[blog]* Day 3 - window-shopping in Harajuku and Shibuya. Plus, an unexpected encounter with roast squid and chicken bum... wait, chicken what?
So - tomorrow I end up in hospital, something you are all undoubtedly looking forward to.
But! For today - I am still in a remarkable amount of denial about everything, and so end up doggedly limping through Tokyo anyway.
Having a hard time deciding, apparently
Despite feeling decidedly like I was about to keel over and die, I just had to return to last night's matsuri which, as I'd hoped, was even more stunning in daylight.
A little game here: can anyone guess what the next two dishes are?
... chicken bum. That's right, I said it. Chicken bum.
I'll confess I actually had no idea what I'd ordered - I just pointed at the squid and succulent-looking mystery meat and asked in mildly nervous Japanese for it. You see, while I'd spent a year learning the language, my actual use of it up to this point had been zero, and I was jittery.
The dude had laughed, asked if I was sure (I nodded in some confusion) and, as I only realised later, given me the mystery meat skewer for free. Only when I looked up the definition did I realise what I'd eaten. Hmm.
The guilty item ("bonjiri" skewers)
To be fair, it was actually really, really good. It's the fattiest cut in the entire chicken, with a springy, almost crisp chew - more like a mix of fat and cartilage, than meat. As for the taste? Absolutely, absolutely heavenly - a rich, intense chicken-y taste delicately highlighted with salt.
Apparently it comes from the fact that this portion of the chicken is one that sees a lot of movement and gives rise to rich muscle development. I could care less. I did, however, want an extra serving, and was only stopped by the fact that it would have looked like I was asking for another free serving.
But it really was very good.
By the time I made it to Harajuku it was evening, and although a little quieter than it usually is in the day, it was still plenty busy.
I was working from memory and didn't have a clear idea of where to head. But this isn't ever a problem in Japan; when in doubt, just follow the crowd.
Old-school ice-cream truck bike! Awesome.
There's an amazing amount of stuff on display in Harajuku. I'd arrived relatively late - 7pm, and some shops were already shutting - but it was still enough to leave me suitably impressed.
There was also a lot of, um, innovative marketing...
Who needs mannequins when you can have a killer rabbit
Tell me that isn't creepy
The kid kind of just fell into the photo. But isn't he so cute?
These must have won some sort of award for being the creepiest mannequins ever.
OK, enough with the rabbits. But there really is a lot of weird cool stuff in Harajuku.
Seriously oversized tamagotchi
Even mannequins can look sexy... apparently
You'll inevitably notice the main intersection and the main roads (and big chains) running off it, but you'd be missing the best part of the area: the small, narrow streets and alleyways criss-crossing Harajuku like some gigantic circulatory system, almost pulsing with life and its chaotic mix of teenagers and corporate salarymen and tourists; the small shops, the secret back alleys, the vibrant visual anarchy found nowhere in Japan except here.
The only time I saw "graffiti" in Japan
I stumbled also across this beautiful museum (?) structure, which was regrettably 1) closed when I got there, and 2) too big for my camera to shoot properly. But it was so, so awesome.
You have to be there to see how amazing this is
I was also privy to this unusual scene...
Japanese people rioting? What?
Actually, it was a flash marketing campaign - they were advertising the newly-opened H&M Shibuya by marching all the way to H&M Harajuku and back. Little upstarts.
Incidentally, they were marching in front of the subtly named "Condomania", in case you're wondering about "Super Big Boy" and "Mega Big Boy XL".
All in all, an amazing area, unique and alive and quite different to most of everything else you'll see in Japan. Try and drop by, if you get the chance.
I'd already managed to buy a coat in Harajuku, but Shibuya is just a stop down and I thought I'd stop by.
Starting out as a railway terminal, Shibuya has emerged as one of the busiest tourist and shopping areas of Tokyo, with major department stores marking all corners of its trademark scramble crossing and bright neon signs and oversized plasma screens just about everywhere. It's always a little overwhelming, the first time you see it.
A little less touristy than Harajuku, but you can't escape them really.
There's a branch here too.
And a branch of McD's as well. The manager was out on the street yelling his lungs out to solicit business. In need of customers much?
Sega seems to have a rather different image here
I also came across what appeared to be a small - but developing - red-light district in Shibuya. Prostitution is illegal in Japan but the law is only loosely enforced, and the industry is estimated to take an enormous ¥2.5 trillion annually.
Apparently, authorities recently moved to crack down on the prominent red-light district of Kabuki-cho, and as a rather perverse consequence "information centres" and "aroma relaxation" parlours were now visible all over Shibuya as well.
Offerings vary, but include 40 minutes of "aroma relaxation" for ¥4000 or video viewing, ¥1000 an hour.
The video store fronts seem innocuous enough, with dust-covered copies of various Hollywood blockbusters on display, but walk far enough into the back and it would be seriously illegal anywhere else in the world. I saw rape videos, sex videos with dogs and leeches (I kid you not) and "harmless videos" of little children frolicking around in swimwear.
Well, I can't judge.
All in all, a classy, sophisticated, vibrant corner of Tokyo. It actually wouldn't be my first pick as a travel destination - there are other parts of Japan which are more beautiful, or more traditional, or have various other little quirks and pretty points.
But Shibuya is very representative of modern urban Japan as a whole, with lots of shopping and a good spread of food. It wouldn't be a bad choice, either.
Anyway, by this point it was starting to get late, so I decided to head back to Shinjuku.
Even the average street is dazzling
Results: Day 3
Areas: Tokyo - Harajuku and Shibuya
The List: #2 - Roast squid / #3 - Bonjiri (chicken bum) skewer
All in all, a pretty slow day - but you'll soon see why!