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Nomikai!

For an officeworker in Japan, the nomikai is a regular part of life.  A nomikai is a food and drink party held immediately after the work day ends.  They are most often held in restaurants or izakaya, usually with everyone seated at one large table.

The traditional nomikai lasts roughly two hours, and it’s not uncommon for people to move on from there to a nijikai, or second party, to continue drinking.    Some of the participants will then go on to a sanjikai, or third party.  Those who go to sanjikai frequently miss the last train, and some of them will keep drinking almost until morning.   There were several instances during my visit in which I learned that my colleagues were quite hung over from sanjikai.

There was a nomikai held at the end of my first week in Japan, partly to welcome a batch of new employees in the group and partly to welcome me to the Tokyo office.   Every picture that follows is the food from the nomikai I attended.  I figured that a post comprised entirely of food would be very appropriate as we head into the Thanksgiving holiday here in the US.

The first photo is a small appetizer of a sort of fish flake custard dish.

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Tamago, or egg.  I do love eggs.

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Edamame is delicious.

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Cabbage leaves in a sesame dressing.  So, so tasty.

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The thing about asking Japanese colleagues to identify a dish is that they will often just answer that it’s meat.  If you’re really lucky, they might specify which animal the meat came from.  I was not so lucky.

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These noodles were incredibly delicious.

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Oh look, a sumimasen button!

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This is fried fish bones.  I did not think I was going to dig this, but it was crunchy, salty, and surprisingly delicious.

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Leafy stuff in a sesame dressing is one of the most delicious foods on the planet.

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I’m pretty sure this is two types of fish.  Someone told me that the pale one was blowfish, but I’m not certain I believe them.

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Various fried and breaded seafood things.  The round balls that look like they have cornflakes on the outside were especially delicious.

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Remember a while back when I mentioned the Okonomiyake?    This was kind of like that, except huge and portioned out like a big deep dish pizza.

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Eggs and vegetables and shrimp!  Super yum.

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Slices of cooked meat.  Again, super yum.

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What traditional Nomikai would be complete without french fries?

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By the time we finished the Nomikai, I was super full of all manner of delicious food.

Of all the food you’ve eaten on trips, which item was the most unusual to you?

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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.

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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.

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Barrels of sake are dedicated to the shrine.

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Another torii stands at the entrance to the inner shrine.

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

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

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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!

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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…

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…and mimes…

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…there are boy band dance troupes…

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…and nunchaku users…

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…teaching other nunchaku users.

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There are all-accordion jam bands…

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…and cosplay types with many-colored hair.

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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.

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The Easter celebration was going on here as well.

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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It looks very peaceful, doesn’t it?

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The DisneySea Electric Railway connects different portions of the park.

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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

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Elastigirl was very popular with the kids.

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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.)

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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.

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

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

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

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Naturally, there’s a statue of Ariel.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Ahoy there, little fellow!

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This castle is a familiar sight to so many people.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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

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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.

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

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

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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

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

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What’s your favorite Disney ride?

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Shibuya

Most people know Shibuya mostly from images of Shibuya Crossing in movies and tv shows.  I’ll get to that in a minute.  First, I wanted to talk about Genki Sushi.  It’s a chain with several locations in the city, including this location in Shibuya.

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Genki is essentially a self-serve sushi restaurant.  For example, each seat contains a bin of green tea powder and a hot water tap for mix-it-yourself tea.

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The ordering is done on a touch-screen.    When you place the order, it is prepared and sent out to you within a few minutes.

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The sushi arrives automatically on these little trays.  The whole mechanism is reminiscent of the rollercoaster restaurant I went to in Nürnberg.

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Once you have retrieved your food, you must press the lit up button to send the little automatic tray back to the kitchen.

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The food was delicious.

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There were moments where the food caused me confusion or amusement.  For example, their idea of a hamburger or cheeseburger is not at all in line with what I think of.

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Seriously, this is a “hamburger.”  It was a tiny patty of ground meat resting on a bed of rice, with a sauce on top which I believe was mayonnaise.

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I didn’t figure out what they meant by “Semi Fred” for days after this meal, but it looked like blueberry cheesecake, so I gave it a try.

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I had never heard of “Semifreddo” before this trip.  The Blueberry Semi Fred was delicious, as it happens.

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I think that’s enough talk about food.  Let’s turn our attention to one of Shibuya’s most famous residents, Hachiko.  Hachiko was an Akita dog who was adopted by a professor, Hidesaburō Ueno, in 1924.  The professor walked with Hachiko to the train station every day before going to his job at the University of Tokyo.  The dog waited at the station for his return at the end of each day.  Professor Ueno died of a cerebral hemorrhage in 1925 while giving a lecture, and Hachiko continued to walk to the station each morning.  He stayed at the station waiting for his Professor every day, until his death nine years later in 1935.  Hachiko was immortalized in bronze, and the first of several statues was unveiled in 1934, with Hachiko himself present.

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The original statue was recycled during World War II for the war effort, and a new statue was placed in August of 1948.  That statue is the one which still stands at Shibuya station today.  Hachiko’s story has been featured in several movies, including an English version called “Hachi: A Dog’s Talewith Richard Gere as the professor.

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The Hachiko statue at Shibuya Station is also in front of Shibuya Crossing, one of the busiest pedestrian intersections in the world.    This is what’s known as a “scramble crossing.”  When the light changes here, it’s red lights in every direction for vehicles.  Once the light is red, pedestrians cross from every direction, including diagonals.

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None of my pictures capture the crowd properly, because I was there on a pretty quiet weeknight.  You can see this intersection in countless television shows and movies, including Lost In Translation.

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This Starbucks overlooks the Crossing.  It is reportedly one of the busiest Starbucks in the world.  It’s supposed to have an amazing view of the Crossing, but I never had a chance to go up there.

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Once you’ve crossed the street from the station, this part of the city is filled with shops and restaurants.  This is where Genki Sushi is located.

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This part of Shibuya is also home to Tokyo’s only Taco Bell, as far as I know.  I tried to go here once out of sheer curiosity, but I didn’t succeed- there was a thirty minute wait for food and I had to go to work.

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Have you ever seen a movie about Hachiko or a film with Shibuya Crossing featured?