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2019 - Japan - Day 11

The weather was glorious as we all stepped out onto the street after a good night’s sleep in our new rooms in the same Hotel. We were greeted by a Carnival taking place on the street as we walked along. There were people parading more shrines and lots of drumming and whistles. It all added to the atmosphere as we walked down to the Metro station to get to our first destination today, Shibuya.

This is the place which is always shown when people want to illustrate Tokyo. The main part of the area is the junction of four large roads. The traffic lights are synchronised and all go red at the same time to allow the hundreds of people each time to cross all the roads in different directions. It makes for a real photographic spectacle. To Karen’s absolute delight the best viewing position is considered to be from Starbucks on the first floor overlooking the junction. Unsurprisingly we bought some drinks, and luckily were able to grab some prime seats to watch the free ‘show’.

After this we crossed back over the junction ourselves to see the statue of the poor dog Hachiko who like Greyfriars Bobby kept a vigil for his sadly deceased owner. Standing nearby was a man standing with a large piece of cardboard on which he had written in English ‘ I want a bride to share my life with, please ask me for details’. I’m sure he was packing up and leaving as we left but I couldn’t see if he was with anyone to see if his quest had been successful.

We then went into another mega Don Quijote store and purchased a few things. I bought a game called Shogi which seems to be a Japanese version of chess which looked interesting. We also got a couple of small things for Barry & Ellie.

As we walked along we passed more carnival parades in this part of the City as well. We popped in and out quickly of a few more shows and generally just enjoyed the ambience and walking along in the sunshine. It was quite a long walk to the next place on our plan and so it was to our surprise that Neil suggested that we have a toasted roll for lunch in the nest Starbucks we passed.

From here we walked through Yoyogi Park. We could hear music as we walked though and stumbled across a music festival which slowed down our walk somewhat as we took in the sights and sounds of it all. It was all very well organised and seemed very family friendly. The sun was now blasting down and Karen was not happy standing in the sun so we walked on and into Meiji-Jingu Shrine.

This was set in a glorious park/wood. The entry was parked by a Tori Gate which was the largest in Japan and must have been made from an enormous single tree trunk. The whole place was busy with people many of whom seemed to be locals all dressed up on a Sunday in their finery. We had a quick look around the large new gift shop and cafe before venturing on further to the shrine itself. We all solemnly did the ritual cleansing before entering. Yet again, I felt somewhat disappointed by the actual shrine itself. It it like an empty building with no alter or deity to bow to. Nevertheless Karen & I joined everyone else in bowing our heads and clapping to pay our respect. The only problem I was not sure who or what I was paying respect to.

This was a however a quiet and reflective place. The next place was anything but. We walked to Harajuka. The Main Street (not that it was really wide enough to call it that) was just a sheer mass of people shuffling along slowly, with some gaudy and some quite tacky shops on either side. If you wanted to look at something on the other side of the street you were faced with an impossible task of cutting across a never ending volume of people blocking your way. To start with it was quite fun, but by the end Karen was glad to get out of it as she started to feel somewhat claustrophobic. Neil found the crepe store he had been looking for and purchased one, I found some tables in the side side street that had been set aside for people to sit and eat them. As has happened many times each day some locals who were also eating crepes initiated a conversation with us. They always get so excited when they find out that we are English and we always get lots of questions and recommendations of where to go and what to do. It is all rather nice.

We also came across a crazy candy floss store selling the largest candy floss I have ever seen, about three times the size of Neil's head (which I think is a good as a measurement of size). They were like big cones with multiple coloured layers. They were also £12 each so we didn’t partake and that we would have had a massive sugar overload.

By now Karen was flagging, so had a rejuvenating drink stop at the next Starbucks (our third of the day) that we came across. Our plans for the evening was to take in a Japanese Baseball match and so rather than eat at the stadium, we thought we would get a better meal beforehand. There was a TGI’s nearby and walked through the still thronging crowds to it. The restaurant wasn’t too busy. Neil & I opted for the salad whilst Karen had a burger. We were served by a very friendly waiter who understood and spoke English very well. The only issue was that he had the most stereotypical phasing and accent that you would attribute to a Japanese person trying to speak English that we have come across. Without being racist it did make us smile.

After paying the bill and lots of bowing on the way out we walked the 1km or so to the Baseball. The stadium was an outdoor one sandwiched between the Tokyo Rugby Ground and the Tokyo Olympic Stadium (from 1964 but being rebuilt for the 2020 games). The match we were going to watch was the Tokyo Yakulk Swallows play the Yokohama Dena Baystars. It was a lovely evening for it. I went to the ticket office and asked for 3 of the cheapest tickets. I was told these would be with the away supporters. We had no allegiance so I was fine with that but also surprised by this as we are used to going to games in the US where there is no segregation at all. It was not clear to us from the tickets which gate we had to enter by, but we soon found someone to direct us.

The stadium was almost full and we took our seats as the ceremonial first pitch took place. The tannoy announcements were 95% Japanese with the odd strange English phrase thrown in. Then the game started and we realised that this was a totally different atmosphere and feel to any baseball we had been before. There was non stop, coordinated tuneful singing with 12 trumpets and a drum from the away supporters throughout. It more like a football match. We had no ideas of the words but almost impossible not to join in. I felt sure one of the chants was 'Taco Bell, Sausage Rolls' but suspect that I may have been wrong.

There were lots of different songs and tunes that were being repeated. Then occasionally the home supporters would sing and the away supporters would listen respectfully. There was no tribal feeling and it seemed like all the songs were respectful or encouraging. There was none of the getting in/out of seats like USA Baseball fans all of the time. Most people were there to just sing and watch the game. When Baystars hit a couple of home runs there was real celebration around us which we joined in with. I was sharing high fives with people around me. The Baystars eventually won 0 - 7.

We left at the bottom of the 8th because we were unsure how crowded it would be leaving. It was a short walk to the Ginza line Metro station where we had to get off at the 18th stop. We popped into the 711 near the Hotel to get some food for breakfast and some beer & wine. Back in the room Neil joined us as we had a FaceTime session with both Barry & Ellie. It was lovely to see them and hear how excited they were for their upcoming holiday.

Japan has grown on me each and every day. I really do like the place and the people. It is a long way to travel to and also very expensive being here, therefore we feel we have to make the most of it. This does make for some long full days though and it is not what you would call a restful holiday at all. Karen did say at one point when she was flagging that she needs a brief holiday from this holiday. But in reality, there seems little point to us in coming all this way and just sitting around. You might as well either be at home or go to somewhere much closer in Europe to lay in the sun. I would also get very bored very quickly doing that.

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