Day 6 was much quieter, dedicated to parks and crossings. It was a relief to take it easy for a day.
Aaron decided to mix the morning meal up by getting the “western-style breakfast.” For reference, according to the Japanese, this is what an American breakfast looks like. I think they give us too much credit. With Shibuya on the agenda, I was sure to grab my tripod, and we headed out.
A Saturday in Tokyo has a completely different feel in the air. Perhaps it was the lack of the sea of suits that let us relax and take it easy. We felt we fit in a bit better with those more casually attired.
We took the train to Ueno Station to wander the large park. I was delighted to see so many street performers, from a cellist playing a rendition of a 2 Cellos song, to a traditional Japanese dance and a young gentleman performing tricks. We watched for a while before grabbing a snack by the fountains.
There are a couple of shrines near the park, so we paid a visit.
We saw blue on the map, so, curious, we sought it out. What we found, however, turned out being more green than blue – a large marsh, choked with lotus leaves. Shinobazu Pond does have a section that gives way to recreational paddlers, but the plants clearly dominate. We enjoyed the view with some street vendor food before heading back to the station.
We found the cutest pork buns at the station; we had to grab one on our way out of the park. It never ceases to amaze me, the creativity of the Japanese.
We swung by the hotel to grab our coats, as the day had chilled somewhat, before hopping another train to Shibuya. I was a bit frustrated that I had been carrying my tripod this entire time, unnecessarily. Perhaps it’s time for me to invest in something a bit more travel-friendly.
Shibuya crossing is one of the first things about which a visitor interested in Japan will hear. It is said to be the busiest intersection in the world, seeing upwards of a thousand people cross at each cycle. I couldn’t wait to visit this famous crossing; it sounded like an amazing photographic opportunity.
I was somewhat disappointed, more in my vantage than the crossing itself. We read a good spot was on the pedestrian bridge on the way to the Inokashira line in Shibuya Station. Sure enough, this afforded us a fair vantage of the crossing, directly opposite the Starbucks (which I also read is a good place, but significantly more crowded).
It was easy to get a spot next to the windows to shoot the crossing, and I didn’t feel pressured to shoot quickly and let others through. Also, the window sill provides a convenient ledge for your camera, negating the need for a tripod altogether (why had I carried it with me all day??). Unfortunately, the window wasn’t very clean, so the resulting pictures aren’t as clear.
I also wouldn’t have minded a slightly higher vantage or something a bit closer to the street. After our trip, I read about the 25th floor of the Shibuya Excel Hotel, and I would have liked to have known about that spot beforehand. Had it not been nighttime, I might have also tried the standing on the corner of the flowerbed, which also came recommended.
Photographically, there were many things I envisioned for that crossing, but I didn’t have the time or the circumstances to make it a reality. When next I go to Tokyo, I certainly want to stop by again, perhaps during the day (more light!), and try a few of these other spots. Thousands of umbrellas would make for a fascinating shot. I’d even love to catch it in the middle of the night – completely empty. As a photographer, I easily could have spent a few hours playing with that crossing.
As a tourist, the masses of people were simply mind-boggling. It was mesmerizing watching the throngs flow, deftly weaving through opposing crowds, and dissolving onto the opposite curb. Even bicycles somehow survived the wall of people! When the light changes, pedestrians rule here; we saw a wayward bus get stranded in the sea of people when it didn’t clear the intersection in time. We must have watched the waves from the station for an hour. They simply never dissipated.
We finally ventured into the horde ourselves and survived the renowned crossing, snapping a few frames in-transit.
That adventure done, we were ready for some dinner. And what better than sushi! Discovered from a video we stumbled upon on things to do in Tokyo, we went to Genki Sushi (“genki” means “healthy”), a short distance from the station. This was probably my favorite place to eat, for the sheer experience of it. Conveyor belt sushi has always been fun – you can try a variety of sushi, picking what looks good and eating it immediately. But this place takes conveyor belt sushi to a whole new level.
You’re seated at one of the counters that runs along the perimeter of the restaurant or circling the interior. Each seat has a touch screen from which you can cycle through the plate options and place your order. Queue your desired items, select “purchase,” and within a few minutes, a motorized tray zooms out of the kitchen on a track above your seat, stopping right in front of you. Take your food, press the button to return the tray, and enjoy! Repeat as desired.
You can order sushi, desserts, soups, and drinks in this fashion. If you order the latter (I decided to try some potato shochu on the rocks – basically straight liquor, I found), a server will appear from behind you almost instantly, presenting you with your libation of choice (though I’d love to see them try those on the motorized trays). Also, there are cups above your seat for tea and powdered matcha in a small dish on the counter. Each seat even has its own hot water dispenser (don’t burn your hands!). We had so much fun at that restaurant, I wanted to keep ordering sushi long after I was full, just to see the trays zooming around.
After dinner, we set out on a quest. We had heard about and seen wild photos and videos of Japan’s famed rabu hoteru (love hotels), where you can stay or “rest.” These range from innocuous hotel rooms featuring relaxing lighting and an in-room karaoke machine to rooms inspired by disco, Hello Kitty, trains, and classrooms. Some even have fog machines and water slides! Curious to witness one of these spectacles in person, we went up the hill in Shibuya.
We quickly found that these hotels are as discreet with their room offerings as they are with their patrons. We couldn’t tell who was hiding the crazy rooms we had heard so much about. After a little research, we figured out we would have more luck entering the lobbies, where – like so many other things in Tokyo – you could select your room from a vending machine. These offered pictures of the rooms without human interaction, removing the purchasing obligation.
We browsed several hotels, but sadly, we couldn’t locate the water slide, and there was nary a Hello Kitty to be found. Unfortunately, it is also nearly impossible to find the actual locations of these crazy pictures online. If anyone has actually located one of these rooms (and could tell me exactly where to find it), I would love to note that for our next visit.
We headed back to the station, snatching a picture or two of Hachiko, the loyal sentinel of Shibuya Station. Shibuya on a Saturday night was full of plenty of young kids shopping, drunk, and having fun with their friends, but it didn’t feel anywhere near as sketchy as Roppongi. I loved this rare moment of some slightly inebriated gentlemen taking a selfie with Hachiko. The whole energy of this hopping district was a great way to end the evening.
Lessons learned (these are getting shorter!):
- It’s better to leave things behind and return for them later than to break your back carrying a lot of weight.
- Sometimes, your body just needs a break from the go-go-go-go-go. Try to not kill yourself (though I still wouldn’t follow my own advice).
- Foreigners really aren’t so scary, even with a language barrier. They’re really very much like us.
- Elevator door close buttons actually work in Japan! After being trained in America that holding the button does little more than placate impatient passengers by instilling a false sense of control, we were surprised to find that placebo button miraculously responsive. And be sure you press it; others in the elevator don’t have time to wait for the doors to close on their own.
- Don’t underestimate street food. A lot of it is really quite good.
- Research ahead of time the best spots for photography. Go prepared with several ideas and how to implement them amidst thousands of people.
- Experience a rabu hoteru if you can, simply to see the crazy rooms (if you can find one!). We read some even have a radio upon which you could play train station tones for the disloyal to throw off their spouse during a call home.
- When searching for the elusive crazy rooms, don’t be shy about going into the lobbies to browse the offerings. You don’t generally have to deal with a proprietor unless you chose a room, and there are no hard feelings if you just turn and walk out.
- Try to locate one of these rooms beforehand if you’re set on finding one; don’t rely on simply walking in and finding something wild in each hotel.
Baka gaijin moment of the day: this was a pretty good day.. I remarkably couldn’t really recall any embarrassing moments (though I didn’t doubt more would come).