lørdag, september 16, 2006

Navigation: Harajuku

NOTE: Finally have internet hook up here in Yokohama. This hotel room view of the bay is gorgeous. Will upload photos in a week or two when I've returned.

I'm so terrible with directions that I rarely make an effort to follow them. I said goodbye long ago to suffering any stress about not being anywhere on time or even knowing where I am. One must have adventures.

So on my first day in Tokyo I took the train from Shibuya to Harajuku, just one stop north. I waited until about noon to allow the morning commuters to have their way on things.

The train commute is wild. It looks like one of those crazed photos that appear from Iraq or Pakistan--those photographs depicting a bus loaded like a phone booth jam. The trains in Tokyo look like that during the commuter rush.

I was ambling about Shibuya's curving, hilly streets on my first morning when I spotted a train crossing. The gates were coming down. This wasn't Shibuya Station. It was some smaller stop wound more tightly into the neighborhood. So I watched trains coming in and out of this point.

It was magic. A mildly crowded train passed, but only a handful of people were standing. Then 30 seconds later that train (or another?) would depart the station in the other direction. This time it would be packed with people pressed up against the doors.

I wanted on that train.

But I saved the crammed commute for the next day. On that first day I let the station clear just a bit. Then I hit Harajuku.

I'm out of touch with pop culture. I did not know that the MILF queen, Gwen Stefani, had played a Harajuku Girls card. She has. This is a shame, because Harajuku, as pose-happy as it is, can never be manufactured like that. It's too freaky.

While the main roads teem with global corporate stores (such as the Gap) and huge crowds, the narrow side streets feature a mix of high-end and totally local brands, a mix of thrift, design, popular trends. And those side streets seem to sweat teenagers.

On Sundays, I've read, more of the cosplay goes on: the costume play. This is the real Harajuku element. The crazyass outfits and make up. I fell in love with a jacket at a shop called Ragtag. It was a $270 bit with a cute little B on one shoulder. Ah, buckets. Couldn't drop the cash, but I am going back for the grey and orange MilkBoy scarf. That's only $30. If it's still in the shop, it was meant to be.

So there I was walking against the crowd along Harajuku Street. Everywhere one goes in Tokyo seems so crowded one feels one is walking against the crowd. Suddenly I was swept up in a sea of teeny bopper girls dressed as dolls, right down to the totally unnatural garish hair, oversized lolliepops and painted on freckles and tears.

After this absolutely satisfying weirdness, I turned a few more corners. The streets kept winding. I'd given up the previous night upon arrival trying to use tall buildings as visual markers. The architcture shifts so greatly from front to back that you might believe you'd stopped paying attention and had walked a long way, for this was clearly not the same building. Yet it is. You pass another building. Now you can no longer see the first. The roads twist. More buildings, each one shape-shifting.

That's it. You give in. You give yourself to the city and just walk.

So I was wandering about Harajuku. I'd started using elevation as a marker, walking up hill from major roads believing that finding myself going downhill would lead to a major road. (This proved correct.) Tokyo couldn't rise forever, could it?

I had to pee. Badly. I'd been living out of vending machines, all day. I'd been entranced by the range of weird drinks like "Vitamin Squash."

So I looked for a downward road. I looked for a train station, where I knew there'd be a free public toilet.

As I walked downhill, the wind picked up. Something seemed familiar about this spot. I passed a Doctor Drive mechanic. I passed two McDonald's in a four block stretch. I spotted a JR Yamanote station.

I'd spent over an hour in Harajuku and another 30 minutes wandering about wondering where the hell the trains were.

As I waited for the light to change so I could cross with the sea of people heading into the JR depot, I noticed the name on the station: Shibuya Station. I was back at my base.

I crossed to the 109 building, wrapped around to the hotel. I peed. I napped for many hours. I woke up in a dark room and remembered I'd forgotten to eat that day. I developed a theory that one can live on visual stimuli alone in Tokyo.
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