Peace and serenity— these are not words that you generally use to describe Tokyo’s Harajuku ward, but that’s exactly what we discovered here. The only thing more surprising was how easy it was to find.
To tell you the truth, it found us.
Step into the Light
Our second day in Tokyo brings us to Harajuku. The sun is shining brightly and the morning air is comfortably cool as we step out of the subway station.
Young people across Japan flock to Harajuku to make their latest fashion statements. They come to see the latest trends and to start new ones. Maid outfits, neon-colored hair, and everything in between– that’s the norm in Harajuku.
A crowd forms at the station’s exit as people wait to cross the street. I know that if we follow the crowd, we will find the Harajuku we expect to see. But what if we don’t follow? Where would we end up then?
These are much more interesting questions, so we turn around and leave the crowd behind.
We’ll Cross That Bridge
Directly to the right of Harajuku station is a bridge commemorating the 1964 Olympic games that were held in Tokyo. A bit further beyond is the stadium where many of the games were held.
It isn’t until we cross the bridge that the dense wall of trees that line the road part to reveal a small clearing containing the largest Torii (Japanese gate) I have ever seen.
To call it “grand” would be an understatement. This gate marks the entrance to the Meiji Jingu (shrine) and rises nearly as high as the trees that surround it and positively dwarfs the people walking under it.
Beyond the Gate
Beyond the gate, the trees close in and obscure the blue sky from view. As our eyes adjust to the shade, we see a broad avenue reminiscent of Paris’ Champs-Élysées extending before us, the difference being that this path is bordered by lush green trees instead of cold concrete buildings, and a calm silence had replaced the relentless bruit of Paris’ traffic.
It is quiet and tranquil under cover of the trees. You could stop at any point along the path and look beyond the simple bamboo fence to see a deep forest full of life and vitality.
The Solitary Wall
A quarter-mile down the gravel path, the forest is momentarily interrupted by a wall of sake barrels. The impromptu rampart is stacked 6 barrels high and spans 36 barrels across. Each sake barrel is painted with a different design, bringing the solitary wall to life against the verdant background of the forest that surrounds it.
The Inner Gate
Half a mile down the path beyond the entrance to the Meiji Jingu lies yet another gate. Though it still towers over us, this inner gate is smaller than the first and stands at the entrance to the shrine itself.
Despite the crowd of people at the shrine, it is as quiet as a library here. People come here to pay their respects and to reflect.
Standing in the middle of the shrine’s courtyard, you can see that multiple paths converge on this spot. Instead of going back the way we came, we head down on of the other paths to see where it takes us.
We step back onto a gravel path that curves broadly. Moments later, we are once again enveloped by the silence of the forest and the shrine is already a fading memory.
Our new path is even less trafficked than the first. We only encounter a few others people, though we do meet some interesting creatures along the way.
Before long we pass under a final gate, next to which some ponies are enjoying their lunch.
Just like that, our unexpected walk through Yoyogi park and the Meiji Jingu was at an end.
Our hunger for new sights and experiences had been more than satisfied by something mature with age and rich with history. The modern sights of Harajuku seemed to pale in comparison, so we hop on a train and head off to explore another section of Tokyo, this time fueled by a hunger for food.
Little did we know that our next meal was farther off than we could have ever imagined.
5 Days in Tokyo
- Otsuka — Tucked between Tokyo’s hot spots is a place where golden hour never ends.
- A Different View of Harajuku — We discover that serenity is surprisingly easy to find in Harajuku.
- Lost in Ebisu — A random stop in Tokyo turns out to be more than we bargained for.
- Old Town Akihabara — Pass under the bridge to a different side of Tokyo’s futuristic district.
- Ginza to Tsukiji — A search for fresh fish leads to a surprising discovery about Tokyo’s Ginza district.
- Lunch at Tsukiji Fish Market — This is where you go to get the freshest fish in Tokyo.
- The Solitary Soldier — Sunset at Japan’s Imperial Palace.
- Finding Peace in Hibiya Park — A small pocket of peace amidst Tokyo’s never-ending activity.
- Cats of Hibiya Park — Hanging out with some furry friends.
- Saturday in Ikebukuro — Ikebukuro. Weekend. It’s over.
- Okachimachi Crunchy — Walking down Tokyo’s multifaceted shopping boulevard.
- Hidden Yanaka — Frozen in time.