On the ninth day, we had originally planned to head over to the Ghibli Museum. We knew you have to book months ahead if you plan to go during the peak tourist season, which was when we were going. Purchase of the tickets can only be done at certain travel agencies in certain countries—the Philippines not included. This meant we had to ask someone in Japan to buy our tickets in a Lawson’s convenience store. So we did. Two months before we arrived. But by the time our friend headed over to Lawson’s to get the tickets, the only ones available were for sometime in May. My Studio Ghibli dreams were crushed. (But check out this one blogger who got to go.) Oh, but there remained a silver lining. We were still in Japan and it was a free day without anything planned. (Pardon the low-res photos, my net connection sucks so these are easier to upload.)
P had originally wanted to see the life-sized Gundam statue that was erected in Odaiba a year before. But it had been moved out of Tokyo and into Shizuoka. So when he spotted the Bandai logo on top of a building as we were about to cross the blue bridge over Sumida River, it was like the mother ship calling out to him. I have friends who’ve gone to Paris and who headed to the Eiffel Tower just by keeping it in its sight. (Not a recommended thing to do.) This is how we ended up across the street from what looked like the Bandai office building, where statues of Bandai characters lined the sidewalk—including Ultraman and Kamen Rider. P had a nerdgasm. We took an embarrassing amount of photos before going inside, where toys and more Bandai characters were in display on the ground floor.
When we got out, it started raining. We were hungry and I was still craving for tapsilog (which is a Filipino breakfast consisting of tapa or cured salty beef, sinangag or fried rice and pritong itlog or sunny side-up egg) or any –silog for the matter. I didn’t want tea, miso soup, beef bowl, ramen or onigiri that morning. Without a Filipino restaurant in sight, we ended up in McDonald’s.
Then with our one-day Metro card (bundled with the limousine bus ticket we bought in Narita the day we arrived) and our JR Pass, we took the Ginza line from Asakusa to Ueno, then from Ueno we took the JR line to Harajuku. Yes, we were creatures of habit and Harajuku seemed to be a pretty straightforward and manageable area to explore for the day as Meiji-Jingu and Yoyogi Park were also just short walking distance from the station exit. (I just promised P we were not going to set foot in crowded Takeshita-dori again.)
Turning right when you exit Harajuku Station on the JR Yamanote Line—only a few steps away from the chaos of Takeshita-dori—the somber atmosphere of Meiji Jingu welcomes. This is one of the many things I love about Japan. You can have craziness and noise in one corner and tradition and tranquility in the other. It was so quiet on the long wooded path to the shrine that at one point you could only hear the sound of gravel on your feet. (And P asking every few minutes how far we still had to go. The cold really doesn’t agree with him.)
Next to the Meiji Shrine is Yoyogi Koen. The city park is often bustling—as pretty much of Harajuku—during Sundays. But since we were there on an overcast Friday afternoon there was hardly anything happening. Just a couple of blue picnic sheets spread out under some of its blooming cherry trees with a handful of people saving their spots for some hanami action later on. If you like to find some peace and quiet in Harajuku beyond the Meiji Shrine, Yoyogi Park on a weekday afternoon might be a good place for a quiet stroll or even a jog as we saw some locals doing.
Later that evening, we hopped on the subway to meet C and his girlfriend who flew in that day at Azabu-Juban. Referring to C’s instructions and the the Tokyo Metro map, we needed to take the Toei Asakusa line from Asakusa to Kuramae station and transfer to the Oedo line to Azabu-Juban. (Looking at the map now and trusty Hyperdia, I realized there were other, less complicated routes to follow.)
By that time, taking the trains around Tokyo was no longer as intimidating as our first night (and first morning). It never occurred to me that transferring trains might mean having to physically get out of the station and walk a couple of blocks to get on the other train. When we got off Kuramae, followed the crowds and the arrows to the exit we didn’t realize it was really going to be an exit. To the street. We went back down just to make sure we didn’t miss any other platform. Nope, we didn’t. I opened the map and there it was, A17 and E11 next to each other, sharing one neat box. Didn’t that mean one neat underground station? Apparently not. The train station guards I had come to depend on to point us to the right direction were nowhere in sight. There was however an intercom where the person on the other line spoke to me (of course!) in Japanese after I asked “Oedo line? Azabu-juban?” like an idiot. I listened to the Japanese directions as hard as I could, thinking I would miraculously understand a word of it. P was about to call our friend when a Japanese man asked us in earnest English if we needed help. I wanted to hug him. We showed him the map and where we wanted to go, and he told us to “Go up, turn right, end of—how do you call it? Block. With traffic light, turn right.” Grateful and relieved, we kept bowing, smiling and saying “Dōmō arigatō gozaimas.” I really wished I could have given him a hug. Random acts of kindness just make you want to give people hugs.
As if the evening couldn’t get any better, C took us to Uokatsu restaurant where we had one of our best Japanese dinners with the memorable and mouthwatering black cod with miso. Hmm. Thank you, Tokyo.
Ghibli Museum 1-1-83 Shimorenjaku, Mitaka-shi, Tokyo. From Mitaka station on the Chūō line, follow the sign-posted walk along the Tamagawa Waterworks to Inokashira Park and turn right; or you can just hop on a community bus that goes directly to the museum from the station. To buy Ghibli Museum tickets at Lawson’s, follow these instructions
Meiji-Jingu 1-1 Yoyogi Kamizonochō, Shibuya-ku; free admission. A few steps from Harajuku station on the JR Yamanote Line or the Meiji-jingu-mae station on the Chiyoda Subway line
Yoyogi Park located next to Meiji-Jingu; free admission, from 5:00 am to 8:00 pm (only until 5 pm from mid-October to April)
Uokatsu 1-6-5 Azabu-Juban, Minato-ku, Tokyo