With the sun shining we took off to "Tokyo Central" but with over 38 million people living in the greater metropolitan area (yes, you read it correctly) there are many Tokyo Central's. In fact, if you lived here you could probably exist in your own area without having to venture elsewhere in the city. In reality this is probably no different to most big cities in the world.
We started in Ginza. The main street reminded us of 5th Avenue in New York, with its wide footpaths lined with brand name retail stores. If it were not for the Japanese signs it would be hard to tell we were in Tokyo. The Bentley and Mercedes S-class cars parked outside of Van Cleef and Arpels were no different than you would see elsewhere. We headed for Uniqlo, a wonderful Japanese clothing store with 12 floors of shopping awesomeness (even though we have store 5 minutes from home, albeit without the 11 extra floors).
We also hunted for kimono shops. The Japanese address system requires concentration to say the least. It consists of three numbers which (we think) identify the street, the block and then the building. So for the Antiques Mall at Ginza 1-13-1 this meant finding street #1, block #13, building #1. Fortunately everything is signposted clearly so we found the location without stress.
From there we went to Harajuku. First stop was the gardens at Meiji Shrine where we went into the Iris Garden. This was a welcome surprise as the garden was in full bloom with thousands of flowers. The Japanese folk take great pleasure in natural beauty. We saw a very elderly man with a walking stick, determined to get down all the stairs to see the garden.
We also saw a Tanuki, which is a Japanese sub species of the Asian raccoon dog. We had to get the information guide to tell us what it was. This Tanuki is (obviously) sick.
We went to the shrine but most of it is closed as they are renovating the cooper roof. The new bright copper looks spectacular although in time it will fade to a dull green. The Shrine and the gardens are a tranquil and private spot in the middle of a bustling metropolis. Occasionally the sound of the train drifts in through the trees, or a nearby skyscraper pokes its head up into view. The Meiji emperors and empresses would have felt very safe and secluded here.
After that we went to the shops for you guessed it, more kimono shopping. All the shopping blogs spoke about a store called Chicago, which carried second hand kimonos, yukatas, obis and more traditional Japanese clothing. Remember that address system? It works fine if you know you are in the right district, which can be separated by a main road - for example 4-26-26 Harajuku is different from 4-26-26 Jingumae. We almost walked past the store until a lucky glance across the road spotted it. We bought a men's obi.
Harajuku has changed massively in the nine years since we were last here. The funky independent retailers are largely gone, replaced by the international chains. Chicago was right next door to Lacoste; Zara, Puma and Gap were just up the road. Takesheta Street is now taken over by McDonalds, Daiso and heaven forbid a Disney Store. We get it - the big brands can afford to go to where all the foot traffic is but it is a shame as the district feels to us to have lost what made it unique. It now just looks like any other shopping district in the world.
In the evening we went to Tokyo Disneyland, which is directly opposite the hotel (we can see part of the park from our room). It is about the same size as California Disneyland and with similar rides. When at Disney you have to join in the fun.