Friday, 5 August 2011

Louise & Rob: Day Four

We have a late start for the first time since arriving, eating chocolate chip bread while watching Japanese TV. We see the Mameshiba advert for the first time and quickly become bored of the irritating Curry Marche advert.

 We plan to see the temple at Asakusa today. We pour over the train and underground maps in our guide books, and decide the quickest way to get there is via Ueno. (Plus we went there yesterday – so it’ll be easy to find – right?)

We buy our tickets and walk through the gates like seasoned pros at the train station, but then become disorientated in the vastness of Shinjuku station. We eventually find our platform and we’re on our way.

Almost as soon as we arrive we’re thrown into the bustle of the shopping streets, we buy blackened roasted chestnuts from a street vendor, hot to the touch and wrapped in a small paper bag.

We become very excited about the market atmosphere of the shops, with baskets and tables piled high with goodies, and decide to buy some souvenirs for our friends and family. Louise is thrilled to find some very cheap vintage haori (small lightweight jackets – made from old kimono.) and buys a dusky pink one for herself and a pale pink one for her mum. We also browse inside and look at the exquisitely embroidered obi (kimono belt) and tiny tabi (cotton socks made to be worn with kimono). Along the way we buy colourful handkerchiefs, lacquered chopsticks, and various other trinkets and gifts.

We soon arrive at the Nakamise shopping street, and find shops peddling wooden kitchenware, garish kimono, wind-up toys, and geisha paraphernalia – such as wigs, fans and eye-wateringly expensive hair combs. There are also numerous food stalls selling sushi, udon and other snacks.

We buy sparkling water in an unusual bottle, which the vendor bangs on the table to release the marble stopper, which we later discover is a Japanese seasonal drink called ramune. We sit on the edge of a fountain and enjoy the chestnuts and water – licking the soot off our fingers.

We’re then tempted by a delicious potatoey smell, and discover a stall selling deep-fried potatoes, cut in a spiral and then rolled in seasoning. After indulging in a potato each, we move onto an archery side stall, where Rob does terribly and Louise does well – winning some theme park tickets (which we never actually get around to using). We approach Senso-Ji, walking through the various gates.

We come across a huge structure and discover that it’s a fortune-telling stand. We shake the tin and retrieve our sticks, this time getting our own fortune, by matching the stick’s symbol with ones on drawers. Louise’s is a very good one, and once again Rob’s is bad – warning him not to make any major decisions, such as moving house or getting married.

Before approaching the temple we cleanse our hands and mouths, as is the custom, and rub the healing smoke from the giant incense pot, Louise focusing on her sore feet. When we reach the temple we dodge flying yen and make wishes, before lighting remembrance candles.

On our way out and back to the station Rob buys a bracelet for Louise, it resembles the karma bead bracelets that were all the rage a few years ago, but has a tiny icon of the goddess Kannon inside one of the beads. Louise is also thrilled to spot a giant tanuki statue outside of a traditional-style restaurant.

We catch the train to Harajuku and meet a friendly business man who practices his English on us and shows us pictures of his pet dog. Harajuku is absolutely packed, but full of interesting looking shops and stalls, Louise finds a stall selling silk scarves and picks a vintage purple one with a hummingbird on, we browse the shops for awhile, and Louise falls in love with some giant plush cat paws, but upon deciding they wouldn’t fit in the suitcase purchases a Rilakuma t-shirt instead.

In the same shop we find a Chupa Chups lolly machine, where you pay 200 yen and get a ‘surprise’ amount of lollies. We discover vanilla ice-cream flavour, and know that we’ll never taste anything as good again.

We decide to search for Condomania – a shop that we have read about in our guidebook, and find it quite easily by the neon pink giant condom in the window. We browse the giant condoms, tiny condoms, glowing condoms, animal shaped condoms, you get the picture. We leave without making a purchase.

We decide to return to Harajuku a little earlier as dusk is falling and we’re getting hungry, so we head back to the hotel and drink cold Asahi beer from the vending machine, before heading to the hotel restaurant for food. Feeling refuelled we head out to play in the arcades in Kabukicho.

We have our first taste of Tekken 6, playing each other before two locals wipe the floor with us. We then find a generous grab machine that dispenses Disney lanterns, sweets, colourful soot sprites and string dolls. We win so much that the machine needs to be refilled, and we are given bags to carry out our goodies. We then head to a pachinko hall and try and master the upright pinball, and fail miserably – but have fun doing it. We play in various arcades, and find one that has a ufo catcher that’s full of curled up plush cats, we try and win one for a while, and a kind business man must have spotted us struggling as he alerted an arcade worker who came up and asked “Which one would you like? Shall I make it easier?” before moving the cat of our choice closer to the winning hatch. The business man watched us for a while, laughing at our efforts before handing over a cat he had won earlier. So eventually we emerge victorious with 3 curled cats.


We make our way back to the hotel, before snacking on sakura buns, bought in Shinjuku train station, and fall asleep looking forward to some actual fruit and vitamins tomorrow.


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