Day 3: Tokyo – International Friendship Run, Shibuya, and Shinjuku
On what was to be our last day in Tokyo, Lauren and I had a lot we needed to see. First up was the International Friendship Run, which I personally was very excited about. The Friendship Run is a 5k fun run (untimed) put on by the Marathon Committee the day before the race to bring participants together in a fun, no-stress atmosphere. Participants are encouraged to wear items from their home countries and also embrace the Japanese culture. I was set to meet up with my friends Anders and JC, but if there is one thing I’ve learned about trying to meet up with other people in other countries, it can be downright impossible when you don’t have texting capabilities.
While looking around for JC and Anders, I enjoyed the spectacle and tried to figure out which country each person was fun. There was a ton of diversity, which was really nice to see. Since Tokyo is now one of the World Marathon Majors, along with Chicago, Boston, New York, London, and Berlin, all of the other Major Marathon race directors were there to support the event!
I never did find Anders and JC, and I was feeling kind of upset and sad since it was really cold, my back was already bothering me, and I now had no friends to run the “International Friendship Run” with. Then, all of a sudden, a girl to my right asks if she can take a picture with me. It turns out her name is Michiko and she lives outside of Tokyo and had come in for the friendship run.
She spoke very good English and was excited to practice speaking to someone, so we ended up running the entire rest of the race together, laughing and taking pictures the whole time. It seems so picture-perfect that I would go to an International Friendship Run and wind up making a real life international friend, but it’s true! We’re even friends on Facebook, so you know it’s real.
My back was really hurting me from the very beginning, so there was really no question I had made the right decision about the marathon. We kept running and eventually ran into JC, Anders, Eddie, and the other Maniacs, and I got to introduce them to Michiko!
After crossing the finish line, Michiko and I were actually interviewed by a Japanese news station that was curious to know how we met and why we were running that day! It was fun to be able to tell them that we had become friends at the friendship run. I’ve spent the past hour searching for the video of the interview but tragically, I do not speak Japanese and Michiko forgot to get the name of the station, so we are not having much luck. Let me know if you find it, though. I’d be interested to know if my jokes translate well into Japanese.
After the friendship run, I had to immediately take off so I could go find Lauren before she lost her mind in the Japanese arcade where she was entertaining herself. We headed back to the hotel room and quickly showered and I grabbed a muscle relaxer, because God knows I wasn’t getting through the rest of that day without one. We had plans to hit up Shibuya, Harajuku, and Shinjuku, much of which is considered “downtown” Tokyo. Trust me, the thought of Tokyo getting more busy and packed with people was extremely disturbing.
We headed up the street from Shibuya towards the Harajuku district, which is known as a center of youth fashion in Tokyo. There’s plenty of shopping in Shibuya and Shinjuku, too, but Harajuku has a flavor all of its own. Interestingly, that flavor is distinctly American about half the time – western style clothing, especially graphic t-shirts with American slogans and cities on them, are VERY popular, as are items emblazoned with the American flag. It was a little jarring, but quite flattering. The Japanese are not kidding when they say they love America!
Harajuku style has a lot to do with putting together kind of cutesy, baby-doll type clothes with gothic and vintage elements, so the clothing stores appear to be completely random. Walking into them was almost like walking into a costume shop. It can’t really be described. Let’s just say it totally lived up to the hype.
By this point, Lauren and I had officially decided that we would be taking the bullet train to Nagano the next day to see the snow monkeys. I was super excited about it (it had been the original thing I wanted to do in Japan, but we thought we wouldn’t have enough time to take the trip) but definitely had not packed the appropriate footwear. All I had were Toms, dressy flats, and running shoes, none of which were ideal for hiking in the snow. Early on in our shopping trip, I saw some adorable plum galoshes in a store window in Shibuya. They were a bit more than I wanted to spend, so I decided to keep looking. Suffice to say I did not find anything else and getting those boots turned out to be a big pain, but mercifully, by the time we got back, they had only one pair left and they were MY SIZE. It was a sign.
Shinjuku is near the start and finish of the race and also the location of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building. We headed up that way to check out the free observatory in the building, since we had heard the Tokyo Sky Tree wasn’t worth the fees and the wait. The view did not disappoint! There is no way to comprehend how massive Tokyo is until you see it from the sky. It makes NYC look kind of tiny.
Next on our list was something I had been talking about for months since seeing it on Buzzfeed – the Penguin Bar. Apparently, there are lots of “animal cafes” in Tokyo where you can eat dinner while surrounded by whatever animal. The Penguin Bar advertised to have penguins that swam and played in a tank surrounding the restaurant so that you could watch them while you ate. A little weird, sure, but distinctly Japanese, and I was really excited about it!
Yeah, it turns out that “Penguin Bar” doesn’t translate very well into Japanese, so no one we asked about it had any idea what we were talking about. We spent a good 5 minutes standing in front of a subway map with a vague idea of where it was, talking back and forth to each other in desperation and confusion, before a Japanese guy says, in perfect English, “Um, do you guys want some help? This is getting painful to listen to.” I have never been so relieved to hear a person speak English in my entire life. We were in a busy area of Shinjuku and would have gotten completely lost without him. He did make fun of us for going to an animal cafe, but he was ultimately very helpful.
Unfortunately, the penguin bar was a total letdown. The tables aren’t even near the tank, there’s a minimum number of drinks you have to order to even be allowed to sit there, and the food is overpriced. We didn’t even end up staying, after all of that! Not to worry, though. We ended up at a place called “Beersaurus,” which served hundreds of craft beers from around the world.
Exhausted, we made our way back to our hotel knowing we had to be up early for Nagano the next day. But you know what’s way more important than exhaustion? SNOW MONKEYS.