Tuesday, June 16, 2009

The Best of Both Worlds

Yoyogi Park and Harajuku

Day 7

OK today has to be my favorite post so far. It chronicles all the delightful schizophrenia that makes up modern Tokyo. First off, anybody that knows Tokyo will confide that the best place to be on a sunny summer Sunday is Yoyogi Park (in the heart of Tokyo's hip, young, Harajuku district).

That struck a chord because when we visited Japan twenty five years ago we found the antics at Yoyogi Park on a Sunday to be total culture shock. Here, in this great and beautiful park was this bizarre phenomenon of a whole bunch of Japanese greasers doing Elvis impersonations with legions of girls in poodle skirts dancing to the vibe. It was almost a competitive thing.

Well, almost three decades later, I wondered: "are the Elvis boys still there?"

The answer, of course, follows below.

Herewith Team Roadboy's 2009 Sunday trip to Harajuku and Yoyogi Park.

To get to Yoyogi one takes the subway to Harajuku Station - which is sort of an Olde English Tudor Meets German Teutonic thing. You know next to a park (even a Japanese park), the aesthetic kind of says "park". So I'm good with that.

The Harajuku Subway Station

Then we venture into the park and through the largest Torii gate in Japan. The pillars are cut from a single Japanese Cypress (Hinoki) tree.

The Torii Gates into Yoyogi Park

Once into the park you immediately realize the place is a masterpiece of landscaping. The layer upon layer of trees and shrubs conceal and muffle the loud din of the pulsing city that surrounds them. It occurred to me as I walked here how essential landscape is to our lives. Architecture is supposed to bring order, but over time it frequently just results in layers of chaos. Conversely, the layers of landscape, over time, change and bring peace.

One Feels Immediately Transported to a Quieter Place

The park has been many things over the years. It was the site of the first successful powered aircraft flight in Japan in December of 1910. Ten years later in 1920 part of Yoyogi was set aside to build a shrine to Emperor Meiji who had loved it. The shrine is now home to a temple that hosts numerous weddings. In fact, in the short time we were in the shrine three very elaborate weddings took place.

The physical Meiji Shrine we see today was actually a replica rebuilt in 1958 to replace the original destroyed in WWII. The park was also a major venue for the 1964 Tokyo Olympic Games.

Scouts are Everywhere in Tokyo

A Wedding Procession Enters the Shrine

I was so pleased to see weddings here. It is a perfect site for it. The first one began with a wedding procession entering the shrine forecourt from one of the side gates. Shinto weddings in Japan are elaborate and frequently cost $65,000 or more (which partially explains why so many modern Japanese opt for a western style wedding in Hawaii).

The Wedding Kimono's and Timeless Formality of a Shinto Wedding

The Procession

Another Couple Poses for Formal Photos

After watching the weddings we ran back into a knot of kids visiting the temple. They were having a first class field trip.

The Scouts Write and Post Prayers

The Posted Prayers

We finally made our way out of all that sublime peace and serenity back to the entry gates where Mary and Mr. B made a startling discovery. They found the one and only public trash can in Tokyo!

Yes, once you leave a restaurant or a subway station you can pretty much give up one finding one of these little gems. The philosophy in Tokyo seems to be the same as the national parks. "you pack it in - you pack it out". And reiterating my earlier post, despite the lack of trash cans, there is almost no litter in Tokyo.

Tokyo's One and ONLY Trash Can!

Moving to the edge of the park you can't miss Kenzo Tange's tour de force 1964 Tokyo Olympic stadium. It is still in continuous use and looks as cutting edge as ever. 

Tokyo's Olympic Stadium

And now the answer to my question do the Elvis Boys still groove in the park? Damn skippy they do! They are now a lot older (talk about it) and they now have to grind just outside the park (they got kicked out in the 90's), but they still pour themselves into leather pants, blow the hair skyward, and dance at Yoyogi.

Yes - The Elvis Boys Still Groove in Yoyogi

Of course Yoyogi's proximity to Harajuku means there is a whole lot of spillover of all the youthful energy found next door. Everything from the proliferation of "Schoolgirls" to the guy giving out free hugs.

Schoolgirls Straight From Manga

When Miss M told Mr. B that on her previous two trips there was always a guy on the bridge to Yoyogi offering "Free Hugs - All You Need", he balked. When he saw Mr. Free Hugs however, he decided he needed a hug.

Mr. B Gets A Big Hug from Mr Hugs

With Seeming Chaos All Around Maybe Mr. Hugs is on to Something?

Now This Guy, I Haven't Got a Clue!
Note Mr. Hugs Waiting for a New "Huggee" in the Background

It was time for dinner so we ventured into Harajuku and got immersed in the crowd for awhile. We had a beef bowl at a counter cafe and then made our way back to the station.

The Crowds at Harajuku's Shopping District

Waiting for the Train

A Crowded Ride Back to the Conrad

From garden's to weddings, to free hugs and trash cans; the memories we each made today will become wistful treasures that last forever.

I am running a day behind on posts, Monday (it is a day ahead here in Japan) we visited the lovely seaside town of Kamakura (home of one of Japan's two great Buddha's). Tuesday skimmed at about 200 mph aboard a Nozomi (Japan's newest and fastest Shinkansen or bullet) train to arguably its most historic city Kyoto. Sadly, this underscores that our time in Japan is starting to draw to a close.

Roadboy's Travels © 2009

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