Harujuku, Akihabara, and Yanaka

This morning I woke up for breakfast and found a pleasant little surprise waiting for me in the dining room.  The ryokan hosts a Japanese harp, or koto, player name Miwa Ito every month and she performs during breakfast.  The Japanese harp is very different from the harp that most Americans can picture in their minds.  The Japanese harp has thirteen strings strung across a wooden plank.  The strings are adjusted by ji, the tiny bridges that change the note.  It was very interesting to hear her play the simplistic notes that define ancient Japanese music.

After breakfast, I met my guide for the day.  She was a tiny young woman who only spoke some broken English.  Our destination today was Harujuku and Akihabara.  This would be a change of pace from my tour of historic Japan and interject some modern Japanese culture into my visit.  First, we took the subway to Harujuku.  Immediately out of the subway station, Harujuku seems like any other upscale ward in Tokyo.  It had well known designer stores on either side of the main street, such as Giorgio Armani and Louis Vuitton, and a couple of large indoor shopping malls.  However, my guide took me to Takeshita-dori and I quickly realized that Harujuku is the hipster capital of Tokyo.  But don’t fret Jared Mahler! Japanese hipsters are quite different from American hipsters.  The clothing on Takeshita street was unlike any kind of clothing I’ve ever seen in the US.  I don’ actually think you’d be able to find it there at all.  Harujuku is famous for its cosplay and more flamboyant fashion, so most of the clothes mimicked some sort of anime character or current pop star.

Interestingly enough, just on the other side of the ultra-modern Takeshita Street, there is a large tree covered park which is home to the Meiji Shrine, one of the most visited shrines in Japan.  As I wrote yesterday, the Meiji Restoration occured in 1868 and was when the Imperial government took back power from the Tokugawa Shogunate, abolishing the feudal system.  Since the feudal system was particularly tough for the peasants which comprised the vast majority of the Japanese population, the Meiji Restoration was welcomed.  Soon after Emperor Meiji died in 1912, he was deified as a kami, or Shinto god.  He is enshrined in the Meiji Shrine which was built in 1920.  The Meiji Shrine is comprised of several miles of gravel trails which lead from all sides to the main shrine in the middle of the park.  After walking through a few torii gates, my guide and I reached the elaborate main shrine.

The main shrine was massive for a Shinto Shrine which are usually more humble.  At this shrine, my guide taught me how to properly pray.  As you walk through any of the torii which line the path to the main shrine, you are supposed to mentally purify yourself by cleansing your thoughts and as you walk through, you must take one bow.  By the time you reach the main shrine you are now mentally purified, but now you must physically purify.  Just outside of any main shrine, there is a washing station.  The washing station is comprised of a spout of water which pours into a stone basin, and around the basin you can find several ladels for scooping the water.  In order to physically purify your body, you must wash yourself by grabbing the ladel with your right hand and pouring some water first onto your left hand.  Next, you switch hands and pour some of the water onto your right hand.  Then you put the ladel back into your right and and while making a cup with your left hand, pour some water into your left hand and take a small amount of water into your mouth, rinse, and spit it out.  Finally, with the ladel still in your right hand, you slowly tip it upwards until the water spills out of it and it is empty for the next person to use.   Now you are considered purified and ready to approach the shrine.  At the shrine there is a wooden collection bin.  To properly pray, you throw a five-yen coin into the bin, bow twice, clap twice, and then bow.  My guide told me that the purpose of the clapping is to rouse the Shinto god that is enshirined at that shrine.

Today, I got lucky as there was a Japanese wedding, or kekkonshiki, going on as we walked into the main shrine.  The bride processed into the shrine just ahead of where we were walking.  Later on, I took a few pictures of the bride in her traditional Japanese attire.

After we left the Meiji Shrine, it was off to Akihabara which is considered to be the technology capital of the world.  You can find the latest electronic gadgets and even some that have not been released anywhere esle in the world.  Akihabara is an extremely large ward and has many narrow alleys which wind off of the main street.

In the alleys, almost like the fish market, there are vendors selling electronic parts.  It is hard to walk through the streets without someone hassling you that their particular parts are the best on the street.  Akihabara also had a number of themed cafes.  Some were devoted to popular rock groups, some to anime, some to cats and dogs.  To advertise these cafes, people lined the streets in costumes which most closely reflected that cafe.  Like Harujuku, I saw teenage girls dressed as anime characters, or as cats, or as dogs.   It seems that the part-time jobs in Japan are quite different from those that most teenagers get in America.  My guide took me to the most modern part of town where many famous Japanese electronic companies, such as Panasonic and Toshiba, have stores.  The products in the stores were about as futuristic as you can get.  Some have not yet been released in foreign markets.  My guide showed me one station that advertised the advent of hologram controls for computers.  This was a bit mind boggling.

After the guide was satisfied that she had showed me the most important parts of Akihabara, she suggested that we go to Yanaka since we still had time on the tour.  Yanaka is one of the oldest districts of Tokyo and has literally dozens of Buddhist temples within blocks of each other.  I saw well over thirty temples today and I am not exaggerating.  Since I don’t want to describe all thirty temples, I will just talk about the two that I thought were the coolest.  One of the first temples I visited while I was there was Kyooji Temple.  I wrote yesterday about the Battle of Ueno during the Boshin War.  Well, after the Shogitai were defeated at the Battle of Ueno in 1868, they hid themselves at this temple.  However, the Imperial forces quickly found them and raided the temple.  The coolest part is that the bullet holes from the Imperials are still evident on the main gate to the temple.

After visiting several more temples, the last one we went to was Daienji Temple.  One of the most well-known kami, Inari, is enshrined here.  Inari is the kami for fertility and agriculture, and there are many shrines and temples across Japan dedicated to the fox-god.  I will be visiting one of the most famous Inari shrines in all of Japan, the Fushimi Inari Shrine in Kyoto, later on in the trip.

After that, with my feet feeling like that had needles in them, we decided that it was time to go home.  We took the subway back to Asakusa and said our goodbyes.  Today was another eventful day, and even in two days, I feel like I’ve seen a big portion of Tokyo.  Tomorrow I’m on my own to wander about Tokyo.  I felt a bit scared about this day when I originally saw it on the itinerary because Tokyo is so big, but the subway is easy to navigate and very clean.  I’m a little worried about the subway tomorrow, however, as it will be my first weekday here and I have to cope with rush hour.  I think we’ve all seen videos like this one.  But, I will figure it out.  In the meantime, I need to figure out where I should go!

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