Poagao's Journal

Absolutely Not Your Monkey

Feb 09 2008

7 weddings and a monorail ride

I was meeting Arnd on the bridge at Harajuku just after noon, but I had a late start while figuring out how to get there on the subway. I actually enjoy planning trips on unfamiliar transportation systems; it just hammers in the fact that I’m somewhere new, makes it seem more exciting than it really is. On the train, I noticed that there are overhead bins for luggage, though I’ve rarely seen anyone use them. You can’t really put things under the seats, because that’s where the heaters are, and all of the ice cream you bought would melt.

pain on the subwayI was so busy taking pictures of a woman sitting opposite me I almost missed my stop. It’s a good thing I know kanji, because the English name was blocked by the train’s window bars. Arnd snuck up behind me on the bridge and showed me all the pictures he’d taken of me surreptitiously since my arrival.

It was a cold, gray day, so the park at Harajuku wasn’t the bustling bastion of weirdness it usually is, Arnd explained. We passed the Bono impersonator and a group of girls dressed up as…something, I’m not sure what. Cartoon characters, maybe, and then walked to a small woman playing an electronic piano and singing quite pleasantly to a small crowd, including many photographers. A foreign couple asking directions turned out to be Germans stationed in Shanghai on a visit, and Arnd spent some time talking with them.

a little helpThere wasn’t much going on the park proper, so we went to the Shinto temple where everyone gets married in a traditional style. The gravel road leading to the temple was broad and shaded by large trees, with huge wooden gates at either end and a small bridge in the middle. It felt completely isolated from the city, like it was in the middle of a distant forest. At the temple, we saw a marriage procession, which surprised Arnd as he had thought they only happened on Sundays. Then we saw another procession, and another. The couples, priests and families walked slowly around the courtyard. “The brides all look 45,” Arnd said.

“Maybe this is the 45-year-old-bride temple,” I suggested. We both took quite a few pictures, but Arnd’s 18-200mm lens was far more useful than my 17-70 (I ended up taking pictures of Arnd taking pictures of people taking pictures of the happy couple instead: Yes, it’s “Poagao: Metaphotographer!”), and I kept running out of memory.

Afterwards, we headed back out to the more bustling parts of Harajuku, which is actually a very trendy area. Arnd pointed out some remarkable buildings along the way, examples of interesting architecture. One was structured like the trees that like the street and located right next to an extremely ugly structure, like something you’d see in Sanchong and think, “Yeah, I’m in Sanchong all right.”

“That building needs a good cleaning,” Arnd said.

watching the bouquet throw“That building needs a good wrecking ball,” I said, but he had turned into an alley behind a nice neo-gothic restaurant. I followed, and we found ourselves outside what appeared to be a church. A bunch of people in suits and nice dresses were waiting with cameras and flowers, and soon a bridge and groom appeared. Arnd explained that it wasn’t a real church and had nothing to do with religion; apparently the Japanese like the appearance and trappings of a Christian wedding without any of the religious meaning. Two huge heaters warmed the crowd, but it soon began to snow. It was cold enough that there was no water in the snow, just light, hard flakes, but the crowd wasn’t dissuaded, and the freezing bride threw a bouquet to them before the happy couple walked off as the crowd shouted their good wishes. Arnd was in and out of the whole thing; someone even gave him some flower petals to throw, but I just stood near a heater, appreciating its warmth. My hot packets were working hard to keep my hands warm as the temperature dropped.

After that, we went to meet Arnd’s girlfriend, and then walked down a crowded, quirky street that seemed to have all kinds of shops, including a sock store where I picked up some 5-toed socks for my tabi shoes (“Suitable on attending school” the label reads). I also saw a shop just for dog clothes and another called “Store My Ducks” that I’m still trying to figure out. Is duck storage really that serious a problem?

prada buildingWe kept walking to an even more exclusive but less visited area and I saw the glass monstrosity that is the Tokyo Prada building, flanked by other interesting architecture. Everyone who approached the doors of the Prada building seemed to swagger, but maybe it was just the cold.

Arnd and his girlfriend had to go, so I wandered around the area a bit more. I was freezing and hadn’t eaten since breakfast, though, so I took the train to Shinbashi and had some more raw-egg pork chop on rice at a ticket store before getting on the monorail out to Odaiba, a newly developed area on reclaimed land out in Tokyo Bay.

Riding the monorail feels like flying slowly through the city, as it’s so high up and there are no accompanying tracks to spoil the view. We took the massive Rainbow Bridge over the river, traffic accompanying us on the highway part of the bridge.

I got off at Aomi and found that it had started to rain. I was a little surprised because it felt too cold for rain. Inside, I looked at some of the interesting new cars, and then crossed over to Venus Fort (yes, that’s it’s name) to find the vintage car display I’d heard about from Arnd.

fountainVenus Fort is a multi-level mall with ceilings shaped, painted and lit to make it seem like it’s just after sunset all the time. In the middle is a huge fountain. It’s nice enough, but all the stores are women’s clothing stores, so I guess they saw it necessary to give the guys a place to go while the women shopped. Thus, the car museum.

Inside, I saw some beautiful automobiles, all in mint condition, e.g. a ’64 Mustang convertible, a ’59 Cadillac El Dorado, a Chevy Impala of the same year, an original Datsun 240Z, one of those BMW “Bubble Cars” a Ferrari Dino and the original Corvette Stingray.

I was about walked out, though, so I caught the train back to Shinbashi. Odaiba reminds me a bit of parts of Neihu, all new buildings and nothing else, very sterile and empty. Back in the city, the rain had turned to a heavy snow, turning the sidewalks slushy. I passed a firetruck outside a restaurant but saw no fire. The firetrucks have loudspeakers here, basically saying “Excuse me, coming through, sorry for all the racket!” as they drive through the streets.

On the subway back to Ueno, I noticed the man sitting next to me was reading a pr0n comic with nekkid comic girls. Then he exited, and a woman got on, sat next to me, and started to read another pr0n comic with nekkid comic girls. I looked around for a camera trained on me, but saw none.

snowingBack in Ueno, dinner at my old Japanese radio restaurant again, shrimp tempura accompanied by David Niven’s excellent autobiography The Moon’s a Balloon. I think the owner’s getting used to me coming there; the portions are getting bigger. I’m going to miss the place. Outside, the snow lay thick on the ground, but was turning to rain again, resulting in a slush that made me glad I’d bought new socks; looks like I’ll need them. Tomorrow I’m going to Yas’ film festival later in the afternoon. As for the rest of the day, I’ll see what the weather’s like and go from there.

posted by Poagao at 10:55 am  


  1. Just so you know, a Shinto place of worship is called a shrine, as in Meiji Shrine, the place you visited in Harajuku. “Temples” in Japan refer to sites associated with Buddhism.

    Great travelogue! It brings back memories of when I lived in Tokyo.

    Comment by Kaminoge — February 19, 2008 @ 1:03 pm

  2. Ah, in Taiwan I am used to calling them all “temples” so I did in Japan as well. I’ll try to remember that in the future. Thanks.

    Comment by Poagao — March 1, 2008 @ 8:47 pm

  3. hi there
    i just found this.
    nice to remember.
    miss tokyo
    and will see if i fin a new job there.
    all the best 2009]


    Comment by arnd — January 5, 2009 @ 1:31 am

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