If your aim while in Tokyo is to observe the Japanese cut loose and let their freak flags fly, then Yoyogi-Koen is where you need to go on a Sunday. Located in the Harajuku district, this is where the more flamboyant Japanese congregate, often decked out in elaborate and bizarre costumes and outfits. In a city where appearances are so important, Sundays at Yoyogi-Koen are an opportunity to let your proverbial hair down and enjoy yourself.
Like many before us, we hit up Yoyogi-Koen hoping to see some Cosplay zoku. We weren’t entirely sure where we should go to see this, so took the subway to the Yoyogi-Koen exit and hoped for the best.
As it turns out, Yoyogi-Koen is 133 acres, so suffice to say that you can wander a lot and not necessarily find what you are looking for. We entered the park from a relatively deserted entrance, where we saw this amazing sign about dog etiquette:
We also saw several other signs with the rules of the park, most of them outlawing pretty much any kind of fun. So imagine our surprise when we witnessed the famously law-abiding Japanese flagrantly flouting most of these rules. We witnessed many dogs running off leash, several games of frisbee, badminton and various other sports that were “verboten”, and also encountered several loud drum circles (all the better to drown out the lady who sat by one of the ponds tootling rather inexpertly on her saxophone, I say!).
We also spied a creepy Japanese man make this blonde Caucasian lady pose for various pictures (while her boyfriend/husband stoody idly by). At first we thought that he was taking tourist pictures for them but no, he was using his own camera and those pictures were definitely for him. We were quite a distance away, but not so far that I couldn’t see mild fear in the lady’s eyes and that she had a hostage smile plastered on her face.
Then again, who am I to judge when I then proceeded to take stalker pictures of this group of Japanese youths practicing their song and dance routine in the park?
It was at this point that I realized part of the huge appeal to Yoyogi-Koen is that there is so much space, which is something that is in short supply in Tokyo. People live their lives in the park, because they don’t have the room to do many of these things in their tiny Tokyo apartments. Better to be outside than cooped up in a cramped apartment!
We spent a few hours in Yoyogi-Koen just ambling around in search of people in costumes, generally walking towards Meiji-jingu, a large temple built out of Japanese cyprus. We were pretty disappointed that we didn’t see any outlandish costumes, but as we neared the path to Meiji-jingu, we did come across a gathering of Boppers & Greasers. Huzzah! I loved how for every song they played, they had a specific choreographed dance.
The Boppers were pretty amazing, but I admit, I was still a bit disappointed because given how extreme the Cosplay can get in Tokyo, this was relatively mild. Just when I was about to give up hope, the clouds parted and we spotted this guy/gal (we are pretty sure this was a man, but you never know) just before entering the path to Meiji-jingu:
So, our hunt for Cosplay-zoku was ultimately successful, but kind of a bust as well. I am glad that we got to see one crazeballs person, but I can only imagine how weirdly wonderful it would have been if there had been an army of people dressed wildly. Maybe it was the time of day when we finally made it to the area where this stuff happens (or maybe we never found the right place at all), or maybe August is the wrong time overall because many of the school kids who tend to participate are on summer vacation. Either way, just know that if you head to Harajuku planning to see Cosplay at its most extreme, you may be disappointed.
Then again, it is hard to be too out of sorts when you see Meiji-jingu. As you can see, the shrine itself was clearly a place of beauty, and the torii leading up to it were so towering, little imagination was required to call to mind the ancient cedars they were crafted from.
The grounds around Meiji-jingu are so sprawling that the place feels tranquil, even when overrun with people. An impressive feat, especially when you consider that it’s located within wild and crazy Harajuku, and is only about a 20-minute walk from Shibuya crossing, the busiest intersection in the world! Tokyo is not really a city known for its shrines and sights of historical interest (as it definitely a city that skews toward the modern), but if this is your first stop in Japan and you’re craving a taste of some of the country’s cultural and spiritual roots, Meiji is a great place to spend some time. And, if like us, you find Tokyo wearing you down, it’s a nice place to escape and recharge before diving back into the action. Like most temples, it is free to visit (can’t say that about many attractions in Tokyo!) although it does have a small garden that you can pay to visit (though we declined to do so, having spent the day walking through a park, and also it is apparently at its best in the spring when its irises are blooming).
For those of you who won’t be in Tokyo anytime soon, here is a brief video and some extra photos that attempts to capture the vibrancy and activity of Yoyogi-koen & Meiji-jingu on a given Sunday. Enjoy!