Harajuku & Meiji Shrine
I'm guessing that the vast majority of visitors to Tokyo go to Harajuku.
It offers a solid dose of the youthful madness that Japan is known for abroad.
So I thought I'd mention how I might do a little tour of Harajuku and nearby Meiji Shrine if I were showing someone around.
We'll start at Harajuku Station:
Should be easy to find because it's on Yamanote Line (the loop line).
I think the best Harajuku experience mixes the crazy, crowded streets with small breaks of quiet and calm. So before entering the crowded abyss of Takeshita-dori, which I'll mention in a second, I would turn right when exiting Harajuku Station, then cross the famous "Harajuku Bridge."
This image might help:
Meiji Shrine is actually called 明治神宮 (めいじじんぐう), and "Harajuku Bridge" is technically 神宮橋 (じんぐうばし), or "shrine bridge."
There are two words for "shrine" in Japanese: 神社 (じんじゃ) and 神宮 (じんぐう).
I rarely hear people say 神宮 (じんぐう) unless they are mentioning a particular shrine with that name attached to it, so the word 神社 (じんじゃ) might be more useful to learn.
Harajuku Bridge is famous because sometimes you'll see people in crazy outfits hanging out on the bridge, particularly on weekends:
Every time I think of costumes and Harajuku, I am reminded of a student I had when I used to teach English: Mari.
Mari came into class wearing a lolita costume more than once. She had teal hair, ate only one meal per day, was the drummer in a metal band, and was studying English because she "loved castles." Oh, and snakes were her favorite animal. You really do meet some interesting people when you teach English. ^_^
Here's a zoomed-out view of the bridge:
See that mess of trees in the background. We'll turn right there to enter Meiji Shrine. If you go left, you'll end up at Yoyogi Park, which is also a nice place to go for a walk, particularly when there are cherry blossoms... although you might run into some ridiculous crowds then.
One cool thing about Meiji Shrine is that there are huge 鳥居 (とりい):
People usually call them "torii gates" in English.
This may shock you, but Meiji Shrine is dedicated to Emperor Meiji. This is a name you'll hear a lot of if you study up on your Japanese history.
If you go to Meiji Shrine during the day on a weekend, there's a good chance that you'll witness part of a traditional Shinto wedding ceremony taking place there, which is pretty awesome:
Personally, I like to visit this area at random times on weekdays, when it's not so crowded. Even on crowded days, however, the grounds of Meiji Shrine are big enough that you can feel like you're not in the middle of a jam-packed metropolis:
I had some friends visit me in Tokyo a few years back, and I took them to Meiji Shrine. We were walking in the midst of the trees, the crunching sound of gravel audible with each footstep, and my friends turned to me and said:
"This is just a forest. Let's go somewhere interesting."
"Yeah. Who cares about a bunch of trees?"
I was dumbfounded. I mean, it's not just a bunch of trees. It's a bunch of trees in the middle of one of the world's biggest metropolises. Isn't it amazing to you that we're here, surrounded by all of this nature, in this quiet, serene place, but around all of this are some of the most crowded places on earth?!
That's what I was thinking, but I didn't argue.
Instead, I took them to Harajuku so they could get their fill of "Tokyo":
↑ This is Takeshita-dori. It's right across the street from Harajuku Station.
There are cafes, costume shops, restaurants, and a pretty sweet 100-yen shop:
Rei likes to get crepes and/or boba tea when she comes here:
↑ Yeah, get ready to wait in line. This is Harajuku.
Is it "boba tea" or is it "bubble tea?" I never know what to call it in English.
They say タピオカ, or "tapioca", in Japanese.
I've found that タピオカ is consistently good in Japan... though my favorite shop is still in Thailand. I have yet to have a great boba tea in the U.S., sadly... and I have tried many, many shops.
After exploring random shops and whatnot in Harajuku for a while, I think we should take another break.
This time, I recommend going to the rooftop of the Tokyu Plaza Omotesando building:
#1 Meiji Shrine
#2 Takeshita Street
#3 Tokyu Plaza Omotesando Rooftop
This is what the building looks like from the outside:
If you keep going up the escalators, you'll eventually reach a rooftop Starbucks. There is a ton of outdoor seating there.
You can find some good photos of it on TripAdvisor.
Here's another article on this place: Starbucks Omotesando – Most Beautiful Starbucks In The World?
If you go in the summer, they will probably serve beer in the outdoor area. It's a great place to enjoy the sunset.
If it's winter, then go at night, get a hot coffee at the Starbucks, and stare out at the night lights of Tokyo.
Speaking of the nighttime, once it gets dark, I recommend walking to Shibuya from Harajuku.
See the arrow in this photo?
That street is Meiji-dori. (Yeah, the theme of today is "Meiji-everything.")
As long as you stay on that street, you'll end up in Shibuya.
In fact, you can walk along Meiji-dori all the way from Shinjuku to Shibuya. It's a nice walk:
バナナ チョコ ホイップクリーム クレープ ふたつ ください。
Two banana chocolate whipped cream crepes, please.
Literally: “banana + chocolate + whipped cream + crepe + two (things) + please.”
Note: This sentence is great for practicing your pronunciation of Katakana English.
たけしたどおり は どっち です か？
Which way is Takeshita-dori?
Literally: “Takeshita-dori + は + which (way) + です + か?”
しゃしん とらせて もらえません か？
Would it be all right if I took a picture of you?
Literally: “picture + let (me) take (and) + cannot receive + か?”
Note: Use this if you want to take the picture of a cosplayer in Harajuku, for example.
しゃしん とって もらえません か？
Could you take my [our] picture, please?
Literally: “picture + take (and) + cannot receive + か?”