It rained and rained during our time in Tokyo and while I love the rain because we never see much of it back at home in Perth, it was super fun to be able to venture out on bicycles when it finally subsided. Our Airbnb hosts were kind enough to lend us their cool bicycles and we set off first thing in the morning. Well I tell a lie, after coffee, and ham and cheese toasties from the local Segafredo cafe.
The first part of the journey entailed us weaving our way through a network of small sleepy residential streets in Shimokitazawa, some streets barely wide enough for a car and bicycle. We pass commuters on their way to work and with a little brag here, it was pretty darn nice, to not have to go to work. When we reach the main road there is a shared bicycle and pedestrian path. We pass a group of homeless guys under the bridge, unfortunately many of the homeless we see in Tokyo are aged.
We cycle towards Yoyogi Park, once a military park, hoping to see some cherry blossom trees and Sakura festival activities. I am indubitably excited as it is one of the things I really wanted to see in Japan. As it turned out. We didn’t have to hunt around the 133 acre park, we cycle straight through a tunnel of pastel pink flowers in full bloom. We stop for a brief energy snack, looking around to the elaborate picnics and bottles of sake. It’s like Christmas day has come. Under the canopy of trees, the morning sun transforms the light into a mild glow, the delicate flowers falling like snowflakes in the wind. I can see why so many people picnic under these magnificent trees, it is a perfect spring scene and the photos really don’t do justice to how beautiful it all is.
Closest Metro: Harajuku or Yoyogi Station
Next stop is Meiji Shrine, which also happens to border Yoyogi Park. Originally we planned to cycle through the grounds but found out by a polite non english speaking guard that bicycles are not permitted, and so, we left them locked behind the guards office.
The 200 acre grounds are simply enormous, enclosed in beautiful thick forest of majestic tall trees. You really need a few hours to fully appreciate the area, to reach Meiji Shrine and the main buildings it’s a good 10 to 15 minute stroll from the entrance. Despite the crowds of mostly Japanese, it’s a serene and charming place to explore without the ‘in your face touristy atmosphere’. If you are looking for a traditional place to visit, this is it. There is a towering 12 metre Torii gate (be sure to bow before and after the gate) made from 1500 year old Taiwanese cyprus. Incredible. The shinto shrine is dedicated to Emperor Meiji and Empress Shoken. 100,000 trees were donated from around Japan and the world to forever commemorate the Emperor and Empress. Unfortunately the original shrine was flattened in WWII air raids, and rebuilt in 1958. Having said this, you would never know, the architecture remains quite traditional. Shinto is Japan’s original religion and interestingly unlike religion as I know it to be, there is no founder or holy book/bible? We probably only explored and uncovered 10% of the grounds and its history however from what we did see, it really is a charming part of Tokyo.
Closest Metro: Harajuku Station
We hop back on the bicycles cycling to the trendy town of Harajuku, known for its fashion shopping just as much as the lolita and goth spotting.
Takeshita-dori is a narrow laneway lined with what I would say to be ‘out there fashion’ – cosplay, goth, Lolita, you name it! A place where you can dramatically change your fashion by the time the street finishes. It’s quite a view from the top of Takeshita-dori, a sea of people, shoulder to shoulder. To me, the person who avoids crowds like the plague, it is a little daunting to take in, but knowing too well that this is one of those moments that I would definitely regret not going forward with, I wander into the crowd. Derek’s already five paces ahead of me.
We enter a small shop located in a basement down a narrow stairway. Inside we find the shop owner, Edna Mode from the pixar movie The Incredibles. She energetically moves around us, showing off the style of clothes – all designed and made by her. I’m trying my hardest not to swing my tourist backpack into the one of a kind clothes. She points and talks about the wall of Polaroids of customers, mostly rock-stars and celebrities. She is very cool and those 20 minutes turned out to be one of the memorable shopping experiences we encountered in Tokyo, plus Derek left with a pair of tartan rock-star pants.
The Evangelion store is located off Takeshita-dori, it’s different to all of the Harajuku stores, it’s a museum shrine to the popular Neon Genesis Evangelion anime show. Look but do not touch. Everything looks expensive so we keep moving.
At the end of Takeshita (opposite direction to Harajuku station) we reach a main road where there is even more shopping, however here are the bigger fashion labels of Zara, H& M, Nike, offering floors upon floors of neatly perfectly pressed merchandise. Surprisingly brands like Zara are cheaper than in Kuala Lumpur. We take a standing break at the famous crepe stall – Crepe Cafe. The menu really is ridiculous, as milkshakes topped with cronuts and fairy floss take off in Perth, it’s next level in Tokyo. Meatballs in crepes? Cheesecakes in crepes? Anything in crepes! Derek chows into a fresh Caesar salad crepe while I went with the decadent banana spilt crepe. The ceasar salad is the winner. My one has way too much sugar in it leaving me with a little stomach ache afterwards, I guess the fact that it is almost bigger than my head would explain why. And while I should have learnt my lesson then and there, later in the day I went and ate Canadian fries.
Tokyo never ceases to amaze, excite or down right stun me, around each corner is something to find. We stumble across Tokyu Hands shopping mall. Admitably inside isn’t overly interesting unless you are wanting to do some serious shopping, but, the exterior of jagged edge mirrors is visually amazing. My imagination wanders and I think T-1000 (liquid metal guy) from the Terminator is going to morph from the facade and start running towards me! Tokyo really ignites the imagination! We stop for more coffee at a Segafredo cafe, they are peppered everywhere around Tokyo and the cappuccinos are decent and large.
We have the sudden urge to find the Hachiko Statute. The story goes…. a faithful dog would arrive at Shibuya station every day to wait for his master, one day his master died at work, the akita Inu dog returned every day for nine years, faithfully waiting for his master. I’m a real sucker for these stories and I cried in Lion King.
Shibuya is a densely populated neighbourhood and massively popular tourist destination, the crosswalk featured in the Hollywood movie Lost in Translation. The crosswalk is good fun especially in the rain with umbrellas. The train station is one of the largest in the city. We cycle on the footpath here, it’s wide enough for people and bikes. I drag Derek into the Disney shop with a failed attempt to find Frozen merchandise for our nieces, it hadn’t hit the stores until a few months later. We walk through Center gai, where gambling Pachinko machines, sushi restaurants, fast food and shoe shops are plenty. Shibuya comes across as a glitzy entertainment part of town with lots of lights and music. Also, lots of fashion in the area, not only the in the retail stores but the fashionable locals pacing the streets, which I’m told are called ‘Tokyoites’. The girls look so fashionable, in fact everyone we came across in Tokyo looks stylish. Inspired, I went and bought a whole bunch of colourful tights and knee high socks.
Returning to a quieter Shimokitazawa where the train tracks cut through the town we cross to the opposite side of our apartment for a bit of an explore. We come across a cat café and curiously go inside. It’s a surreal environment. For a price I can’t recall we are able to go beyond the gate and pat the cats. Real estate by the sqm is incredibly expensive in Tokyo, most Japanese do not have the luxury of owning a cat so I guess the idea of a cat cafe fills that market nicely. Cats that would otherwise be left on the street have a nice little home and lots of affection.
Tips for cycling in Tokyo
I love cycling in a foreign city, it’s a healthy way to experience the city from a different angle. You see so much more and stumble across things that you would potentially zoom past in a train or car. Tokyo, we both thought, was a cycle friendly city and more importantly pedestrians and cyclists coexist on footpaths without any dramas. The only issue we encountered was the sheer concentration of people in certain neighbourhoods like Harajuku, but parking a little further away and walking in, was easy enough. We also though it was quicker then taking the train in certain areas, cheaper too.
If I can offer any advice it would be to;
Bring along a map
Incorporate parks and nature places into the cycle, it breaks up the hectic city landscape and makes for a nice rest stop.
Know what direction you wish to head (east west etc.) and memorise certain landmarks and neighbourhoods along the way
Because of the dense population in the city, just be aware of your surroundings. Don’t suddenly stop in the middle of a path, pull over
Food and water is always accessible, vending machines and Seven Eleven Stores are peppered all over the place. We bought along a couple of chocolates and water in a backpack.
Be aware that some tourist attractions like the Imperial Gardens do not allow bikes
Park at the train station if its really busy, also easier to locate the bikes. Take a photo of the location and if you get lost, you can show it to a friendly local
Relax, have fun. Be flexiable. If things don’t work out that is okay. Enjoy the experience and whatever it may bring.