Had an early breakfast after a perfect night’s sleep and got ready to head to the Meiji-Jingu Shrine. We walked past the Yoyogi National Stadium to get there and were finally met by a towering gate of wood- not orange like the other shrines.
That made the temple, or Shinto shrine rather, more at home with the surrounding forest. And like most of the other places we’d been, I couldn’t tell what I enjoyed more- the walk to the temple or the temple itself. The thick canopy of trees above us was alive with the sound of cicadas and it was only later that I found out that the forest was actually man-made- each tree having been donated.
On the way to the shrine, there are stacks of barrels of sake on the right and kegs of wine on the left – all donations to the shrine. The colourful barrels of sake make for a great picture and so you’ll find most tourists milling in the area. That’s where I spotted a Korean couple arguing about how to have their picture taken best. I missed my parents a lot at that point.
We kept walking, past the poetry of the Emperor and Empress to whom this shrine has been dedicated before entering the last last torii to the shrine. The Emperor and Empress, we were told, were expected then, and even today, to give their orders in the form of poetry – something amazing yet slightly impractical. I wonder if practicality is a stifled form of art. It was at the last torii that I met the Korean couple again who asked me to take their picture at the entrance to the shrine ^^
The shrine itself is a beautiful wooden structure – beautiful in its simplicity, magnificent in its size and flanked by perfectly symmetrical trees. The temple, like most other structures in Japan was burnt down in WWII and the buildings were rebuilt in 1958. While it’s okay to take pictures of the structure itself, picture taking is not allowed inside the shrine where people pray. It helps people remember the real purpose of the building- not a tourist attraction, but a place of worship. In the courtyard, there are two places where prayers can be written. I found it very interesting that people need to pay to be able to write their prayers, whether on wooden tablets or on paper, the cheaper alternative. What was even more interesting is the idea that prayers are prioritized according to a person’s financial status and contribution. I think there’s more man than god in that tradition.
We left the shrine and walked down to Takeshita Street (Takeshita Dori)- the birthplace of pop culture. It seems like such a contradiction that two places that are such polar opposites would be situated so close to each other. The street is impossible to miss – a shock of colours and a mass of people.
Right at the entrance to the street there are some shops in front of which there is an overhead water spray – something I made full use of to cool me down before heading on down the street. We had been warned that we would be bound to come across some class of, as my sensei succinctly put it, “weirdos”, but luckily enough we found none, only throngs of teenagers having a good time. There are all sorts of shops you can find here, from a huge Daiso to a three storey shop dedicated entirely to cosplay outifts for dogs and of course stores for the rebellious goth-wannabe where labels on stands ask you politely to F off (I’m not sure how that helps with sales :P ) If you’re looking for something very Japanese here, then you’re out of luck. This place is filled with lots of merchandise with NY labels and graffiti screaming “God Bless America”. If things like this aren’t really your style, I’d still recommend taking a walk down the street just to experience the dramatic cultural shift between the crowd you’d find at the temple and the youth of today. There are also plenty of places to grab a bite from, ranging from crepes to ice-cream to candy to all things yummy. I couldn’t sample anything as usual so after a fun walk in the killer heat, I stopped at Starbucks at the end of the street to soak in some much needed air conditioning.
The next stop was… a Shabu Shabu lunch. I actually really like the idea of being able to cook your own meat at the table (it saves you from the hassle of struggling to define well-done, a little more than well-done and burnt to a crisp) so this is something I was really looking forward to. The restaurant was down a, for lack of better word, shady alley quite close to the famous Shibuya crossing, also known as the Shibuya Scramble. When we got seated, all the tables were already prepared with their own little stoves with pots of boiling broth. We then got a plate of vegetables, another plate filled with thin strips of beef and some seasoning like chilies and garlic. Not being very fussy, we threw everything in, except the meat, which is supposed to be put in individually, cooked as much as you like then eaten by dipping into another bowl of sauce.
The Shabu Shabu was a stunning success, all plates were completely wiped clean and in the words of one of our friends this was the first day he had eaten like a human. Bellies full, we were taken then to perhaps the most special part of the trip – The Tea Ceremony at Urasenke.
Stay Tuned for Day 6 Part 2