A truly golden week

As was expected, Golden Week has proved to be very busy! I have been jam-packing my days (and nights) with as many things as I can find, in order to take advantage of my precious free time. I am happy to report that every day has been a success in one way or another and my camera has been filling up just as quickly as my schedule.

Typically, most people use Golden Week as an opportunity to travel outside the city, and see some of the other tourist destinations in Japan. However, this also means that travel prices increase, and the highways, trains and subways become crowded. I in the end I decided to save myself some money and stress, and just use this week as an opportunity to explore Tokyo.

I actually started my sight-seeing a little early by going to a wisteria festival at the Kameido Tenjin Shrine on Wednesday after class. Although it took a little bit of searching for, I had a lovely walk along the water as I tried to find my way.

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I arrived at the shrine just as the sun was beginning to go down, making it the perfect lighting for photography.

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The festival itself was a little underwhelming but the flowers definitely made up for it.

My week started off in full on Friday when I attended a picnic event at Yoyogi Park. The event was held by an international organization called BLENDER which aims to bring together local Japanese people and foreigners by hosting a wide range of events and parties. I discovered this group on Facebook and decided to sign up as a volunteer staff member. I arrived at the park early and helped set up, and spent the rest of the day enjoying the sunshine and making friends.

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The event carried on into the evening, changing into a pizza party at a different location. I had a wonderful time, and even made some friends who have joined me on several other adventures this week.

(photo credits to the BLENDER organization)

Saturday afternoon I went to an organic market held on the rooftop of an art gallery/studio (I’m not sure exactly what the building was used for, but I’m guessing).

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There were also yoga classes being held inside the building, but they were all fairly expensive and there was a waiting list for most of them.

Probably my next big adventure was going to Golden Gai with my friend Tommy. Golden Gai is a famous for being one of the few remaining areas from the post-war era which has not been bulldozed or redeveloped. Apparently the area – which is only about 3 blocks big – has over 200 bars all crammed into the two-story buildings. From what I understand, only recently has it become a more popular tourist attraction, whereas before it was only ever frequented by locals and regulars.

In relation, I had heard somewhere that taking photos is prohibited in Golden Gai, but I saw numerous tourists openly taking selfies and snapshots, so it seems like the rules are loosening up. Each bar has its own unique and usually hilarious theme, such as karaoke, rock and roll, Halloween, etc.

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The roads there are extremely narrow and each bar only seats about 10 people (or in some cases even less)! It Tommy and I some searching to even find a bar that we could both sit at, let alone one that was relatively cheap. Even more difficult was trying to get down the tiny and steep staircases that lead to some of the second story bars.

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Probably my next big adventure was going to Odaiba – the man-made island connected to the Tokyo mainland. I went with a group of people who I had met on Friday at the BLENDER picnic, and the plan was to enjoy several themed festivals that were taking place in the area that day.

Unfortunately, it seemed like maybe there were too many festivals going on all at the same time, causing the crowds to be spread out. None of the festivals were really all that exciting either, but I think that the most popular two were an Octoberfest and what can only be described as a “meat” festival.

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Both of which are just so typical of Japan… People were literally lining up around the corner to get into the meat festival.

There was also a Cinco de Mayo festival, but there was a cover charge that kept us (and probably most other people) away. We did spend some time at a Hawaii festival which was being held in a large shopping mall. And I would just like to say that it was probably one of the strangest things I’ve seen in Japan yet. This shopping mall was called Venus Fort. On the outside it looks quite normal, but inside the entire mall has an Ancient Rome theme (hence the “Venus”). The entire ceiling is a florescent blue colour, and fake marble statues line the walls.

On its own, the mall is quite a sight. But because of the event, the place was filled with vendors selling plastic seashell necklaces, and a stage performance of girls dancing around in hula skirts, which made the whole thing even more bizarre.

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As we moved from festival to festival, we were able to check out some of the surrounding area and wander along the water.

For me, one of the most interesting aspects of Odiaba was the architecture and statues.

Yes, that is a miniature Statue of Liberty, and also the Rainbow Bridge behind it.

That evening, Dave (one of the people I was with) and I decided to stay in Shibuya for happy hour, which actually turned into about 7 hours, and several bars. The first restaurant we went into had cheap drinks and an english menu, so I got to actually sample some of the more interesting Japanese drinks. Although I was too scared to try some of the really “interesting” ones, such as this whisky/pickle shot.

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(Please note the hilarious instructions on “how to enjoy”)

Later that evening we found ourselves in a sort of sports bar with ¥300 beer which understandably drew a crowd of locals and tourists alike. The also offered some interesting snack options, my favourite being “fresh cabbage”. Being a vegetarian means that I am almost exclusively denied many of the typical bar foods, so I was necessarily intrigued. Even though it really was just a plate full of raw cabbage leaves with some sort of dipping sauce, it was nice to have something to eat at a bar that wasn’t a deep-fried potato or onion.

At one point in the evening, we noticed to men dressed in hot pink, wearing banners of some sort. Their outfits were just so hilarious I simply had to get a picture with them.

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Later I found out that the man with the hat is actually some sort of local politician who likes dressing up and interacting with the locals, and whose campaign slogan is “30 degrees!”

That’s about it for my notable moments, although I did spend some of my days simply wandering around and enjoying the sun. Of course, along the way there were many temples, shrines and graveyards tucked away which necessitated several detours.

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And too many funky building and designs to count.

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But now it’s time to return to reality, and start thinking about all the homework I didn’t do. Although it will be nice to settle down again, at least for a little while, since all this sight seeing can be quite tiring (and expensive!). “Reality” will have to wait one more day though, since tomorrow there are several festivals going on in Yoyogi park and some friends who want to get together in the evening.

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