04.21.2010

Yoyogi Park entrance, Harajuku, Tokyo

Amai Undogutsu 😉

Thanks to the ever delectable Gwen Stefani, most people know of Harajuku for its “girls” and its “lovers”, but there’s a reason why Gwen and millions of other people are infatuated by the area and that’s its over the top fashions. Think kandi raving goth punk p0rno star and you’re getting close. A lot of layering, off cuts, frays and safety pins mixed with classic maid or school girl outfits.

Takeshita Street, Harajuku, Tokyo

Straight out of Harajuku station you pretty much fall into the thick of it, ie. Takeshita street (don’t worry, itll get less funny after a day, but then itll get funny again). The closed off street extends a few blocks and is packed with a variety of stores, mostly clothing, with a couple run of the mill sneaker and sport/skate stores. We were there on a Tuesday during school holidays and the street was pretty well jammed moving at a “bottleneck at a music festival” rate. If you’re going to go on a weekend, be prepared to get the elbows out if you want to zigzag between shops.

A side note, watch out for the African looking guys trying to be your friend, they’re only there to drag you into shops or sell you dodgy merchandise/tickets (to who knows what!). They seem to be of European background but speak a few broken languages.

Meiji Jingu Shrine, Harajuku, Tokyo

Speaking of the weekend, it is still the best time to check out Harajuku, mainly for Yoyogi park for its circus of Harajuku girls, performers and those crazy rockabilly Elvis impersonators. While you’re in the park, take the short walk to the Meiji Jingu Shrine, one of the most popular shrines in Tokyo, to stay a few prayers and maybe bless your feet for all the walking you’re about to do 😉

After Takeshita street, *snicker* venture out into the surrounding streets for more of the larger designer stores. A further block or two you’ll find many little lane ways of designer labels and boutique shoe and clothing shops. Brand stores like Adidas originals, Nike iD, Burton, Element along with some of Tokyo’s finest collector sneaker stores, Atmos, Undefeated, Chapter, Kicks Lab and of course for the everyday releases, the Japanese Footlocker, ABC Mart. While you’re in the area check out the many vintage clothing stores, Heatwave is one of the bigger names. There’s a huge variation in quality and selection so you might have to try a few different places if you’re looking for something in particular but like any “op-shopping” the best buys are the ones that you never expected to find.

For lunch I recommend the pocket kebabs. A little store with the long lunch line near Forever 21 (the American version of Supre’ but they sell guys clothes as well). There’s a few of these places through out Tokyo, basically two European guys with a well established little shop, have a photo of themselves in the window and make a killing. Very friendly and picked the Aussie accent straight off the bat. Crikey! The food is little thrown together because of the pace they work at but still fresh and very tasty.

Optimus Prime, Kiddyland, Harajuku

Finally you cant go to Harajuku and not hit up Kiddyland. I know, sounds a bit suss but I promise there’s no Manga p0rn! It’s pretty much the same as Yamashiroya in Ueno but with some floors solely dedicated to one character. So for all the Hello Kitty, Snoopy, Rilakkuma fans your prayers have been answered. For the lads, by pass the fluff and head straight to the top level for all your action figures, collectibles and vinyls needs. They definitely had one of the biggest selections of Kid Robot, Tokidoki and similar vinyls that I saw in Tokyo.

Heading back to the train station pop into the 100Yen store (Daiso) for any last minute travel basics or pretty much anything for that matter. Basically the 99p/Crazy Clarks Japanese equivalent but everything is 100Y (roughly $1US). Some of the items are very cheaply made while others are actually quite good. We picked up luggage straps, padlocks, stubby cooler, belt and a few other bits and pieces all for a buck each!

Tokyo part #1 – Ueno for a day
Tokyo part #2 – Getting round Tokyo, Ueno Sakura at night
Tokyo part #4 – Shibuya
Tokyo part #5 – Kichijoji and Shinjuku
Tokyo part #6 – Akihabara
Tokyo part #7 – Odaiba and Leaving Tokyo

Photo Gallery Here

Moshi moshi!

Well the 10 days or so (who knows with all that date line crossing and red eye flights) in the USA flew by and we were back in the T-Y-O. This time a bit more confident of where we needed to go and what we needed to do to get there.

First up, some tips for traveling by public transport in Japan. Buy either a PASMO (pink and blue) or Suica (green) card from the vendor offices round the airport terminal (basically the “metro card” equivalent for any major city). The company colours are also painted round the respective ticketing machines so its easy to spot them when you need to top up your card. We chose Suica cos it had a penguin on it 😉
The card is 2000Y and comes with 1500Y credit (roughly $20/15US respectively) and can be used on pretty much all public transport in Tokyo and a fair portion of Japan. If you take the Keisei Limited express train from Narita airport this will cost you 1000Y and will take you all the way to Ueno (end of the line). The trip takes about 75min and can get quite crowded. Taking your backpack off and throwing it up in the luggage rack helps save space and your shoulders when you’re standing.

If you want a more luxurious experience with reclining seats, luggage areas, vending machines and a saving of about 10-15min off your journey time then take the Keisei Skyliner. All seating is reserved so check your ticket for your seat number. The premium is double what you pay for the standard ride but it is nice to have a metal bottle of Pepsi and a nap without being squashed up against some stranger or having them fall asleep on you. Even during peak hour it was only half full.

You will also find the PASMO and Suica cards work in a variety of businesses. Convenience stores, take aways, some restaurants, duty free and shops in the airport/train stations, handy if you haven’t had a chance to track down a Travelex which will more than likely happen. They are few and far between, so you might want to cash up at the airport or hit the Travelex site for locations. While a lot of the little market stores have EFTPOS, as it goes for traveling anywhere its always good to have a bit of the folding stuff on hand, just in case.

Generally, getting round Tokyo, if you stick to the JR Yamanote line you really can’t go wrong, just make sure you’re heading in the direction you want to go!

Back into it, I like to think I’ve got a pretty good sense of direction and have no problems reading a map, but when people say “Japanese streets can get confusing” believe them and again, don’t trust Google maps!! Some streets are lanes that look like drive ways, some lanes ARE driveways that go the whole block and a lot of them are poorly signed/unsigned. Travel tip: if you don’t know where you are, you won’t know where you’re going!

So misjudging a bend for a corner we set off on a lovely 45min walk in the wrong direction with 2 heavy suitcases each in tow. After some backtracking and cross tracking we still managed to over shoot the hotel wandering the backstreets in it’s surrounding blocks. Thankfully that renowned Japanese hospitality and courtesy to strangers shone through with locals more than happy to help point us in the right direction. One lady out for a cycle with her toddler on board even circled around a couple times to make sure we were heading the right way. Very much a refreshing and welcomed change compared to the States where you couldn’t even pay for good help, and more than often you had to, even for the most remedial of requests!

But I digress. That night we headed back out to the park, noting on our way in how close we were to the station (bout 15min walk) and how wrong we got it. Though its always nice after a walk around to start spotting familiar landmarks/areas.

By now the majority of blossoms were well in bloom and so were the festivities. Families and people of all ages gathered under the trees on tarps and blankets for the Sakura celebration, most completely oblivious to the mercury barely staying in the positives (though a down filled Northface parka does help with that!). There were even areas roped off and set up as makeshift restaurants, complete with boxes for tables and cushions.

With more than 1000 trees in full bloom, Ueno park looked like it was dusted in icing sugar. Truly beautiful.

Tokyo part #1 – Ueno for a day
Tokyo part #3 – Harajuku
Tokyo part #4 – Shibuya
Tokyo part #5 – Kichijoji and Shinjuku
Tokyo part #6 – Akihabara
Tokyo part #7 – Odaiba and Leaving Tokyo

Photo Gallery Here

Over the next month or so, I’ll be summarising our recent holiday to Tokyo, Los Angeles and New York City. Posts will include our personal highlights along with tidbits of info on general travel and sight seeing in these cities and of course tips on shopping, most notably sneakers and toys (:

Pour yourself a nice warm glass of Saki, first city up is Tokyo.

Once seen as only the country that made cars and tv’s, the land of the rising sun has long shed its industrial stereotypes and has been recognised as one of the world’s leaders in fashion. Most notably heavily influencing Australia’s own fashion sense since the turn of the millennium, however to us here at SBM, fashion is dead and its all about the toys! ;D

We had a day stop over on the way to the USA so instead of getting loosing our minds in the airport for 12 hours we did a quick scouting mission in to Ueno. This worked well as this was not long where we were staying for 4 days on our way home, but also home to one of the biggest blossom festival areas in Tokyo.

Walking through Ueno park (up the stairs between Ueno and KeiSei stations) we saw the festivities were just beginning with stalls and decorations being set up. Most of the trees showed little signs of blooming except for the one at the entrance which had its full bloom on display giving us a teaser of what was to come.

We checked out the Ameyoko markets under the train line and surrounding blocks from Ueno station, which later became our savior for a last minute suitcase purchase when we realised that we went way overboard with the Boxing day style of shopping, but more on that later.

Across the road from the station is Yamashiroya, 6 floors of toys, games, anime, collectibles and everything to make you feel like a kid again. You could easily spent half a day in there with a limited vocabulary of “awesome!”, “awww that’s SO cute”, “wtf???” and “I don’t care, I’m buying it”. Of course with that kind of diminished rational we walked away with a pillow sized Kirby plush and Revoltech Yamaguchi figure set without any thought of the frustration that we’d endure from lugging them tens of thousands of miles across the globe in the coming weeks.

Just before we headed back, we walked a few blocks south towards Akihabara to find a sneaker trader called Buy Sell (Ueno). Their stock isn’t huge like K-Skit (but who’s is??) but they have a decent selection of new and used (in various conditions) sneakers, clothing and accessories. Definitely one of the bigger selections of clothing compared to similar sneaker shops.

If you’ve been into sneakers for even the shortest amount of time you will know that there’s no real holy grail out there and there’s no one store that sells all the “best” models. It’s all just a matter of how deep your pockets are and if you’re willing to not pay rent for a month or 2. That said, they still had a few of the rare exotic models along side cheap dunks in colourways not available in Oz. Check out their frequently changing stock listing on their site, updated regularly.

A side note which I wasn’t going to go into (out of embarrassment!) but will as a courtesy for future travelers to Japan – not all signs that sprout “anime” and have cartoon caricatures are toy stores. You’ll know as soon as you step in the door, the over abundance of middle age to elderly men, the curtained cubicles with shoes and pants at the door, possibly someone snoring, oh and the wall to wall of Manga p0rn aka Hentai! Don’t know what the local name for these places are, but it seems pretty much like a self service library if you will. If you’re female or are traveling with one, you’ll be met with an abrupt “no no, men only!!”. Say no more, reading you loud and clear buddy!

Here’s an example just around the corner from Yamashiroya

Moral of the story, don’t trust google maps! While it can guess within 50m as it says “approximate”, take heed! Unless of course you can read Japanese, then just back away slowly, you were never here.

Tokyo part #2 – Getting round Tokyo, Ueno Sakura at night
Tokyo part #3 – Harajuku
Tokyo part #4 – Shibuya
Tokyo part #5 – Kichijoji and Shinjuku
Tokyo part #6 – Akihabara
Tokyo part #7 – Odaiba and Leaving Tokyo

Photo Gallery Here

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