Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Japan 2009: January 3rd, 2010

The few scheduled events we had in Tokyo mostly took place on the 2nd and the 3rd. Today’s travels encompassed the only place where we had to plan to get tickets at least a month in advance of our trip. It was a particularly important stop for me as an animator, because the venue in question represents the pinnacle in animation in Japan. I’m speaking of course of the Studio Ghibli museum in Mitaka. A 30 minute trip on the Chuo line, and a bright yellow bus trip later, we were greeted with the mysterious looking Ghibli museum, the wild imagining of Hazao Miyazaki – often referred to as Japan’s Walt Disney.

The premise of the 4 story museum is “Let’s get Lost Together,” a phrase that resonates pretty strongly with me. Within we were treated to a veritable shrine to Studio Ghibli’s many animated films. No photos were allowed within the space. The museum is comprised of room after room of little animation treasures including detailed dioramas, fantastic machines, storyboards, original artwork, sculptures and most spectacularly, a short animated film that can only be seen at the museum’s movie theatre about mice doing Sumo wrestling, which is just as amusing as it sounds. As a last offering at the museum We threw some money at the Ghibli gift shop then returned to Tokyo, where we caught a subway to Harajuku with the intent to visit Harajuku park.

Harajuku park on Sunday is another of the Rough Guide Tokyo’s must see attractions. Unfortunately for us, because of the New Year and the consequent Shrine-pilgrimage at the adjoining Meiji temple, Harajuku park was tragically lacking in the usual cosplaying gothic Lolita girls, street performers and Rock-a-billy bands. It was a cold and windy day, however, so there were, at least, plenty of dogs wearing coats and people flying kites and throwing frizbees; enough going on to make the walk at least worthwhile. The last thing we saw when leaving the park was a guy in street clothes doing ballet to a friend’s obscenely bad flute version of “When You Wish Upon a Star”, and a skateboarder doing amusing and dangerous ollies over 3-foot-tall parking barriers.

Next we took another stroll down Harajuku avenue – and by stroll I mean we clumsily pushed our way through a crowd of 100 thousand other people attempting to shop at Harajuku’s world-famous clothing shops. I finally succumb to peer pressure and purchased a banana and custard crepe at one of Harajuku’s myriad crepe stands. It was good, if not the miracle of snackery I was promised by my fellow travelers.

Next we went to the 8+ story Tower Records where Phil and Xavi purchased some J-pop and dance CDs. The J-pop album Phil purchased was the result of seeing a music video for the young Idol on a storefront television screen in Shinjuku, wherein the very attractive young woman was performing an alluring dance to phat beats dressed in an Elizabethan black frilly dress. What’s not to love about that? We were once again impressed that the Japanese pay so much for their home entertainment. The CD that Phil purchased cost him 3000 yen, the equivalent of about $33 US. Nothing special about the CD. Just a 12 song CD by a new artist. DVD prices are similarly outrageous.

Immediately following Tower Records, we returned to the hotel where I incubated for 2 hours while Phil and Dustin researched a place to eat for the evening in Shinjuku. They settled on a ramen restaurant in Shinjuku, which we never managed to find. We did find *a* ramen restaurant, which was very good. We retired early that night, because for Phil, Dustin and I, the next day would start at 5am, to catch the bullet train for Kyoto at Tokyo station at 7 am.

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