Street smart: Jingu-Mae, Tokyo
Great place ... Yoyogi Park.
IT HAS been described as Tokyo's answer to the Champs-Elysees, albeit with fewer poodles and more kitschy-cool stores. Jingu-mae, also known by some as Omotesando, is a wide, tree-lined boulevard that mixes insanely expensive, high-end fashion and jewellery brands with home-grown favourites, folksy noodle shops, trendy restaurants and a whole lot more.
DON'T even enter this store if you are allergic to cutesy kitsch stuff. A multi-floor homage to the collectable world of cartoon characters' merchandise, a visit here is said to be on the must-do list of many rock stars touring in Tokyo. A wall of locally illustrated postcards is a visual feast, while a big Star Wars section will please fans. Pokemon, Doramon and My Little Pony are all well-represented but the belle of the ball has to be Hello Kitty. Who knew it was possible to buy Kitty-inspired socks, toothpicks, pens, mugs, chopsticks and even bento boxes? Collectors will be in Kitty heaven, while for everybody else, it may just be a case of goodbye Kitty.
6-1-9 Jingu-mae, +81 3 3409 3431, kiddyland.co.jp.
TEENAGERS love this department store and museum. LaForet (pictured) is one of the trendiest shopping complexes in Tokyo. I'm not so excited about shopping where anyone above size eight is deemed impossible to fit. When did it become polite to greet shoppers with: "Oh no, nothing in your big size?" Never. Many Tokyo Fashion Week designers have their boutiques and showrooms here, plus there's a selection of underground labels. July is good for summer sales. The craft supply store Rojinka is a delight: bedazzlers and lace trims fit all.
1-11-6 Jingu-mae; +81 3 3475 0411.
MEIJI SHINTO SHRINE
A STAGGERING 100,000 volunteers built this shrine. That's how much the people of Tokyo loved Emperor Meiji, who died in 1912, leaving Japan as a modern state and important global player. Eight years later, the shrine (pictured) was completed and today it is enormously popular with locals and visitors to Tokyo. Enter through huge gates built from 1700-year-old cypress trees and from there, wander around the iris garden and covered pavilions, where Shinto worshippers pay their respects and a confetti-load of wedding couples tie the knot each day.
At the Harajuku end of the street.
I COULD tell you in my own words what a great park this is; how Sundays are fun days here, when rockabilly dancers, fashiony Harajuku girls and Gothic Lolitas strut their stuff past the cyclists, picnickers and romantics. But, somehow, it's so much more authentic to share the "Engrish" comments posted online in support of this public green space, one of the largest parks in Tokyo: "Hanami cherry blossoms at the weekend has also come pizza. Unlike the Shinjuku Imperial, also drink more soup OK, so into the park for free, young audiences will feel. Rent a bike there. The beautiful autumn leaves turn red, can be relaxed so few people." Now you know.
At the Harajuku end of the street.
SOUVENIR central — that just about sums up this emporium with a bazaar-like vibe. Beautiful kimonos (both new and used) are stocked here, as are silk handkerchiefs, framed woodblock prints, sake sets and adorable Japanese wooden dolls. Stationery and little trinkets are surprisingly affordable, putting paid to horror stories of $89 watermelons and other shopping disasters in Japan. No fear of getting lost in translation, then.
5-9-13 Jingu-mae; +81 3 3400 3933.