A walk in the park

Shinjuku Metropolitan Building

Shinjuku Metropolitan Building

As it was sunny on Sunday we decided to check out Yoyogi Park, but first made a short detour to the Shinjuku Metropolitan Building, whose twin towers hold 45th floor observation decks.  The building is home to the Shinjuku local government offices, but today the only visitors were fellow sightseers – lots of them.  We picked the north tower as having the shortest lift queue, and after a bag search we were shepherded into the lift by a concierge who ensured that the safe load was not exceeded and executed a perfectly time bow as the doors closed.

Something to do with collectible cards...

Something to do with collectible cards…

For some reason I had assumed that the observation deck would be outside, so I was surprised to find myself in a vast room with large windows looking out in every direction.  A group of teenage boys were completely ignoring the views and seemed to be playing some kind of game with collectible cards.  It seemed a strange place to do it.  A jumble of tat stalls occupied the centre of the room – since they were letting us in for free, it’s reasonable that the local council makes money from traders.  The views of Tokyo were good, but even with a cloudless blue sky it wasn’t clear enough to see Mount Fuji peeping above the row of hills away to the west.  The view of Tokyo Bay from the north tower is blocked by the south tower,  but the queue for the lift down was so long we didn’t feel inclined to go up to the other observation deck.

Sculptor in Yoyogi Park

Sculptor in Yoyogi Park

Back at Shinjuku station we took the Yamanote line to Harajuku for Yoyogo Park.  Near the gate a performance artist was modelling a large clay head, so we blew ¥400 each on apple and whipped cream crepes from a nearby van and watched him for a while.  The warm sunshine had brought out the crowds, and picnicking groups occupied every patch of grass – I guess homes with gardens are very rare in Tokyo.  Some were drumming, dancing, practising martial arts or playing frisbee.  Yoyogi Park on Sunday afternoon was supposed to be a Mecca for cosplayers, but we saw none: I read later that they’ve moved on to Odaiba.


Yoyogi Park picnickers

IMG_7287Along the path, a man with 2 meerkats had attracted a small audience.  Meerkats on leads would probably attract attention anyway, but these had the additional novelty value of being dressed.  They were surprisingly calm, given the thorough sniffing that they were being given by 2 or 3 dogs straining at their leads, only inches from the meerkats faces.  The only place the dogs were allowed off the leash was in one of 3 pens demarcated according to dog size.  It can’t be much fun being a dog in Tokyo.



Pampered pooch

By the time we got back to the park entrance a group of aging, denim clad rockabillies were dancing in a circle with commendable energy.  We crossed the bridge over the main road and found ourselves in the midst of a doggie festival, where a show, an obedience display, and stalls selling dog paraphenalia and clothes (yes, clothes!) were being perused by customers with dogs in buggies.  Very few dogs were walking (a great dane wearing goggles on its head was a notable exception) but one person did have a rabbit on a lead.  It must have been terrified with all those dogs around.


Sake barrels at Meiji shrine

Sake barrels at Meiji shrine

It was all getting a bit surreal, so we crossed back and made our way to the Meiji shrine.  Lots of visitors were headed the same way but the approach road was through forest, with no vendors, so it didn’t feel anything like as crowded as Sensoji had.  At one point a rack of sake barrels faced a rack of Bordeaux wine barrels.  The wine was all top appellation stuff; I don’t know why French winemakers had felt compelled to stick a barrel of their finest in the grounds of a shrine to an early C20th Japanese emperor, but it seemed an awful waste.  Assuming it really is wine of course – I wonder if anybody has actually checked?

Meiji shrine

Meiji shrine

Surrounded by trees, the shrine was pleasant enough with its large traditional torjii gates and the usual fortune telling rackets, but somehow it felt rather sterile compared with Sensoji: perhaps it was the lack of incense.  We ducked out of a side entrance and returned to Harajuku Bridge via forest track.  With the birds singing it was very peaceful; you wouldn’t have guessed you were in the middle of Tokyo.  In fact, if I didn’t look at the plants to closely, I could have imagined myself in a forest in  southern England. 


On Harajuku bridge

By this time some performers had set up on Harajaku Bridge; a girl in a cat mask was playing a wind keyboard, and there was some sort of theatrical performance involving a guy with a horse head and another in a maid costume.  We rested near the main junction where a Hare Krishna group was assembling, ready to do their rounds.  Rather than take the Yamanote back we wanted to find the subway, so we walked down Omotesando, past its swanky shops.  I have never seen so many Porsches and Ferraris in one place.  Somehow we missed the subway station we had been aiming for (I was probably distracted by the triangular novelty condom shop on the corner) so it was a long walk.

Performer on Harajuku bridge

Performer on Harajuku bridge

When we finally got home I decided to try out the bath, but it wasn’t quite the relaxing experience that I’d hoped: it was so small that you could only sit with your knees by your ears, and with a ledge only on one side and nothing else to hold onto I seriously wondered whether I was going to be able to get out.  Any western bathroom that size would only have a shower – the Japanese must be seriously dedicated bathers to think a bath like that was worth having!

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