Nov 8 Return from Hakone to Tokyo; Harajuku and Meiji Jingu
We felt so pampered with our stay at the Fujiya Hotel that we did not want to leave. When we woke in the morning, we went to the hot springs for a soak, because it was open from 6 to 11 am, not just in the evening. It seemed like everything we needed for a bath was provided, not just towels, shampoo, and soap, but hair brushes and face lotions as well. What a decadent way to begin the day!
The breakfast buffet at the Wisteria Restaurant was part of the package we had selected. The room was white with sunshine pouring in through big windows, a big contrast from the dark and solemn Fujiya Restaurant where we ate last night. There were so many delicious choices we wanted to try everything, and ended up stuffing ourselves. I was not sure if I would be able to walk away from the table!
After checking out, we walked into the town and browsed through several of the shops. There were some beautiful antiques stores, with woodblock prints, Chinese porcelain, and lacquer ware. We did not buy anything, but strolling around helped burn of some of breakfast. Eventually we caught the bus back to Odawara Station, and from there took the kodama shinkansen back to Tokyo Station.
After the quiet of Hakone, Tokyo seemed loud and crowded. We were impressed anew at the throngs of men in suits pushing through the station, seemingly in a hurry to get somewhere important. We felt adrift as we collected our luggage from the coin locker and searched out the platform to Shinjuku Station, which was, if anything, more crowded and frenzied than Tokyo Station was. It was a relief to escape to our next hotel.
The Nishitetsu Inn Shinjuku had to live up to a lasting impression from the Fujiya Hotel. It had nice-sized rooms, very clean and some amenities like coin-operated laundry machines which we used to refresh our clothes. It was conveniently located and reasonably priced and were surprised how quiet the room was, despite the noise outside. We could have walked (around eight minutes) but were feeling a bit like royalty after the Fujiya so took a short cab ride from Shinjuku Station to the Nishitetsu Inn hotel.
We got settled, then took a walk to Meiji Jingu, the shrine dedicated to the Meiji Emperor and Empress. Throughout our trip we had seen many buildings and tried many foods that reflected the fusion of cultures that started in that era, some of them more successful than others. So it was a bit of a surprise to find that the shrine was completely traditional, dark cedar wood that seemed to swallow the sunlight. The area where people pray was dim in the shadow. It seemed cool, despite the warm day. There was not one sign of the Western culture that the emperor encouraged his country to embrace.
After visiting the shrine itself, we stopped at a discreet little gate, which was the entrance to the Meiji Jingu gyoen, the inner garden. The shrine and the cedar forest around it are free to visit, but this little sanctuary had a fee. It was said to be a favorite location of the Meiji Empress, and was designed by her husband. It was not as large of some places we saw, but it was incredibly beautiful. The fall colors seemed to glow in the sunlight, like the trees and shrubs were on fire.
Though there were plenty of people strolling, it did not feel crowded. There was a small stream running through that had bed after bed of trimmed iris plants along the edge. There was a photo in the flier, but I really want to come back and see that in June when the flowers are in bloom! There was a little tea house that we could not enter, and several benches where we could sit and enjoy the view. There was even a tiny spring that was said to have clear, drinkable water. Like the other parks we had seen, it felt like everywhere we looked there were new things to see and plants arranged like a painting.
At last we left the garden, turned right on the gravel path leading from the shrine, merging into the stream of visitors. We marveled again at the size of the wooden torii gate delineating the sacred area, and were soon back at the small bridge leading toward Harajuku Station and Harajuku.
We decided to explore that area for the rest of the afternoon. It did not seem possible that the shrine we had visited was so close to this bustling metropolis, with neon signs and fashion shops and crowds of young Japanese people dressed to the hilt. Everyone had hair that was bleached and dyed. Women tottered on sky-high spiked heels and wore the smallest of miniskirts, decked out in rhinestones and lace.
Men slouched around in clothes covered with English writing that often made no sense. Most chatted on cell phones with multiple dangly ornaments. Paul and I frequently exchanged glances.
It was hard to believe what we were seeing, and we had a twinge of fear for the future of the country, if this was what the next generation had to offer.
I think we focused more on the people than the stores, though some of them were just as outrageous as the shoppers swarming in and out. It was definitely another side of Tokyo from the sedate gardens we had visited. We did not have a destination, but eventually found a place in a side street where we could have dinner, as the large breakfast had finally worn off.
We were attracted to the paper lantern outside, and the interior was a small and boisterous okonomiyaki restaurant called Yaiyai. It was casual and fun. We had a beer and sat at the bar. We ordered the seafood version, which had scallops, squid, prawns, and octopus, as well as the usual cabbage and batter. Unlike many okonomiyaki restaurants, a chef prepared it instead of the customers doing so themselves. So the result was round and pretty, with a pattern of mayonnaise, sauce, and seaweed on top. The Yaiyai restaurant chef left it on the hot grill in front of us, and gave us little spatulas to scoop it onto our plates, and eat it with chopsticks from there.
We fell into a pleasant conversation with the couple next to us using my broken Japanese and the woman’s broken English. We talked about the places we had visited, and they expressed sorrow that it was our last day because they had so many other suggestions of things to see and do. We exchanged contact information, hoping that when we return we will be able to meet them again.
We returned to the Nishitetsu Inn Shinjuku hotel later than we expected, after exchanging several beers with our new friends. It was a good memory to take home with us tomorrow, and something to look forward to on our next visit to Japan. Hope you enjoyed our trip!