Tuesday, 8 June 2010

Japan - The first Harajuku adventure

Hello everyone!

We awoke relatively early on the Sunday. My number one must-do activity was sumo; Ellen's was Topshop. Unluckily for Americans, Topshop hasn't made it across the Atlantic. Luckily for Americans visiting Japan, it has made it to Tokyo. We thus ventured to Harajuku. We had also heard that on Sunday afternoons the famous Harajuku girls stand on the bridge and pose for photos. I don't know if they were famous before Gwen Stefani started singing obsessively about them, but she undoubtedly helped this facet of Tokyo's tourist industry. Nonetheless, I was quite excited about this event.

My mood soured when I received a text from Tom that said 'Blackpool in the Prem!!!'. Not a happy bunny, I then decided to take my vengeance out on our first clothes shop, H&M. If that makes me sound camp, at least I wasn't eating a tub of ice cream whilst watching Sex in the City. I needed shorts anyway. Our cards may not have worked in ATMs, but H&M et al were more than happy to cater to us. Figuring that Ellen might spend the whole day in Topshop, I made good on the advice given to me the previous night and headed away from Harajuku.

Not to the 'shexx' place. Goodness me, what do you take me for? Back to Akihabara, of course. One thing I've learnt about Koreans is that they can be rather nationalistic - their love of kimchi and Samsung, the lack of cheese and foreign cars - and the Japanese seem to share this trait. How? Well, they make a lot of electronic stuff themselves. Which means that they stock NOTHING technological that is not Japanese. NOTHING. Not even Korean stuff from across the Sea of Japan. The amount of shops I went into got ridiculous. Even the eight-floor electrical department store. Well, it proclaimed itself as that, but I'm not convinced, as I had to walk through a make-up section to get to the cameras.

I was busy buying souvenirs when I had a brainwave. Koreatown! Someone had mentioned it before, there was one here. I asked around in shops, and eventually someone pointed it out to me. It was quite close to Harajuku as well, so I might be able to make it back for our rendezvous time. I didn't. Mainly because Koreatown is also Thai-town, Filipino-town, just about every smaller-country-town. It took me a while to find a Korean shop. I saw K-pop posters. Game on. I walk in, find an assistant, and talk to him in Korean. He gives me a blank stare. I guess Koreans who live in Japan are not used to Westerners coming in and talking to them in their native tongue. And my Korean accent is atrocious.

The second girl spoke good English, and told me that I wouldn't find anywhere in Koreatown, and that Shinjuku was my best bet. I bombed off in the rain to get back to Harajuku, and dragged Ellen over to Shinjuku so I could find a camera. What we did find was a Citibank. This may seem completely irrelevant, but it is the bank I use in Korea for my British Nationwide card. Yay! We have money!

Cash in hand, we waltz into a store, at which point we find some disposable cameras. Cheap disposable cameras. I opted against the HelloKitty camera, instead picking one up that was 590Y. I then tried to explain to the man that we had no money, and that we would happily pay 500 for it. It was at the point when I persuaded him to ask his manager that we realised that we were bartering for $1. We failed as well, so paid in full and moved on. I had a camera, if not my pride.

The rain was constant, and occasionally heavy. We went back to Harajuku, as Ellen had found a more chic, less Westernised area. We walked around. Actually, that's a lie. We ducked, dodged and weaved amongst the mass of umbrellas. We wandered around, bought some stuff, tried on funky birthday sunglasses, got amazing Mexican food, considered getting in a line to meet a J-Pop star, and then headed to our final tourist destination. The Harajuku girls failed to come out to play, which was a shame, but I don't blame them. The rain scuppered that chance.

What better way to round off the trip than to see the city from the sky? We thought so, so we went up 53 floors of a building to the Tokyo City View, based in Roppongi Hills. Even though it was raining, the view was pretty impressive. I've been up a few of these before, and though the view from the Empire State is unique for its splendour, this was still great. A great view of a great city. Whilst up there, a pro photographer wanted to take a photo of the two of us holding a heart, which Ellen vetoed. Final souvenirs were bought - I had totally forgotten about my colleagues up to this point - and we then splurged on the monorail to get back to the airport.

So Tokyo. What a place. Bustling, action-packed and entertaining, yet it is so easy to escape into tranquility in the incredible number of green areas in the city, or further afield to places such as Hakone. The people we came across were both wonderful and helpful. They even manage to successfully pull off the most outlandish fashion sense I've ever come across. We had a fantastic time, and it was a bit of a bump to return to work hours after arriving back in Siheung after midnight on the Sunday.

I loved my time in Tokyo, yet also realised how lucky we have it in Korea. The language seems far easier to get a grip on, but the main thing is the cost. We've done it right, I think: visit Japan, enjoy it as a tourist, but live and enjoy the freedom and value of Korea. It made me realise once again how much I love Korea. Still, Tokyo is one of the best places I have ever been to, and I'm sure we hardly scratched the surface. Guess I'll have to go back!

Sayonara and love you all


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