Japan: Day 5 Tokyo Fukagawa, Aoyama, Harajuku and Shinjuku

My boys have been in love with ASIMO, the world’s most advanced humanoid robot, since they saw a Youtube video of him falling down the stairs.  (It’s hilarious and well worth a watch.  Google it.)  And of course as one enters the I ❤ Robots phase, we can’t help be a little crazy about him too.  So today’s must do was a front row seat for his daily show at the Honda Welcome Plaza.

ASIMO the super-star.
ASIMO the super-star.

But before we went crazy robot style, there there were other things to tick off our list.  We thought we’d start with a Buddhist temple Fukagawa Fudo, recommended by Lonely Planet for its drum and fire rituals as well as 9500 crystal Buddha statues to be found inside. Although we were far too early for the sound and light ceremony, the prayer corridors certainly made up for it.  In a new annex to the temple, a dark maze of corridors are completely lined with identical miniature Buddha statues all individually lit by LED lights.  It was very cool in a traditional but high-tech way, but unfortunately for our photographers’ instincts, we weren’t allowed to take any shots.

Next to the temple was a baseball pitch where children were participating in their Sunday morning sport.  Kids no bigger than your hip were belting baseballs around the place and throwing them with surprising force and accuracy.  Thomas was enthralled and keen to give it a go back here in Australia but I think we better first start with tee-ball.

We couldn’t hang around though – ASIMO was calling.  Like the super-star he is, he has his own show at both the National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation as well as the Honda Welcome Plaza, Honda’s showcase building.  We decided to see him at Honda which was a good move as the place was relatively quiet and we did indeed get front row seats.

The half hour presentation started with Honda showcasing its rival to the Segway, a weird looking personal mobility device which you use while sitting, called a UNI-CUB.

Personal mobility device.
Personal mobility device.

According to Honda it features “balance control technology and an omni-directional driving wheel system … These technologies allow a UNI-CUB rider to move forward, backward, side-to-side and diagonally simply by shifting body weight and leaning toward the intended direction.”  It was fascinating to watch the Japanese spokesperson/model use it effortlessly without the slightest hint of body movement (see video http://youtu.be/TVXyNad8twg) when I’m sure a novice like me would be careening into certain peril.

And then without further ado, ASIMO took the stage.  His presentation went for about 10 minutes and the kids sat captivated the whole time.  Although he didn’t showcase all his moves, he did jump, hop, dance, run (which was rather amusing, see http://youtu.be/VXtbl9HImR8) and use sign language.  The icing on the cake was that you could have your photo taken with him at the end. (Thomas was a little scared but we coaxed him through.)  Both the entry to Honda as well as the photo opportunity were completely free.

He's not really that scary.
He’s not really that scary.

ASIMO usually does two or three performances a day but on this day Honda-McLaren (or McLaren-Honda I’m sure someone will correct me) were also launching their 2015 F1 racing calendar and new MP4-30 Formula 1 car.  When we arrived we were offered a number to queue for the launch and meet Jenson Button and Fernando Alonso, but not being racing enthusiasts, we declined.  The boys did get their photo next to the new piece of machinery but again, we didn’t really know what a big deal it was in the racing world until I started researching it now.

The championship winning car?
The championship winning car?

On the pavement outside the building, there were also a number of F1 cars on display and Thomas got to sit in one for a photoshoot.

Just the right size for a pre-schooler.
Just the right size for a pre-schooler.

Lunch was a weirdly sticky sushi roll – think spider-web sticky with the consistency of warm toffee but a peanut butter brown fish.  It was the one time in Japan that I was pleased my pregnancy meant I couldn’t eat raw fish.  Stephen assures me it tasted alright despite its bizarre consistency.

After this, we took a walk through a cemetery noted for its cherry blossoms.  Once again, a resting place for the dead probably isn’t high on everyone’s travel itinerary, especially with kids, but there were things of interest here to stimulate the boys.  Although the cherry blossoms here weren’t really out, we did point out the small letter boxes at salarymen’s graves, where relatives post letters/wishes to the deceased in the hope that they will be answered in the afterlife.  Finding the letterboxes became an all-encompassing mission for Thomas and kept him entertained.

Not your typical letterbox.
Not your typical letterbox.

Mid afternoon found us in the centre of fashion crazy-town, Harajuku.  We’ve been here a few times before and previously there have always been a die-hard group of Harajuku stylers on the bridge leading to Meijijingu temple.  None today though, although we did see a few dotted through the streets later on.  I questioned Thomas on what he thought after seeing a pair of girls adorned head to toe in small plastic ‘kawaii’ flotsom and he didn’t seem to notice anything amiss.  Perhaps we’re doing this parenting thing right.

Harajuku was the happening place that Sunday.

The place to be on a Sunday afternoon.
The place to be on a Sunday afternoon.

Not only was Takeshita Dori (the famous shopping street) heaving but the main road was closed for a St. Patrick’s Day parade.  The spectacle of watching hundreds of Japanese dressed in emerald green leprechaun hats dance down the street was one not to be missed.

Finally we headed home via Shinjuku station – the busiest train station in the world.  3.64 million people use it every day to be precise.  (Perhaps a little fewer on a Sunday.)  At the South Terrace there is an overpass where those train spotters amongst us (and I’m afraid I am way outnumbered on that count) can watch in delight as train after train after train pass through the station.  All three of my boys could have stayed here until they fell asleep.

Trainspotters' paradise.
Trainspotters’ paradise.
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