Wednesday, November 4th, we went to check out the famous intersection near Shibuya Station. It’s a super busy area filled with pedestrians, and when the lights turn red, they ALL turn red at the same time, and people cross the intersection in every which way. It’s pretty cool to watch and to walk across, so of course we did both! If you get a drink at the Starbucks on the corner, you can sit upstairs and get a great view of all the people crossing. If you’re going to do that, I recommend going after the sun has risen high in the sky, because we went first thing in the morning and the sun was streaming in through all the windows and it was HOT!!! Much better in the afternoon.
Afterwards, we walked over to the Meiji Jingu Shrine, dedicated to the Emperor Meiji and his wife Empress Shoken. The grounds are huge and beautiful and the shrine is massive. We happened to be there near November 15 which is Shichi-go-san (a day of prayer for children to grow up healthy), which is when girls aged 3, boys aged 5 and girls aged 7 visit a shrine with their parents. It was really cool (and super cute) to see all the kids dressed up, the girls in their Kimonos and the boys in their Haori jackets and Hakama trousers. All of the shrines we visited in Japan are Shinto shrines and it was super interesting to get to experience a different religion and to partake a bit: we purified ourselves at the chozuya/temizuya; we threw money in the offertory box, rang the bell and did the clapping/bowing; we bought omamori, which is an amulet/lucky charm; we shook a box until a bamboo stick came out and got our fortunes; it was really interesting. If you go to Japan, check out this guide I found for an idea of how to behave at the shrine.
After the shrine, we walked to Harajuku and checked out some of the shops, then went back to Shibuya to check out 109 (a department store). It had lots of shops filled with trendy and funky fashions (mostly for women, I didn’t see a lot of stuff for men).
After a long day of walking, we headed back to the hostel in time for the free drinks (sake and plum wine, yum!) night. We had such a great time. We ended up making friends with a big group of people, 2 girls from Germany (Freya and Katja), 2 Canadian guys, 3 Australians and a few others. There were a lot of laughs, drinks, political discussions and slo-mo videos!
Thursday we went to visit the Senso-Ji temple, which was right near where we were staying. There are a bunch of shops lining the way to the temple, selling all kinds of fun stuff, and the temple itself is actually Tokyo’s oldest temple.
Afterwards we headed back to the hostel for a quick lunch and to check out before taking the metro and then the Hakone-Tozan Railway to the town of Hakone. The train was pretty cool as it goes up a steep slope with 3 switchbacks and beautiful views along the way.
Hakone is a beautiful small town located in the Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park. It is known for its hot springs (onsens), the gorgeous Lake Ashi and the views of Mount Fuji. Our hostel (Hakone Tent) had its own hot springs, which was amazing. And they were private, which was even more amazing, since you are not allowed to wear a bathing suit and have to go naked (even in the public onsens). Cleanliness is very important in onsens, so you are required to shower before you enter (soap and shampoo are provided). Not showering beforehand would be socially unacceptable. Also, people with tattoos are not allowed at a lot of onsens, although there are some tattoo-friendly onsens that will allow those with small tattoos to enter if they cover them up. Originally this was to prevent Yakuza and other mafia-type people from entering (they usually have full-body tattoos), but now that there are more and more foreign visitors (often with lots of tattoos) to Japan, the onsens are starting to relax the tattoo rules. Just make sure you double-check before you go. Of course, the first thing we did once we’d checked in was go to the onsen, which was amazing and so relaxing. Highly recommend it!
I was in a private room since I’d booked late and that was all that was left, but Kathy was in a traditional style room with a futon (not the Western-style ones we’re used to), which was pretty cool.
Afterwards we headed to the bar area for some yummy food and yummy drinks, before heading to my room and watching a few episodes of Departures before bed. If you’ve never seen it, check it out, Kathy and I love it!.
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