May 4 (AM)

We woke up around 6; I had a restless, salty slumber due to the previous night’s ramen. I had three very confrontational dreams about three different people in my life.

Breakfast round two at hotel Okura was just as excellent as round one. Today is a Saturday so the restaurant was a little more full. I was able to use my Japanese skills to ask for more tea and coffee. My secret dream of someone complimenting me on my Japanese is dashed. I know enough to get by, but the steady clip at which toyko residents converse prevents me from ever truly grasping 100% of what they are saying. They chop up verbs into little pieces until they are unrecognizable; I can understand most of what little kids say though!

After breakfast we took the train to Harajuku and made our way down takeshita street. It was before 9AM so most of the shops were closed behind metal doors, most of which were graffitied, albeit artificially. It seemed like it was cool to have someone come by with a can of spray paint and write English words like “tranquility” on your door.

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The shops were oriented to a young crowd- Hot Topic style grunge gear, classic kawaii fare, and assorted confectionaries. Shitamachi felt entirely removed from the boujie park we visited in Roppongi the previous day

Wrapping around shitamachi street and back up the hill toward meiji ginju we felt like we were in Mag Mile in Chicago. Wide avenues with a lot of vehicular traffic were flanked by huge department stores, mostly recognisable American brands like H&M and American Eagle. We even saw a mysterious building called “Chicago” but didn’t investigate.

We walked across the footbridge to the park around Meiji Jingu and stopped in a cafe for a quick tea. The massive toori gate drew us into the beautiful wilderness that seemed to grow up out of nowhere in the middle of the Tokyo metropolis.

Winding up a slightly-inclined concrete path, we stopped at a gift shop to sample some tea and smelled fresh-scented incense. We took pictures with sake barrels wrapped in paper, a symbol of the future prosperity of the sake industry and all other industries that keep Japan’s traditional heritage alive.

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The path ended at Meiji Jingu itself, where we found a group of people washing their hands and mouths in a fountain. We entered the main gathering area in the shrine, dropped some coins in the offering box, bowed twice, clapped twice, and bowed again. It felt like a bucket list moment.

We exited Meiji Jingu the way we came by winding back down the concrete path and back out onto the footbridge. Steps from Meiji Jingu Station is an elevator to Cat Cafe Mocha.

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Upon exiting the elevator we were greeted by an employee of the cat Cafe. She asked us to change into slippers and showed us to a locker for our bags and shoes. Nothing comes into the cafe with the cats. She explained the Cafe’s system of payment - a flat fee plus 500 yen every 10 minutes you stay in the cafe. Then we slid open the door and entered the cafe which was already aflutter with cat commotion- feeding time was about to begin.

An employee of the cafe put out a bowl for each of the cats, which all but one managed to find, the exception being a small grey cat with large round eyes; he took a little while to get oriented and eventually ate facing the other cats with his back to everyone. There’s always one I guess.

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After feeding time we could play with the cats in earnest, although they were not very interested in people. They must have learned over time that no one has snacks for them, so they aren’t interested in snuggling or being petted. After about 30 minutes we were ready to go.

We headed down the mag-mile-esque boulevard again to a tendon place for lunch- a fast food tempura restaurant.we had squid, prawns, and vegetables served with rice and miso soup. It was definitely fast food quality but it was delicious. Also I am pretty sure they sold goldfish tempura at this place.

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We headed back towards shitamachi doori after lunch, ready to take in Harajuku at full steam. Shitamachi is a very narrow street and it was packed to the brim with people. This was the first time on the trip I was a little overwhelmed by the sheer number of people packed in to one small area. Kind of a very mild claustrophobia. Japanese crowds are different from American crowds though; no one is fat or stinky or loud. Everyone keeps to themselves and follows the flow.

We stepped into a few shops to gawk at some touristy offerings and literally pushed our way to the top of shitamachi doori. Our next stop? Shibuya Crossing.

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To get to Shibuya Crossing from Harajuku you take the JL train, which is an elevated rail that requires a separate ticket from the rest of the metro system. The JL station in Shibuya spills you right out into the crossinf- we didn’t need to go anywhere but felt ourselves being pulled into the street by the force of the crowd. This is becoming a common feeling in Japan.

I was overcome with emotion in shibuya- it is overwhelming. We did a little shopping in the area- I grabbed a Japanese jazz magazine from Tower Records, and Lani got a hat at uniqlo (yes that’s two Uniqlo trips in two days). We even stopped to take a picture with the hachiko statue. Then we headed back to the hotel to deposit our shopping bags, which is where I am now, composing this post at 3:33 pm, wondering if we’re going to make it to Tokyo Tower before it starts raining.

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About the author

Joe Duran

Editor Emeritus at Team Lunch.