokyo at about 4pm so we hurried through, but it would be been lovely to spend the full day there properly. There are shrines throughout and rest stations, and they even sold ice cream and hash browns halfway up. It’s one of those places which is hard to describe so I’ll hopefully let the photos do the talking, and say it was one of the highlights of the trip and very much worth a visit. At the summit there’s sometimes amazing views, however we were met with clouds and a whole lot of glare from the sun off said clouds, so we pretty much caught our breath and started the trek down again – which was fine, as I love woods and little streams and such – I hope to go back in Autumn some time for sure.
After we were done, we headed back to Shinjuku to catch a train to Nakano (third time lucky – first time we tried everything was closed, second time I was too sick and ruined our plans, but third time, we finally made it!) The shopping arcade they have is on par with how excellent Harajuku or Akihabara is – countless tiny shops of all geeky related things.
The basement has some grocery shops. The ground floor just has standard jewellery, clothing and trinket shops. The second floor has some restaurants. While there are some normal shops (watches, cameras, telescopes, coins and stamps) you’re going to be pretty much surrounded by goodies as far as the eye can see, on the 2nd, 3rd and 4th floors it’s pretty much Mandarake shops with used manga, doujinshiis and anime; toy shops; model shops; a cosplay supplies shop; and shops with collectors’ phone cards, figurines, DVDs, CDs and anime cells. I still to this day adore the Ouran and Final Fantasy things I purchased there.
With our geek sated once more, we headed home.
Day Eight – 6th January 2008
Today was the day to explore Harajuku properly. Until now we’d only gone through the main set of shops. Harajuku doesn’t really wake up until 11am, so we had a glorious sleep in.
We first stopped at Meiji shrine – a Shinto shrine dedicated to the souls of Emperor Meiji and Empress Shōken, surrounded by a 700,000-square-meter forest – which was pretty busy, but we were used to Tokyo by now so it didn’t really bother us by this stage.
In Harajuku we into heaps of gothic lolita stores and pretty much any other store that caught our interest – such as Snoopy Town once again. Outside the store one of my friend’s bought the ‘best crepe’ (her words, not mine) ever which was smoked salmon, cream cheese, capers and onion.
After some more shopping we decided to leave Harajuku and head towards Yoyoi park and Shibuya. Along the way the rest of us got crepes thanks to the friend’s praise about them, and I got strawberries with creme and half-baked cheesecake.
Pro tip – you all also HAVE to try Japan strawberries. They think ours, here in Australia are SOUR, because they’re used to such sweetness. They’re simply amazing!
We went through Yoyogi park – once a training base for the Imperial Japanese Army – and saw loads of weird and amazing and interesting things. Many bands, from reggae to rap, and then we saw a dog on a skateboard! We saw a group imitating GREASE, complete with a pink cadillac. They were amusing, in a good way. We even saw a rave! A rave, right in the middle of a park.
We moved on to the bands section and found a band called Champagne, who our friends had discovered the last and first time they’d gone through Yoyogi park. We sat and listened to them for a while (or rather, us two girls sat with them for a while and the chaps wandered off.)
We finally had to move on as it was getting late and we still had to hit Shibuya, and found one of our friends who had wondered away, watching some guy dressed as a superhero who called himself Basketball Man. All he seemed to do was play dramatic music, pose, say wild, crazy things and move around basketballs on his little stage – it was strangely engaging.
We were still within sight of Champagne so while we waited for Basketball Man to be even stranger, the singer of Champagne noticed us and came over to chat – his English was excellent, and with him came the bassist. He tried to get the rest of the band to come over, but they ignored him so he clapped his hands and was all MEN! MEN! HERE! It was highly amusing, they had an excellent presence and wackiness to them all. They had quite a hefty fangirl crowd who were seemingly devastated they spent so long talking to us, which was a little overwhelming. I think two of them said they’d been to Australia (Melbourne) if I’m remembering correctly, and that’s mostly what we talked about.
Eventually we moved on to Shibuya – famous for its massive scramble crossing – and spent a while trying to find the mandrake store dedicated to manga and anime. It was pretty excellent, but expensive and difficult to get through if your Japanese isn’t pretty darn established.
We were tired and stopped at CoCo Curry for dinner. Tonkatsu curry is THE BEST and thankfully now getting more common in Australia – when I first wrote these entires in 2008 it was pretty hard to find.
We went shopping through the fancy shopping district, then we went to the statue of Hachikō, a famous meeting place in Tokyo. There’s a story behind it. Years ago, a business man would catch the train and go to work. His dog would follow him to the station, then meet him there as he returned and walk home with him. One day, the man died at work, yet the dog stayed in the area forever until it passed away, always patiently waiting for his master to come home. Which may sound familiar to those who’ve seen the Futurama episode.
So they put the statue there as a reminder to the Japanese way of being faithful and loyal. And for making everyone cry.
<– Day Six