We’ve never been to Tokyo, and with the cherry blossom festival matching the kid’s school holidays this year, it seemed like a perfect opportunity to deliver on this long held goal.
More on the cherry blossoms in an upcoming post — it’s fair to say I have been a little obsessed over them since we arrived — but this one is purely about celebrating the craziness that is the Harajuku district and its surrounds.
We started our day braving the famous Tokyo subway to get to Harajuku (albeit in the company of an English speaking guide, which actually made it not really very brave at all, just a very efficient way to travel) and before long, found ourselves surfacing at Harajuku station.
Our guide explained that Harajuku was very busy and a little crazy and we all nodded enthusiastically, Sascha and I possibly even chanting ‘bring it on’ under our breath. So, we were more than a little bemused when she followed up the news for that reason, we’d be heading to the adjacent Meiji Jingu shrine, which was much more peaceful and tranquil. Not wanting to seem like uncivilised savages, we obediently headed off there, while Stuart whispered calming messages about it only being 9.30 in the morning and there still being plenty of time for seeing madcap fashion and dressed up dogs.
The shrine and surrounding forest was beautiful, (although I did note a surprising lack of cherry blossoms) and we were fortunate enough to arrive at the same time as a traditionally dressed wedding party and admire their gorgeous outfits.
Shrine visit done, our guide agreed it was time to head to the shopping district and offered the choice of grown up shops or teenager street. The teen quickly jumped in to claim her territory, and off down Takeshita Street we headed, much to the amusement of the kids as they did their best deliberate mispronunciations.
It was still fairly early, so the crowds hadn’t yet arrived and we’d been worded up by friends who’d visited the area a couple of days previously there was a store full of photo booths that wasn’t to missed right near the station end of the street. The early hour meant we pretty much had the place to ourselves, so we had an absolute ball making crazy poses and laughing ourselves silly at the heavily photoshopped outcomes, where our eyes had been magnified and rounded, heavy eye make up applied, and all manner of crazy captions suggested (Sascha and I returned later on in the day for a second go, but the place was absolutely packed so we reluctantly passed, but reserved the right to head back there again before we left).
Walking down the street we saw all manner of stores selling the well known ‘Harajuku girl’ style clothing and footwear, and my sweet tooth felt right at home in the absolute proliferation of stores selling candy and sweet crêpes.
We moved onto the delights of KiddyLand, where after several goes on the vending machine selling dolls my desired outcome, Japanese cherry girl, appeared. Score! (The kids kindly pointed out that my cherry blossom obsession may be getting a little out of control).
We then set off on an exploratory walk through the back streets of Harajuku on a quest to locate one of Sascha’s goals for the trip, the cat café. After enjoying the wide range of different architecture styles on display, we finally tracked down the cat café at the top of the second flight of stairs in an building with no exterior signage to suggest it actually existed. Stuart seized on the opportunity that presented when Sam was refused admission as he was under 12, but I took one for the team (despite being allergic to cats) and took Sascha in, consoling myself with the thought that at least I could sit down and get a drink after walking around for the best part of four hours by that stage.
Little did I know that not only was I not going to get a drink or anything to eat, I actually had to feed the cats! What a completely random experience, it was just like going to visit a cat obsessed elderly relative in a one room apartment, where 6 cats reigned supreme and you paid for the privilege of sitting there with them and feeding them cat treats. Needless to say, my prolific sneezing that commenced after ten minutes of this meant that our visit there was short lived, and once I finished outlining to Sascha exactly what a lovely mother she had for being prepared to accompany her on such a random experience, we set off in search of somewhere we could actually eat and drink ourselves.
The picture of a man dressed in rabbit ears advertising cherry blossom themed donuts naturally enough caught my eye, so we took ourselves in to Nicolas Charles, where we discovered that we were also expected to wear rabbit ears while dining, and that all of the food was presented either with ears, or looking like rabbits. The entire ceiling was filled with helium balloons, and many of the diners were dressed in full Harajuku girl garb. We decided ‘when in Rome’, so donned our ears and thoroughly enjoyed our rabbit themed lunch!
The only thing more entertaining than the many zany outfits was the dogs in fancy dress and the different styles of transportation used to parade them through the streets, almost a flashback to the previous Sunday’s Easter Parade in New York! We definitely left feeling that Harajuku had lived up to its reputation and delivered everything we’d expected.
The day wasn’t over yet though, with a visit to the Robot Restaurant scheduled for the same evening. I found this online on Viator and thought it sounded like a bit of fun. It isn’t actually in Harajuku, but is close by in Shinjuku and from the moment we arrived, it was obvious this wasn’t going to be like any other dinner or show we’d ever experienced, right from the dress code warnings, to the pre-show entertainment from a robot band in a lounge so bedazzled that Liberace would have looked like a sedate dresser.
From there we went into the main show stage, where the early warnings displayed on the video screen walls were all too necessary. We needed to ‘make a dodge’ on many occasions as the huge sets made their way up and down the narrow show space, ranging from anime drummers, parasol twirling geishas, transformer-style fighting robots and almost anything else you could imagine from Japanese pop culture represented!
The act that had us all in absolute stitches was a bizarre scene involving the forest and sea creatures joining forces to fight off evil invaders. This included such gems as a larger-than-life kung fu panda riding a cow, an enormous mechanical shark that devoured one of the evil invaders closely followed by the giant snake who took out their queen, but my personal favourite had to be the blue haired girl riding the giant spider, who was oh so sadly defeated by the machine gun wielding queen prior to the snake taking her out.
The grand finale involving girls dressed as sparkly superheroes and giant dancing robots accompanied by the audience waving coloured light sabers and chanting along in what bore a remarkable resemblance to the Aussie Aussie Aussie Oi Oi Oi chant nearly pushed us over the edge, and we left with tears of laughter streaming down our faces, and feeling that the day that we had always had earmarked to deliver on the kookier side of Japanese culture had surpassed every expectation. I can’t wait to see what the rest of our week here entails, but know that our day in Harajuku will be one that our family is still talking about for years and years to come.
*some connectivity issues have resulted a few missing photos as my Google Glass is not loving the hotel WiFi here, rest assured I’ll update with those included once I get that resolved