Harajuku has one of my favorite foods in the world: cheesecake, ice cream, whipped cream, and fruit stuffed crepes wrapped into a cone. Normally I don’t like sweets, but there’s something about this sugar trap that leaves me craving it long after I leave Japan. After beelining it to Takeshita-Dori for my weakness, Miranda and I wandered through the brightly colored stores blasting JPop. We stopped in a Purikura to take some awkward pictures and of course visited a cat cafe. Tucked discreetly behind Harajuku, Meiji Shrine lies under a blanket of green. It’s a jarring experience going from the loud, flashing lights of Harajuku to the Meiji grounds. The temperature drops below the trees and large Toriis line the pathways. We didn’t have much time to explore though so we promise to come back.

Harajuku Cat Meiji Shrine

Still in Harajuku, we met with one of my cousins that I haven’t seen since I was 14 and she was 7. Juuna, my mom’s cousin’s daughter, wants to go to college in Los Angeles and is obviously serious about her English studies. Even though it’s been 10 years since we saw each other (and she doesn’t even remember that!), there’s a level of comfort I always feel with my family here. It doesn’t seem to matter how little I see them, or if we’ve never even met before, they’re always so nice and interested. I hope one day they will visit Los Angeles so I can return their hospitality. Afterwards, Miranda and I head to dinner for what feels like a 20 course meal of tempura with Uncle Mori and Aunt Keiko. Completely stuffed, Miranda fell asleep on the couch while I desparetly try to finish my homework.

By Saturday, the rain had finally stopped. We woke up early to cook my family an American breakfast as a thank you for their kindness. After a little bit of homework, we made our way to the Imperial Palace. The first time I visited Japan, I came with my college and spent my first two weeks traveling with them. I know I visited the imperial palace with them, but I was young and the time I spent with my school is a blur of temples, shrines, and tours.

Dinner with Family Pink Flowers on a Tree Imperal Palace Garden

A short walk from the station, the ancient grounds and architecture stands in stark contrast to the skyscrapers still visible from most of the garden. Most of Tokyo is like this, wide streets filled with technology, bustling with people and shopowners yelling about what you can buy at their store (I think), and the next street will be nothing more than an alleyway, quiet, with clothes hanging to dry on the balcony, the houses muted colors with curved roofs made of wood. The gardens are beautiful and Miranda and I mostly wandered and talked. Although we’ve seen each other every year since we were 14, this is our first time we’ve really travelled somewhere together. I’ve found that our lack of planning and “go with the flow” attitude has actually made us great travel companions. After the imperial palace, we spent some time wandering through Tokyo Station and then hit probably the only ramen place I’ll be able to eat at on this trip. The vegan and halal ramen shop in Shinjuku, called Ouka, employs mostly women and is overrun by foreigners. It had a bit of a wait, but it was well worth it.

Imperial Palace Swans Near Tokyo Station Vegan Ramen