Keen to kick off our “Tour de Tokyo” we were given the opportunity to go to Harajuku and Yoyogi Park both Saturday and Sunday night. Back in 2008, I worked on the Northern Island of Japan, Hokkaido in the ski resort town of Niseko. A Japanese friend of mine, Tat from my season in Niseko had left me a message mentioning that a big reggae festival would be going on in Yoyogi Park over the weekend. So following our campus tour, Roman and I were quick to round up a group of students to indulge in this Japanese-Jamaican experience which would no doubt be one of a kind. With the help of our new Japanese friends, we managed to get about 20 students from the Kokusai Kenshu-kan (International Dormitory) all the way to Harajuku Station without losing anyone. That's about as far as all of us made it as a group…
We should have known that attempting to march a group of Tokyo first-timers past the shining lights of the main Harajuku drag, Omotesando (photo top left), would be unsuccessful. So there we were, at a crossroad…but only for a moment. Like any true investigative team, we sacrificed for the cause, and made the executive decision to split up in order to be thorough and experience the diversity that Harajuku had to offer. Roman and said 20 students and new Japanese friends disappeared off into the crowd while I exchanged high-fives with old friends a made a bee-line to a convenience store for my favorite Japanese alcoholic beverage, Chu-hi. Refreshments in hand and old friends at my side I spent a few amazing hours amongst many a dreadlock adorn Nihonjin Rastafarian, swaying to Japanese DJ remixes of Bob Marley & The Wailers! What I found unbelievable was that even though I was in Tokyo, it was as though I could have been at a festival anywhere in the world. Everyone was there enjoying the music and taking in the mind-blowing atmosphere that only a crowd of a thousand people can create. We danced to some awesome reggae and cheered on some amazing drummers and musicians.
Meanwhile back on the streets of Harajuku, Roman was having an experience all his own….“Coming from Calgary, Japan is a vastly different situation. After moving past the initial 'Wow! Everyone is Japanese!" shock, Japan's culture is overwhelming. For example, there are much more bikes than that of Calgary, the direction of traffic, the driver's seat in cars, and also the selection on the vending machines. However, the main focus on this blog entry will be on experiencing, first hand, Japan at night. To have a fair grasp of Japan at night, or anything as a whole, for that matter, one must be immersed fully in the subject at hand. However, having spent no more than three days, it would be disingenuous for me to make any assumptions therefore I will just be giving my first impressions. When experiencing Japan at night, the first thing one notices is the differences in the atmosphere at night. Harajuku, and Akihabara are the only places I have been to at night, but both give off a certain ambience that is absent in places where I have lived prior. The streets are a buzz with a vast array of characters engaging in an orgy of style culture and organized chaos within the framework of passion for life.
The train stations, and the trains is another area of difference. Originally hailing from Winnipeg, When I moved to Calgary, I thought that that was a city that was very, “go go,” as Winnipeg is a smaller, yet more personable place, however, it pales in comparison to the pace of people in Japan. Japan is the perfect example of changing for the future, yet keeping the cultural tradition, and not losing oneself completely to the tides of change. As opposed to the usual treatment that patrons of the LRT systems in Calgary experience, countless trains on limitless tracks greeting infinite faces everyday is what awaits Japan on a daily basis, yet the people remain polite, and kind.
Ekimae or “In front of the station” is a place of importance to nightlife in Japan, I will be blogging more about this with Ovid, but as an introduction, our station especially, Mukogaoka-yuen, acts as a meeting place.”
I went back to Yoyogi the next day with my friend and another University of Calgary student, Jessica and met up with my friend, Tat and some of his friends from here in Tokyo. Jess and I browsed through the street vendors stands, and indulged in a little takoyaki (squid balls) as we socialized and practiced our Japanese with Tat and his friends. The weekend proved to be a great kick-off to our time here and our week of exploration in Harajuku and surrounding area. The take home message from this weekend; music festivals are a must, shopping in Harajuku in awesome, and don’t be afraid to have your own adventure! (just make a plan and be safe!)
It has been a fantastic first few days and having only spent a short time here, we have only begun to realize what a task documenting the extensive nightlife here in Tokyo will be. More to come as Week 1 unfolds and as classes begin tomorrow!
Roman and Talia
(The last photo was taken at a famous crossing in Shibuya on our way home)