Saturday, November 29, 2008

Cultural Tokyo

We have been blessed with fantastic sunny weather our first few days in Tokyo.  So it kind of seemed fitting that the day we decided to go to Tokyo's famous Meiji Shrine it rain the whole day.  So much rain that we had to buy an umbrella, and again the experienced showed us the genuine kindness of the people in Tokyo.  We picked up a $3 umbrella at the all convenient 7-11 and while we were putting our money away and getting situated for the downpour happening outside, the clerk had taken the umbrella out of it's plastic wrapping, cut away the tags and faced the handle towards us on the counter.  Considerate, kind and thoughtful.  Another observation we simply love about Tokyo is whenever we walk into an establishment, be it a restaurant, convenient store or even cutting through a shop to bypass all the pedestrians, the people in these establishments always welcome you with a greeting and when you leave you are always thanked. It is very impressive.
The Meiji Shrine is in the Harajuku area of Tokyo.  Harajuku is famous for all the street fashions and the strutting that occurs - books and songs have been dedicated to this outrageous scene, but it was too wet and cold to go Harajuku girl hunting so we headed straight to the shrine.   
The rain matched the somber and serene atmosphere of the shrine and the extensive grounds dedicated to the souls of Emperor Meiji and Empress Shokan.  Even though the shrine is in the middle of Tokyo and next to the busy shopping area of Harajuku, city noise was drowned out by the sound of people walking along the the gravel walkway that lead up to the main area.  Very calming.    
Upon entering the main courtyard we were greeted with a cleansing house.  Not sure why we should cleanse our hands before entering, but when in Meiji.... 
Once we were inside the main gates the enormity of the buildings humbled us immediately. 
Visitors to the shrine were also encouraged to write a prayer to the deities about their feelings of gratitude and appreciation, which would then hang up on a display shrine.  
Offerings to the shrine was scattered throughout the courtyards making it look somewhat like a big farmers market with all the local fruits and vegetables in beautiful and elaborate displays.
We were lucky enough to witness a wedding procession and monks walking the grounds.
The rain started to come down and it was getting dark so we started to exit the shrine along with everyone else.After exiting the shrine we wanted to walk around the shopping area of Harajuku. The area is known for the fashion stores and the storefronts tucked into the alleyways were really inviting, but we were wet and cold and all we wanted was some sake to warm us up. And we found it in an Izakaya (Japanese pub) tucked at the end of an alley that was lined with French Connection, Anna Sui, Betsy Johnson, Comme De Garcon, Mont Blanc and Club Monaco. The Izakaya even had a little umbrella lock-up, something we didn't notice before today's rain, but now could be found in front of every storefront, again a testament to the Japanese sense of having things ready when you need them and tucking them away when you don't.Izakayas are similar to English pubs, with little rooms tucked away for a cozy atmosphere to be with friends and drink. They usually have a large variety of good quality food for fairly cheap. You can always tell Izakayas by the large sake bottles lining the walls or tables. Local patrons usually buy a large bottle of sake, put their names on them and return to drink with friends until the bottle is gone.We sat down and was handed a menu all in Japanese and when the waitress realized we had no idea what it read she handed us a handwritten menu in english.  The descriptions were hilarious - noodle soup topped with foodstuff.  English is readily available all over Tokyo, the subway signs and maps are in english and all the restaurants we have been to had english on the menu or an separate english menu.  Tokyo is great that way.  We selected a set meal consisting of noodles and tempura, mainly from the pictures and descriptions. Again all arriving on a tray in beautiful ceramic tableware.The udon noodle soup was light and simple, topped only with a vegetable patty and two snow peas - perfect after the rain soaked afternoon.The tempura plate consisted of asparagus, eggplant, red pepper, taro, mushrooms, and our favorite, chrysanthemum leaves (light and delicately crispy).But our favorite of the whole lunch set was a stew similar to beef stew. The stewed chunks of taro, parsnips and carrots soaked up the beef broth which was peppery and simply delicious on a cold wet day like today - score!
Here's to Izakayas - may many more lie in our future here in Japan! Kampai!


Unknown said...

The shrine looks like a nice peaceful place to get away from the hustle and bustle of Tokyo.

TamCJ said...

Kampai! The pictures remind me of things you only see in movies! Too cool