(二) I Didn’t Want to Leave Harajuku

I woke up the next day feeling absolutely refreshed from the seven hours of sleep I managed to get the previous night. Plus, the thought that we were going to Harajuku that day added a spring to my step and I was buzzing with excitement throughout the whole subway ride.

I also decided to dress up for the occasion as best I could, which in this case meant donning on purple lipstick, my galaxy skirt and chocolate-print socks from Bellyn that were also from Japan. My black Mary Jane platforms would’ve completed the look but I figured aesthetic values weren’t worth the sacrifice of the gruelling pain I had to put my feet through and I was secretly glad that I had abode by this logic.

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However, our first stop was Meiji Jingu, and funnily enough, this shrine is one of the places I’ve gotten fairly acquainted with even prior to my arrival in Tokyo purely due to the number of times I’ve watched D&P’s Japan vlog.

It was still fairly early in the morning so the weather wasn’t too hot yet. Plus, the pathway leading to the inside of the shrine was surrounded by thick shrubs and tall trees so it was rather cooling and shady.

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Photo credit: Rujia
Barrels containing sake
Barrels containing sake

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Photo credit: Rujia
Photo credit: Rujia
Cleansing before entering the shrine - wash both hands, then your mouth (optional) before washing the dipper handle
Cleansing before entering the shrine – wash both hands, then your mouth (optional) before washing the dipper handle

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Votive boards which you can purchase for 500 yen to write your wishes on it and hang them up. It was really entertaining to read them; there was one board that said "I wish to be a millionaire before 26" by someone from Spain which, honestly, isn't as bad as Dan Howell writing about Kanye West
Votive boards which you can purchase for 500 yen to write your wishes on it and hang them up. It was really entertaining to read them; there was one board that said “I wish to be a millionaire before 26” by someone from Spain which, honestly, isn’t as bad as Dan Howell writing about Kanye West
Omikuji - another practice I got acquainted with because of...something I was writing. There is a bunch of sticks held in a wooden container and you shake it so one falls off. The corresponding reading to your stick is supposed to predict your fortune - if you get a 'kichi' which means blessing (and there are variations of kichi ranging from great to small) you can keep it with you. On the other hand, if one gets a 'kyou' which means curse, they usually tie it on a provided rack, signifying 'leaving the curse behind'. But it's okay to bring it along with you too if you want. Sadly, I didn't get a fortune for myself because 1) I need to pay and 2) I don't think I want to know about my fortune even though omikuji is rarely taken too seriously anymore
Omikuji – another practice I got acquainted with because of…something I was writing. A bunch of sticks held in a wooden container and you shake it so one falls off. The corresponding reading to your stick is supposed to predict your fortune – if you get a ‘kichi’ which means blessing (and there are variations of kichi ranging from great to small) you can keep it with you. On the other hand, if one gets a ‘kyou’ which means curse, they usually tie it on a provided rack, signifying ‘leaving the curse behind’. But it’s okay to bring it along with you too if you want. Sadly, I didn’t get a fortune for myself because 1) I need to pay and 2) I don’t think I want to know about my fortune even though omikuji is rarely taken too seriously anymore

And then after that it was time for Harajuku!

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Harajuku station

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Anime signboards about passwords
Anime signboards about passwords

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Takeshita street! Aka the busiest street in Harajuku lined with loads of shops selling ‘quirky-fashioned’ clothes and accessories alongside larger chain stores such as Monki and WEGO. This was where I separated from Rumin as she and her aunt and sister headed into the enormous Daiso building that would surely put our Malaysian Daiso branches to shame. Despite the jostling crowd, the summer heat and the shop workers yelling out promotions, I felt completely at ease, normal discomfort of being in huge crowds forced to the back of my mind as curiosity and exhilaration propelled my feet forward.

There were a lot of shops selling specially shoes/boots (which I stopped at several times merely to enter and admire because I was conscious of both my luggage weight flying from Japan back home and also from home to UK next month), socks, dresses, wacky clothes with which the only comparison I can draw from from my 20 years of life experience is the shoplots in Sungei Wang but with a wider variety and many times prettier, as well as gothic and lolita clothing. I rarely made long stops because I wanted to walk the entire street first (and also because I was in search of the allegedly closed down Haikyuu store in Harajuku) but then a store caught my eye and I couldn’t not go in.

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This is the absolute dream...a 17000 yen figurine
This is the absolute dream…a 17000 yen figurine
Look at these Diabolik Lovers and Durarara fragrances. The entire concept is so outrageous but I was still tempted
Look at these Diabolik Lovers and Durarara fragrances. The entire concept is so outrageous but I was still tempted

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I made a friend
I made a friend

I didn’t buy anything but I tried the coin slot machines for the first time and got a Tsukki keychain.

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After that we had lunch at Hanamaru Sanuki Udon! Sanuki udon will always have a special place in my heart and I’m glad that I got to eat it in Harajuku of all places. We had to descend a flight of stairs to get into the restaurant, and there was already a queue leading all the way from the door to the stairs by the time we got there. It was predictably crowded inside but we managed to find a relatively secluded area to enjoy our meals.

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After lunch, we continued walking around and tried out Harajuku’s renowned crêpes.

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Monki!
Monki!
The building that housed Monki was three storeys high and consisted of other shops selling Harajuku style clothing and accessories at discounted prices. I wanted to get a pair of rainbow slip-ons which were only 300 yen but they didn't have it in my size :(
The building that housed Monki was three storeys high and consisted of other shops selling Harajuku style clothing and accessories at discounted prices. I wanted to get a pair of rainbow slip-ons which were only 300 yen but they didn’t have it in my size 😦

Takeshita street ended there and I was left feeling dissatisfied, having not fully bathed in its magnificence long enough but we were running on a tight schedule and I could only tell myself that I would be back soon.

We stopped at the Harajuku Forever 21 and H&M outlets for a while and I chanced a visit to WEGO, which appeared to be a rather large brand in Japan. When I got inside, I could see why. A lot of the accessories sold were similar to INU INU; on one hand they had the minimalistic pastel shades + grid patterns vibe going on and on the other there was stuff boasting loud vibrant colours typical of a fashion store in Harajuku. I got two pairs of socks and a row of multicoloured bobby pins (I will be making a haul video soon to show everything that I bought in Japan so there’s that).

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There was still time to spare while waiting for Rumin and the rest and I didn’t want to wander too far away so I was contented with just observing people passing by. Another favourable thing about Harajuku: being surrounded by  people dressed to the brilliant extremes of Harajuku street styles. It felt like being in a physical bubble of Lookbook, only better.

And then we were on our way to Shibuya!

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Elya: please reenact the D&P dog station bit w/ sad music
Elya: please reenact the D&P dog station bit w/ sad music

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Story of Hachiko the dog: Hachiko belonged to a certain Professor Ueno back in 1924 and he was always seen waiting for his master at the Shibuya station every evening where he greeted him at the end of the day until the professor died. Even after that, Hachiko still waited loyally at the station every evening until he also died and a monument was erected at Shibuya station to commemorate Hachiko’s trait of loyalty.

So now Hachiko is a symbol of Shibuya which is nice because Hachiko deserves to live on in everyone’s heart </3

In Shibuya, there was no way you could miss the famous Shibuya crossing where hundreds (?) of people cross the streets simultaneously in a flurry of human activity. I tried to record a video of the crossing but it was only until I reached the other end of the road did I realise that I didn’t press the record button after all.

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We stopped to have drinks and wait for the day to get darker and thus cooler
We stopped to have drinks and wait for the day to get darker and thus cooler

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We found one of those huge socks shops that were selling three pairs of socks for 1000 yen so I got another three pairs of socks.

I felt like I didn’t pay much attention to a lot of things while in Shibuya because at this point, I was starting to get exhausted again and everything felt very detached and distant. I could sense that everyone else felt more or less the same too, which was why after having dinner at a small sushi shop, we left Shibuya for our next stop despite only having walked around for roughly less than an hour.

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Mix your own matcha tea
Mix your own matcha tea

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Next stop: Ikebukuro.

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To this day, Ikebukuro at night remains one of my favourite experiences in Japan, I’m not entirely too sure why but I could be hugely biased. I had Durarara in mind the entire time, and for some reason, as we walked along the streets headed for Sunshine City, the overhead speakers kept on playing the season 2 ED2 of KNB.

Plus, I’ve always had an inexplicable affinity for busy cities especially at night (which was one of the sole reasons why I chose Manchester over Warwick) probably because there is a wide array of things to do that one can never get bored. And at night, when vividly vibrant lights shine through the night sky (and in the case of Tokyo, long vertical dazzling signboards of every hue imaginable jutting out of towering buildings) the entire view is just really beautiful and that’s when the hordes of all sorts of people become fascinating rather than frightening. There was also the lack of an extremely sharpened sense of fear and wariness when strolling through Tokyo that usually came hand in hand whenever I walked around KL, day or night. Of course, this didn’t mean that I could completely let my guard down but it was a known fact that Japan has a very low crime rate and I’d lost count of how many times passers-by had informed me my bag was unzipped. It was also the alleviation of this anxiety that made my experiences in Tokyo all the more enjoyable.

While in Ikebukuro, I came to a few conclusions: 1) at any time anywhere in Tokyo, you can’t find less than a thronging crowd be it early in the morning or late at night. Business is always good everywhere, in clothing shops, cafés, fast food joints, toy shops etc which led to the deduction that the Japanese have really high purchasing powers but of course all of this is just a personal comparison (but judging by Japan’s strong economy, I don’t think I’m too far off). 2) Japanese city buildings are usually very narrow but incredibly tall, huddled close together, reminding me of something Rumin’s sister said about the Japanese prioritizing practicality by fully utilising every inch of space available over comfort and aesthetic values. It was easy to feel so minute when wandering the streets of cities, especially surrounded by these tall buildings and large crowds but surprisingly, I didn’t mind it that much. 3) Despite points 1 and 2, most shops in Tokyo pull down their shutters really early, 9PM being the latest majority of the shops’ opening hours are till.

Ikebukuro was also filled with arcades and what was initially just a stroll around the place out of curiosity turned into my first try at the UFO catchers when I found the Haikyuu booths.

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I think I underestimated the difficulty of these arcades based on tales I’ve heard of how people have won things and of course I thought if other people can do it so can I which led to me going straight for the 500 yen for six tries option. I had no idea how to play at first so I observed the girl next to me fishing for an Oikawa figurine. She succeeded in a few tries and we all clapped and cheered for her before I steeled myself and navigated the UFO catcher with more precision and concentration than when I’d sat for my driving test, probably. Alas, I failed, 500 yen gone in the blink of an eye as I threw one last glance at the figurines separated from me by a mere thin sheet of glass before stepping out of the arcade with a heavy heart.

You either walk out of an arcade with a box in your hand and a grin on your face or shuffle down the parade of shame out of the parlour, flashing lights and cheery 8-bit music emitted from the rows of machines a mockery of your failure and succumbence to a popular marketing gimmick. I fell into the latter category.

We continued for Sunshine City but I was once again distracted when I saw the huge Animate sign down an alley at a distance, so I asked to break away from Rumin and her aunt and sister for 10 minutes while I scouted the place as quick as I could and also maybe find the Ikebukuro Animate café branch which was the only branch in the whole of Tokyo that had a Haikyuu theme going on.

Animate signboard in the distance like a UFO I would wave to to get it to come closer
Animate signboard in the distance like a UFO I would wave to to get it to come closer

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There were so many people lining outside that at first glance, I thought there was an event going on but it was just people lining up for the coin slot machines. I didn’t have time to stop and shop (plus I knew there was another Animate branch at Akihabara and I would have time then to look around slowly) so I went in only with the intent of finding out where the café was. It quickly became apparent that the six storey building would take forever for me to check each floor to see if the café was there so I resorted to asking a guy behind the information counter where it was and he gave me a map and explained to me kindly how to get there and I almost left the place in a sprint after saying a grateful thank you to him.

With the map as my only guidance, I was pretty paranoid of getting lost even though it wasn’t exactly far from the agreed rendezvous with Rumin back at the spot where we had separated. Which was why when I was standing right at the place where the map said there would be a café and saw only tall office-like buildings, I started to break into a cold sweat. There were a few people holding signboards promoting their shops and I had no choice but to ask one of them where “Animato café” was and it turned out it was on the fourth floor of the office-like building I was standing right in front of. Once again, I was so thankful for the help and littered him with “thank you”s before heading for the building. I was quite literally the only person there and I couldn’t help but feel wary in the elevator but then the elevator doors opened and my doubts vanished in a wisp of smoke.

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I’d found out beforehand that one could only enter the café with reservations one month prior to their visit so I didn’t expect to be welcomed with open arms but I was satisfied just being able to see how the café was. It was filled with people and the speakers were playing the second ED (Leo by Tacica) and the waiters were all dressed as Haikyuu characters oh my god!!! I saw a Tsukki and a Suga and later on, an Asahi appeared to tell me that I couldn’t enter if I hadn’t made a reservation and I said I know but I just wanted to look around and they said sorry, I wasn’t allowed to take photos either but by that time I’d already taken a handful anyway so I said my apologies, stalled a little while longer to observe the place some more before pressing the button to summon the lift.

I never saw the Haikyuu themed food they served but I saw the menu online and the choices displayed were all based on the characters’ favourite food (like Kenma’s apple pie and Oikawa’s milk bread) which was so cute I wish I’d made reservations earlier so I could try them out. (I did try though back at home but they required a Japanese address and a phone number and I’d thought even if I could come up with a fake address, there would still be difficulties in communication but maybe this is all just an excuse 😦 )

Pumped up by the discovery of the café, I hurried back to our rendezvous spot and made it in time, huge idiotic smile still lingering on my face from where I’d just been to.

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Ikebukuro is also pretty anime-centric, I came to realise

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A Durarara-themed glasses shop. I wouldn't have expected any less from Ikebukuro, it being Durarara's setting after all
A Durarara-themed glasses shop. I wouldn’t have expected any less from Ikebukuro, it being Durarara’s setting after all

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And then we were at Sunshine City! All four of us separated here again and agreed to regroup in half an hour’s time. Sunshine City was so huge but I managed to find J-World in the end after getting lost at the first floor for a while.

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I had initially planned to only visit their shop since I don’t watch most of the anime that had attractions in the theme park other than Haikyuu and KNB and I didn’t want to fork out 800 yen only to catch a glimpse of one single Haikyuu attraction but it turned out that I still had to pay the entrance fee to get to the shop so in the end I left with only flyers in hand. I felt it was also appropriate self-punishment for the 500 yen I’d lost at the arcade but in retrospect, I made a mistake. I messed up. I’d already gone all the way to Tokyo, I should’ve just taken the plunge. Plus, after I came back, a friend of mine on Tumblr told me that they sold Haikyuu themed food at their food court so this was definitely one of the laments of regret I had after coming home from Japan.

(EDIT: it’s past midnight as I am writing this and it’s that time of the night when I remember that 800 yen is only RM20++ and I should’ve just freaking went inside)

I found the Ghibli store after that though!

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Sunshine City is also home to the one and only Pokémon Centre but I didn't get the chance to visit
Sunshine City is also home to the one and only Pokémon Centre but I didn’t get the chance to visit because the shops closed early

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Finally, we headed for our last stop of the day: Shinjuku.

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I was starting to get hungry so I got a chicken mayo onigiri from a konbini
I was starting to get hungry so I got a chicken mayo onigiri from a konbini

Leaving Sunshine City zapped what remnants of energy I’d procured from visiting Animate out of me and once again, I was roaming the streets of Shinjuku with aching legs, sore shoulder muscles from carrying my bag around the whole day and a foggy mind in need of sleep. Shinjuku was your trademark busy city of the night, even more so than Ikebukuro, I felt. There were also more darker and dirtier alleyways in Shinjuku, and maybe it was because we were there at a pretty late hour, but I couldn’t help the shady vibe radiating from the narrow streets we walked through. There were a lot of tiny cramped eateries here, as well as brightly lit huge pachinko and slots parlours, alternating between one and the other.

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And then it was finally time to head back to our hotel in Ueno.

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Ueno-sanchome station / I've also got a thing for Japanese subway pastel grid walls which, I suppose, is a very Tumblr thing Social experiment: I posted this photoset on Tumblr. It got 30 notes
Ueno-sanchome station / I’ve also got a thing for Japanese subway pastel grid walls which, I suppose, is a very Tumblr thing
Social experiment: I posted this photoset on Tumblr. It got 30 notes

Since it was our last night staying in Ueno First City Hotel, in spite of our weariness, Rumin and I pulled on the yukatas the hotel provided and did leg exercises to alleviate the soreness in our legs.

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Photo credit: Rumin

The thought of leaving Tokyo the next day left a heavy weighted feeling on my chest but I barely had time to dwell on it before I was fast asleep.

 

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Author: Michelle Teoh

21-year-old cynical Asian, book enthusiast and purveyor of fine sarcasm.

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