Friday, 27 February 2015

東京 | Tokyo (2) - Meiji Shrine, DOGS! & Merch

However unsavoury this might look, yakisoba sandwich was a true winner imo.
Another "surprise grab" breakfast from 7-11, and then we set off for some cultural and historical enlightenment. Off to Harajuku to visit the Meiji-Jingumae Shrine!

Sake barrels annually donated to the shrine as an offering.
Wash your hands in the icy January water before going in!
The weather was, again, wonderful, and we headed along the long path to the shrine with clear blue skies and bright, lukewarm winter sun overhead. What with it still being the first couple of weeks of 2015, there were a lot of visitors dropping by to make their wishes and prayers for the new year.

It was certainly very busy! I think actually there was a special event going on, as there were quite a large number of girls wearing kimono and furisode posing for photos. (EDIT: I've found out that by some stroke of luck we happened to visit on Coming of Age Day, which is a bit like a nationwide birthday for all of the people that turned 20 that year, the legal age in Japan)

Creepy sneak photo of a girl walking past in her furisode.

Beautiful calligraphy was hung up around all of the buildings, as well as places to pray and throw money.
One of my favourite parts of visiting shrines is seeing the wooden struts covered in the small wooden prayer boards, where people hand-write their prayers and wishes for the new year, as well as what they were thankful for the year before.

We wandered around the grounds for a while, as they are very extensive. It's strange to see a forest, especially one of this scale, in the middle of Tokyo. Apparently the trees were first donated by civilians of Tokyo when the shrine was initially erected, and from there it's grown into a place where you can even see wildlife running around.

We eventually came across a stream running through part of the grounds, although we'd been walking such a long way I'm inclined to think we'd entered the neighboring Meiji Park, where a group of people were huddled on the bridge with tripods, cameras and telescopes.

We paused to see what was going on, and found they were birdwatchers, and there was a fowl commotion going on in the waters below.

Mallards were flying at each other and chasing each other round in circles, leaving the ladies to look rather annoyed and swim away. A kind older man explained to us that it was "love season" and the 'men ducks' were fighting over the 'women ducks'.

Very appreciative of his information, a couple of us continued to watch the patterns they made in the water, and join in with taking photos, but before long we wandered in search of the others. (They'd found one of the ubiquitous vending machines and apparently in winter they dispense HOT versions of your favourite canned drinks. And sweetcorn soup?)

By the time we arrived back at the main hub, there had been a distinct increase in the number of people. I actually managed to get swept away by pausing to take a photo, which led to me witnessing a large procession of people in formal clothing (possibly hakama?) and praying. Eventually they went into a restricted area and the crowds subsided a little, allowing me to be reunited with everyone, but not before I managed to get a few photos of the gorgeous fabrics everywhere.

Tom had something on his list that he wanted to attend to, and once I heard what it was I went 100% on board with it.

Dog Rental.

It was only a short walk away and apparently they had a few big dogs you could play with. And everyone knows big dogs are more fun than little dogs.

Anyway, we found the place, which was a comically narrow building that looked a lot like just a block of apartments. After loitering around downstairs waiting for someone to come around to the desk I realised there was another entrance on the other side and up a set of stairs.

Once inside we (as usual) fumbled our way through asking for a dog in very broken Japanese. I was happy to see that the place smelled clean and the dogs looked very healthy, as well as the place being not too crowded with pets. The notice board by the entrance had a profile for each dog, but only half of them seemed to be present so I assume they're on a sort of rotation to make sure they get some quiet time.

You can either sit in with the dogs and pet them, a lot like a Puppy Cafe, or you can take one out for a very restricted walk. Tom wanted the latter option, and there was a rather sensible but intimidating contract to sign that basically said we won't let the dog get hurt or lost, and if we do it's on our heads to find and/or pay for them. Fair enough. You're only allowed to walk the dogs along the road to Meiji Park and inside it, and they're not allowed off the lead or in the Dog Park. Again, sensible.

We were paired up with a lovely looking Golden Retriever (the best kind of dog, don't deny it) who seemed happy enough to be led over to us and say hello. Her tail was wagging furiously and she seemed to realise she was going to go outside and was full of energy even when we took her lead and followed her down the stairs.

However, once we reached the pavement...

How do you turn this thing on? Hello?
She immediately lay down on the floor. We tried pushing, pulling (gently), calling her name, petting her (which ultimately just led to her getting even more settled into the ground) and I even pulled the best of my Japanese from the dregs of my anime knowledge to call at her to "come on" and "get up" assuming she, presumably, only understood Japanese. As if that would ever work.

We ended up sitting around her cooing, petting and crying with laughter. What cruel trick is this that her owner has taught her? While we were doing that, Tom went back inside to ask if she had any favourite snacks we could use to bribe her, at which point the owner came outside, confused, and joining in the laughter although with a somewhat embarrassed tone. We'd drawn a bit of a crowd from people finding the situation similarly humorous. We weren't exactly hard to avoid, blocking the pavement as we were.

The owner took her lead, uttered some magic words that got her to spring to her feet after only a few tries, and smoothed her head whilst I can only imagine asking her to be a good girl for the strange gaggle of foreigners he was entrusting her with.

In fairness, it was a little chilly (Autumn-style), my reaction is very similar if you try and get me out of the house in this weather.

After that, she obediently trotted along at heel with us along the road to the park, with us panicking any time we had to get her to stop and cross the road in case she once again refused to get up.

In the park, her trot slowed to a stroll and we paused as she sniffed at some grass. Giving her some space in case she needed the loo...

"rub my belly kthx"

Oh well.

We laid out the blanket given to us, offered her some water, which she politely declined, and proceeded to just sporadically pet her in whatever warmth the sun gave us whilst feeding her the snacks interestingly it just seemed to be rice crackers and some dried fruit. Even pets in Japan are healthier than me.

She seemed content enough, wagging her tail all the way through and dozing off a bit, rolling onto her back whenever she wanted a belly rub. A few times whenever we stopped to give her a break, she'd sit up and look for us, or put a paw on whoever was closest and sort of pat them until they went back to petting. She definitely didn't seem nervous. Maybe living with all those small, noisy dogs is exhausting and she just wanted an excuse to relax. Maybe she's just the dog version of me.

Once our time was nearly up, we headed back, a little early in case we had another incident, but nothing happened except a bathroom break (why couldn't you do that back in the park?) which went a bit disastrously when, as instructed, we poured the provided water on whatever we couldn't scoop up but ended up making more of a mess. Maybe they didn't mean it for solids.

Safe and sound in the noisy dog room, we bid goodbye to Rika and went to Omotesando in search of food. Turns out Omotesando has a distinct LACK of food establishments as far as we could see, save for a popcorn stall with a queue longer than the several-storey building was tall.

What there IS a lot of in Omotesando is clothes shops. Everywhere. International brands as well as local and independent, all with their own quirks and flair, in designs that clashed with each other yet somehow worked in the general look of the area.

We found a very...interesting, and very full sticker store selling all kinds of weird and wonderful badges, stickers and notebooks. Very cool and a little bit odd.

To the sheer delight of my 14-year-old self and nobody else, I stumbled across a Putumayo store and all my teen dreams of being a Sweet Lolita flooded back to me. I didn't dare go inside.
Finally, too hungry to keep looking for somewhere in Omotesando (we'd forgotten to eat for most of the day) we headed back to Ikebukuro where we were sure we'd find something. It still took a while, frustratingly, as I think we'd gone in the wrong direction in the warren-like underground shopping mall. But we found a place, and the old lady running it was very accommodating.

Family Bowl! Egg, chicken, mayonnaise and rice. Dark humour.
Refreshed and restored, but not so much that we were willing to travel very far, we went into the local Animate store, which is basically 7 or 8 floors of anime, manga and video game merchandise heaven.

Japan has far cooler Adventure Time merch than back home.

I found a section dedicated to Sailor Moon and more importantly Cardcaptor Sakura, which I feel must have been having a revival or anniversary at the time because there definitely wasn't this much the last few times we'd been to Japan.

I tried to refrain from buying out the entire shelf of CCS cuteness (sadly I've still not watched Sailor Moon so I felt a bit like a cheat buying anything regardless of how in love with the designs I was) and ended up getting just 3 things: A compact mirror, a...giant paper clip? And a lucky dip badge which is covered in holographic foil. Oh and a sticker. And a ring. Okay I bought a lot more than three things, don't look at me like that.

The majority of the people I walked past in Japan, regardless of age or gender, had cute things covering their bags, and I wanted in on this trend.
Not as long as yesterday! But still long. Making the most of Tokyo in the most exhausting way possible!

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