Trails Through Tokyo

As I mentioned in my previous post, I had a great time with my friends in Tokyo last weekend. It was definitely needed to get my mind off of issues I was having both in Japan and back home in the United States. Do you ever have a weekend that just magically comes together and makes for an unforgettable time for everyone involved? It seems like that happens to me each time I take the Shinkansen or the plane back to Tokyo. It seems like every time I hear the harmonious melodies emanating from the Yamanote Train encircling Tokyo, all is right in the world.

After our night out in Shinjuku, my friend and I woke up rather early on Saturday for another day of sightseeing at some of my favorite spots in Tokyo. While it had been nearly three years since I had visited some of these places, it is amazing how small shops and memories come back to you when you are back in a familiar environment, regardless of how long the lag time is. First up on the list was my old neighborhood in Tokyo, Jiyugaoka.

This neighborhood is well known as one of the ritziest and most elite neighborhoods in all of the city, and for good reason. The boutiques, bakeries, and designer stores are abundant. Here there are any gardens and the streets are narrow near the station. I love this neighborhood. The only catch is that I lived in a dorm here, not an apartment. You can get a feeling for the neighborhood as soon as you step out of the station. The fashion-conscious japanese take their fashion very serious in Jiyugaoka. Here’s how the station looked on Saturday afternoon in the sunlight, as the hats umbrellas, and skirts were a sight to behold.


As we exited the station, all the sights, sounds, and smells of the area triggered long lost memories to return. Acting on a spur of the moment impulse, my friend and I ventured to my old dorm building, somewhat off the beaten path, about ten minutes walk from the station. I was pleased that the gardens remained even though the tenants had changed. One of the nice memories of living where I did was picking up fresh vegetables from the garden each night as I walked home. Those veggies would be setting on a slab with a change can right next to the road. Always on the honor system, it would pick up radishes and onions for the evening’s dinners…

Following some more touring of the neighborhood and a quick stop for coffee, we were back on the Toyoko Train and headed to another favorite spots of mine: Shibuya Square. I changed trains every day in Shibuya Station and I still don’t know how I mastered the maze of corridors and halls that make up one Tokyo’s busiest stations. After a few wrong turns, we made it to the world’s busiest pedestrian crosswalk. As Japanese pop music came from the stores and people bustled to-and-fro, I again felt at home in the busiest city on the planet. After some sightseeing and a little shopping, we were off to some more nice places along the JR line: Takeshita Street and Shinjuku Gardens.


First up was Takeshita Street, known for its bustling shopping streets and unique stores. We spent time there and marveled at all the different types of people that pass through there in a matter of minutes. From the foreigners to the otaku to the businessmen on their way to their next appointment, there are so many different types of people in this neighborhood. Lest I forget, there were also many, many camera-wielding tourists. After some ice cream on a storefront stoop, we were off to Shinjuku Gardens via Omodesanto.


I thought Shinjuku Gardens would be a fitting place to end our day excursions because of the sheer number of beautiful scenes and benches on Jericho be could rest. Tokyo is very walkable, depending on where you get off the train, but a day of walking and people watching certainly takes it’s toll on you. In Shinjuku Gardens, we marveled at the ornate setup of the foliage and took time to watch the carp and koi swim through exquisite ponds while we also looked at beautifully pruned bushes and shrubs. While I must say the towering buildings in the background give a nice touch of modernity to the park in the summer, the best time to come to the gardens is during the cherry blossom season, often in the first week of April.


After a few hours here, we wrapped up our tour and headed back to our hotel to take a nap before meeting some of my friends later in the evening. More on that one, later.

In Japanese, there is a word for dear or missed memories, and it happens to be one of my favorite Japanese words: 懐かしい. (Pronounced natsukashi.) Days like this in Tokyo remind me why I love the city so much and why it it is important to live in the moment whenever you are doing something. No one would have predicted the 3/11 earthquake nor how quickly I would have had to return after such a disaster, but I was able to relive better times in Tokyo with one of my dear friends from language on a beautiful, yet scorching, Saturday in Tokyo.

I finish this entry with a photo of the station board in Jiyugaoka. It is very 懐かしい for me.