Tokyo, Japan: Top Spots For People-Watching And Surrounding Attractions

Tokyo, Japan: Top Spots For People-Watching And Surrounding Attractions
image_pdfimage_print

Before coming to Tokyo, I was a little disappointed with the lack of strangeness I found in Japan. Where were the Japanese grandmas with purple hair? People who pay extra to drink coffee in cafes surrounded by cats they can’t touch? Man carrying around life-size pillow woman?

As much as I don’t like big cities and dreaded coming to Japan’s crowded capital, the quality of people-watching more than compensated for feeling trapped by skyscrapers and watching my life waste away on trains.  This is the quirky, crazy capital that I dreamed about encountering, where the best attraction is the people walking past.  If you want to plan your visit around the most “fashionable” and ridiculous parts of town , pay close attention where to grab a seat and enjoy the show.

Real life Mario kart on a random saturday morning in Harajuku, Tokyo, Japan

Real life Mario kart on a random saturday morning in Harajuku, Tokyo, Japan

1) Cosplay Teeny-boppers on Takeshita Dori Street- Harajuku 

Take the train to Harajuku on any weekend (supposedly Sundays are especially good) to see pre-teen fashion at its most extreme.  Geered for a younger crowd, the street is packed with cheap 100-yen shops, all-you-can-eat-buffets, crepe stands and used clothes stores (its a great place to buy a used kimono!) and the central zone for Cosplay (costume play).  Here, Japanese girls rebel against spend their weekdays in long skirts and pious pig-tails with wild wigs, short skirts and dramatic make-up.  I saw giant tiger backpacks, boys in green alien spandex, another guy dressed up like Rainbowbrite, many girls dressed as poofy princesses toting matching purses and stuffed animals.  Even the surrounding streets take part in the insanity… eight kids dressed up as Mariokart characters waited at a red light, surrounded by taxis and normal cars.

Traditional Shinto wedding at Meijo Shrine, Tokyo, Japan

Traditional Shinto wedding at Meijo Shrine, Tokyo, Japan

While in the area:  On the other side of the railroad tracks, visit Meiji Jingu, one of Tokyo’s most famous Shinto shrines.  On the weekends, you’ll likely find traditional Japanese wedding processions passing through, with the priest in platform shoes and the bride in a massive white headdress.  The tourists tend to stay near the main shrine but if you want a peaceful place to relax, pack a picnic to enjoy at the spacious Yoyogi Park.  If you need a one-stop shopping experience for souvenirs, try Oriental Bazaar’s two-story shop which contains everything from kimonos, to samurai swords, to traditional ceramics.

One of the many Shibuya 109 stores with store girls to match!

One of the many Shibuya 109 stores with store girls to match!

2) Straight-Off The Runway Supermodels at SHIBUYA109

And when I say “straight off the runway”, I mean straight out of those fashion shows where models are dressed in duct tape and feather outfits that would never fly in real life… except in Tokyo.  Shibuya109 is an 8-floor department store for women fully stocked with small boutiques from Japan’s top designers with names like “bubbles mart”, “doll kiss”,”merry me”, “peak & pine” and “titty & co”.  Each boutique has a small corner store of themed clothing sexy schoolgirl, gothic wedding, army brat, etc.  So the shops themselves are highly entertaining and surprisingly un-repeatitive, despite a mind-boggling number of stores.  Even more amusing than the shops themselves, are the  shoppers who are living embodiments of these obscure fashion trends.  The crowd near Shibuya tends to be older and have more money to afford female catsuits with over-the-knee leather boots, boyfriends with matching designer purses, fake eyelashes (beneath the eye) and more.  If I come back to Japan, forget cherry blossom season- I want to come to Halloween in Shibuya- check out a video here.

The famous Shibuya crossing- 3000 people cross per minute (Tokyo, Japan)

The famous Shibuya crossing- 3000 people cross per minute (Tokyo, Japan)

While in the area:  When I heard that people crossing the street is one of Tokyo’s top tourist attractions, I shook my head in horror at tourists reaching a new level of pathetic-ness.  Then I happened to be there to witness it myself and I was mesmerized.  3000 people per minute cross this five way intersection in an event more magical than the parting of the Red Sea.  From below, it looks like the ultimate mob scene… humans swarming like ants overtaking a piece of dropped fruit.  From on high (the 2nd floor Starbucks where all the tourists go to witness the action), its surprising organized (which is  probably not surprising when you remember you’re in Japan where everything is organized).  This is just one of those things you need to see for yourself to believe.

Hiking fashion at Mt. Takao

Hiking fashion at Mt. Takao

3) Flannel and Hiking Tights at Mt. Takao

When a Japanese friend invited me hiking at a mountain an hour from Tokyo by train, I envisioned dirt paths, fresh air, pit toilets and an invigorating void of people.  When I arrived at Mt. Takao, I quickly realized that couldn’t be farther from the truth.  Japanese people love to get outside and as one of the closest hiking opportunities, Mt. Takao is the most highly trafficked mountain in the world.  A chairlift or cable car short-cuts the hardest part of the hike and wide asphalt trails were clogged with vending machines, people and food stands selling sauce-covered dumplings on a stick.  In the fall I heard that forward progress is nearly impossible with the mobs of hikers paying tribute at one of Japan’s most sacred mountains.  Even though you might not find the peace and serenity you were looking for, you will find a showcase of the best Japanese outdoor wear.  Despite outdoor temperatures of 75 degrees, males and females sported knit hats topped with pom-poms, rainbow hiking tights and flannel tops.  They busted out hiking boots, matching poles which they coordinated with their sporty backpacks.  A few dogs trotted along the trail, identifying themselves with their owners with matching handkerchiefs.

Hanging bridge at Mt. Takao, Tokyo, Japan

Hanging bridge at Mt. Takao, Tokyo, Japan

While you’re in the area:  Try to take path 4 on one segment of your journey to find actual dirt paths and somewhat diffused crowds.  It also includes a hanging bridge over a jungle-y ravine.  Also be sure to check out Yakuoin buddhist temple where people stop to make offerings, get their fortunes told and pose in front of long-nosed statues of temple gods.  If you have patience, the Buddhist at the temple supposedly serve up a delicious vegetarian meal.  You can also sign up for meditation classes there.

Chair lift at Mt. Takao

Chair lift at Mt. Takao

Song of the Moment: Tokyo– Imagine Dragons

If YOU come to Tokyo:  And you’re a female who wants to be fashionable, wear a face mask and pull around an unnecessary carry-on luggage.  Perhaps the trendiness arising from having pristine lugs and somewhere to go?  Not sure, but you’ll get extra chic-ness points.

Accommodation: Book your accommodations ahead of time- cheap and convenient places sell out fast- some of the other travelers I bumped into booked hostels months in advance. I know I’ve said this multiple times but I ended up in a capsule hotel far from the city center for $30/night having to pay extra for baggage storage, coffee, etc. and my other options were even worse.
Transportation: Buy an IC card (http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e2359_003.html) for a more convenient, pre-paid way to cover your train fares, since otherwise you’ll constantly be buying tickets. At least half the time, switching lines requires buying a whole different ticket so you’ll waste a lot of time if you buy one at a time and fares within cheaper can be cheaper, up to 9 yen. Increasingly, this card works in an increasing number of other cities, buses and vendors.

Machine outside restaurant to order Ramen in Tokyo

Machine outside restaurant to order Ramen in Tokyo

Food: Many ramen and noodle shops have a vending machine type-thing outside the door. Here, you are expected to select your meal and pay before entering. If you’re lucky, there will be pictures!  You bring the ticket to the chef in exchange for food.

Be Sociable, Share!