Tokyo seems to have a soft spot for Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland. Past the kawaii maid cafes, the manga-lovers’ stores and the typical otaku haunts, one finds a specific niche dedicated to all fans of Wonderland in Japan’s capital city.
Are you a cosplayer? A literature buff? A Walt Disney ‘pro’? Then surely, you might want to take a peek at the deliciously pastel-goth store ‘Alice on Wednesday’. Situated in Shibuya, this cute narrow 3-storey shop will surely please not only young girls but anyone who wishes to tumble down the rabbit-hole, even just to window-shop. Stoop to enter the tiny door leading to Alice’s magical world! Revel in the artistic murals and fantastic colored lights, as you traverse a tunnel-like corridor to access the premises.
Ranging from fancy teacups and saucers to Wonderland-themed accessories such as rabbit pins, earrings sporting miniature hats and handbags with scenes from the eponymous Disney movie, one can also find art depicting John Tenniel’s original illustrations used in Lewis Carroll’s first publishing of ‘Alice’ in 1865.
Take a photo sitting on the Red Queen’s throne, and don’t forget to taste any of the themed sweets, biscuits, or teas on sale!
Memorabilia apart, Tokyo also offers a huge number of Alice in Wonderland themed restaurants and coffee shops. Some of the most popular ones are:
We opted to dine at Alice in an Old Castle found in Ikebukuro District within Toshima Ward, since this was closest to our accommodation in Tokyo, plus had good ratings on Tripadvisor. And boy we were not disappointed!
The restaurant is simply amazing – a real Wonderland! Decorated with glittering chandeliers, golden-framed mirrors, and plush seats, it gives one the impression of truly being in an enchanted castle. As soon as one enters the deceptively inconsequential door, one is immediately welcomed by an usher dressed either as a Mad Hatter, a rabbit, or even as Alice herself, and escorted to his/her seat. Be warned – themed restaurants like this one are very often full, so make sure to book your table in advance. If you are a tourist (as I was) you can book online.
Human-sized soldier playing cards stand at attention in every corner. Luxurious paintings of Kings and Queens adorn the walls interspersed among red and gold damask drapings. Cosplaying waitresses clap and sing for you as they explain the beautiful menu, which is a work of art in itself. And then there’s the food!
Oh the food! Such a visual explosion of color and taste!
And do not forget to try one of the specially-themed cocktails,
travels to Tokyo expecting urban wonders. The technological growth, the
fashionable coffee shops, hot couture stores, skyscrapers reflecting the
sunlight, not to mention the exciting yet claustrophobic rhythm of life in one
of the largest cities in the world.
of manga is of course, all of this and more. Sprawled over almost 2,200 square
kilometres, Tokyo is the most populated metropolitan area in the
world, being much larger than New York City and having a population of over 38
million individuals. No wonder I was overwhelmed when I got there, especially
taking into account that I have lived my whole live in Malta, a small island in
the middle of the Mediterranean Sea whose area barely scrapes 320 kilometres
squared and which is the smallest country in the European Union.
Awed and excited, looking around me and craning my neck upwards trying to
take in all the bustle of life in such a gargantuan metropolis, I admit that I
almost felt like some country bumpkin visiting the city for the first time.
After some days, I became more accustomed to the flow of the thousands of
people moving purposely around me, the huge and efficient underground system,
the myriad of stores, shops, cafes, restaurants, skyscrapers, shrines and
markets. And yet, I admit I also felt somewhat crushed by it all. It was too
much. I needed to breathe. I needed to go somewhere where the crowd did not
swallow me. Where I did not feel vanquished and trodden down by the multitude
of hoards crashing around me like waves. Somewhere where I could actually hear
My oasis of green serenity was Meiji Jingu Shrine.
Found in Shibuya ward, the grounds of Meiji
Jingu Shrine can be accessed through two main entrances, both marked by a huge
welcoming Torii Gate. The North entrance
is very close to Yoyogi Station, while the South entrance is directly next to JR
Harajuku Station. As I walked beneath the Torii gate, the sounds and smells of
the busy city were quickly muffled and replaced by the scent of grass and the
shuffling of leaves crowding the huge green forest leading up to the shrine. Torii gates represent the passage from
the mundane to the spiritual, so when passing underneath one, remember to bow
in respect both when entering and leaving the shrine.
Dedicated to the deified spirits of Emperor Meiji and his consort Empress Shoken, Meiji Jingu Shrine, perhaps because of its central location, is one of Japan’s most popular Shinto shrines. More than 3 million individuals visit yearly, crowding the place particularly during hatsumode – the first few days of the New Year, when it is traditional for Japanese families to visit shrines in order to pray for good luck, longevity and new beginnings.
While walking along the main trail
leading from the entrance Torii gate to the main shrine, we saw a number of Shimenawa tied around some of the beautiful
massive cypress trees lining the path. A shimenawa
is a straw rope with white zigzag paper strips marking the boundary to something
sacred. They are often found hanging on torii gates or tied around sacred trees
Meiji Jingu is an Imperial shrine, meaning that it was directly funded and is administered by the government. Imperial shrines are often called ‘jingu’, which literally translates as ‘Shinto shrine’. Shinto is the original religion of Japan. This shrine’s construction was completed in 1920. Unfortunately, it was destroyed during the Tokyo raids of World War II, however it was quickly rebuilt. The present shrine was funded through a public fundraising effort and completed in 1958.
The first thing one encounters while walking towards the main area is a large and beautifully ornate purification trough. Such a trough is always found near the entrance to any Shinto shrine, in order for visitors to purify their bodies and spirits before entering. One is supposed to use the water to clean first one hand, then the other, as well as rinsing one’s mouth, before approaching the main shrine. Be sure not to drink the water. It should be used only for rinsing. Spit out any excess liquid in the appropriate grooves beneath the trough.
The shrine buildings are primarily
made out of Japanese cypress and copper plates for the roofs. The main hall or honden, and the offering hall or haiden, are two separate buildings
adjacent to each other. When we visited there was a private ceremony taking
place at the honden, so it was
cordoned off, however we could still make our offerings and pray for good
fortune at the haiden. To make an offering
at a Shinto shrine or temple – put some coins into the offering box, bow twice
from the waist, clap your hands twice, put your hands together and pray. Make a
wish for yourself and/or others. Bow once again. Out of respect, photos are
usually not permitted close to the main shrine buildings. Remember to be
respectful since this is an active place of worship.
The homotsuden or Treasure House of Meiji Shrine can be found at its northern end. Here one can admire a number of seasonal and permanent historic displays. Unfortunately, it was closed during our visit (end of June 2019) due to restructuring taking place in preparation of the Olympic Games 2020. A museum annex building to the east of the main shrine also displays a number of other exhibits. This one, fortunately, was accessible during my visit. The outer precinct of the shrine grounds also contain a memorial picture gallery, a national stadium, a martial arts hall, and a number of other sports facilities.
Visitors of Meiji Jingu Shrine can
purchase omomori (lucky
charms/amulets) and ema at the stalls
directly opposite the main hall. Ema
are small wooden plaques depicting either the crest of the shrine or the
specific year’s eto (zodiac). These
are usually inscribed with well wishes or prayers and tied to a sacred tree
near the main shrine. You can also keep them and take them home as a souvenir.
Some of them are quite beautiful!
A small tip – do not try to take photos of the priest or priestess manning the stalls – they will not be pleased.
Together with the adjacent Yoyogi Park, the evergreen forest making up Meiji Jingu’s grounds covers around 172 acres of Tokyo. Although the shrine itself was interesting and enriching to visit, I must admit that my favorite part of the grounds were definitely the Inner gardens. The landscaped trees, lakes and winding woodland paths were simply breath-taking. An idyllic retreat from the outside world. After paying the small fee of 500 yen, we found ourselves walking towards a quaint wooden tea-house built in the traditional Japanese style. We admired a display of giant bonsai trees, then continued down the narrow path surrounded by greenery. One of the highlights of the Inner garden is surely the Iris garden, which was in full bloom at the end of June. Glorious purple and white irises claimed the landscape, together with a number of small bridges arching over the South Pond, as we paused to sit and admire the nature around us from one of the wooden benches interspersing the garden.
The South Pond, a large clear body of water filled with turtles and large colorful koi fish, provided the perfect backdrop. Surrounded by magnificent Japanese maples amongst other trees and plants, we also strolled through the Azalea garden, as well as Nan-Chi Pond – a dream of loveliness filled with large floating white water-lilies.
Slowly, we made our way towards the
famous Liyamasa’s Well, which is situated at the mouth of the stream that runs
to the South Pond. This well is said to be a power spot and to give positive
and lucky energies to whoever visits it.
It was a real pleasure to linger in Meiji Jingu Shrine’s gardens, however we had other plans for the rest of the day, so we knew we could not spend it all there. This is why we had gone as soon as the shrine had opened, that is, at 9am, which is actually the best time to visit since there are less tourists and it is more quite and serene.
Each journey is an adventure. Each adventure is an inspiration.