Meiji-Jingu and Yoyogi Park

In the vicinity of Shibuya, near the Harajuku station, there is a Shinto shrine called Meiji-Jingu, or the Meiji Shrine.  Meiji-Jingu is dedicated to Emperor Meiji and his wife, Empress Shōken.  This is not a tomb; the emperor’s actual grave site is in Kyoto.

The shrine was built in 1915, destroyed in World War II, and was rebuilt in 1958.  The entryway to the shrine is easily spotted by this enormous Torii gate.


Meiji-Jingu is located in part of a 170 acre forest filled with evergreen trees from all over Japan.  The walk to the main part of the shrine covers long gravel paths and small picturesque bridges.


Barrels of sake are dedicated to the shrine.


Another torii stands at the entrance to the inner shrine.


The shrine consists of several buildings ringing a very large courtyard.


This is a very popular attraction for tourists, so there are lots of people visiting at any given time.


I was trying to take pictures facing every direction so that you could easily see the differences between the buildings.  It’s nearly impossible to get a photo there without some random guy in your shot.  Get out of there, Mr. Red Shirt!


While I was in the courtyard, a wedding procession crossed the courtyard.


The processional line contained priests, maidens, and celebrants.  Most importantly, there was one guy who had the job of protecting the bridal couple from the elements with a giant cocktail drink umbrella.


Before entering the shrine, the priests did a little blessing of some sort, bowing to the bride and groom.  I quite like their hats.  It’s nice to know that the Vatican doesn’t have a monopoly on amusing religious head-wear.


After a few minutes, the happy couple went into the shrine and I walked back to the first Torii at the entrance to the shrine.  A short walk away from the main gate is one entrance to Yoyogi Park, a 134 acre green space in the middle of Tokyo.

History time! The first successful powered aircraft flight in Japan took place in December of 1910.  That location became an Armyparade ground.  In 1945, it housed the “Washington Heights” military barracks for U.S. officers during the Allied occupation of Japan after World War II.   In 1964, the baracks area became an athlete’s village for the Olympics.  Finally, in 1967, most of that area was turned into Yoyogi Park.

As you can see, it’s a very popular place to be on Sunday afternoons.


A favorite of tourists visiting Yoyogi for the first time are the Rockabilly dance groups that gather in the park.   Here’s four pictures of the dancers, submitted without further comment.


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Yoyogi is a favored place of lots of different people doing lots of different activities.  There’s jugglers…


…and mimes…


…there are boy band dance troupes…


…and nunchaku users…


…teaching other nunchaku users.


There are all-accordion jam bands…


…and cosplay types with many-colored hair.


On the ride over, I saw two teens in full vampire regalia, with special contact lenses and fangs.  Regrettably, I did not get a picture.

What’s the most interesting thing you’ve seen in Yoyogi Park?

Because Japan 2: Engrish, Safety, and Sweetness

Since I took nearly 2,500 photos during my five weeks in Japan, this is another post full of stuff that doesn’t really fit into my entries about specific places or events.

As a longstanding fan of Engrish, I thoroughly enjoyed a chance to see some wonderfully funny missed translations while I was in Japan.  Tokyo did not disappoint.

This is the very steak!  I regret that I did not have a chance to eat The Very Steak.


I’m not sure if Meat Potato truly counts as Engrish, but it’s still a funny food descriptor.


This restaurant in Otemachi was absolutely delicious, but their sign was chock full of poetic Engrish.


I’ve learned since my departure that Drug-on Taco is actually a fairly popular chain of taco trucks.  Depending on the drug, I can see why that might be the case.


That wraps up my Engrish examples.  Next up in this post is the magic that is the Japanese parking garage.     As you might imagine, space is at a premium in a city as crowded as Tokyo.  It’s no surprise then that the parking solutions here are fascinating and creative.

The first time I walked past one of these bays, I didn’t quite understand what I was looking at.


What I learned later was that cars are returned to this front space in reverse, and the large disk is a giant turntable to rotate the cars so that they are facing forward for departure.


Japan’s focus on safety is omnipresent, so it makes sense that they would not want drivers having to back into city traffic.   I would never get tired of the car turntable, because it reminds me of the way the Batcave always kept the Batmobile facing forward in the movies.  parking-50

This appears to be the back of the bay shown above.  The cars are kept in vertical racks, and I believe the car retrieval is automated.  I’m not entirely clear on that, however, because I never saw this in operation.



I keep mentioning how Japan is very safety-conscious.  My first exposure to this was the very first time that I went to Akihabara with my colleage.  As we were walking out of the train station, we saw this worker staring at the building across the street.


Across from her was a coned off area and signs to direct your attention upward.


Above that sign, a single worker is washing lots and lots of windows.


Those with acrophobia or poor balance need not apply.


While walking home from the office at night, I would often see road construction being set up for the night.  The crews would dig up tremendous sections of the street and it would all be put back into place by morning.  At night, however, the safety gear came out in force.  The vest lights blinked in alternating patterns.


Teams of safety workers would keep traffic moving around the dig site with their blinky vests and glowy flashlights.


This man’s vest is not off.  It’s just on the off part of the blink cycle at the exact instant that I took the photograph.   safety-dance-12

Even the cones glow in the darkness!


People doing work on the street in Japan often work in teams.  It takes two to ticket this parked vehicle.


These two are really just there to make sure that you don’t get clobbered by falling debris from this tower.  There are always two!  safety-dance-142

Let’s move on to some sweets.  Japan is full of fascinating flavors.  Some of them are amazing, and some of them are not.  These green matcha tea flavored Oreos were not great.  I was optimistic when I saw the package, but the flavor was just not much fun.


These tiny crunchy balls of chocolate joy were amazing, and I bought packets of them throughout my trip.  The outer shell is crunchy, and the inner part was a sort of creamy fudge.


In the mood for ice cream?  7-11 has you covered, with these ingenious cone-shaped containers of single serve.


The things on the left?  Too chewy, and I didn’t enjoy them at all.

The things on the right?  Green tea flavored Kit-Kats, which are amazing.  Kit-Kat has many fascinating flavors in Japan that are not available in other places.  I brought back a small sampling of strawberry flavored Kit-Kats, cheesecake flavored Kit-Kats, and even some Rum-Raisin.   The green tea flavor is the best one, though.  You can find this in the United States, at specialty shops.  Usually near the Pocky.


Have you got a good idea for an end-of-post question?  I can’t think of one right now.

Tokyo DisneySea

In my third weekend in Japan, I went to both of the Disney theme parks in Tokyo.   I’ve already covered Tokyo Disneyland, but the other park was far more interesting to me: Tokyo DisneySea.  There isn’t an analogous park to DisneySea anywhere else in the world.   Many of the rides and concepts in this park are unique to DisneySea.

You still have to use the monorail to get there, however.  I always love the monorail.


Tokyo Disney’s monorail is not that different on the inside than any other Tokyo rail car, except that the windows and hand grips all have that familiar Mickey shape.  The little red shorts on each hanging ring are especially cute.


The entry courtyard of DisneySea has a giant rotating Earth.   Hidden on the other side of the Earth in this picture is a line of people waiting for an official Disney photo of them standing in front of the planet.   On the other side of these entry buildings, the rest of the park centers around an area called Mysterious Island, featuring a giant volcano.


The Easter celebration was going on here as well.


The ride wait times display near the front of the park was surprisingly analog!  I would have thought that a digital display would be in use here.


First up is Mysterious Island, home of the Journey To The Center Of The Earth ride.   I have no photos from that ride, but it was certainly fun.

There’s a 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea ride in Japan, but it was closed on the day that I visited.  Fans of the old 20,000 Leagues ride will recognize this submarine from the old Florida 20,000 Leagues ride.  It’s just window dressing here, though-  the ride inside is reportedly very different than the old Florida version.


This pyramid is part of the Indiana Jones Adventure ride.  It’s really very strange to hear Indiana Jones speaking Japanese.


Indiana Jones Adventure: Temple of the Crystal Skull is a fun coaster ride.  It has no relation to the movie, however-  this was named Temple of the Crystal Skull years before the development of the movie that shares its name.


It looks very peaceful, doesn’t it?


The DisneySea Electric Railway connects different portions of the park.


This is Aquatopia, a ride which uses the same trackless technology as Pooh’s Hunny Hunt over in Tokyo Disneyland.  If not for a slight buildup of silt on the floor of the ride’s shallow pool, you wouldn’t be able to tell at all where the cars would go.    There was more than one possible track as well, so your car might not go the same way as the car ahead of you, and you might finish slightly before someone who started first.


I stopped for lunch on the American Waterfront section of the park at a place called the Cape Cod Cook-Off.  I walked to what I thought was the end of the line, and before long I was ordering my food.   What I didn’t realize was that there was a much longer poorly organized line behind me, and that I had accidentally wandered into a character show meal.  Since I was alone, I wound up right in front of the stage.


Minnie looks good in purple, don’t you think?


This is Duffy.  The show I accidentally dined in is called “My Friend Duffy,” and it centers around this Disney bear.  Duffy was created in 2002, but he’s most popular in the Tokyo parks.  There’s a great deal of Duffy merchandise available there.  He was reintroduced to the American Disney parks only about five years ago.


Tokyo DisneySea does have a Tower of Terror ride, but it has no connection to the Twilight Zone branding because OLC didn’t want to have licensing fees to CBS as well as Disney.  Instead, the story is completely different than the Florida version of the ride, and involves a cursed idol.


While I was walking toward the StormRider ride, some of the Incredibles popped out to meet park visitors.


Elastigirl was very popular with the kids.


This is the facade of the StormRider ride.  The StormRider attraction is closing next May to be replaced by a new Finding Nemo/Finding Dory ride in 2017, so I’m glad I saw it when I did.  I have strong opinions about the constant remaking of rides to incorporate newer Disney properties-  I understand why they do it, but I often dislike the changes and miss the original versions.  (In other words, Dreamfinder got a raw deal.)


But I digress… StormRider is a ride in which you use a specialized aircraft to fly into and diffuse a storm system.  The actual ride is a simulator, similar to Star Tours.   This is the entry area, where the storm diffusion technology is explained to the audience.


One huge section of Tokyo DisneySea is built to resemble Aladdin’s Agrabah.


Jasmine’s Flying Carpet ride is basically the same as the Flying Carpets ride in the Magic Kingdom in Florida. Hi, Rajah!


Another large section of the park, Mermaid Lagoon, is built to resemble King Triton’s palace from The Little Mermaid.


Naturally, there’s a statue of Ariel.


And here’s Triton himself, trident in hand, being pulled by two porpoises.    Honestly, the notion of using porpoises like horses never made any sense to me, unless he did it on porpoise to make some sort of political point.

Yes, the entire point of that last bit was to set up a dolphin pun.  Don’t judge me.


I wanted to go into King Triton’s Concert, but if you look carefully in this photo, you can see that it has a 240 minute wait time.  Two hundred forty minutes.    I was not interested in waiting  four hours to get into this attraction.


Instead, I waited on line for Raging Spirits.  The premise for this ride is that it’s an archaeological dig, but the temple designs are based loosely on the Incan aesthetic of The Emperor’s New Groove.


I noticed this sign on the way out of the Raging Spirits coaster, and I totally agree.  Life is an astounding  journey.


As I was preparing to leave the park, Mount Prometheus started to erupt.  I had no idea it did that!


Have you ever been to a Disney park outside of the USA?  What did you think?

Tokyo Disneyland

In my third weekend in Japan, I went to Tokyo Disneyland.   This was my first visit to a Disney park outside of the United States, despite having been a stones throw from Hong Kong Disney and Disneyland Paris at other times in my travels.

Tokyo Disneyland had more than 17 million visitors in 2013, making it the world’s second-most visited theme park behind the Magic Kingdom in Florida.  It’s also worth noting that the Tokyo Disney parks are the only ones in the world that are not operated solely by Disney.  They’re owned and operated by the Oriental Land Company, who licenses the Disney theme and branding from the Walt Disney Company.  You can’t tell the difference in person, though-  the Disney experience is still the same.


Despite it being June, they were celebrating Easter.  I’m still not sure why, but it did mean there were lots of adorable rabbit figures in the parks.


Tokyo Disneyland’s Main Street USA is quite a bit wider than the Orlando version, and it’s covered from the very frequent Tokyo rain.


This part isn’t all that different than it is in Orlando, except there’s a lot more space in front of and around the castle.


Ahoy there, little fellow!


This castle is a familiar sight to so many people.


One of the sections of Tokyo Disneyland is Toontown.  There’s a Roger Rabbit ride that I wanted to see, but I ran out of time.


One side effect of the Easter celebration is that various Disney characters were set throughout the park in egg form.  Egg-shaped R2-D2 is sitting in front of Star Tours.


The Star Tours ride line area here has no Imperial Walker, no trees, no cover at all from the sun until you get into the lobby.  Luckily, the wait times for this one never get too long because there’s an enormous capacity inside.


The ride isn’t much different, except that all the C3P0 and all the other characters are speaking Japanese.   I have some recordings from my phone, but they’re not clear enough to be blog-worthy.


In Tokyo Disneyland, Star Tours is right next to Space Mountain.  There’s a certain logic to that, when you don’t have an equivalent of Hollywood Studios.


It’s A Small World really wasn’t any different than the Florida version.  The egg version of a Small World character in front was part of the Easter celebrations.


I found the Easter parade.  Seriously.  It was kind of hard to miss.


The springtime themed Minnie and Clarice Chipmunk outfits are super nice, though.


In Japan, the costumed characters tend to wander out among the crowds more, instead of staying in one place and spontaneously generating lines of children.


More egged characters, around the corner from the Country Bear Jamboree.


The Jamboree was also translated (mostly) to Japanese.  This was a fascinating experience.


The signs within the park weren’t very helpful for navigation, but the breaks between sections were quite clear.  The ground was also painted a different color in each section, which helped me find my way quite a bit.


Haunted Mansion wasn’t any different in Japan than it is in Florida, and Pirates of the Caribbean was still Pirates of the Caribbean.  Lots of Jack has been added since the last time I went on the Florida version, but I’m told that the Orlando version has the same Jack stuff added in now.


For lunch, I shall have a waffle and some lemonade!  I wasn’t in the mood to wait for anything else.


Pooh’s Hunny Hunt is different than anything that exists in the Florida parks as far as I know.  It’s definitely different than the Florida Pooh ride, which is basically just a retooling of Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride.

The Pooh ride uses a trackless ride technology that I haven’t seen in any of the Florida Disney parks.  Trackless rides are able to cross over existing paths, reverse, and rotate on the spot.  This makes for a really fun ride experience.

In this ride, you sit in a giant Hunny Pot, and zip around.  When Tigger dances, the entire room bounces.  It’s pretty fantastic.    YouTube has some videos that people have filmed going through this ride, if you’re curious.


On the walkway bridge that separates the parks from transportation are a variety of small sculptures.  Here’s Tinkerbell.


Chip and Dale dance in front of a bicycle parking lot.


What’s your favorite Disney ride?

Because Japan: Everything’s Kawaii

This post is full of stuff that doesn’t really fit into my entries about specific places or events.   I was in Japan for a total of five weeks.  In that time, I took nearly 2,500 photographs.   This is partly because I was fascinated by almost everything, and partly because I’m the sort of person who likes to take pictures of everything.    Plus, almost everything was kawaii, or super cute!

For example, this poster was in the tunnels leading to and from subway trains.   As near as I can tell, it’s a public service campaign suggesting that you don’t play music loudly in the train because it’s just rude.  I think it’s somewhat telling that the musical people here are brightly colored and the person who doesn’t want to hear the music is pale and lifeless.  I’m just saying.


Here’s one from the office.  Basically, this is saying that when you’re sick, you should stay home through the worst of it, and wear a face mask until you are once again a happy and healthy bean.  Plus wash your little bean hands, because unwashed bean hands are how disease is spread!


Continuing the trend to have all signs include really adorable things, this one is a little egg.  I saw this little fellow all over the city, including a stuffed animal version in one of the department stores.


Lest we forget that we’re in Japan, here’s some bad-ass Transformers.  This was a giant decal on the floor of the aforementioned department store.


I’m not even going to get into what was happening on television.   I don’t know if this is a children’s show, but it was like nothing I’ve ever seen before outside of Starlight Express.


I don’t know if one of these guys was the bad guy, and I’m not sure whether they’re supposed to be superheroes or train engines.


Meanwhile, back in the realm of cute signs, this was on the back wall of a train platform.  I haven’t the foggiest idea what it’s about, but cute samurai cats are always a welcome sight.


Sometimes the cute samurai cats look mildly evil, like this one on a display case in the Hiroshima castle.  The smaller cat with what looks like a baseball bat is especially adorable here.


Cute cats were a common theme during my visit.  This hipster kitty is supposed to clip onto cell phones, I think.


Before we move away from the cat theme, I wanted to point out this logo for a Japanese package delivery service.  The design is of a mother cat carrying a kitten around.  Isn’t that the best logo for a delivery company ever?  “We treat your package like our adorable fuzzy offspring.”


Meanwhile, near the river in Tokyo, this building exists.  I never found out what the golden squiggly sperm-like structure is supposed to be.    It’s enormous, though.


I passed this sign every day on my walk to and from the office, and the nearest I can figure out is that it’s to help passing alien beings figure out where to safely cross.  Seriously, neither one of the creatures on this sign looks like a human person.


This one here?  This looks like a human person.  This hard-hatted worker is a human person who explicitly does NOT want you to go through this door.


Meanwhile, this other human person is singing karaoke in the middle of the afternoon.  Welcome to Japan.


Something that I noticed while I was in Japan was that it’s unusual to find  cookies or snacks that are not individually wrapped.   I have theories about how avoiding disease in such a crowded city are a factor in this package design, but I’m only guessing.   Here’s some examples of the individually wrapped delights.

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Here’s something I never did while I was in Japan:  A pachinko parlor.    Pachinko is a sort of automated gambling machine.  They’re very popular, and pachinko places are incredibly loud and smoky.  I walked past one every day on my way to the office, and whenever the doors opened, it was a blast of sound like nothing I’ve heard anywhere outside of Las Vegas.


Last but certainly not least in this batch of random photos from Japan is the umbrella locker.  This ingenious luggage locking system is all over the place, and it makes sense to have a way to securely store your umbrella in a city that gets as much rain as this one does.    This particular example is at the entry level of the Edo-Tokyo Museum.  Basically, each tiny umbrella slot has a bracket with a key.  You take the key, and use it to retrieve your umbrella when you leave.  The whole thing is kind of genius, actually.

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Have you ever used one of these umbrella lockers?  What’s your favorite individually wrapped snack treat?