And the park in question here? Yoyogi Park (代々木公園), one of Tokyo’s largests parks located adjacent to Harajuku Station (原宿駅) and Meiji Shrine (明治神宮). The discovery of how interesting a mere park could be convinced the mister and I that 1) we should most certainly try to live like the locals whenever we travel and 2) never be too shy to ask for recommendation from friends who might be staying in the city/town. You could say that our experience at Yoyogi Park positively shaped our travel style.
So E, the non-Japanese speaking Singaporean prior to packing his bags to work in Tokyo had Japanese classes on Saturday mornings. And so, the mister and I headed for Ikebukuro (池袋) and Shibuya (渋谷) in the morning before meeting up with him in the afternoon. I’d always wanted to visit Namja Town at Sunshine City because it sounded interesting – a section sells almost 100 different types of gyoza (餃子) available all over Japan. And I cannot emphasize more on how much I love gyoza!
Namja City also has an ice-cream city selling too much ice-cream, in my opinion. And a scavenger hunt designed to keep the children occupied. The game really looked fun, and if I were more proficient in Japanese, I might even have considered playing it haha.
And then we went to visit the bronze statue of Hachiko, the loyal Akita who returned to the train station every evening to wait for his owner even after he (the owner) died. That routine continued on for 9 years until it finally died. Till today, Hachiko is the epitome of loyalty so the bronze statue is rarely without a crowd around it. Children especially, were always excited at seeing the statue, I observed.
After meeting up with E, he brought us to Yoyogi Park near the gymnasium (there are 2 parts to the park, separated by a road). According to him, the little square close to the road features food from different parts of Japan and it changes every weekend. I am supposing that this stops in autumn; nobody wants to be out and about at a park in winter. The day we went, Fukuoka’s food was featured. The concept is in actual fact very similar to Singapore-style pasar malams, I feel.
Come Sunday, we found ourselves back at Yoyogi Park. E told us that was how he usually spent his weekends alone because he didn’t really have close friends to hang out with. I don’t think the Japanese are xenophobic per se, but they are known to keep to themselves. Furthermore E worked in a foreign bank that mostly hired foreigners so there were hardly any Japanese nationals in his social circle. He was lonely and very glad to have company over.
On our way to the park, we came across several food stalls. All looked inviting in particular the Takoyaki (たこ焼き). So tempted I was that I bought a box of 6, and forced the two boys with me to have some as well. Not very happy, the both of them. 😆
Walking further down brought us to this stretch by the road where many bands were setting up their equipment for performance. After standing around for about 15 minutes, several of the bands starting their performances. We were in particular very, very impressed with this band called ‘Tripper’. Their songs were catchy and infectious. They even have a legion of fans who knew the signature dance moves to their songs and were unabashedly following along as they performed. Honestly, I wasn’t sure if I were more amused with the confidence exuded by the band or the loyal groupies. Of the numerous bands we came across that day, I thought ‘Tripper’ had a real chance of cutting an album. I wonder if they did finally make it.
This one-man band was really quite fascinating to watch. I bet nobody was really listening to his singing. Instead we were all distracted by how he was handling all the instruments by himself. Not a great idea if he had wanted people to listen to him sing. But if his aim was to get us to notice how ambidextrous or nimble he was, purpose was achieved.
The rest of the bands we came across didn’t really stand out, except for one particular one. And it stood out for the wrong reason. This lady was singing as someone played on the keyboard. She attracted quite a large crowd, although I’m not entirely sure if it was her bad singing or her looks. A combination of both I suppose. Me? I remember standing there admiring her guts.
This duo were really, really good. Enjoyed their singing so much so that I was tempted to buy the self-funded CD they cut. But I didn’t, and I live to regret it.
After watching the bands, we crossed the road to get to the other side of the park, passed by the Fukuoka Fair we visited yesterday and were just in time to watch a drum performance. The whole park was bustling with activities wherever we went. It was actually an awesome feeling to be out breathing fresh air amongst so many happy people. Happy faces greeted us wherever we walked. There was no way even for Scrooge to remain grumpy.
If Singapore’s parks were half as interesting, I believe I would be spending much more time in them. We could find people doing almost every and any healthy activity in the park. There were jugglers, dancers, a saxaphone learner, people dressed like Elvis Presley (they are like at the park every Sunday) dancing Rock ‘n’ Roll, and regular folks just having a picnic. People-watching had never been this interesting and rewarding.
When we finally left the park, we headed for Akihabara (秋葉原), Tokyo’s famous electronic town. In recent years, it has also emerged prominence as the place where many maid cafes in Tokyo are located perhaps because Akihabara is also the place Otaku (おたく), their target audience, like to frequent. On Sundays, theses ‘maids’ from the cafes are out on the streets near the Akihabara train station in full force, distributing flyers. Apart form shopping at the huge BIC Camera outlet there, visiting a maid cafe was the other item on our to-do list. But the popular maid cafes (read: with the prettier ‘maids’) had long queues of Otaku (who eerily resemble what they are characterised to be like in TV drama series) and we were too impatient to get in line behind them. So we chose a less popoular maid cafe (the reverse is also true – ‘maids’ there were nothing to shout out, apart from their cup sizes) and got into the cafe in a jiffy. Strictly no photography was allowed in the cafe, and after we ordered our drinks, we were pretty much left on our own. I guess with me (a female) being around, it wasn’t difficult for them to categorise us as ‘curious onlookers’ rather than customers they could continue milking money out of (by posing and taking pictures with them).
After sitting in the maid cafe for about an hour, we left. And I came to the conclusion that Otaku are seriously creepy and obsessive people. Funny to look at, yes, but creepy judging from the way they obsessed over the ‘maids’. Never ever felt inclined to revisit a maid cafe again although it was truly an eye-opening experience for all 3 of us.
* The last time I was back in Tokyo in Oct 2011, the indie bands were no longer allowed to play by the park. There were even official signs erected all over different parts of the park reiterating this. I found this to be such a shame. Some of these indie bands we came across were really good, and playing in the park could be their only opportunity to play for an audience if they were not able to secure gigs in pubs etc. They could get a lucky break if someone from a recording company noticed them but I guess a park is not an ideal place for such activities. Perhaps they were all rounded up to perform at another location. I don’t know, and neither does E because he had since moved back to Singapore. If any of you out there knows where they perform now, please leave a note. Will really appreciate that!