Dan in Japan: Day 3

I feel I’ve seen enough of Tokyo’s city districts now. While I was walking through Shinjuku last night I decided that now it’s time to see some temples or gardens – something that isn’t wide roads with lots of people but is more serene an Japanese-y.

I studied the map on the subway ride to Azabu-juban last night, and I noticed that Vicki highlighted an area that doesn’t look too far away from the flat. It should be easily walkable, so I decide that today I’m going to go and see Zozoji Temple.

It’s Saturday, though, so I don’t feel in dire need to be up and about early. I mooch around the flat and have a slow stroll through Azabu-juban just before noon. The streets are still quite quiet, which surprises me given that it is a weekend. I realise, though, that it’s also the start of a long New Year weekend, and I’ve read that the new year is typically a quiet time for the Japanese, so that kind of makes sense. I enjoy an Americano in Starbucks as I look up the route to the temple.

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Google Maps has been a boon in Tokyo. In Korea it doesn’t really function that well; the Korean government has not allowed Google full access to its data due to the situation with North Korea and the sensitive details about the American army bases in the country. I have become accustomed to using Kakao Maps in Korea, and while I don’t set it to give me directions I am able to follow the streets using my knowledge of Korean. Using Google wasn’t even a consideration in Japan, and it was a surprise to see all the different functions that cannot be accessed in Korea.

Having said that, it has also been a bit of an annoyance. I may follow the blue dot, and I appear to be heading in the right direction when I follow it. I haven’t set it to give me directions; I merely check the route and follow that, as I have heard that it can be a battery and a data hog. I usually remember one or two turns, and when I get there I open the app again to look for the next features of the route. However, I often find that even though the blue dot appears to be moving along the route it does often lag, and when I check again I find that I’ve gone one or two blocks in completely the wrong direction.

This is what happens now. I open the map after I get to a large intersection and find that I have gone too far in the wrong direction. I turn back and cross the street. A western man sitting at a bus stop looks at me as I go past and then asks me where I’m from. Uh oh. I’m not particularly fond of situations like this with strangers. I tell him politely, wondering what kind of weirdo he might turn out to be. He’s American, and he asks where in England I’m from and what I’m doing in Japan. That’s all it turns out to be; he wishes me a happy new year and turns back to the bus stop. I wish him one back and walk back to the intersection wondering if I should be more open to encounters with strange people.

Now I’m on the right route. I follow the blue dot along some small residential streets. It’s very quiet and the streets are narrow but interesting. The housing stock in Japan is very different to that of Korea, and the streets are not as crowded and full of cars and rubbish. It’s actually quite pleasant.

The route brings to me a small park. Only when I turn the corner do I realise that this is a park right below Tokyo Tower. It is an unexpected surprise, as I didn’t think I would ever go there. It’s only a small park, but it’s nice and I am able to walk right up to the base of the tower. I don’t even know what the tower is for, and I’m not even sure that you could up it, but as I get closer I see that there are lifts inside and then I see tour buses in the car park and a group of tourists hanging around. I briefly think about going up since I am right here – a ticket to the observation deck costs 900 yen – but then I see the queue for tickets and decide against it.

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Across the street is Zozoji Temple, so I make my way over there. The street runs down the side of the complex; intriguingly, what I see first of all is a small army of stone statues wearing knitted woolly hats. I have no idea what these figures symbolise or are for. I get some photos of them as I walk along the street and try to find the entrance to the temple.

Once inside, I am mainly taken with the hundreds of small stone figures. The gate to Zozoji is nice, but there is no information in English about it. In my ignorance I haven’t really read up about it. I look at the shrines and wander around the back of the gate, but I don’t really get to know what Zozoji is about.

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I head out through the front of the complex, stopping along the way for some pictures. As I’m crossing the street the Tokyo Mario Kart cars appear. I saw them in Shibuya the other day, and now I see them here. It looks like it would be a lot of fun to drive around in the karts, though I have no idea how one would book such a thing.

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My next destination is Hamarikyu Gardens, which lie next to Tokyo Bay, and from the nearby Shiodome station one can take a monorail across the bay and get good views. I follow the route on the map and again wander along quiet residential streets. I have to cross under a train line and walk along a canal and eventually I get to the gardens. Unfortunately, they are closed between December 29th and January 1st, so I don’t get to go in and take a look at Tokyo Bay. I think about getting the monorail anyway, but on the walk to the station I remember that I heard about Kiddy Land in Harajuku. One of my tasks on this trip is to get some Pokemon paraphernalia for my nephew’s birthday. I check on the map and the subway line is the same one for Harajuku station (well, I will exit at Ometesando, which is part of Harajuku – the Harajuku station itself appears to be a train station and not a subway station), so I hop on the train and head over.

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Right outside the exit is another Apple Store, and yes, I do have a wander around, though of course I don’t buy anything. I mooch around the back streets of Ometesando but it’s getting dark and cold so I don’t linger. It reminds me a lot of the streets around Sinsa and Garosugil in Seoul. I see Kiddy Land across the street and I make my way across the street and enter. I am immediately overwhelmed by the bright lights, noise and all the kids’ stuff in the store. I have no knowledge about Pokemen save for there is a yellow one called Pikachu. I am faced with a range of Pokemon goodies and I have no idea whether my nephew would want a cuddly toy, a set of building blocks, a figurine, a dancing musical toy or set of Pokemen cards. I also have to get my niece something so I wander around feeling lost and flummoxed by all these kids’ things. In the end I settle on what I will buy and pay up and leave.

Since I’m in the area, I decide to take another look at Takeshita Dori. I didn’t use my proper camera when I was here a couple of nights ago, because I know I suck at night photography. I snapped a couple of images on my phone, but I think I will try and get some photos on my big camera. Sadly, Takeshita Dori is not the neon-festooned haven that I seem to recall it being; it’s quite dark and there is not that much neon at all, actually, so I don’t even get the Canin out. I half-heartedly wander along and then turn back.

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As I wander the street, I remember the owl forest I saw the other night. I have a friend who is really into owls, so I decide that I will go in and have a look around in his honour. At first I browse the gift shop – there are several kinds of ceramic owls and wooden toy owls, etc. It’s 680 yen to go into the owl forest itself. I think about it and then think screw it, I’ll go in so I can take some pictures. I am told that I can touch the owls but only by stroking the back of their heads with the back of my hand.

It’s not a big place at all. There are some trees strewn about the place and each one has a different type of owl on it, which is chained the the branch. It’s a little sad to see them chained, but it’s also really interesting to see them up close. Their feathers feel really soft and fluffy as I reach out and stroke them, and they are very docile. It’s only when I get to a large one at the back of the room that I suddenly feel anxious; it fixes me a look with its large orange eyes and I feel as though it is about to lash out and attack. I suddenly know how a mouse or rodent might feel if they saw this bird bearing down on them.

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It takes just a few minutes to wander around the room. You’re allowed to go round as many times as you want, so I go round a couple of times. It’s an entertaining few minutes, but it’s probably not worth making a specific trip to the forest.

With that I’m done. The sun has gone down and it’s getting cold. It’s almost dinner time, so I grab some food in Roppongi and then walk back around Roppongi Hills to the flat, getting lost of because of the lag of the blue Google Maps dot but finding an interesting street lines with lights on trees. I have what has now become my nightly Starbucks stopoff in Azabu-juban before heading back to the flat. Tomorrow is new year’s eve and I decide that I’ll head up north to see some more temples in the morning. For now I need a rest after a long few days of walking around.

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