Day 16a – So There We Were All In One Place…

It seemed to me that the further we went into our trip, the more tourists we’d see. I have no idea whether that’s because we were slowly moving into the real tourist season, or whether we were visiting more touristy locations the later we went. When we started, there were basically no other Westerners at all, let alone tourists. Come Fuji, we saw a few. Osaka had a few more. Hiroshima and Miyajima were thronging with them, Kyoto was crowded, and back in Tokyo the second time, some places were packed with them.

So, we’re on the way home. Boo. Sitting in the Gold Coast Airport concourse at the moment because we can’t get into the lounge yet – but more on that later. Yesterday, we had breakfast at the hotel (same as the day before, but with tomato soup instead of corn) and then we checked out and headed to Tokyo station. Since we’d have to catch the Narita Express from there, we stashed our luggage in a locker and booked tickets. Then we hopped onto the Yamanote loop line to Akihabara.

Akihabara is the location of Electric Town, a huge market with all sorts of electrical bits and pieces and gadgets and whatchumacallits and thingamajigs. It’s also been somewhat adopted by the otaku crowd, so it’s also full of all sorts of anime and manga shops – including whole doujinshi shops (doujinshi are self-published manga, which are quite often… adult-themed fan works based on other anime and manga series, though not always) – game shops, and maid cafes (food places where the waitresses are dressed as maids, and other costumes).

James and I browsed around for a while. James was content to browse around all day, though, but I still wanted to see a couple of sights, so we’d arranged a meeting place while at Tokyo station just for such an eventuality – I left James with clear instructions on how to get back, and headed to the train station on my own. The Yamanote loop line passes through a lot of the big areas in Tokyo that could be worth visiting – Ikebukuro, Shibuya, Shinjuku, et cetera. My guidebook advised me to pass on Ikebukuro if I was short on time, so I headed on to Shinjuku.

Shinjuku is the location of the largest collection of skyscrapers in Tokyo – one of the most recognisable is the twin-towered Tokyo Metropolitan Government building. I headed there down a long underground tunnel from the station – a shade disgruntled that the moving walkway alongside the tunnel seemed to be closed. When I got to the concourse at the foot of the towers, I discovered another dance festival going on. I didn’t watch for long – there wasn’t really much shade, and the stage had a handrail running around it right at the dancers’ face level, making it rather unphotogenic. Instead I decided to visit the observation deck at the top of one of the towers – picking the North one because it was closer. The view was quite impressive, but the floor was also quite full of souvenir shops and cafes.

My next intended location – Meiji Shrine – didn’t look too far away from the observation deck, so I decided to walk there instead of going back to the train station. On the way I passed through Shibuya Park. It was quite an impressive park. Really, the word “park” here conveys some sort of idea of a grassy expanse, maybe a swing set or exercise area. In Japan, koen (meaning “park”) is really something closer to… a nature reserve, maybe. Only with a swing set or an exercise area. There were people sitting all over the park looking way too hot – and some others in blindfolds being lead around by the hand; probably some sort of trust exercise.

I headed south. It was quite an interesting walk – knots of elevated roadways all over the place, bits of scenery – and eventually reached Meiji Shrine. It was named in honour of the Meiji Emperor (after whom the Meiji restoration is named), who died in 1912. It’s also set inside a huge park. I happened to see a traditional shinto wedding taking place (as my guidebook suggested I might) – I snapped a few photos, but I had to head on. Since the walk had taken me a little longer than I’d anticipated, I decided to catch the train to the next stop, Shibuya, rather than keep waking.

Shibuya is a big shopping neighbourhood. It contains probably the world’s most famous intersection – officially known as “Hachiko square” or “the intersection under Shibuya station”, it’s more colloquially known as The Scramble. It’s a four-way intersection, and when the pedestrian lights go green, you can cross in every direction – and everyone does. The game “The World Ends With You” (which I have for my DS) is exclusively set in the Shibuya area, so I kinda felt like I already knew my way around.

I also went to see the Hachiko statue. Hachiko was a dog owned by a man named Professor Ueno in the mid 1920s – every day, the dog would come to the station to meet him. One day in May 1925, though, the Professor suffered a cerebral hemorrhage and died while at work. The dog, however, continued to come to the station every day for the next nine years, until the dog died itself. It became something of a national symbol, and now has a bronze statue in his honour. There also seem to be little community buses running around named Hachiko as well.

Anyway, I stopped for lunch at Starbucks in a nearby building, because I wanted to eat somewhere overlooking the scramble, and it’s the only place I could see from the street. I had ham and cheese on a corn roll, and a rather dry cinnamon scroll. I also had a browse through the building itself – the top floor has a huge manga shop, and even has an English section. Fun to wander through, but I didn’t buy anything.

I was running a bit short on time by this point, so I headed back to Akihabara to buy a t-shirt I’d seen with James earlier. I arrived at Akihabara station with fifteen minutes until the appointed time to meet James at Tokyo station, which I thought would be enough time, but I failed to take into account how slow crowds move. Ah well, I was only  five minutes late in the end. I got my t-shirt too. James and I wandered through the maze-like station to get our luggage from the lockers, and headed to the platform for the Narita Express. We wound up waiting for about forty-five minutes – that’s the downside of getting your tickets ahead of time, but eventually we were on the train back to the airport.

We arrived at the airport and checked in. We were both feeling a bit peckish, and weren’t sure if we’d be served dinner on the plane, so we went to a sushi train – we had sushi the other night, but we hadn’t tried a sushi train yet. I was under the impression we were just getting something to tide us over for dinner, but James kept snatching plates off the conveyor belt, even after I said I was full. So we ate first dinner at 6:30pm Tokyo time, then were served dinner again on the plane at about 9:30pm. Then we were served breakfast just seven hours later so we could fit it in before breakfast, at about 4:30 Tokyo time, or 5:30 Gold Coast time. Now it’s 9am Gold Coast time, we’re in the JetStar lounge, which has a buffet breakfast, and James is eating even more. After three meals in the last fourteen hours or so, I’m not hungry at all, but I will admit some of it looks tempting…

In any case, we landed (about half an hour ahead of schedule) and got through customs fine, though I didn’t sleep terribly well on the flight. Lovely sunrise, though – our second in as many fortnights. We tried to get into the departure area again so we could sit in the JetStar lounge, but we couldn’t check our suitcases in until two hours before the flight (an hour away) and we couldn’t take our suitcases through security because we’d carefully put our knives in them so we wouldn’t be taking them through security. It’s at this point I discovered both of the rubber earpieces from my iPod earphones were missing – which is odd because they never both fall off at the same time, and this is the first time I’d taken my iPod out of my pocket (which is what usually makes them come off) since I’d spent most of the flight wearing it. They weren’t anywhere to be seen, so I guess no iPod for me on this second flight.

Ah well. We’re waiting for our second flight now. Probably boarding in an hour. Until then I might go an investigate getting me some of those pancakes James is eating.

Final count on JR Pass: 73,850 yen, and it cost us just 45,100. James spent a shade less – 73,370 yen. Definitely value for money there.

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