A Tour through Tokyo Via Haiku: Shimokitazawa, Ginza, and Harajuku

SHIMOKITAZAWA

Cool kid on the block

Standing in vintage high tops,

Espresso in hand.

We arrived in Shimokitazawa station at 10:00am on a Saturday, figuring we’d spend a lazy morning going in and out of coffee shops and browsing vintage stores.  That plan was quickly foiled.  The whole neighborhood is closed until noon, which led to us wandering in drizzly rain through quiet residential streets, and passing alluring yet closed cheesecake shops, cupcakeries, and thrift stores, just taking in how freakin’ chic this place was.

At 10:45 Bear Pond Espresso opened (yes even the coffee shops opened at 11:00) and we stumbled upon the kind of place you’ll miss forever.   I was served a latte in a mason jar while Carl drank a cappuccino made from the tears of the gods.  Sitting at a wooden bar I watched the young and stylish stroll by.

A few blocks down we did something inherently Japanese.  We ordered ramen from a machine.  The steps are simple:  Press the buttons for how you prefer your soup.  Oil base or salt base?  Thick broth or thin broth? Carl and I did what we could with the few pictures provided and the help of his Google Translate app (seriously a lifesaver, just take a picture on your phone and Google will translate all the text in the image in seconds), but mostly we just blindly went for it.  After choosing your soup style, just insert your money and out comes a ticket.

With your ticket go into the restaurant that the machine is stationed outside of and give the server your ticket.  They bring you your meal, you eat, then you leave.  Voila!  I love not having to interact with strangers so this was a pretty fantastic experience.

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GINZA

Swelling wallets flock

Towards glistening store fronts.

Cash registers ring.

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Ginza is ridiculously posh.  The passing crowd is comprised almost entirely of inhumanly gorgeous people: men in bespoke suits and John Lennon-esque glasses, women riding thousand dollar bikes while wearing white pleated skirts, families ripped straight out of a magazine ad with parents clasping hands as their kids dutifully follow behind.  It’s one of the world’s luxury fashion destinations, with designer boutiques spanning block after spotless block.  To put into perspective how big luxury fashion is here, 85% of Japanese women own a Louis Vuitton product (Vuitton owns Hermes and Dior among others).

I felt like a bit of a gargoyle in my jeans, especially under the eyes of dozens of mannequins whose outfits cost more than I make in a month, but when in a city as rich as Tokyo, that’s only to be expected.

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The metro runs above ground here, and nestled underneath the tracks are dozens of restaurants and bars, a seedy nook in an otherwise opulent neighborhood.  In an oyster bar under the Ginza line we ate several dozen oysters whose shells we threw into rubbish bins at our feet.  The shells made a satisfying din which echoed below the table, while rush hour trains above caused the walls to vibrate around us.

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HARAJUKU

Giggles all over

Everything a confection,

Windows reflect youth.

Prior to landing in Tokyo I was under the impression that everyone I passed on the street would have some funktastic style.  Everyone would wear four polka dot prints at once, somehow creating a perfect cacophony, or decked out in bubblegum pink sky high platforms.  I was a bit shocked to see the workday uniform on subways, and a color palette that lacks all jewel tones.  Cobalts, Crimsons, Emeralds, Magentas, these shades weren’t found, but neither were pilled fabrics, wrinkly shirts, scuffed shoes, or non-intentionally unkempt hair.  Shabbiness doesn’t exist here, and even those with a shabby chic style dress in designer layers.

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Heading to Harajuku I figured I’d find the funk.  Here’s the place Gwen Stefani sings about, where the youth of Japan flock to, causing images of thigh high boots and sailor moon dresses to flash in my head.  Harajuku however, was more like an outdoor mall than it was a haven for the fashionably fearless, comprised mainly of cheap lingerie stores and creperies blasting the Mulan soundtrack.  The youngins were as well dressed as their parents were well dressed, but they were more put together than I expected, breezy knee length skirts with tasteful sweaters, shoes that didn’t give me vertigo, etc.

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Occasionally you’d spot an ostentatiously dressed couple hanging out next to a popsicle stand or trying on heart shaped sunglasses, but they were ostentatious in more of a “goth kid in high school” kind of way than in a glittery eyelashes and rainbow dreads kinda way.  Then, as we were about to leave I saw a girl wearing a poofy Alice and Wonderland themed dress with a matching bow in her hair, bowtie, and knee length socks.  Huzzah!  I bet if I hung around longer there would have been other interesting ensembles to take in, but all I needed to see was something more funky than my suburban central Pennsylvania high school had to offer.  Harajuku, we had a rough start, but I trust that you’d reveal yourself to me sooner if I went on a weekend, rather than a school night.

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