Yet another stop-start morning for us, pretty slow, pretty lazy, with a not so exotic breakfast at Burger King (please don’t judge), and then a trip back over the bridge to the hostel for Kyle to collect his phone that he’d left on his bed…
Today’s first port of call was Harajuku, somewhere which I was really excited to go and experience, it was also a place I couldn’t even think about without Gwen Stefani [around the 3.30 minute mark… or] ringing round my head. For some people, all they know about Japan/Tokyo is that it’s famous for cartoons, it’s a crazy city, and there are such things as Harajuku Girls. As we arrived at Harajuku Metro Station, it wasn’t what I expected at all. I expected to come out into another urban jungle of tall skyscrapers, insane buildings with a very futuristic feel. It was, in fact, quite the opposite. The metro station was a super cute little low levelled building by the river and backing onto a huge park. Each place we’d been in Tokyo so far was so different from the last, they each had such a different feel and style, Harajuku was no different, and I loved it…
Now, don’t get me wrong, there were still loads of huge shops in the area, and I mean huge, but it just had such a different feel to places like Shibuya or Akihabara. Again, Kyle knew more about what was going on than me here, and pretty quickly he spotted a Purikura place. Purikura is basically a shop/huge room that you go in that is filled with photo booth type things, all with different themes and styles. You pay your money on the side, wait in line, and then go in through the curtain with your friend to have a mini fun photo shoot. After your turn is over, you then get chance to look through and edit them, adding filters, make-up, stickers, writing, and pretty much anything you can think of.
We headed in and first of all, just walked around, absolutely stunned by the amount of people, male and female, in groups and alone, who were getting themselves all dolled up and ready (some getting changed into different clothes and outfits) before waiting in lines for their turn. Some of the booths were free to walk into at any time; others had queues of about 20 people waiting for a go! Me and Kyle decided we would try it out… we awkwardly put some coins in, tried to navigate the Japanese instructions on the screen, and struggled to find where to go! By the time we had it sorted and went through the curtains, our time was up! We took so long trying to figure it all out we pretty much missed all the photos… some very friendly girls pointed us in the direction of the area we were supposed to go to edit the photos, and this was even worse! We weren’t even in the photos, apart from maybe a rushed arm or two and a look of confusion. We even missed most of the time to edit them properly because we’d taken so long! It was a complete FAIL. The only thing we got out of this first attempt was a very short gif which I had to video on my phone because we couldn’t work out how to email it to ourselves… Unfortunately I can’t upload it to here so follow the link!
We walked around again for a while looking at all the different options, there were ones that turned you into a Barbie doll, box and all, ones that made you look like a model on the front cover of a big glossy magazine, loads of different little cute ones which turn you into weird little animal hybrids… they were endless. We spotted one that seemed to be quite popular, but one of its booths only had a couple of people waiting outside. We decided to join the queue and start prepping for our shoot. The one we’d chosen, for our second attempt, was one that was advertised with pretty girls and rabbits… Not really sure what to expect, but adamant that we’d make it work; we eagerly hopped in when it was our turn. Honestly, it was all a bit of a whirlwind. The screen showed us poses to make, positions to stand in, and actions to do, and… it was actually really fun! We were a little too tall for it in some of the poses, so we had to crouch down a tad, but it was over pretty quickly and it was worth the few coins for the experience alone!
Next up, it was time to edit. Again, we got confused and wasted time, so by the time we found our pictures to edit, we had very limited time to do so. We rushed through the process, adding some stickers and frames along the way, and very quickly typing in our gmail addresses (so good to be out from behind the internet firewall of China), and before we knew it, our time was up and our teeny pictures were popping out into the tray. I actually love the pictures; it was so fun and good to experience something which is so popular with the locals! When you look at the photos, please remember, we were told which poses to do, they were not our natural stances!
We eventually headed back out into the cold and walked down the main/most famous street in the area, Takeshita. (And yes, the name did produce a few laughs and was pretty easy to remember!) The street was crazy… This is where we saw all the weird and wonderful different clothing styles and fashions, all the small and big shops selling insane and impractical clothes. There was so much to take in; shops at ground level, café’s above, stalls on the terraces, and clothing shops creeping up the side of buildings. We went into a few shops looking at the prices of some of the different items, there were loads of tops and hoodies both of us would have liked to buy, if only we had enough money or room in our bags! As we reached the end, the area changed. There were loads of little back alleys with strange little buildings, odd shaped shops and just a generally really cool area to wander around with such a mixture of buildings. It was definitely one of my favourite areas, it really reminded me of eastern Europe in some ways.
After a little more walking, we found the Kawaii Monster Café, which was definitely on our list of places to go, no matter what the entrance fee!
We were both pretty excited and I don’t think we were prepared for what was to come… We first had to decide which area we wanted to sit in, the options were: MUSHROOM DISCO, MILK STAND, Bar Experiment, and Mel-Tea ROOM. Because there was only the two of us, we weren’t allowed a booth or some of the other really cool tables, so we chose the Milk Stand area as it seemed the best for what we were allowed! (Plus, we weren’t restricted to our own section; we were allowed to freely wander around as we wished!) We were taken inside by one of the Monster Girls who was wearing some crazy colourful clothes, with dreads that were equally as big and colourful. As the doors opened, we were instantly taken aback… The only way I can explain this is by relating it to how I image Sam must have felt when we were at the Harry Potter Studios in London and they opened the doors to The Great Hall… Shock, awe, amazement, and the desperate need to run around like a kid to see and touch everything possible.
We were guided around to our table in the corner of the Milk Stand area, right by the giant sheep and cow heads and the milk bottles hanging from the ceiling like stalactites. We also had a perfect view of the stage area, which was more of a crazy bright carousel that looked like something out of Hansel and Gretel; it was designed and made to look good enough to eat, just like the rest of the place. We were given the menu and left to take it all in for a while. Neither of us quite knew what to do, other than say “this place is crazy…” over and over. We both ordered a plate of chips/fries with an array of different coloured dips, and, my personal favourite, an experiment cocktail which we had to mix ourselves from test tubes… felt like I was back in A-Level Chemistry! We also bought a lolly each which apparently would give us access to the stage during their performance which was due to start about half an hour after we arrived. The chips were average and the dips were a bit hit and miss, but the novelty made it worth it.
The show was about to start so we headed to the carousel with the small crowd which had gathered and waited for the big event. The main Monster Girls were two girls and one guy, all with their own, but equally as crazy style and theme. There was music, there was lights, and each one came out separately to be introduced and show themselves off as the stage span around until all three were sitting, standing or straddling something or other. Both me and Kyle were busy taking pictures, videos and being amazed by the whole thing, when, the next minute, one of them came and grabbed Kyle by the hand and dragged him up on stage. The poor lad was then encouraged to dance around while the show went on and the stage continued to spin. You’ll be glad to know I took plenty of photos and videos (which, again, I sadly cannot upload onto here) of this while Kyle awkwardly flung his arms around and tried to blend in.
I know there are a lot of photos, but trust me, they’re worth goign through!
As most of our trip so far, it was a very surreal experience, even more so for Kyle, and we managed to get some photos (with my phone and the disposable camera we’d bought) of and with the Monster Girls, before we paid. We took one more stroll around the room, and headed back out into the real world…
For a bit of a contrast to our Tokyo experience so far, we decided to go for a walk around the other major attraction in the area, Yoyogi Park. Even the park experience was incredibly Japanese and well organised, everyone was walking down one side of the huge path, while those walking in the opposite direction were on the other side, it was a little weird, but very efficient! We came to the big temple, but unfortunately due to the time (about 4/5pm) everywhere was starting to shut for the day. We managed to look around most of it, admiring the Japanese architecture and customs. It was a really nice temple, and we even managed to get some more good luck to try and counteract our god-awful fortune from the 1st day. We had to throw some money into the box, bow twice, clap twice, and bow again…And we were rewarded with some good fortune! (Hopefully…)
Once we’d finished walking around the park (before they closed up for the day anyway) Kyle had heard of a famous takoyaki restaurant/stall. Takoyaki is basically octopus fried in balls of wheat batter, with some sort of topping of your choice! Keen to try the local delicacies, we queued up for some time, watching the whole process from the pouring of the batter, to the adding of the octopus bits, and then flipping them over (some serious hand skills here from the chefs), to them being presented on a little food boat. The lovely staff pointed us in the direction of some upstairs seating in a very small little room where we managed to escape the cold for a while, while we enjoyed our balls. I think Kyle liked them more than me; I didn’t manage to finish mine unfortunately. I liked them, but they weren’t my favourite, and I could have done with half the portion, but hey ho, it was good to try some local food.
After checking out some more shops. Including a really random and small triangle shaped shop that basically just sold condoms, and some other little bits and bobs (not all sex related), we headed back to the metro to try and fit in another area before the day was over! We chose to explore Shinjuku, and we weren’t really sure what to expect. We came out, into what seemed to be like the rest of Tokyo, huge big bright buildings with 1000’s of shops. There were loads of side streets though which was quite cool, all lit up with neon signs advertising one thing or another, from game shops, figurine shops, DVD shops, restaurants, and of course, Tokyo’s favourite; sex shops. We saw some really cool buildings and street art/graffiti, and eventually spotted somewhere to grab a drink, Hub a “British Pub”. I’m not going to lie, it was really strange. If you just glanced over the place, it was exactly like a standard pub, with all the little trinkets, posters and bar stools/tables. But, the longer we sat there, and looked around, things just started to feel off. And it wasn’t just because it was mainly full of Japanese or Asian tourists, or the fact they had big union jack tote bags at each table to hold your stuff… it was little things we couldn’t quite put our finger on. It felt like something out of the Matrix or The Truman Show, where you can tell something is off, and it’s not quite real or right, but you’re not aware enough to be able to point out what it is…
Safe to say we didn’t stay too long, we finished our drinks and decided to go out and explore some more. We found even more sex shops, shops with curtains and “18” on them, and weird places where you could hire rooms to watch a movie (various layouts available: sofa, bed, office etc.…) We didn’t know it at the time, but we’d somehow managed to stumble into the sort of Red Light District of Shinjuku, which now makes a lot of sense!
We headed down one of the side roads and instantly noticed something we’d hoped we’d be able to afford to experience… The Robot Restaurant. Even from the outside, it looked awesome, and we would have loved to end our night in there, however, the prices were EXTORTIONATE. Entrance fee alone was 8,000 yen, which is about £57… just for the entrance fee!!! After all the other café’s we’d been to and experienced, we couldn’t really afford to add here to the list too. If we did, then we would have had to limit ourselves for the rest of the trip, and that’s not something we really wanted to commit too. So, we sadly took some photos and left it behind us as we continued down the street.