Monday, December 29, 2008

Day 1: Tokyo - Harajuku, Shimokitazawa, Jiyugoaka

The Meiji Shrine in Harajuku
We started the day in Harajuku, where the Meiji Shrine is. I've been here before but it was nice to be back in a familiar place in a foreign land. This is a shrine dedicated to the emperor, who is also deemed as a deity - Son of Heaven. Many families have special occasions here, like weddings, graduations, funerals. People come here also to pray for good fortune and blessings. You can get talismans and charms for road safety, success in studies and business, and of course, in love. The weather was great and it was a nice walk. The sake and wine that were donated to the emperor are still there. This time though, people were busy preparing for the New Year celebrations coming up soon. Temple staff were carrying props and fixtures everywhere, and stands were being put up so that people can purchase charms on New Year's day, as well as the night food markets.

Shimokitazawa street shops
Next up was Shimokitazawa. Many small shops selling anything from groceries to gifts to furniture. We looked for a Curry place for lunch recommended by a travel magazine, but after going around a few times and double-checking for directions, we concluded that the shop had closed down. This is good advice, ALWAYS buy the latest travel guide, or at least, check online about your facts first. Finally, we had lunch at Popolamama consisting of Italian fusion. Pasta and pizza. It was pretty good. A standard meal that was filling! Afterwards we shopped around more, and then had coffee.

Jiyugaoka in Kanji is Hill of Freedom. But don't be mistaken, nothing is free there. More small shops again, this time with several dessert shops. Crepes along the roadside, the Sweet Forest - a food court that sells all kinds of desserts - cakes, ice-cream, chocolates, jelly, parfaits... After dessert, we had dinner at one of those hole-in-the-wall ramen shops. We were all very full already, but the ramen is always good in Japan. This one was a little oily, but hey, its ramen. Eating ramen in Japan can be very stressful. Everyone has their own place. there is not big table where you can sit together and chat. In fact, you are not supposed to chit-chat. Eat your ramen and get going! But don't forget to shout "Oishi!" because ramen is the best food in the universe.

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