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Hail Guest, we ask not what thou art.
If Friend, we greet thee, hand and heart.
If Stranger, such no longer be.
If Foe, our love will conquer thee.
-Old Welsh Door Verse

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Day 7 - Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Long day.

This was the day that my son was taking me into Harajuku to see his school and the ritzy neighborhood he works in.

We were up early and left to catch the train at about 8:00 am.  He usually leaves earlier, but this day was a national holiday (to celebrate the harvest, I believe) and school was out for the day.  However, the teachers at the school worked in the morning for an open house.  I really did enjoy the train ride into Harajuku, and wish Southern California (at least the part I live in) had better public transportation.

We arrived at Harajuku station and I got the biggest kick out of the message hanging on the station.

"Smile is best make up"

We started down Omotesando street.  This is the street that leads to the Meiji Shrine and I looked forward to visiting that later.  For now, I enjoyed a sightseeing walk through what they call the Champs-Elysees of Japan.  I had to take their word for it, since I've never been to France.  I will say there was little here to interest me as most of the shops were clothing manufacturers.  I am not a clothes-obsessed person and, even if I was, most of these designers have shops in our outlet mall which is as close as I care to get to fashion.

I know.  Plebeian.

Anyway, it is a pretty street and I enjoyed our walk.

Omotesando Hills
A couple of long blocks later we had reached Omotesando Hills.  I had seen pictures of this shopping mall and would like to go inside on another trip (looks spectacular), but this time our goal was the school where my son is a teacher.  It is, according to google, "behind Omotesando Hills."  And it is.  In fact, we went through one of the passageways between buildings and made an immediate 180 degree turn onto a ramp that took us to the school.

The Jingumae International Exchange School works in collaboration with the Jingumae Elementary School.  I don't know what I was most impressed with:  the long and complicated work day that my son works (compared to mine) or the fact that students - all non-English speakers - are taught in English with bi-weekly visits from a Japanese teacher for instruction in Japanese.  Very impressive!

I don't imagine I'll ever get used to the custom of removing shoes.

Shared playfield.  Elementary School at the end of the field.
Once I'd finished my tour of the school, I left my son to his duties and headed for the Kiddyland Headquarters.  I'd seen Kiddyland goods in Aeon and wanted some more for stocking stuffers back home.

One of four different designs in sidewalk tiles.

He's hard to see, but there's a man tending his garden in there.

Newly planted boxes of pansies, one of my favorite flowers.
Again, these small side street shopping areas were among my favorite adventures on this trip. On my next trip I will actually go INTO some of the shops.

I found the Kiddyland building (not open yet), then turned around and returned to Yoyogi Park and the Meiji Shrine.

The walk to the shrine was gorgeous.  It was a cool, brisk day - perfect for walking - and it was impossible to imagine (once inside the "forest") that you were actually in the middle of  the world's largest city.  I did the mile in a leisurely stroll,

Barrels (empty) from donated sake.

then took my time to soak up the spiritual culture of the shrine compound itself.

I remembered my good manners and respect and purified - I believe - correctly.  Everyone seemed to have their own tradition, however, so I couldn't be sure.

There was a point when I could declare my visit concluded and I set out to retrace my steps onto Omotesando.  It was now the correct time to visit Kiddyland so I returned to Black Cat Street.  The sign at the corner should have warned me

that I would experience a culture shock when I stepped into the store.

It took me only about 30 seconds to remark quietly to myself, "This is hell," and to get myself out.  Having heard this was the "corporate headquarters," I had been expecting a large space full of every product Kiddyland produced.  Maybe this was their full line, but it was jammed into a teeny space equally jammed with shoppers.  This would have been manageable except that they had music (sort of) blaring from all four corners of the tiny space (seriously, it was not much bigger than a travel trailer in the states).  I made my way out, wishing I had the energy to return to the Meiji forest.

Instead, I decided to return to my son's school.  He settled me comfortably in the quiet of his classroom and brought me a plate of snacks that included the cutest tiny banana I've ever seen.  About an hour later his open house was pronounced finished (and successful) and he and I headed to the subway for the rest of our afternoon.

Starting to fray around the edges a little but still game for more.

Originally we had planned to go to Shibuya to see the Hachiko statue at Shibuya (Hachiko) Station, then walk to the Tokyu Hands and Loft department stores.  But my DIL had told us that those stores were bigger in Ikebukuro, which my son had said was his favorite "city" within the city of Tokyo.  It was, he said, "their" city.  And so, that was what I wanted to see.

By the time we reached the station and disembarked it was well past lunch but not yet dinnertime.  We decided it was time to introduce me to a Mos Burger meal.

My son has, in the slightly over one year that he has lived in Japan, become quite functional in the language so we did not really need the picture menu.  He wondered, though, if the server taking our counter order didn't speak Japanese, because she pointed to the menu as if she needed help.  Regardless, we enjoyed these delicious fresh burgers and fries.

Refueled, we started our search for the department stores.  My son wasn't quite sure where they were, so entered the first (Loft) into his phone's gps system and off we went.  We walked for about an hour before we found it.  Hindsight being so crystal clear and all, I think what happened is that we exited the train/subway station on the wrong side, then made a very long circle back to the other side which held the entrance to the department store.  I was tired when we got there, but not upset because on our adventure we lucked into a cultural festival.

It was being held in a plaza surrounded by tall buildings.  I mention this because I hope you can imagine what it was like to hear drums pounding and the sound booming bouncing from one wall across to another.  It only took one twinkly meeting of our eyes to decide we wanted to track them down and enjoy for a while.

After a short while, though, I realized I was starting to fade and we still had not done my shopping, so I asked that we find the Loft.  We did, and I commented later that I was disappointed.  I had been hoping to find more traditional Japanese designs in stuff, particularly stationery.  It took me a while to catch on, but my family was finally able to get me to understand that we were shopping in a residential area, not a tourist area.  And, of course, Japanese residents have little or no interest in Japanese souvenirs.  Duh. 

We took the train back to Kami itabashi, then stopped at the market for a few groceries before heading back home.  By the time we made it to those two flights of stairs I felt like I was walking on stumps and practically stumbled up the stairs singing under my breath, "I am strong! I am invincible!  I am  WO-MAN."

For dinner they cooked up the wonderful steaks that we had bought the day before (served with a salad and garlic salad dressing, a gift from my DIL's aunt) and then we retired to the living room for dessert and some television.  (Or rather, Frasier re-runs on the computer).  My DIL had run across the street for these treats:

This is an ice cream treat similar to a convenience store drumstick in the states.  Imagine a waffle cone that someone sat on while it was still warm and pliable, then filled with delicious, creamy, rich chocolate ice cream and dipped in a chocolate coating.  I loved how easy it was to eat, and the flavors were perfect.

Although, I must confess, I am remembering the flavors from my last night (and my return to Family Mart for another round of these yummy things) because - well...

I became the comic relief on the evening of our big day out.  I calculated that I'd walked at least five miles that day (maybe closer to seven, but who's counting?), including scaling several flights of stairs between the subway station, department store, train station and finally back home.  Once I had that delicious steak in me and we'd settled in for TV, I was on my way out.  My DIL put that ice cream in my hand and the entertainment began.

I must have fallen into deep - but brief - moments of sleep about a dozen times before I finished that ice cream treat.  At one point I heard soft laughter and my son whisper something like, "That's cute; she's chewing in her sleep."



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