RTW Day 19 – Pandas and Robots in Tokyo

Having a rough plan throughout the day makes things go well. Kathryn originally laughed at my rule of thirds, where I try to achieve three things a day while travelling, but it works well. Any less and I feel like I haven’t achieved much in a day. Any more, and I feel exhausted.

IMG_2600Today’s rule of thirds revolved around heading to Ueno Zoo to see a Giant Panda, heading to Harajuku to check out some random store with Kathryn, and finishing in Shinjuku with Robot Restaurant.

One of the nice unplanned things about staying in Akabane is that it’s a major train station with lots of connecting lines. The Keihin-Tohoku Line connected us to Ueno Station in a couple of stops which was nice.

It was a beautiful autumn day in Ueno, the leaves were all red and brown, the sky was clear with just a mild chilly wind, it really was a great day to go to Ueno Zoo. Since we arrived about 15 minutes after it opened, there was hardly anyone at the zoo, which was great, especially considering we headed straight for the Giant Panda exhibit. Kathryn had never seen a Giant Panda in real life before, so to see two of them doing the things a Giant Panda does (eating, sleeping, playing, service) was our highlight of the day.

There’s obviously more to a zoo than just two Giant Pandas, we also saw a saltwater crocodile which was massive (literally the size of the enclosure, maybe 3m long), a python, a polar bear (or Shirokuma – white bear), and other assorted animals.

IMG_2627We also headed just across the road to the National Museum of Nature and Science. If you like your animals dead, then this is the place to be. There was a collection of stuffed animals from a famous Japanese hunter who killed probably every animal that was on Noah’s Ark, and then stuffed it. It seems amusing that he loved animals so much that he killed a bunch of them.

From there, we caught the Yamanote line bound for Harajuku, and got off a stop early at Yoyogi Park. Yoyogi Park is home to the famous Meiji Temple, though there was recently dengue fever outbreak in the park, so we stayed clear of that. From Yoyogi Station we walked to Harajuku.

Harajuku is the relatively trendy part of Tokyo, but for people with lots of money. Imagine the Good as Gold shop in Wellington, but 100 of them right next to each other. That is Harajuku. We walked into one clothing store, and a plain winter coat was about $800 dollars. A plain long sleeve t-shirt was $120. I coughed at how expensive the prices were. My comment to Kathryn was, after being in Uniqlo and seeing the exact same shirt for $20, I don’t understand why the first shirt was worth $100 more. It’s not the colour, or the material. Was it the brand? The location of the store?

IMG_2646We then walked down Otomosando, which is like the most expensive shopping street in Japan. There was so much money floating around here, I felt like a pauper on this street. There were massive lines to get into cafes. Lines for cafes! Never in Wellington, not even for Mr. Bun. One place sold 2nd hand things, and wanted $120 for this old old PVC bag. I think they just make up prices, and people have so much money, that money really isn’t a problem to people here. Only eagle eyed travellers like me.

We then walked from Harajuku back past Yoyogi towards Shinjuku. We did a lot of walking today, about 18km worth.

Shinjuku is where Robot Restaurant is located, in a part of town called Kabukicho, or the red light part of town. If ever there was a place that was dangerous in Japan according to timid people, it was this place. Still felt safer than Hamilton on a weekday night to be honest.

Robot Restaurant is the cheesiest entertainment show I’d ever seen. I think these people were paid by lightbulb flashing, because there must have been about a million LEDs all flashing all the time. But also, people yelling in your ear Karaoke sounding music, and just generally yelling. Imagine coming to this place on LSD, it would actually just be frightening. It was cool, food was average, but if you suspend your judgement for a second, and just enjoy it for the over-the-top show that was a caricature of how people view Japan, then it was pretty awesome.