My travel-saavy mom would have been disappointed in me. I woke up kind of late on my 2nd day in Tokyo. I didn’t really get going until 11:00 am. (Gasp!)
In fairness I was on vacation and I think my body just had enough of waking up at 5:30 am every day to make it to high school on time.
When I finally really started my day I headed to the west side of Tokyo. This is considered the “newer” side of Tokyo. Though I spent my morning at the Meji Shrine. A shrine in the middle of a park, a little bit of a walk, it’s truly amazing how the city just disappears among the thick trees.
The shrine is known for its enormous gates, it actually has the largest shrine gate in all of Japan. Noticeably less crowded than yesterday’s visit to Sensoji Temple, it gave this shrine a bit more of a peaceful feeling than a tourist feeling.
I exited the park the opposite way I went in and it spit me out right at Harajuku station. Harajuku is the mecca of Japanese ‘kawaii’ culture. You can see real life Lolita girls, and plenty of brightly colored candy stores nestled near equally brightly colored cafes. There’s tons of vintage stores and even big brand names like H&M in Harajuku. Fashion is the name of the game here.
It also is famous for crepes. Tons of pancake and crepe stores line the streets with lots of different options and flavor combinations. With all these options the famous Japanese neighborhood can be a bit overwhelming. I did two big things of note here.
First, a visit to Kiddy Land. Interested in some of Japan’s famous characters? Like Pokemon, Miyazaki characters, HelloKitty, One Piece, Sailor Moon, Naruto, Gudetama, Yu-Gi-Oh, Digimon, Dragon Ball Z, and so many many many more? Then Kiddy Land is the place for you. The one stop shop for all things animated. Any type of souvenir you are looking for is in this place. I am not even really a big fan of Japanese characters and I spent way more time in this store than I expected. I was literally just mesmerized by the fact that this much memorabilia could possibly exist.
It was around lunch so I decided to have some Japanese gyoza (dumplings). I went to Harajuku Gyoza. A small no frills counter service restaurant. If you decide to go during lunch hours be prepared to wait. But 6 panfried gyoza for 290 yen? You can’t beat the price. I waited, ate my fill of gyoza, and laughed at the girl next to me who was loudly complaining because the gyoza wasn’t vegan (I mean…really? She came to a pork dumpling restaurant?) I left wishing I had ordered more.
Harajuku Gyoza is on the edge of the Harajuku and Omotesando. So I moved from Harajuku to this latter neighborhood. Now…I see why “the youth” love Harajuku…but I loved Omotesando more. Solely because it reminded me of Highland Park, Texas. And who doesn’t have a soft-spot for where they went to college?
Omotesando is the more expensive area. Say goodbye to the big name Harajuku stores like Forever 21, and hello to Dior and Prada. The tree lined street also features some awesome architecture. I personally enjoyed admiring the buildings these designer shops were housed in more than going inside.
The side streets in Omotesando are quieter and feature a lot of cute cafes and specialty shops. I don’t have time to point them all out, but one of my favorites was Number Sugar. Located in a quaint little house off a canal, Number Sugar hand-makes different flavored caramels. (Each flavor has a different ‘number’ hence the name.) The shop smelled so good from the outside I just HAD to go in.
If caramels aren’t your thing, no worries, Omotesando has all sorts of little boutiques and you can definitely find something that sparks your interest there.
It was getting around 3pm and I had to get going because I had a tour! A tour with MARIcar. Some of you may have seen their videos pop up on Facebook. Its basically a tour company that lets you drive a 150cc go-kart around the streets of Tokyo dressed up as a some sort of character. Be aware: You must have an international driver’s permit to do this.
I chose to do the two hour tour with Tokyo Tower and Shibya Crossing at 4 pm. This ended up being THE perfect time.
I first had to get to the tour station which was a little bit confusing, but I made it there just before 4. After signing some documents (all which state this tour is NOTHING LIKE THE NINTENDO GAME MARIO KART AT ALL! NOTHING!!!!!) I picked my character. I went with the original bad boy himself, Bowser.
A quick safety talk, and we were off! No phones allowed but it didn’t matter because the guide took plenty of photos for us. Plus I had my GoPro so I got plenty of footage.
4 pm was the perfect time because we started driving in the light and got to see the sun come down on Tokyo Tower. Then we got to watch Tokyo light up! (Most street lights come on at 5). We drove right next to Tokyo Tower and stopped at the famous super crowded Shibuya crossing.
I. loved. this. tour.
Anything that allows me to be in control of a fast/dangerous vehicle I love (jet skis, snowmobiling, city go-karting etc etc). So of course I couldn’t get enough of this tour. It was really exhilarating to drive so fast and low to the ground. We got up to 65 km/hr. 40 mph. The karts were SUPER easy to handle and had very sensitive steering. It was my first time driving on the left side of the road, but I was following someone which made it easier.
When we arrived at the end of the tour the guide admitted to me that he put me right behind him because he thought I was going to be the most tentative/worst driver. He’s been doing this a while and said he’s gotten quite good at telling “who will need to be in the front.” (I was happy to be in the front, it meant I got a lot of good pics of myself haha.)
He then went on to say that he was shocked at the first red light. When he turned around to check on the group, he expected me to be lagging behind. Instead I was stopped RIGHT behind him, grinning ear to ear. He said I further surprised him by basically tailgating him the whole tour, pushing him to go faster.
Oops. But he told us to stay close!
I spent the rest of the night walking around Shibuya, walking through the crossing itself and just people watching more than anything else.
When I finally got back to the hostel I collapsed in the common room. When I heard some familiar music. Bringing my day full circle, my hostel mates were playing Mario Kart.