Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Hello Harajuku!

 Welcome to Harajuku! Me, the still image in the blur of people entering and exiting Harajuku Station

Harajuku has been on my top list as one of the places in Japan to visit. It's the place where the young, quirky and weird Japan gather. Every Sunday, the famed Harajuku bridge would become a huge meeting ground for Lolita, Gothic Lolita, Decora, etc... styled young people. The fad has long since died out. The kids who used to loaf around the bridge have grown up and have probably moved on to a tamer, mature style. For all we know they've become salary men and office ladies...

 Thad and I on the now empty Harajuku Bridge

Thad pulling that guy's hair. Haha! No, actually he is trying to point out the store sign behind him. Whovians will get it.

It's funny to note that there were several tourists who wanted to take photos of  me and Thad as if we were locals!

Every now and then, especially when the weather is colder, I dress in dolly kei style. The look is largely inspired by a fairytale look that are worn by dolls. More often than not, it is very over the top that is not practical for everyday wear but dolly kei enthusiasts do not seem to have a problem. 
Dolly kei is a style that was born out of this store called Grimoire in Harajuku.  
Of course, we had to go find it...

If I hadn't known about where or how the store was located, we would've missed it because it is on the 7th floor of some building with this little display stand off the side of the stairwell.

 This lovely doll-like creature is Miyo Hoshino. I felt weird being in that store and not dressed in dolly kei attire. I had brought my Gunne Sax for that purpose but I figured with all the walking to other places in Harajuku, I'd probably mess it up so I decided against wearing. It would've been perfect in this setting. Sigh. Next time...  

 I told her I was into dolly kei look too and showed her my photos and she was so delighted that the dolly kei look made it in the US. I asked her if I could take her photo and of Grimoire so I can put it on a blog to which she obliged. 

Thad's garb was more suited to Grimoire's than mine...

I wanted to buy something from Grimoire to commemorate my visit but most of their clothes are way overpriced, understandably because they get their stock from vintage stores in the US and Europe. I also know that it is easier for me living in America to find them in thrift stores so I opted to buy something that I couldn't find in the US and that is the exclusive Verum stockings that is designed by Grimoire. I bought the last pair of what was supposed to be for display only but Mio-san was kind enough to convince someone over the phone to sell it to me. So here it is, my lone souvenir from Grimoire. I need to brush up on my Japanese and offer my services as their buyer. That would be stellar beyond words!   

Leaving Grimoire, we spied this British style phone box and proceeded to play with it. Foreigners...

 Gaijin phone home.

We had already passed by Takeshita-Dori earlier when there was still daylight. We just kind of walked past it to look for Grimoire. We went back a little bit later to check out the shops. Takeshita Dori is a very narrow street just across the road from Harajuku Station. It is lined with shops selling very trendy clothing and accessories at what is supposed to be bargain prices. Not for me, though. Everyone knows I am a bargain hunter and I know I can find the same shirt, dress, shoes somewhere online that even with shipping, it'd still be way cheaper. Still, it was nice to look around and see what's trendy... 

Tama Depa plush and other merch inside this Lovx Bldg! There was a huge Tama Depa plush I really but it was too huge to carry in my luggage. I would probably  have to buy it a seat on the plane.

2nd floor shop selling Lolita dresses 

I've read about the famous Santa Monica Crepe shop in Harajuku and it didn't disappoint. I did end up eating Thad's crepe by mistake which disappointed him. Gomen nasai, Bibikeef!

These guys were the only ones we found who were wearing crazy outfits but then, they were dressed for Halloween. I don't know how they dress on ordinary days, hopefully still like this.

They were super friendly though. The guy with the scythe came up to me and gave me this...
It's a hair tie shaped like a caterpillar ^_^  

Further along we saw this dog costume! I REALLY REALLY wanted to get that black dog kimono for Gotham but Thad kept reminding me that Gotham will not appreciate it and it would be a waste of Y5,000 about $50... He would've looked so handsome but then would probably rip it to shreds.

I eventually was able to buy something from Takeshita Dori shops from this store bizzarely named 
Store My Ducks. I'm not making this up, see the shop bag for evidence! ^_^ 
I paid Y1,000 ($10.00) for two articles of clothing which is just very within my cheapskate price range. I actually unknowingly paid Y2,000 for the purchase not realizing it till the girl from the store chased me and in broken English told me I paid too much and handed me the extra money, bowing.
Japan, I love you so much and your honest people... 

My purchases were a deer-printed pinafore AND a Mameshiba x Kyary Pamyu Pamyu long sleeved shirt. The latter was very lucky find for Kyary is my spirit animal. I am a huge fan of her, her style and music.

This is Kyary Pamyu Pamyu also known as Harajuku no Hime (Princess of Harajuku). 
I just made that up. She might as well be. That's where she was discovered and her first CD was titled,  Moshi Moshi Harajuku

Lastly, before heading back. I went to the huge pharmacy Matsumoto Kiyoshi.  There were several things in my list that I wanted to bring home and one of them were cosmetics.
 I bought these for one purpose only: packaging. Everyone who knows me and about the stuff I collect is that I'm a sucker for Showa Era (1970s) galaxy eyed manga (Japanese comic) girls and guys. I've read from make up blogs though that eyeliners made by Kiss Me Heroine is good stuff. 

I have gotten a whiff of the scent most Japanese women wore, young and older. They seem to be wearing some sort of distinct scent that I've never smelled before. It's a flowery scent but not overpowering. It has a very gentle, fresh smell and I know it's not from high priced perfumes which are most often very overwhelming. And since it seems like everyone sorta smelled like that, it must be some cheap drugstore body spray that even high school students can easily afford. So I headed to that section in the pharmacy and found the closest thing that captured that aroma. It's this...

...and I must be on the nose, no pun intended because this particular scent was the last bottle.
and sold out everywhere. 

Time to go back to the hotel! We took the next densha (train) because this seemed crowded. Of course, in rush hours, this would be considered empty. 

Thad has been begrudging the fact that we're in Japan and he hasn't tasted sushi yet. So we went to a sushi restaurant that was just a few meters from our hotel and Thad got his wish.

  This was how we spent our last day of frolic in Japan...

Ja mata ne (see you later!)

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Akihabara: Otaku Paradise

Since most of the toys I collect are Japanese toys, the initial purpose of coming to Japan was actually to do a massive toy shopping spree and then maybe do a little bit of sightseeing around Tokyo. That is why our hotel is only a short distance from Akihabara, the *Otaku Paradise.

(*otaku is a term used for people who are fans of anime and manga: Japanese comics and are avid collectors of toys, figures, cards, etc...)

 As ideal as that sounds to a toy collector like myself, I am actually really beyond happy that we got to do more sightseeing and traveling around Japan than just staying around Tokyo. As
our vacation days dwindled, we knew it was time to  make a final trip to Akihabara and get the toys and figures we had been eyeing on our initial jaunt day a few days back.  So on the morning before we headed out for Harajuku, we went to say goodbye to Akibahara and good bye to our money...

 Each floor of this building is a store that sold mostly anime figures. Same figures are priced differently by each stores so we had to go through several of them and compare prices before buying them. One can easily spend an entire day or week in this building gawking at the massive collection of figures, toys and dolls. 

I had died and gone to dolly heaven....

This was taken on a different day on one of our several trips to Akihabara of Thad posing right next to Evangelion Ayanami Rei.

I actually have a Blythe doll version of her!

No...we didn't buy the entire store.

 This is all we got... ^___^ 

A quick pose outside a maid cafe...

That concludes our Akibahara shopping spree. There were still so many stuff we wanted to get but logic (where the heck are we going to put all of them) dissuaded us. We're good with what we've got.
I'm glad we don't have some sort of Akibahara around here. 
It's paradise for otaku but hell on our bank accounts. Still, we're broke but happy. ^_^

Till next time, holly up!

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Yanesen, a stroll through retro Japan

We decided to explore Yanesen to get a look of Japan's not so distant past. YaNeSen is a collective name of the three neighborhoods Yanaka, Nezu and Sendagi. All three have had a charmed life for much of the structures and houses escaped the devastation of 20th century war bombings and earthquakes. Such as it is, these neighborhoods still had a lot of homes and shops that date back to the Meiji-Showa period (1912-1989). 

A few steps from the Nippori Station is the huge Yanaka Reien (Cemetery).  It is known for its beautiful cherry blossoms that would carpet this road in spring time. Aside from that, a lot of famous people are interred here including the last shogun, Yoshinobu Tokugawa.  

I love how this cemetery is hardly spooky at all.
Actually most Japanese cemeteries are not spooky. They all have a peaceful beauty about them... makes you want to hang out there, sip your tea and practice writing your haiku.

There are about 7,000 graves in this cemetery.

Since most of Yanesen can be travelled on foot, we figured that we could get a walking map from the Tourist Information Center which was located in the Yanaka Ginza, a shopping strip.

...only to find out they were closed on Saturdays.

So after much huffing and puffing, dejected, I accepted the fact that we had no choice but to explore it blindly much to Thad's delight and my chagrin. 

We went to look for the famous mud wall of Kannon-Ji Temple...but not having a map, we walked all over the place, serependitiously finding temples and shrines along the way...

Zensho-an Temple was built in 1883 by katana and Zen master Yamaoka Tesshu dedicated to the fallen of the Meiji Restoration.  Interred in the temple complex is Sanyutei Encho, a rakugo (which literally means fallen words) performer. Rakugo is a form of verbal entertainment by which a lone person begins telling a story using only a paper fan and a small cloth (tenugui) without standing up from his sitting position.     

 Climbing up the slope...

Zensho-an Temple has an unusual gallery of Yurie-ga, a collection of silk scrolls with ghoulish images. They range from bereft to frightening. The gallery can be viewed annually in August which is the month of the Obon Festival when the Japanese welcome back the spirits of the dead .  

Who you gonna call?

Daenji is both a Buddhist temple and a Shinto shrine in Sendagi. It is dedicated to one of Edo's (old  name for Tokyo) famous ukiyo-e (wood block) artists, Suzuki Harunobu. A pioneer, he was the first to produce full color wood block prints called nishiki-e. He produced a considerable amount of shunga (erotic) prints. His work and style were subsequently copied by other artists.

The temple/shrine is also dedicated to O-sen Kasamori, a local beauty at that time who was a waitress in many tea houses. She is depicted in many of Harunobu's wood block prints.
You could say she is Japan's first "aiduro" a Japanized word for "idol".

I'm not quite sure what the name is of this temple is, my knowledge of kanji and kana is probably that of a 2 year old Japanese child so I'm not going to attempt to translate it for fear of translating it into something like "Praying Place Apple Monkey Carburetor" but this was one of the temples we passed by while exploring/getting lost. 

Jizo or Ojizo-sama is a bodhisattva or saint. He is the patron saint of expectant mothers, children, pilgrims, travelers and even firemen. He has many appearances but in contemporary Japan, like the ones shown here, he has a child-like face. Below are the Six Jizo or Roku Jizo. They are associated with the 6 states of desire and karmic rebirth in which a person is trapped before being brought to Amida's western paradise.


And this temple or it could be a shrine, with its fresh bright vermillion paint doesn't look too dated. 
I'm not sure what it's called.

After trekking the labyrinthine streets, we finally found the mud wall of Kannon-Ji.  The  “Tsuji-bei” wall was built in the Edo Era (1603 – 1868). It is constructed unusually where mud and tiles were placed alternately on top of the other.


The mud wall was once a part of the Kannon-ji Temple.

Kannon-ji, a nondescript temple holds a lot of rich history about a tragic heroic tale. The stone pagoda on the right just by the entrance is dedicated to the 47 ronin (masterless samurai) who avenged the death of their master Asano Naganori.  Naganori was forced to commit sepukku (ritual suicide) for assaulting an official by the name of Lord Kira Yoshinaka. Kira was a corrupt douchebag and a spineless rat. The only reason he held a high position in court was he was born into it.

After plotting for two years, the 47 ronin eventually got their revenge. Even knowing that their punishment when caught will also be seppuku,  the plan commenced and Kira was beheaded by the ronin leader, Oishi Kuranosuke Yoshio. Two of the 47 ronin were the brothers, Chikamatsu Kanroku Yukishige and Okuda Sadaemon who were also brothers of Bunryo, a monk who was studying and living at the temple where they had held their secret meetings. 

Another tale of tragic loss is that of the Five Storied Pagoda that used to be a part of the Tenno-ji Temple Complex and was a symbol of the Yanaka Reien (Cemetery)

Thad  is standing by the enclosed base of where the pagoda used to stand

The original pagoda was built in 1644. It burned down in 1771 and was rebuilt 19 years later. In 1957 two lovers, a young seamstress and a middle aged laundry man decided to atone for their adulterous relationship by burning the pagoda with them in it. Which doesn't make sense because the pagoda had nothing to do with their clandestine affair. I am mad at them. A rather selfish way to atone for a selfish act, for Yanaka lost one of its treasures.

It was never rebuilt and all that remains now are the five foundation stones.

There was a little playground right by where the foundation stones were and I couldn't resist sitting on the swing...

On the way out of the cemetery, Thad found a gravesite enclosed with trees and shrubberies.
It looked very warm, enclosing and comforting, much like Neil Gaiman's take on Death as an old friend who comes to meet you in the end.

By this time we were all templed out and getting hungry plus we wanted to go eat at Hantei restaurant
in Nezu so we proceeded to look for it.

Along the way we saw some old shops...

Sidetrack, on the newer side of Nezu, we saw these little kids trick or treating. Halloween is actually a very new concept inculcated into Japan's culture by none other than Tokyo Disneyland when they held a Halloween event a few years ago.

This place was some sort of cafe. It looked closed but there were people inside sipping their kohi (coffee) ...or it could a workshop of some sort. I won't know until someone corrects me or when I learn how to read kanji and kana.

We found Hantei Restaurant! This restaurant is known for their kushi-age, deep fried skewered food. We had been so dependent on ordering food by pointing at realistic plastic versions on window displays that I got intimidated and worried about how to I told Thad we should just go back to Yanaka Ginza and eat at the Sushi restaurant we saw a few hours earlier.  Because of this, Thad came up with the term Xiokyo, a new diet fad in which one looks for a certain restaurant for four hours and then decide against eating there. He thinks he's funny :-P

This old kimono shop was right across the street from Hantei

It was dark by the time we got to Yanaka Ginza and missed the sunset which we would've had a nice view of the skyline from this vantage called the  Yuuyake Dandan (Sunset Stairs) 

If you're a stray cat, you would want to live in Yanaka Ginza. This shopping street is stray cat friendly. They are not shooed or chased away by shop owners and customers. They are in fact, fed, talked to, groomed and fed again. This guy was sitting by the entrance to the ginza as if guarding it.


This is a souvenir shop selling all sorts of cat related items. Only one cat is real in this photo.

There was this little bookstore that had these children's books that caught my eye on the carousel display shelf on the right of this picture. On closer inspection, they were these series of fairytale books that I had once seen on a Japanese magazine when I was a kid. I wanted ALL of them.

 Several years later and with serendepitous luck, I now have them all!

We kept looking for that sushi place that we saw earlier but we couldn't find it. Damn Twilight Zone Sushi Restaurant...

And then there's this shop that sold skewered fish ( I think, not sure) and they posted photos of celebrities who have eaten there. It must be good to have that kind of patronage but I honestly couldn't tell what they were selling.  

Right next to it is this closed shop with a very lively mural that reminded me of Mary Blair's It's A Small World art. It's actually a sign saying the Iranian Restaurant Zakuro is just 650 meters in the direction the curvy arrow is pointing. I had stupidly thought I had taken a very nice shot of it judging from what I saw from the digicam screen on playback. So I only took one photo. Now I'm realizing too late how crappy it is but it's the only one I've got. Booo.

Thad sat down for a bit to have some Sapporo beer.

I bought a tenugui from this shop to give to my friends Drew and Paula. The shopkeepers looked very well dressed and professional in their three piece business suits.

We found this shop that predominantly sold clay tea cups but they also sold other omiyage (souvenir) type items like netsuke figurines, tengui, keychains, etc. They also sold some high-end tea which they give a sample to people who enter the shop.  The tea is served in an exquisitely sakura shaped cup.

I've always wanted a clay tea cup and found the perfect pair from there...These are a bit pricey anywhere that is why I never got to buy one but from this shop, they were a steal.

We could've had our kushi-age experience at Hantei but I succumbed to my anxiety so we ended up eating at, where else? McDonalds.

Which was mighty damn fine to me because they had the McEbi burger. Ebi means shrimp!
and everyone who knows me know I love shrimp. This McEbi was actually delicious and not greasy or over fried. Look how tiny it is though. But it filled me up. Thad had the $7.00 cheeseburger which costs only $.99 in the US but you have to understand that McDonald's in Japan is pricey because it is somewhat "imported" while better quality local foods like a soba set (which for example, includes rice, pork cutlets, egg, soba, miso soup and pickled vegetable) will only cost you about $5.00
I also don't understand why people were saying eating in Japan is expensive, we never found that to be true...well unless you go to McDonald's. Oh the paradox.

Back to Nippori Station waiting for the train to take us back to our hotel... I've seen this scene so many times before I came here but it is mostly in animation... It feels surreal to be part of it.

...and that's how the YaNeSen frolic ended...

Next up, Harajuku!