Monday, February 13, 2012

Tokyo: Harajuku and Omotesando

In the first half of Day 1 of our year end Tokyo trip, we visited Shinjuku, reserving the second half of the day to explore Harajuku and Omotesando. 
A short walk from the JR Harajuku station is the Meiji Jingu, Tokyo’s biggest and most visited shrine. The shrine is dedicated to Emperor Meiji and Empress Shoken and was by the people of Tokyo as a token of their respect and gratitude to the Imperial couple. The shrine was established in November 1920 and is a Shinto shrine, surrounded by extensive forests. The forests were created by bringing in trees from all over the world and from various parts of Japan. People voluntarily worked towards creating the 175 acre forest, the only one in the heart of the Tokyo.
A wide graveled road beginning from under a huge stone torii, lined by tall cedar trees leads to the shrine’s inner grounds. Displayed along the path, there are paintings depicting some of the events during Emperor Meiji’s life.
Wine and sake offerings and lanterns adorn the side of the path leading to the shrine. 

The original shrine was damaged in the WW II air raids and was rebuilt in 1958 with voluntary donations collected from the public. 
The shrine buildings constructed in simple architectural style, with hardly any ornamental decorations, a world apart from the Shinto shrines of Kyoto or Nikko.
The shrine is one of the most visited shrines during New Year, with quite a few million people visiting the shrine during the first 3 days.

Close to the shrine is Yoyogi Park, where the Olympic stadiums are located. 
These stadiums were the joint venue for the 1964 Tokyo Olympic. Today national and international sports competitions are held here.
Yoyogi park used to be filled with performers and bands every Sunday till the early 1990’s. Even now, Yoyogi park is filled with performers and some Elvis look alikes. A flea market on Sunday attracts big crowds.  
Jingubashi, (Shrine bridge) which is just outside the Meiji Shrine is the venue for cosplay events. 
Every Sunday, youngsters dressed in interesting (mostly crazy and weird) costumes assemble here making it a popular weekend destination among Tokyo’s youth.

On other days, you could spot an occasional cosplayer, but Sunday is the big day.
A few metres to the left from the Jingubashi bridge, is the mecca for teenage culture – “Takeshita dori”.
The narrow street is lined on both sides with shops selling trendy clothes and accessories, boutiques selling costumes otherwise seen on anime characters, and food joints.

The official AKB 48 ( popular J-pop girl band) store sells exclusive merchandise.
Takeshita dori is the place to eat some of the best crepes in Tokyo, which go by the name “Harajuku crepe”. For about 500 yen, you could mix and match just about any ingredients and have the most unique crepe. The most popular crepe shop, Marion’s which is in the business since 1976, has over a 80 varieties on its menu. Today Marion’s is a chain of over 80 franchised stores operating in Japan and South East Asia.
Angels and Sweet Box are the other popular crepe shops. Long queues can be seen outside all three shops. 

Omotesando, the upscale shopping district begins where Harajuku ends. The areas are blended into each other, making it difficult to tell where Harajuku ends and Omotesando begins.

Omotesando is home to some of the popular fashion brands- Fendi, Dior, Ralph Lauren. Omotesando is known as the “Champs-Elysees” of Tokyo.
The trees lining the main street, Meiji Dori were aglow with bright lights for the holiday season.
Omotesando Hills is a shopping mall, popular for its unique interior architecture.

Laforet, which is home to some 150 leading boutiques is located closeby.   

The landmark Hanae-mori building which resembles a stack of glass blocks is hard to miss. Next to it is the Oriental Bazaar, a building which resembles a Shinto shrine, thanks to its vermillion and white shrine style architecture.
Oriental Bazaar is the best place to visit if you are looking for souvenirs, handicrafts, antiques and cheaper replicas.  
Kiddyland is a big toy store where almost any toy and character goods can be purchased. Since the main outlet is currently under reconstruction, Kiddyland is operating from a temporary outlet tucked in a lane off Meiji dori.

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