Monday, 10 January 2011

Louise & Rob: Day Two

We wake up jetlagged, but pleased we didn’t draw the blinds, the view is still amazing, and we can watch ant-sized Japanese people rushing to work while we feast on Milk Pocky, Koala’s March biscuits and odd textured buns masquerading as donuts, all washed down with cold coffee and grape Fanta. Lament the fact that the only fanta we get in the UK is crap and tastes of mouldy oranges,

We decide to stick around Shinjuku for the day, as we’re really tired and not feeling hugely adventurous yet. I wear my owl top, and later notice lots of Japanese girls eyeing it up enviously. Good old Topshop. We take the terribly polite lift down to reception and prepare to get lost. We spend quite a while wandering around Shinjuku aimlessly, just enjoying the sights, sounds and general atmosphere, before too long we find ourselves at a large red Torii gate guarded by a pair of stone lions, sandwiched between offices, shops and restaurants – such is the nature of Tokyo.

Without even realising it, we’ve found Hanazono Shrine. The first thing we do is find a tree surrounded by paper fortunes. We go to a nearby kiosk and hand over 200 yen. We then shake a tin full of long sticks, each with a symbol on. When we each have a stick, we hand these over to woman behind the counter, who finds the corresponding fortune for us. Mine is good, however Rob is not so lucky. We then tie our fortunes to the fences surrounding the trees, as the Japanese believe the winds blow away bad luck and seal good luck.

We have a wander around and admire the shide (paper zig zags) that adorn the shrine. We throw lucky 5 yen coins into the collection tray, clap our hands and rings the bells, as custom dictates. We find it very hard to believe that somewhere so tranquil is in the centre of bustling Shinjuku.

 We leave the shrine behind and decide to head to Shinjuku Gyoen, on the way we spot an aquaria shop with bright blue jellyfish on sale. We then stop at a European-style cafe (my stomach is still really delicate from long distance flying!) and we order German-style hot dogs and sweet milk tea, which we decide to take and eat in the park, as it’s scandalous to eat in the street in Japan.

We arrive at the park, and get a little confused by the ticket machine, as you have to pay to get into the park, but there’s not a person in sight. We soon figure it out, pay our 200 yen and enter. We find a spot on the grass, in between artists sketching the park, children playing in the park, and families with picnics. We eat our food, particularly enjoying the tea - it’s our first taste of milk tea. After we’ve basked in the sun a while we spot a kiosk selling ice cream – one of the few foods it’s acceptable to eat on the move by the looks of it. We wander through the park and find a bench in the cool wooded area – Tokyo is still very hot in October, so the shade feels lovely. As we’re eating our ice cream we become surrounded by huge black birds, cawing, hopping and scuffling. We share bits of our cone with the appreciative birds before walking on.

We soon find ourselves near a huge pond with a pagoda in the distance and uniformly spherical bushes nearby.

We discover the pond is teeming with huge shimmering koi in bright orange, white and golden shades, alongside large leathery looking turtles. After spending time poking around the different areas on the park and watching the koi and turtles, we decide to leave. I use the bathroom before we go, and accidentally push a button which emits a loud buzzing noise, I become terrified that I’ve activated an intercom and swiftly leave. (I later discover that this is a sound effect, commonly used to disguise any toilet noises).

As we’re walking back to our hotel, I almost squeak with delight as I spot a huge, giant, massive Hello Kitty statue, (which I know know is the largest in the world). I feel like I’m heaven as I browse racks and racks of Sanrio merchandise. Rob shoos me out of the shop and emerges a long time afterwards clutching a bag full of goodies, including a bunch of scented gel pens and some chopsticks. He later confesses that the reason he took so long was because his Japanese wasn’t up to scratch, and he’d tried to buy things that he shouldn’t have...

We wondered a little more, before finding a giant stationary shop – this is shaping up to be a Louise-perfect day! We browse through many, many racks of postcards, picking the most suitable ones for friends and family (and some for ourselves – well, mostly Louise), including a Russian doll-style unfolding cat postcard. Ace! We also found a trove of Moomin goodies, and got Moomin diaries for Louise and Rob’s mum – two of the biggest Moomin fans in the world. We then head back to the hotel, proudly clutching our goodies, stopping for a McDonalds on the way back. We’re still not quite feeling brave enough to risk killing Louise (who has shellfish and mushroom allergies). We’re amazed by the fact that Japanese McDonald’s sell lots of different products to British ones.

Back in the room we wolf down cheeseburgers and fries, all washed down with tangy lemon water – with bright yellow jelly balls floating all around inside. The junk food makes us sleepy, so we nap on the bed, watching bizarre Japanese game shows. It seems that to get on the telly in Japan, it helps to have a penchant for stacking things on other things – on one show, we saw someone stack ramen noodle pots higher than themselves!

After a bit of a post-adventure (and post-junk food) catnap, we awake again feeling quite invigorated. Must be a combination of timezone confusion and Tokyo excitement! Whatever the reason, we elect that the best remedy would be to go out and exhaust ourselves all over again, in the grown-up playground that is Kabukicho.

Kabukicho is full of bright lights, amusement arcades, porn shops, peepshows, brothels and bars. The area has a great atmosphere, teenagers draped over benches and railings, salarymen stumbling along with arms around each other, cheeks glowing merrily pink and brothel workers trying to entice you inside with promises of ‘nice clean Japanese girls, who want to meet you’. We spend almost all of tomorrows budget in the arcades. At home we have a weakness for seaside grab machines, constantly frustrated at the ‘ungrip’ mechanism. Here in Japan, the UFO Catchers are difficult to get used to, but fair. We roll on back to hotel arms full of toy rabbits, bears,glowing Disney lanterns and soot sprites. We fall asleep with our purchases and winnings safely tucked away on the shelf behind the bed.


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