Tuesday, February 20, 2018

More of Western Tokyo: Shinjuku and Harajuku

I admit I only had my eyes set on the usual spots in Tokyo such as Shibuya that I had no idea there are equally awesome districts that were out of my radar. Even though I used to watch animes when I was younger and have still some exposure to their TV shows, it was not enough to prepare me for the overwhelming feeling of being in this huge metropolis. I also thought I was already battle-tested having previously visited other impressive capitals in East Asia such as Seoul, Beijing and Taipei, but each has their own charm, especially Tokyo.

neon signs in Shinjuku

A few Google searches and I came up with places like Harajuku and Shinjuku as top recommendations. Shinjuku being an important transport hub, was just impossible for me to miss. A ward on Tokyo known for its colorful entertainment and commercial districts, there are dozens of interesting sights to uncover that would suit travelers with different interests.

one of the entrances to Shinjuku Station

My first Shinjuku “experience” was an overwhelming one, I thought after a couple of days I would have already been used to the rush of crowd of Tokyo, but apparently not. Going to and leaving Shinjuku was a challenging feat for an introvert like me, with no knowledge of the place and with several exits (I believe they had more than 20) I felt like everyone was ready to wrestle with me as they come and go to the station, and I could only blame myself for not being mentally prepared, of course it would be packed with fellow commuters being one of the world’s busiest train stations.

Aside from the usual Tokyo Metro and Japan Railways, there’s also the Odakyu, Keio and Seibu Railways that have their home base here. Good thing there are a a number of good locals always willing to assist with directions so I eventually got used to the fast paced commuter life and have enjoyed it immensely.

shinjuku night

tokyo night

tokyo mall

True enough, the area west of Shinjuku station is filled with the tallest skyscrapers in the city, some of them are even open to visitors. One that I was able to visit was the twin towers of Tokyo Metropolitan Government Office with admission to the 45th floor. In here, you could get an amazing view of the city skyline from their observatory free of charge. Caveat, they are only open from 9 am to 11pm and you might have to queue for awhile as this is a very popular spot. Tripods are also prohibited so don’t even bother to bring one.

tokyo skyscraper

shinjuku viewdeck

tokyo met

Aside from these places, there’s still more of Shinjuku that I have not seen. Regarded as the country’s largest red-light district, Kabukicho is filled with clubs, bars and love hotels. Golden Gai and Omoide Yokocho are places that I have seen in several blogs featuring the narrowest bars and restaurants you could think of and yet retaining its cozy atmosphere perfect for dinners and drinking parties. Shinjuku also houses the biggest department stores such as Takashimaya, Odakyu, Lumine and Keio. Gadget junkies would have a field day at places like Yodobashi Camera and Bic Camera. I have explored many gardens in the country but seemed to miss what Tokyo has to offer. Shinjuku Gyoen is one of the city’s biggest parks famed for its cherry blossom display.

japan architecture

japan night


Traveling solo in Tokyo during the weekend? It is probably not the best idea to go to follow this crazy plan. I hate being in crowded places, so it still puzzles me why I decided to go to the most popular areas of Tokyo during this time. I alighted at Harajuku station to explore another well-known area in Tokyo for its unique fashion trends and youth-oriented shops.

harajuku station
Harajuku Station

Omotesando is the place to be if you’re looking for high-end quality goods, especially with clothes shoes and bags. Takeshita Doori on the other hand, is for a much younger crowd with boutiques selling what’s in and trending in street fashion. There are also lots of chic cafes and food stalls, I saw lots of crepes stores in particular. I was not able to roam around and take more pictures as it was filled with shoppers that time, so I just moved on to another famous spot in Harajuku.

omotesando hills

tokyu hands harajuku

takeshita dori

tokyo autumn
leaves already starting to change its colors in this part of the city

Jingu Bashi used to be a popular spot during weekends, especially with cosplayers, I admit I was not keeping up with the times and I did not spot any cosplayers there anymore, but it’s still a popular area for street performers.

jingu bashi

shichi go san festival
this mother and daughter combo enjoying a unique musical performance

japan temple
sake barrels, called kazaridaru, are always present in shrines as an offering

Meiji Jingu or Meiji Shrine was my last stop in Harajuku which is one of Tokyo’s most popular tourist destinations. It was quite refreshing to see a Shinto shrine amidst the busy shopping streets and modern buildings around Omotesando. It is located within the vicinity of Yoyogi Park so expect a short stroll along towering green trees before seeing a huge torii gate marking the entire complex.

tokyo park

meiji tokyo

meiji shrine tokyo
Meiji Shrine's renovations are expected to be completed by October 2019

Completed in 1920, the shrine was built in memory of Empress Shoken who Emperor Meiji whose reign started from 1867 until his passing in 1912. It suffered damages during WWII but was reconstructed immediately.  In anticipation of its 100th anniversary in 2020, the government carried out restoration efforts, thus the shrine was covered at the time of my visit. However, this did not faze locals and foreign visitors to visit the shrine and learn about Shinto practices. You could still see devotees pray and make offerings, buying amulets and having their goshuin stamped. I was also lucky to witness two wedding processions, I wouldn’t have noticed if not for a kind local photographer who tapped me on the shoulder as I was about to leave.

japan temple
these small wooden plaques are called ema in Japanese, often seen in shrine and temples in East Asia

japan wedding

Shichi-go-san Festival (literally translated as 7-5-3) is an annual rite in Japan dedicated to boys aged three and five, and girls aged three and seven wherein the child's development and health is celebrated. It is supposed to be celebrated every November 15 but when it falls on a weekday, most families prefer to celebrate it during the closest weekend, if not, on any free weekend they would have during November, as it is one of the best opportunity to gather everyone in the extended family. It was the perfect time to see all the cutest kids dressed in their kimonos or suits.

tokyo shinto wedding
a seven-year old girl clad in kimono intently watches the wedding procession

japan 7 5 3 festival

kimono japan
beautiful kimono in different colors and prints

tokyo shrine

pablo cheesecake tokyo
trying out the overhyped Pablo's Cheesecake, I still prefer NY style cheesecake though, but it was still worth the try

If I wasn’t rushing, I would have went to Ota Memorial Museum of Art, a small museum featuring the wide ukiyo-e painting and print collection of Ota Seizo. Another place of interest is the NHK Studio Park where you could see TV production and broadcast behind-the-scenes. Surely, Shinjuku and Harajuku has lots of gems for us to discover.


  1. Where is the place with the escalator surrounded by mirrors? I often see it on IG.
    I am not a fan on cheesecake but would like to try Pablo cheesecake haha.
    I look forward to reading about the rest of your Japan adventure!

    1. It's in Omotesando, it's in a mall though so aside from seeing the mirror filled pathway, not much to do for people like us.
      Thanks, and same for yours too!

    2. Thanks Mariane. I didn't really like Tokyo, too urban. But I should give it another chance. Someday. By the way, what camera do you use?


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