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Tokyo: Ikebukuro and Harajuku

Thursday, June 29, 2006
So the thrice-weekly updates are lagging this week, but they will be back next week. I spent my week in Tokyo, and it was excellent. I'm going to do something a bit different and break chronology here. I divided my days up between neighborhoods, but within those neighborhoods, I didn't have any particular plans. I'll focus on a few neighborhoods an update, with the photos not necessarily in the order I took them. Usually I make a point of keeping them in order.


Ikebukuro is where I stayed. Guidebooks call it a less interesting neighborhood, not a big and bombastic as the main hubs of Tokyo, but not quiet and old either. Ikebukuro, along with Shinjuku was a center of illegal activity during and after the American occupation, and it continues to have a pretty visible bit of gambling, sex industry, and a bit of organized crime. It's not all seedy and sordid, I stayed just ten minutes from the station in a pretty quiet residential area.

My room - a 4.5 tatami box with an air conditioner, a futon, a little table, and that's about it. It was nice, but the people hanging out in the lounge were invariably lame. Oh well.

The center of Ikebukuro. This is basically a nothing in terms of Tokyo's big centers.

The used-to-be-seedy side streets. There were dozens of "pink salons" - sex shops, and I don't mean shops selling sex toys.

I really liked this little restaurant near the station - at dinner time, it always had a line of salarymen waiting outside.

Another restaurant up on the second floor.

The taxi stand - the idea for this picture is basically from the cover of Lonely Planet Tokyo - every once and a while I try to copy good pictures of Japan that I see.

The Japanese hipsters didn't hang out in Ikebukuro, but at night they all came home to it.

Tokyo food - this is not some sort of joke - it is a loaf of white bread with ice cream and candy stuck on top. That does not sound delicious.

I liked Ikebukuro - it wasn't the sort of place you take your friends to see the amazing sites, but it was alive and young, with a lot going on in the streets at night, a good selection of restaurants, and a nice station. I found a few good dinner spots, watched the Yakuza guarding a Pachinko parlor, and wandered the tiny residential streets behind the big department stores. What I really wanted to do was people watch and shop, and for that I needed to go to Harajuku.

On the Yamanote Line.


Harajuku is my favorite neighborhood in Tokyo. My favorite thing about the city is the fashion, and nowhere else are people as well dressed, as cool, or as fun to watch as they are in Harajuku. Tokyo is the most stylish place I have ever seen. Not to be lame and invoke my parents, but my mother was in London during the 70s, and when she was here, she told me that while London was good, Tokyo is more - more amazingly dressed people, more individual style, more kinds of fashion, and it's everywhere you look. I wasn't in London, but I'm inclined to believe her. At one point I was standing on a street corner, taking pictures and just people watching, and I did a count. For about ten minutes in the middle of a Monday, around 85 percent of the people were really hip and cool - cool clothes, good hair, the right accessories - that is a huge amount. I can't think of a place in New York where the vast majority of people are beautiful.

If Japanese hipsters don't interest you, this might be a little boring.

In front of Lawson's Station on Omotesando - the single best place to see cool people in all of Tokyo.

Like this group - seriously, check them out. Hair, clothes, bags - all totally excellent. I guess it's a little different than back home. The knee length cuffed jeans shorts with the two mismatched handbags might not fly, nor would the high ponytail and pink scrunchie - but in context, they are awesome.

The sheer dress goth+jean jacket look.

Also in Harajuku: Excellent shopping - I ended up spending a lot of money buying a huge amount of Japanese designer clothes. I had an awesome time, and if I needed to know what was cool or worth buying, all I had to do was head out into the streets and see what the cool kids were wearing. It was dangerous though, because anything that a Japanese hipster wears looks cool, so I was running a fine line between "that hip kid is wearing a cool shirt" and "that shirt is cool because it is being worn by an incredibly cool Japanese hipster." In the end I think it worked out all right, and I had an awesome time.

I did not look at these two for advice - this is a pretty popular look though - pompadour, deep fake tan, beach attire, and gaudy jewelry. Some of them go further, tanning until their skin is a deep brown, and then drawing giant swaths of shiny silver makeup on their faces.

The main shopping street in Harajuku.

McDonalds - it's actually a place where cool kids eat in Japan.

So, when I was shopping for jeans, I had some trouble finding some that weren't skin-tight on my legs. I don't have particularly large legs, and eventually I was able to find some, but I think people like this guy are the reason.

He looks ill, or severely anorexic, but the point is that someone makes pants for him.

In Book Off, the Barnes and Noble of Japan. Everyone comes in to read the latest book in their manga series of choice.

The girl trying to get everyone up to the second floor, where they could buy all manner of things to dangle from their cell phones.

That is a nice picture to end on. I would write more, but I have company and I am going to Kyoto tomorrow for the weekend. Next week I should be back on my schedule, and we'll get caught up in a week or two.