We met up with the Akais (Naomi and her husband and kids, both of whom were born when they were living in Dundee - my little Japanese Scottish friends) to take a little wander around Harajuku, the Meiji Jingu Shrine and Omotesando.
We were meeting in Harajuku, the centre of Japanese youth culture and fashion and we saw many girls dragging their suitcases behind them, filled with their Cosplay costumes, be it Gothic Lolita, rockabilly, or Mori Girls, heading towards Yoyogi Park where every Sunday they gather to see and be seen.
Our first stop was Daiso, the famous 100 Yen store, over 5 floors. We spent a good 45 minutes there buying everything from sushi making supplies, to souvenirs. I would say it is a must when visiting Japan....but we also loved the other 100 yen stores that we found on our wanders.
After we managed to spend several 100 yen, it was off to Meiji Jingu Shrine, a shrine dedicated to the spirits of Emperor Meiji and his consort, Empress Shoken. The shrine was completed in 1920 and is located in a tranquil forest of 100,000 trees in the midst of Tokyo.
The massive torii gates that mark the entrance to the shrine complex.
Walking towards the shrine in the autumn sun and many of the sake barrels offerings to the shinto gods, most of which are donated by the breweries. On the other side of the path were barrels of wine!
The traditional bamboo ladles for purification - cleansing your hands before entering the shrine.
The shrine is one of the most popular in Japan and is very popular for traditional shinto weddings. We saw at least 3 wedding parties whilst we were there. The brides were dressed in traditional bridal kimonos...many layers of clothing requiring the support of a professional dresser....the layers include a white shiro-kakeshita kimono tied with a white obi and a shiromuku kimono worn open without an obi with thick padding at the hem.
Bride in traditional Shinto dress.
The bridal party. The bride is wearing the traditional tsunokakushi, a wide white head-dress/hood which covers her elaborate hairstyle. Apparently tsuno means horns and the head-dress covers any"horns of jealousy" a bride might have so that she enters her new home with openness - see the hairstyle in the pictures above.
Of course, it was still Shichi-No-San so there were lots of kids wearing kimonos.
Sacred ropes tying together two trees, called shimenawa (enclosing rope) which are often tied around yorishiro, objects capable of attracting spirits, hence inhabited by spirits, such as trees (as was the case here).
After the tranquility of Meiji Jingu, we headed back into the bustle of Tokyo, to Ometesando, a key shopping area with a mix if luxury stores and international chains and a showcase for architecture...with amazing buildings designed for Louis Vuitton, Prada and Dior.
We had lunch in a little restaurant found by the Akais...sushi and fried chicken...served with miso soup and rice.
It was here that we found, in one of the little back streets, another building designed by Kengo Kuma. This one is built for a Taiwanese company Sunny Hills, a pineapple cake company, looks like it is built of matchsticks. It is meant to resemble a bamboo basket and is made using a traditional Japanese building technique called "jigoku-Gumi" in which joints are interlinked.
It is a shop, but a shop that only sells one thing....a sweet little pineapple cake. If you find your way to Sunny Hills, then you can go inside and sit at the beautifully designed table and be served a cup of green tea and a little pineapple cake. All of this for free....in the anticipation that you will buy a box of the little cakes to take home.
The interior of Kengo Kuma's buildings are as beautiful as the exteriors.
This is the Prada building in Omotesando-Aoyoma which was designed by Herzog and de Meuron in 2003. It is a 6-storey glass crystal, covered in concave and convex panels.
A new large shopping centre in the area is called Omotesando Hills and as it was close to Christmas, there was a tree covered in Swarovski crystals.
One of the bizarre....a dress made of balloons.
We then headed towards Ginza and the famous Kabuki-za Theatre. This is a new version of the famous theatre which was demolished in 2010 and rebuilt to ensure that the theatre could withstand earthquakes. It is home to traditional kabuki theatre - a combination of drama and music in a very bizarre style, the costumes and the make up forming a key part of the experience.
In the basement of the theatre is a great little shopping area, selling traditional Japanese crafts and a great place to stop if you are looking for a quick stop where you can find all sorts of souvenirs and crafts.
As we emerged from the underground station near our hotel in Asakusa we came across a festival...we are not sure what it was celebrating, but there were lots of floats being paraded down the street. If I hadn't been so tired we may have investigated further, but as it was, we caught the end of the parade as it turned down a small street opposite our hotel.