We woke up early this morning, as we had gone to sleep quite early the night before, after our long day of flying from Kerikeri, New Zealand to Tokyo. The early start gave us plenty of time to do our regular morning spiritual study and meditation, which is such an important part of our daily lives.
Afterwards, we left our room at the Four Seasons Hotel Chinzan-So, and went downstairs, to sample the set Japanese breakfast offered at the hotel’s Miyuki restaurant.
Miyuki offers three set menus for breakfast, varying only by the number of dishes in each one. Each of the menus includes steamed rice or congee, miso soup, pickles, a variety of vegetables prepared in different ways, a small piece of grilled fish, and tea. Every one of the dishes (I had nine small plates, and Tali had eleven) were delicately prepared and beautifully presented. The cost was about 3000 yen per person for this work of edible art, about USD $39, and well worth it, just for the experience alone!
We headed out into the cold but sunny morning air, quickly finding it necessary to put on our winter hats and gloves. We walked through the neighborhoods to the south and east of the hotel, part of Bunkyo-Ku (a Ku is a ward, or administrative district – Tokyo is composed of 23 such Ku). The streets of Bunkyo-Ku felt like an intimate residential community, rather than part of one of the biggest cities in the world! There were small shops and restaurants that were interspersed with grammar schools, universities, and both apartment buildings and single family houses. Traffic was light, even though it was mid-morning on a weekday, and it was calm and quiet.
After we had walked for close to an hour, we came to a much busier intersection, where there was a stop on the JR Train line, part of the convenient and easy-to-use train and subway system that makes getting around all of Tokyo, indeed all of Japan, such a pleasure, even for the first-time visitor. After checking with the station’s information desk, we hopped on one of the trains to reach the next leg of our walk today, Harujuku.
Harujuku is Tokyo’s center for cutting edge fashion, full of small designer and second-hand clothing stores, along with shoe shops, restaurants, cafes, sweet shops and bakeries, and fast food joints. The streets of Harujuku are also full of very fashion-forward Japanese of both sexes and all ages, out to see and be seen, dressed in very idiosyncratic combinations of colors, textures and styles.
Just a few blocks from the Harujuku Metro Station is Takeshita Dori, a pedestrians-only street which is the heart of the area, and a paradise for the visually aware. We saw kids walking here who were wearing exactly the same elaborate, colorful outfits that Tali had just spent a year painting, and it was exciting and fun to see her painted portraits come to life! Almost everyone seemed to have taken a great deal of time and care in choosing what they were wearing, and they all looked stylish, some in expensive designer clothes, and some in second hand finds. Interestingly, there were also quite a few men from Africa working the street corners of Takeshita Dori, serving as hawkers for some of the area shops – with the stringent rules on immigration to Japan, I wondered how they had managed to gain residency…
Takeshita Dori is also the home of the Ukiyo-e Ota Memorial Museum of Art, which houses an amazing collection of woodblock prints, many of them from the Edo period, dating back hundreds of years. The current exhibition is of illustrated bamboo and paper fans, all with exquisite paintings on one or both sides. So elaborate, and so complex to execute correctly – it was a vivid reminder of the depth and great beauty of the classical arts in Japan.
Takeshita Dori leads to Omotesando Dori, which is the wide, tree-lined boulevard that connects Shinjuku with its much more upscale neighbor, Aoyama. As we walked down this boulevard, the funky, second hand clothing shops of Shinjuku like “Chicago” quickly gave way to more elaborate and expensive clothing stores, along with exclusive hair salons and elaborate sweet shops displaying their wares as if they were jewelry, rather than treats to eat! Lots of the stores had “Sale” signs pasted all over the windows, but even considering the discounts, the prices seemed very high to me.
As the late afternoon sun reminded us, it was now too late to visit some of the art galleries we had thought about seeing in and about Aoyama, so we took the metro to Ginza for our final few hours of walking today. Ginza is the home of Tokyo’s huge department stores and upscale global fashion boutiques (yes, there is even an “Apple” store in Ginza, which of course was packed!), along with expensive restaurants and beautiful sweets shops. In the lower levels of many of these huge department stores are sellers of all kinds of specialty foods, delicatessen style, which are great fun to visit, but we decided to save that experience for another day. We contented ourselves with walking the neon-lit streets of Ginza and window-shopping, before we headed back to our hotel.