Thursday, February 9, 2012

Japan Day Eleven: Of Gyoens, Cosplayers, and Depachikas

We started our morning with doughnuts from the Krispy Kreme store near our hotel.

I say that Krispy Kreme here in Manila is better than what the Japanese have...

From the unhealthy breakfast, we walked a few minutes to get to Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden. Shinjuku Gyoen was completed in 1906 and is regarded as Tokyo's largest and most beautiful garden. It is Tokyo's answer to New York's Central Park. 

We visited the garden during autumn and the colors were stunning.

At the French Formal Garden, I took pictures of some of my favorite roses:

I also loved the whimsical feel of the avenue of sycamore trees.

Shinjuku Gyoen is such a spectacle that many are inspired to capture its beauty through art.

Three hours exploring the garden was not enough because every corner had its own charm,

but we had to leave at around noon to get to Harajuku. Harajuku is the center of Japan's teenage culture and it's where many fashion trends are born. The most popular street in Harajuku is Takeshita, a narrow crowded street with rows and rows of boutiques and restaurants.

We specifically went to Harajuku on a Sunday because it is when cosplayers gather around the Harajuku station. We got lucky and saw one seconds after reaching Harajuku.

We spotted a Wolfgang Puck Express near Takeshita arc. We were already hungry so we decided to take a break from hunting cosplayers.

Murtle had a lunch set of salad and pizza...

while I had meat.

After lunch, we walked down Takeshita. The street was full of people but we weren't able to locate even a single cosplayer. I found that a bit strange and got a little worried. 

Still at Takeshita, I noticed a long line at Marion Crepes. I became curious and wanted to try the famous Harajuku crepe.

Murtle, on the other hand, volunteered to line up at Angels Heart which had a shorter line so that we could try both brands. Good idea!


Angel Heart's

Verdict: Lines don't lie and Marion Crepes was the runaway winner. 

We also explored Omotesando, touted as the Champs-Elysees of Tokyo. It's a one kilometer road that houses upscale brands.

As I was not interested in shopping, what I noticed were the scenes happening on the street:
Reminds Me of the TV show, Hello Tokyo

A Sartorialist Moment

Cosplayers Finally!

I was desperate to see more cosplayers that we actually followed the cosplayers above from Omotesando to wherever they went. I was hoping that they will lead us to promise land (read: cosplay heaven) but that didn't happen as we ended up in Yoyogi Park.

Yoyogi Park is a popular hangout of locals who want to play music, practice martial arts, jog, etc. You know you are in the right place when you see these crazy Elvis impersonators.

It was fun to people watch at Yoyogi Park as everyone was minding their own business, doing their own thing. 



The highlight of Yoyogi Park for me was this skateboarding dog.

Everyone in the park couldn't help but smile and take pictures of the cute and talented pooch. I would have loved to have taken him home with me.

Adjacent to Yoyogi Park is Meiji Shrine. This is the huge torii archway at the entrance of Meiji Shrine.

A long hard walk is required in order to reach the main shrine building. It is said that a total of 100,000 trees are planted in Meiji.

After around 15 minutes, we finally made it.

Meiji Shrine is Tokyo's grandest Shinto shrine. Shinto is Japan's ancient religion and it's deeply rooted in the Japanese way of life. Shinto doesn't have a founder, a holy book, or religious conversions as it mainly values harmony with nature and the virtue of having a sincere heart.

Many go to Meiji Shrine to pray...

but there also was a Shinto blessing ceremony of young girls during the day we visited.

We even witnessed a traditional Japanese wedding at Meiji Shrine. Lucky us!

Leaving Meiji Shrine behind, I was still on the lookout for cosplayers. It unfortunately wasn't that successful. I did see some "characters" but these were not the hardcore cosplayers I was wanting to see.
Packing up & About to Go Home

Poor Guy

Plain Crazy

Prank About to Go Wrong

Our last destination for the day was Asakusa in Northern Tokyo. Asakusa has the vibe of old Japan with the Sensoji Temple as its main attraction. 

The temple was already closed when we got there so we left for Shinjuku after a quick look around. I feel that one doesn't need to visit Asakusa if also visiting Kyoto.

Back in Shinjuku, we wanted to try the depachika culture by going to Isettan. Depachika literally means the basement of a department store and it's basically a food hall offering a wide variety of beautifully prepared food. Isettan is considered as the top depachika in Tokyo and there indeed were a lot of goodies but our eyes were set for one thing... 

the tonkatsu of Maisen! Many have said that Maisen serves the best tonkatsu and I couldn't agree more as Maisen's version was the juiciest, crunchiest, and tastiest tonkatsu I've had. 

A downside of buying food at any depachika is that it doesn't have tables for one to eat so we had to bring the food we bought home. We got sidetracked, however, when we chanced upon Tenya, a popular tempura chain that has over 100 shops all over Japan.

Food was served fresh and was priced reasonably.

Tenya's tempura can even compete with the tempura served in many high-end restaurants in Manila.

We ate the food we bought at the Isettan's depachika in our hotel room. Sadly, it wasn't enjoyable as everything was so cold.


For dessert, we had the world famous Pierre Herme macarons. It didn't live up to expectations because as delicious as it was, it wasn't as mind-boggling and divine as I anticipated it to be.
Rose, Chocolate, Salted Caramel

During our eleventh day in Japan, we got to see how the locals spend their Sundays. The very different ways that they choose to utilize their day off from work truly show how rich of a culture that the Japanese have.

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