Monthly Archives: June 2015

A Day In The Water: Rafting and Onsens

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Nagatoro Outdoor Center’s scenic front area.

After a lengthy bus ride beginning at seven in the morning, a bus full of TUJ students arrived at Nagatoro Outdoor Center. After a quick briefing, we all scattered to change and get ready for the trip. The center offered rentals for a variety of gear, including wetsuits (which they recommended, saying a number of times how cold the water would be), waterproof jackets, water shoes, straps to keep glasses on, and the mandatory helmets and life jackets. Personally, I only opted for glasses straps: it was a hot day, and I figured that the water would be cold and refreshing.

After getting ready, the first thing we did was drag the boats down to the river. Each group of six rafters helped lug a heavy rubber boat down a narrow forest trail which ended up at the shore. To “acclimate” us to the water, our guides had us wade out into the water, stand in a circle, then just splash each other with the river water. That’s about the time I started regretting just wearing my t-shirt and shorts under the safety gear.

The actual safety briefing (aka “Learn how to whitewater raft in five minutes”) was, disconcerting, mostly about what to do when you fall into the water. Not “if,” when. And with that assurance, we set off down the river.

The actual journey was beautiful. It was a scenic ride past jagged rocks, stony beaches, and waterfalls cascading out of the forest. Periodically along the way, our guide had us jump out and swim in the river. It was freezing cold, but the current made actually swimming pretty fun and easy. At the halfway point, we all pulled our boats off to the side and made makeshift diving board out of them.

Really there was only one instance where the safety training was necessary. My group was in the lead boat, and several of us hopped out to swim. After a few minutes, our guide said to get back in the boats and said something about upcoming rapids, which prompted a panicked, struggled to swim back upstream and climb into the boat. We all made it back in, but it was a nice little adrenaline rush.

After making it to the stopping point, we all loaded up into a bus filled with plastic-covered seats and headed back to the outdoor center for a lunch of yakiniku.

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For obvious reasons, I couldn’t take pictures in the baths, but even the hallways were nice.

After the morning’s strenuous activities, everyone was ready for the next activity: a trip to a Japanese onsen, a hot spring bath. Usually described as a uniquely Japanese experience, I was interested in seeing what it was like. And it really was the sort of experience you could never have in America.

After changing in a locker room, you go out into the public bath, donning nothing but a towel (if that). There, you wash off in a designated shower area in preparation for entering the baths. The onsen we went to had three primary parts: an indoor bath, an outdoor bath, and a sauna. I mostly spent time in the outdoor bath, since it was along the river and had a nice breeze. Really, there are few experiences as unique as hanging out with a bunch of naked Japanese men in a hot spring bath along a river.

I briefly tried the indoor bath, which in my opinion wasn’t as nice. I also took one step inside the sauna, and then immediately backed out after nearly drowning in the 100% humidity and billion-degree heat. Fortunately, afterwards I was able to take a cold shower and have some ice cream.

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On the way home we made a quick pit stop at The Hundred Caves of Yoshimi, a cluster of ancient grave-sites.

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Traditional Arts Workshop II: Calligraphy and Kimonos

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TUJ students watch the demonstration closely before beginning their own work.

TUJ students watch Ms. Akagi, the main instructor of the Traditional Arts Workshop, demonstrate an exercise that helps to practice proper form and technique.

Host demonstrating an exercise that helps to practice proper form and technique for calligraphy.

Ms. Akagi teaching a basic exercise of writing three lines with proper brush technique.

TUJ male students during their lesson of calligraphy.

TUJ male students during their lesson of calligraphy.

TUJ student diligently practicing before attempting to write his own character (kanji).

TUJ student diligently practicing before attempting to write his own character (kanji).

Ms. Akagi kindly helped students write their own characters (kanji).

Ms. Akagi kindly helped students write their own characters (kanji).

Female TUJ student writing out her character (kanji).

Female TUJ student writing out her character (kanji).

The completed calligraphy works of TUJ students were hung on the wall for display.

The completed calligraphy works of TUJ students were hung on the wall for display.

TUJ female students dressed in beautiful yukatas, which is a casual summer kimono typically worn during summer festivals by young girls.

TUJ female students dressed in beautiful yukatas, which is a casual summer kimono typically worn during summer festivals by young girls.

TUJ students dressed in their yukatas.

TUJ students dressed in their yukatas.

Handmade kimono button/pins in various designs were given to TUJ students as a gift.

Handmade kimono button/pins in various designs were given to TUJ students as a gift.

Group photo of TUJ students at the Traditional Arts workshop, wearing their yukatas and pins.

Group photo of TUJ students at the Traditional Arts workshop, wearing their yukatas and pins.

TUJ Azabu Hall Quick Preview

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Temple University Azabu Hall outdoor entryway. Located in Azabu-Juban, Tokyo, Japan.

Temple University Azabu Hall outdoor entryway. Located in Azabu-Juban, Tokyo, Japan.

Temple University Japan Campus Azabu Hall. Floors 1-6 hosts the Student Activities/Advising Offices, cafeteria, library, and majority of TUJ classes.

Temple University Japan Campus Azabu Hall. Floors 1-6 hosts the Student Activities/Advising Offices, cafeteria, library, and majority of TUJ classes.

TUJ Billboard outside the entrance of Azabu Hall.

TUJ Billboard outside the entrance of Azabu Hall.

Entrance to TUJ Campus Information Center/Bookstore.

Entrance to TUJ Campus Information Center/Bookstore.

First floor lobby of TUJ's Azabu Hall.

First floor lobby of TUJ’s Azabu Hall.

TUJ Bookstore selling exclusive TUJ merchandise such as hoodies, mugs,  totes, shirts, towels, and cat statues.

TUJ Bookstore selling exclusive TUJ merchandise such as hoodies, mugs, totes, shirts, towels, and cat statues.

Academic advisors and the Student Activities Center are located in the TUJ Information Center located on the first floor of Azabu Hall.

Academic advisors and the Student Activities Center are located in the TUJ Information Center located on the first floor of Azabu Hall.

The Learning Center located on the 2nd floor of Azabu Hall in room 206. Tutors for writing, mathematics, and Japanese are available by appointment.

The Learning Center located on the 2nd floor of Azabu Hall in room 206. Tutors for writing, mathematics, and Japanese are available by appointment.

TUJ Student Government bulletin board which posts information such a books for sale, announcements, club organizations, etc. The student government office and billboard is located on the right side of the hallway leading towards the cafeteria on the 2nd floor of Azabu Hall.

TUJ Student Government bulletin board which posts information such a books for sale, announcements, club organizations, etc. The student government office and billboard is located on the right side of the hallway leading towards the cafeteria on the 2nd floor of Azabu Hall.

The TUJ Cafeteria located on the 2nd floor of Azabu Hall where students study, hangout, and can buy various snacks and drinks from the vending machine.

The TUJ Cafeteria located on the 2nd floor of Azabu Hall where students study, hangout, and can buy various snacks and drinks from the vending machine.

Expansive outdoor smoking area located outside of TUJ's cafeteria on the 2nd floor of Azabu Hall. Offers a great view and atmosphere for hanging out.

Expansive outdoor smoking area located outside of TUJ’s cafeteria on the 2nd floor of Azabu Hall. Offers a great view and atmosphere for hanging out.

TUJ Computer labs located on the 3rd floor of Azabu Hall. Labs offer both PCs and Macs.

TUJ Computer labs located on the 3rd floor of Azabu Hall. Labs offer both PCs and Macs.

TUJ Study Lounge located on the 4th floor of Azabu Hall.

TUJ Study Lounge located on the 4th floor of Azabu Hall.

Azabu-Juban Station: the closest/main subway station for students studying at TUJ. About a 10 minute walk from the school.

Azabu-Juban Station: the closest/main subway station for students studying at TUJ. About a 10 minute walk from the school.

Traditional Arts Workshop: The Koto, Ikebana, and Tea Ceremony

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TUJ students entering a traditional Japanese home in Ogikubo, Tokyo Japan for the Traditional Arts Workshop.

TUJ students entering a traditional Japanese home in Ogikubo, Tokyo Japan for the Traditional Arts Workshop.

The traditional Japanese home used for the Traditional Arts Workshop located in Ogikuro, Tokyo Japan.

The traditional Japanese home used for the Traditional Arts Workshop located in Ogikuro, Tokyo Japan.

The koto, a traditional Japanese string instrument.

The koto, a traditional Japanese string instrument.

TUJ students watch Ms. Akagi, the instructor of the Traditional Arts Workshop, as she trims flowers to a desired length in order to create a sense of balance.

TUJ students watch Ms. Akagi, the main instructor of the Traditional Arts Workshop, as she trims flowers to a desired length in order to create a sense of balance.

Ms. Akagi, sharing with TUJ students that she uses flowers freshly picked from her own garden to execute an ikebana.

Ms. Akagi used flowers freshly picked from her own garden to execute an ikebana.

TUJ students focusing on the ikebana demonstration.

TUJ students focusing on the ikebana demonstration.

The host explained and demonstrated the use of varying heights as well as a balanced color palette to TUJ students.

Ms. Akagi explained and demonstrated the use of varying heights as well as a balanced color palette to TUJ students.

The completed ikebana on display.

The completed ikebana on display.

A tea ceremony was performed by the hosts who presented matcha (powdered green tea) and various Japanese snacks.

A tea ceremony was performed by the hosts who presented matcha (powdered green tea) and various Japanese snacks.

TUJ student and one of the Traditional Arts Workshop instructors formally bowing to each other after tea is served during the tea ceremony.

TUJ student and one of the Traditional Arts Workshop instructors formally bowing to each other after tea is served during the tea ceremony.

TUJ 2015 Graduation Commencement: Ceremony and Reception

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Temple University's Main Campus President Neil D. Theobald initiating the ceremony.

Temple University’s Main Campus President Neil D. Theobald initiating the ceremony.

Temple University Graduation Ceremony stage filled with staff and administrators.

Temple University Graduation Ceremony stage filled with staff and administrators.

TUJ graduates getting ready to walk the stage and receive their diploma.

TUJ graduates getting ready to walk the stage and receive their diploma.

TUJ graduate shaking the Temple University's President Neil D. Theobald hand after receiving her diploma.

TUJ graduate shaking the Temple University’s President Neil D. Theobald hand after receiving her diploma.

TUJ graduate happily showing her diploma to her family.

TUJ graduate happily showing her diploma to her family.

TUJ MS.Ed student walking the stage after receiving her diploma.

TUJ MS.Ed student walking the stage after receiving her diploma.

TUJ MBA graduate shaking the hand of Temple University's main campus President Neil D. Theobald.

TUJ MBA graduate shaking the hand of Temple University’s main campus President Neil D. Theobald.

TUJ student receiving his diploma.

TUJ student receiving his diploma.

TUJ A.A. graduate giving a heartwarming hug to his professor.

TUJ A.A. graduate giving a heartwarming hug to his professor.

TUJ A.A. graduates were adorned with a special sash on stage after receiving their diploma.

TUJ A.A. graduates were adorned with a special sash on stage after receiving their diploma.

TUJ graduates after moving their tassels to the left after receiving their diplomas during the ceremony.

TUJ graduates after moving their tassels to the left after receiving their diplomas during the ceremony.

New TUJ graduates and family begin to fill the large banquet hall set up next to the graduation ceremony hall after the conclusion of the ceremony.

New TUJ graduates and family begin to fill the large banquet hall set up next to the graduation ceremony hall after the conclusion of the ceremony.

TUJ 2015 Graduation Commencement: Before the Ceremony

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Hallway entrance leading to the ceremony hall for the TUJ 2015 Graduation located on the 5th floor of the Shinagawa Prince Hotel's Annex Tower in Tokyo, Japan on June 7th.

Hallway entrance leading to the ceremony hall for the TUJ 2015 Graduation located on the 5th floor of the Shinagawa Prince Hotel’s Annex Tower in Tokyo, Japan on June 7th.

Graduation ceremony pamphlet and map given to attendees of the event.

Graduation ceremony pamphlet and map given to attendees of the event.

TUJ merchandise stall set up outside the ceremony hall for students or parents to purchase TUJ gear such as t-shirts, towels, and TUJ branded lucky cats.

TUJ merchandise stall set up outside the ceremony hall for students or parents to purchase TUJ gear such as t-shirts, towels, and TUJ branded lucky cats.

TUJ graduation ceremony hall. Students and family wait for photos to be taken before the ceremony begins.

TUJ graduation ceremony hall. Students and family wait for photos to be taken before the ceremony begins.

All graduates (BA, MBA, AA. MS.Ed, and LL.M) seated separately by degrees.

All graduates (BA, MBA, AA. MS.Ed, and LL.M) seated separately by degrees.

TUJ 2015 BA graduates class photo taken before the ceremony began.

TUJ 2015 BA graduates class photo taken before the ceremony began.

TUJ MBA Graduate Class of 2015 photo taken before the ceremony began.

TUJ MBA Graduate Class of 2015 photo taken before the ceremony began.

TUJ LL.M (Masters in Law) Graduate Class of 2015 photo taken before the ceremony began.

TUJ LL.M (Masters in Law) Graduate Class of 2015 photo taken before the ceremony began.

TUJ MS.Ed (Masters of Education) Graduate Class of 2015 photo taken before the ceremony began.

TUJ MS.Ed (Masters of Education) Graduate Class of 2015 photo taken before the ceremony began.

TUJ A.A. (Associates Degree) Graduate Class of 2015 group photo taken before the ceremony began.

TUJ A.A. (Associates Degree) Graduate Class of 2015 group photo taken before the ceremony began.

The hall filled before the start of the ceremony.

The hall filled before the start of the ceremony.

Shopping Hotspots: Ginza, Ikebukuro, and Ginza

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Most big cities are often known for shopping trends and hotspots, and Tokyo is no different in this respect. Massive shopping malls, sprawling clusters of markets, and neon-sign-clad shops litter the city, but some areas are better than others. Here are a few of the (rightfully) most well-known shopping centers in the city.

Ikebukuro

Ikebukuro is a large entertainment district, and is home to a number of great shopping venues, entertainment areas, and restaurants. Notably, though, it’s home to Sunshine 60, a massive, 60-story building housing a shopping mall, a number of restaurants, an observation deck, a theater, a museum, a planetarium, an aquarium, and even a hotel! All this is just a short walk from the Ikebukuro subway station.

The mall has plenty of stores to shop in, including a Disney merchandise shop and a Pokemon Center, a store entirely devoted to Nintendo’s popular franchise.

While “Sunshine City,” as it’s known, is a great attraction, along the way from the station are a number of other shops, restaurants, and more unique attractions, including cat cafes, where patrons can hang out in an internet-cafe-like setting, surrounded by a number of friendly felines. A personal recommendation is “Super Potato,” a tiny retro video game store just a few blocks from the station, which is jam-packed with video games from all countries and generations.

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A view of Electric Town from the sixth floor of a shop

Akihabara

Of course, there’s no way to bring up video games without mentioning Akihabara, the main shopping center for all things Japan. It’s a hub for retailers selling electronics, video games, anime, manga, and all sorts of hobby merchandise. It’s also home to a peculiar trend in Japan: cosplay and maid cafes. Most days of the week, “Electric Town,” as the central street is known, is packed with tourists and local Japanese.

If you have no interest in this sort of media, commonly referred to as “otaku” culture, then Akihabara might not be the ideal destination, as the shops are mostly limited to this sort of goods. However, if you have even a passing interest in this major component of Japanese media and culture, Akiba (as it’s often abbreviated) shouldn’t be missed. Multi-level arcades are jammed next to bookstores and cafes, and tinier shops are often in between. Massive posters advertising popular idol groups, anime, or television shows adorn the buildings, storefronts, and even passing trucks.

Ginza

To be perfectly honest, I can’t in good faith recommend visiting Ginza without first offering the warning that you should be prepared to spend if you visit. The major shopping area is home to plenty of internationally-renowned department stores, boutiques, and theaters. Personally, I avoided spending money and just went for the experience, but for plenty of tourists, it’s the go-to spot for luxury shopping.

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The streets teeming with shoppers during “pedestrian heaven”

Fortunately for visitors, the city planners seem to know that. Every Saturday and Sunday, from noon until 5:00 in the evening, the main street through Ginza is closed off, allowing shoppers to mingle in the wide roads. This time is referred to as “Hokōsha Tengoku,” literally meaning “pedestrian heaven.”

 

Let me give you a taste of the sort of shops here: It has prominent shops from Chanel, Dior, Gucci, and Louis Vuitton. It’s home to the headquarters for Ricoh, a flagship Apple store, and the Sony showroom. It’s also home to Wako, a department store that’s more than 100 years old. I really have little interest in spending a ton of money on luxury goods, but even I couldn’t resist spending a few hundred yen in Hakuhinkan Toy Park, one of the most impressive and largest toy and novelty stores in Tokyo.

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A few of the many imposing shopping centers in Ginza

Tokyo is home to plenty of amazing shopping districts, but depending on taste and willingness to spend, the few that I listed here are must-sees.

Ikebukuro: Sunshine 60 Mall, Pokemon Center, J-World, Neko Cafes, and More

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TUJ students greeted by a giant Charizard/Pikachu statue in the Pokemon Center located in Ikebukuro's Sunshine 60.

TUJ students greeted by a giant Charizard/Pikachu statue in the Pokemon Center located in Ikebukuro’s Sunshine 60 Mall.

Large plush Pokemon toys of popular characters available in the Pokemon Center for around ¥3700.

Large plush Pokemon toys of popular characters available in the Pokemon Center for around ¥3700 in Ikebukuro’s Sunshine 60 Mall.

TUJ students checking out various kinds merchandise at the Pokemon Center including keychains, stuffed toys, hand towels, mugs, cards, and more. Located in Ikebukuro's Sunshine 60.

TUJ students checking out various kinds merchandise at the Pokemon Center including keychains, stuffed toys, hand towels, mugs, cards, and more. Located in Ikebukuro’s Sunshine 60 Mall.

One of many special performances that Ikebukuro's Sunshine 60 puts on every week. The loud music was heard throughout the mall and people on several different floors gathered to watch.

One of many special performances that Ikebukuro’s Sunshine 60 puts on every week. The loud music was heard throughout the mall and people on several different floors gathered to watch.

After the event, the performers invited children from the audience to perform with them.

After the event, the performers invited children from the audience to perform with them.

An affordable restaurant in Ikebukuro's Sunshine 60 called Restaurant Bambi. Menu items include items such as hamburger steak with salad, corn, vegetables, and a bowl of rice for only ¥980.

An affordable restaurant in Ikebukuro’s Sunshine 60 called Restaurant Bambi. Menu items include choices such as a sizable meal including hamburger steak with salad, corn, vegetables, and a bowl of rice for only ¥980.

TUJ students gathered for lunch at Restaurant Bambi in Ikebukuro's Sunshine 60.

TUJ students gathered for lunch at Restaurant Bambi in Ikebukuro’s Sunshine 60 Mall.

TUJ students waiting for their meal at Restaurant Bambi in Ikebukuro's Sunshine 60.

TUJ students waiting for their meal at Restaurant Bambi in Ikebukuro’s Sunshine 60 Mall.

Ikebukuro's Sunshine 60 holds a large Shounen Jump attraction where people can go through different interactive and recreated sets, as well as attraction rides of popular anime/manga series such as Naruto and One Piece.

Ikebukuro’s Sunshine 60 Mall holds a large Shounen Jump attraction where people can go through different interactive and recreated sets, as well as attraction rides of popular anime/manga series such as Naruto and One Piece.

A maid cafe employee advertising on the streets of Ikebukuro. Similar themed cafes/restaurants are very popular throughout Tokyo.

A maid cafe employee advertising on the streets of Ikebukuro. Similar themed cafes/restaurants are very popular throughout Tokyo.

TUJ students lining up to pay for entry at Nekorobi, a neko (cat) cafe located in the department store Tokyu Hands on the 8th floor in Ikebukuro.

TUJ students lining up to pay for entry at Nekorobi, a neko (cat) cafe located in the department store Tokyu Hands on the 8th floor in Ikebukuro.

The head of a wide-mouthed and happy cat greets customers at the entrance of the neko (cat) cafe Nekurobi in the department store Tokyu Hands on the 8th floor in Ikebukuro.

The head of a wide-mouthed and happy cat greets customers at the entrance of the neko (cat) cafe Nekurobi in the department store Tokyu Hands on the 8th floor in Ikebukuro.

Shamisen Night with Nakamura Ichinosuke

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TUJ students seated for Shamisen Night in TUJ's Mita Hall.

TUJ students seated for Shamisen Night in TUJ’s Mita Hall.

Shamisen musician and singer Nakamura Ichinosuke performing his songs

Shamisen musician and singer Nakamura Ichinosuke performing his songs “Seijrou’s Love”.

Ichinosuke's personal shamisens. He performed his music with the one placed on the left while students practiced with the one on the right.

Ichinosuke’s personal shamisens. He performed his music with the one placed on the left while students practiced with the one on the right.

TUJ students eagerly watching Ichinosuke tuning his shamisen before teaching his first student.

TUJ students eagerly watching Ichinosuke tuning his shamisen before teaching his first student.

Ichinosuke taking the time to instruct TUJ students on proper form and technique for playing the shamisen.

Ichinosuke taking the time to instruct TUJ students on proper form and technique for playing the shamisen.

Ichinosuke teaching a TUJ student how to properly bandage her fingers before playing the Shamisen.

Ichinosuke teaching a TUJ student how to properly bandage her fingers before playing the Shamisen.

The sheet music

The sheet music for the piece “Sakura” that Ichinosuke prepared for TUJ students to practice playing.

TUJ student happily playing the shamisen for the first time.

TUJ student happily learning to play the shamisen for the first time.

Ichinosuke helping a TUJ student practice proper form and technique.

Ichinosuke helping a TUJ student practice proper form and technique.

TUJ students had the opportunity to try out the shamisen on their own.

TUJ students had the opportunity to try out the shamisen on their own.

Group photo of Ichinosuke and TUJ students who attended Shamisen Night.

Group photo of Ichinosuke and TUJ students who attended Shamisen Night.

Trends and Traditions: Meiji Jingu and Harajuku

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The first torii before entering the shrine area

I think I finally managed to find the first thing I would describe as a “tourist hotspot.” While some of the places that I have been have certainly been tourist attractions, generally they tended to be quieter, or clearly geared towards a more Japanese crowd. However, getting off the train at the Harajuku stop on the JR line, I was immediately bombarded with crowds of people, both Japanese and those who were clearly tourists. Even many of the Japanese looked to be tourists, geared up with backpacks and cameras.

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Barrels of sake donated to the shine over the years

It’s no big surprise because the Harajuku stop is stuck right in the middle of two huge attractions: Harajuku itself, a district known for its unique fashion and shopping experiences, and the Meiji Jingu shrine, a Shinto shrine located in the expansive Yoyogi park. It was a hot morning, so we opted for what we assumed would be a shadier and cooler experience; we waded through the crowds at the station and made our way into Yoyogi Park.

Immediately we were greeted with a massive wooden torii, the traditional Japanese gate often used to signify the entrance to a Shinto shrine. After a pleasant walk through some large, gravel-paved paths in the woods, we found ourselves at another torii, marking the entrance to the main shrine.

This shrine was much like the one at Mount Takao. At the entrance was a small building where guests were invited to wash their hands and faces, and once inside there were other areas to participate in rituals.

 

 

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Yoyogi Park

Rather than walk back through the same paths that we took through the shrine complex, we instead took a more winding path that took us back through Yoyogi Park. It was a beautiful day for it and provided a great opportunity for some pictures.

After leaving the park, we headed to Takeshita Street, a pedestrian-only main shopping street in Harajuku. The entire street, from end to end, was lined with cafes, boutiques, restaurants, and shops of all sorts. Our first goal was to somehow get a lunch, and in the masses of people, even that seemed like quite a feat.

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The crowded marketplace of Takeshita Street

After some exploration, we found a cluster of shops called the “CUTE CUBE,” which housed a number of  places that lived up to the name. We ended up getting lunch at the Pompompurin Cafe, a cute restaurant based on the popular Sanrio character, Pompompurin. All of the food served was prepared to make it look like various characters, mostly the titular cartoon dog. Most surprisingly, it wasn’t absurdly expensive for a themed cafe!

After lunch we headed out to do some shopping. Harajuku is known around the world for its bizarre and trendy fashions, and the shops reflected that. Takeshita street had everything, from typical “trendy” shops to high fashion, street fashion, and everything in between. The people going into the shops were just as varied, with tourists mixing with Japanese shoppers, and people dressed in all styles, from amusingly incorrect English shirts to Lolita fashion (a style based on Victorian-era clothing) and styles that can’t even be named. I’m not big into fashion or shopping, but it really was a sight to behold.