Konnichiwa Tokyo!

A swirl of devotees in front of Hozo-mon gate

"Did you feel the earthquake?", my Tokyo-based friend from college years Liza asked me when we finally got to meet each other in the afternoon. "Nope", I answered, feeling like it's something I really don't need to experience while I'm here. Apparently, the earth shook again in the northeast area last Sunday and hit Tokyo about 10AM - just at the time I was on the Yamanote train on my way to Harajuku. The next day, while talking to my parents via Skype, the first thing my mother asked me was all about the earthquake. Oh well.

Holy smoke: the faithful taking in "the breath of gods" for its curative powers
Cleansing at the fountain before entering the temple
Praying for fortune

Since my hotel was just a stone's throw away from Senso-ji Temple, I was of course drawn there for my first sight-seeing in Tokyo. Also called the Asakusa Kannon, the Senso-ji is a huge Buddhist temple with an equally huge following. It was only 8AM but the rush of faithful devotees was already intoxicating. There is a dynamic flow of people cleansing themselves with water, people praying, people buying charms and fortune papers, people tossing coins, people wafting incense smoke. But between the two gates of Hozo-mon and Kaminari-mon lies Nakamise-dori where another dynamism of a more commercial venture do exist - rows upon rows of stores selling the gamut, from kitschy souvenirs to rice crackers to getas.


My Japan Rail Pass doesn't cover privately-owned subway trains so I decided to buy PASMO pass, a re-chargeable card I can use for all manners of public transport citywide. With this on hand, I don't have to worry switching between Tokyo Metro and Toei subway trains. My only worry was what I've previously seen on Youtube - rush hour videos of people being shoved into sardine-packed trains by white-gloved platform attendants. Since it was a Sunday, Tokyo underneath the ground was less congested. And I didn't have to worry getting lost - the Japanese are not only the most polite people I've met, they're so helpful (even if they're struggling with English!) and would never leave you until they've rendered  you some kind of help.

People pass underneath this huge lantern at Hozo-mon gate
The temple's five-storey Pagoda at dusk

From the big Buddhist temple in Asakusa, I moved on (and that's when the earth shook beneath Tokyo) towards Tokyo's premier Shinto shrine, the Meiji-jingu. The reason I was more excited going here, especially on a mid-morning Sunday, is that this is where traditional Shinto weddings are conducted. One has to go to the Inner Garden, better accessed through the southern gate close to Harajuku station. The sudden appearance of a forest-like Inner Garden was very comforting especially after going through the hustle and bustle of Harajuku just close by. A towering 12-meter high O-torii emerges after walking a bit through a wide gravel path before entering the Honden or central hall. As soon as I saw a wedding procession, I knew it was to be one of this trip's highlights.

Gravel path in Meiji-jingu
Newly-wed couple No. 1 & No.2

 Newly-wed couple No. 3
Sorry, we're not invited to the reception

It was noon time when I got out of the impressive shrine and back so quickly into the urban landscape of Harajuku. I was hungry and I was looking for a ramen lunch. I knew exactly where -at Kyusu Jangara - however, my directions were not as exact as I hoped it would be so I ended up walking up and down extremely busy Takeshita-dori, a pedestrianized street full of young Japanese in search of the latest fashion. In one obscure corner I found help. It turns out I had already passed by it, on Omotesando, only because the restaurant sign is utterly small and almost over-run by bolder advertisements. There was a line as expected but since I was alone, I was seated a bit quickly. The restaurant is very small - all with bar seating arrangement. The 1000-yen star attraction came served on a big bowl and it didn't disappoint. Perfect noodle soup to slurp with even on a hot day in Tokyo.

Japanese teen fashion
Takeshita-dori in Harajuku is mecca for Japanese teen fashion
Kyusu Jangara ramen - loaded with a heavenly mix of tender pork belly, hard-boiled egg, ear mushrooms,
spicy tarako, menma (condiment from bamboo shoots), green scallions, broth & noodles.

I got on another train to nearby Shibuya where I was meeting Liza. We've agreed to meet up at the statue of Hachiko, dedicated to this famous dog and his unwavering loyalty even after his master was long dead. The statue, under the shade of some trees, is now one of Tokyo's popular meeting point for friends, lovers, classmates, co-workers, everyone. One thing that's quite obvious - much as the Japanese are extremely showy with their politeness, they are not where it comes to public display of affection. Of the many sets of people I saw meeting each other that afternoon, I didn't see anyone hugging or kissing. They just look and say "O-genki desu ka?" and proceed to walking to wherever they want to go.

Statue of Hachiku

Liza came with her Japanese husband and two bubbly young kids. I was so happy to meet her again after such a long time - and yes, we did hug each other. It was 2PM, the heat was unforgiving, so we moved into one of the airconditioned malls just nearby. The family hasn't eaten yet, just having arrived from piano school where Liza's daughter was attending. We ordered lunch but mine was just dessert (the big bowl of ramen got me so full!). Liza's husband, a businessman, has traveled to both the Philippines and the U.S. There was a lot of talking while eating in our little group of three adults and two kids.

Shibuya Crossing

After eating, we took the subway to Shinjuku. Since I've read that the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building is a 48-storey skyscraper with a viewing room that's open to visitors for free, I suggested we go there. Thoughts about "what if there's an earthquake" was put in the back burner of my head. But if there was indeed another earthquake, this futuristic symbol of Tokyo's administrative powers will most likely just sway - like a pendulum. Up there, we got marvelous views of the city but this even gets better during dusk or night time when the lights of Shinjuku all come out in their blinking splendor. The building is open 7 days a week, from 9:30AM-10PM (weekends close at 7PM).

Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building
Enjoying a free panoramic view of Tokyo
City view from another angle

Back to the ground, we walked towards the many camera and gadget shops close to Shinjuku Station. At Yodobashi Camera, I was surprised at the cost of a Nikon D7000 kit which goes for 148,500 yen (or more than $1,800!). I got mine in the US for a lesser price. But the shop do have a mind-boggling selection of all things electronics and I was simply drooling. Which isn't a good sign because when I'm traveling, I'm scared of buying something which I end up not needing in the first place. And so my credit card went home without encountering that deadly kiss with the swiper.

Before settling back into my hotel, I passed by Senso-ji temple again, now looking more beautiful at dusk - and offered a silent prayer. Never mind if I missed the earthquake. Tomorrow's another long, hot day.


  1. Wow, there's so many people! I also visited a temple in Narita when I got stuck there for a day, and yet there was nobody there. Dito, naku, it's a nightmare for people like me who like to take photos of places without the people!

  2. That's way too crowded for my liking. I'm going to panic with that much people around me :)

    Is there any "off season" time to visit this place?

  3. the prayer for fortune was interesting. it was something that i really looked close to when i was there.

    for sure you didntfell much of the quake because you were in the train.

  4. Japan is a tectonically active country, you'll probably experience more quakes but you'll get used to it. Kampai!

  5. Jeruen,
    Tokyo is one of the most congested cities in the world - kaya I'm not surprised to see so many people.

    Photo Cache,
    Sundays @ Takeshita-dori is especially crowded with so many young Japanese out on a shopping spree. Unfortunately, I don't see any "off season" with less crowd - unless it's really early morning.

    dong ho,
    I gess I really wasn't meant to feel the quake - or else I wouldn't be able to sleep in the hotel hehe!

    I was told there are plenty of tremors but most of them are not felt except by the most sensitive monitors.

  6. Is this the same Shibuya, the busiest intersection the world?

  7. knowing that the Japanese are the most polite and helpful, i know one day pupunta ko tlga ang Japan. im very delighted to know they are nice, despite the country's success. alam mo na, some growing countries become mayabang di ba. ^_^

  8. I love all about JAPAN. especially with fashion they are free spirited they don't follow certain era and of course the perfect picture scenery...haist...

    and my favorite author haruki murakami is from japan...!what more can i ask with this country..cgro grant my visa nalang...please pretty country:)

  9. lakwatsera de primera,
    yes it is, the infamous Shibuya Crossing besieged by so many pedestrians!

    I agree - some 'first world' countries have apathetic, xenophobic citizens. One example are the French.

    I believe darating di yang inaasam -asam mong visa to Japan. Mabuti na nga lang at may low-cost airline from the Philippines that flies there.

  10. tao overload!!!! grabe.

    really nice that these Japanese folks really showed willingness to help you. :D and it's so nice that you were able to see newlyweds! really priceless moments in different cultures!

    pero still, damin taooooo!!! haha

  11. I remember when we had our oriental themed party many years ago, I was advised by a fashionista blogger to refer to the Harajuku get ups. Really worked!


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