Day 6 – Harajuku, Ginza and Akihabara

June 10, 2007 at 5:53 pm | Posted in anime, Anime & Manga, Japan, Manga, Tokyo, Travel | Leave a comment
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On Day 6 (Sunday) I returned to Tokyo in the afternoon once again via Shinkansen and made my way to Harajuku. I was planning on seeing the Meiji Shrine and the cosplayers that make this suburb their home (particularly on the weekend). Harajuku, with its narrow winding main street is filled in equal parts funky clothing shops and food stalls on the one hand and tourists, spruikers and locals (whether cosplaying or not) on the other.

If you’re into shopping and fashion you’ll no doubt be interested in taking the time to explore all of the ins and outs of Harajuku but for me I was here to check out the people and to do it quickly. Time was ticking after all. Unfortunately, after “exploring the surrounds” (getting turned around) I found my way to a shrine or temple which was roughly in the place of a shrine listed on a Japanese language map I’d seen earlier. While it didn’t look as big as I remembered the Meiji shrine from my previous trip I put this down to the access paths were closed and not being at the main building. I wandered around a little hoping to find a big cluster of cosplayers to check out but unfortunately there were none in this area.

Of course if I’d been smarter I would have realised/ remembered that this was completely the wrong part of Harajuku but instead had to rely on Miki to tell me a few days later as she scanned through my photos.

While I didn’t get to the bridge connecting Harajuku with the Meiji shrine (where according to my guide the bulk of the cosplayers gather) I did see quite a few as I walked around but nothing amazingly outlandish. Did I take photos? No, I feel a bit weird taking photos of people, especially those who are dressing up, as I wouldn’t want to make them feel like they’re an attraction when they’re just trying to be themselves. Granted I’m saying that without knowing their individual motivations and possibly just laying my own preconceptions onto the situation.

With Harajuku done (at least in my head at the time) I was ready to move onto Ginza. Tokyo’s high end shopping district. My guide book advised that on Sunday they close the main street and it turn it over to pedestrians and (not verbatim) ‘cafes and everything spills out onto the streets in a European style’. Except not. Silly incorrect guide book.

Yes the street is closed which means you can walk at pace quite well up and down the main boulevard and there are the occasional street performers but that’s about it. There are no alfresco coffee shops just a few chairs placed in the middle of the street every so often for those weary walkers. I was glad to have gone to Ginza but annoyed that I’d bothered to go on Sunday when I could have visited realistically on any day and spent more time either in Harajuku or my next destination: Akihabara.

Akihabara is Tokyo’s technology district with every shop stocking alternatively a piece of technological gadgetry or manga/anime related products. Honestly, while I should have been uber impressed by the technology I wasn’t.  The items may have been super advanced on the inside but I was oblivious to this due to the language barrier and so I was reduced to a casual inspection of the exterior where they all looked like a variant of a TV/ phone/ camera etc. One of my stops was to the Tokyo Anime Center and it was quite disappointing. When I hear the term “center” I had imagined a variety of things, none of which were the glorified information service and gift shop that greeted me at the (small) Anime Center. It would be so much easier to just walk down the main street and wander into various shops than to bother with the anime center in it’s current size and form.

Speaking of walking, when I arrived into Akihabara I found that its streets were closed as well and this may or may not be a result of the festival that was occurring. Many, many people were working together as they paraded small shrines through the streets. I have no clue what this was in honour of but apparently there was a large festival in Tokyo over the weekend. The participants (from all ages and genders) looked like they were having a ball – it was infectious.

I checked myself into the Akihabara capsule hotel and then headed back into the area and wandered around anime and manga shops. A relatively healthy experience given the number of stairs to climb to cover each building’s floors. I was suitably impressed by the range of products in anime, manga and general merchandise. Whatever your taste there will be something in Akihabara for you – although being able to read it is another matter entirely. If I had any room in my luggage I may have bought more (as it is very cheap compared to prices in Australia/UK – although these are translated) but in the end I only purchased the latest Bleach.

Another Akhabara staple are maid cafes. I’d vaguely heard about these cafes where the staff dress as maids without knowing too much about it or doing additonal research and had considered going in just to check it out but while in Osaka I happened to watch a game show that shed a little extra light (as well as ick) on the cafes. This game show (no idea of the name) pitted various foreign otaku against each other in the struggle to be named biggest otaku. I was quite impressed by these foreigners (from a number of countries) as they had to speak and understand Japanese. After one of the challenges the contestants ended up at a maid cafe where the ‘maids’ dutifully spooned ice cream into their mouths. From what I have since gathered this maid/master relationship is the standard and honestly it doesn’t work on any level for me – even to just check it out and say I went. So I didn’t. For those more interested there are plenty of maids on the street handing out flyers. I didn’t see any cafes on street level but there are numerous signs pointing the way.

After all that walking it was time to head back to the capsule hotel. For those of you not in the know or not wanting to click the link a capsule hotel is basically a single futon in a rectangular box, it features a tv, reading light and alarm clock and the ‘entrance’ has a blind. It is quite high, lying on my back I could not touch the ceiling. The capsules are stacked two high and on this particular night I was on the lower capsule. They are highly affordable at 4000 yen per night and are often used by late night revellers or businessmen who have missed the last train home. Going on a Sunday night was a good option as there seemed little chance of drunken idiots. Men and women are segregated to different floors and there is a gender plity communal (Japanese style) sento bathing. In your little gift bag you receive toothbrush and towels as well as the Japanese yukata. I had a good experience, sleeping quite well but if you were quite tall or claustrophobic it may be a challenge. At this particular hotel the reception was 24hrs which allows for lots of sightseeing. I met a British traveller here who’d spent the past 4 nights at the hotel and had no problems and enjoyed his time.

If you’re coming to Japan and are on a budget then the capsule hotel is a great alternative, conversely you may want to give it a try before they become too old hat and are available in every airport and train station.

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