Asakusa. Ueno. Harajuku. And a lot of walking to cover this ground.
04.04.2013 21 °C
This morning we had breakfast in a dimly lit cellar-like restaurant. Yes, surrounded by expensive wines from around the world. Not the best selection of food, but it filled a gap. It's not often that doughnut holes and salad are found on the same table in the morning.... Still there was toast, hard boiled egg and Japanese tea so that was ok. And eating to the dulcet tones of Spandau Ballet, Culture Club and Kate Bush's Wuthering Heights is not too bad a start to the day is it? We were given breakfast vouchers for 3 mornings but I think that we won't return tomorrow and we didn't eat there yesterday either.
The ceilings in this hotel are rather nice. If I stand on tiptoe, I can touch them. I can get a sense of tall
Today began like yesterday. Setting off for Ikebukuro station, only this time, NO RAIN! Sunshine instead. I was too warm and needed my sunnies. So hard to get it right sometimes. The subterranean rush was alive and well. We took the train, now like real pros, to the Asakusa area which is north of Tokyo centre. Here is the Senso-ji Temple and about half the population of a large country town. As is usual for these places, there was a lot of incense burning, bell ringing, lanterns, veneration and bowing. Unlike these places, the approach was lined with Royal Show style food stalls serving interesting snacks and mementoes. We bought and ate freshly made rice crackers, made in front of us! We did the fortune telling thing where you "politely" shake a tin of sticks while making a wish or prayer, until a random stick pops out. The number on the stick corresponds to the drawer number you must open to have your fortune revealed. Mine was bad fortune which was rather distressing, considering the purpose of I'd wished for, however Paul's exactly negated mine. We wished for the same thing. To leave my bad luck at the temple, I followed instruction, and tied it to a wire thingy. Later on, they burn all the bad luck. The one thing that Paul's fortune didn't negate for me, was that it was a bad time for travelling and I need to be careful. Gulp!
The temple site originated in 628, but nothing very original remains. I am never impressed by tourist attractions, they are overrun by too many people. During the day, Paul and I found several smaller temples that the locals visit. Much better. And no chocolate covered bananas on a stick being sold outside.
Random things to report. At intersections, when it is safe to cross, a recording of a tweeting bird is heard. This same bird was also heard in the deepest levels of one subway station today. There is no litter and very few rubbish bins. The ambulance sirens are almost apologetic in their pitch and volume. People of all ages cycle and some go like the clappers. On trains, many people do not hold on to anything. They balance well, a handy talent in the event of tremors I would imagine. To rent a teeny tiny 2-3 room unit in northern inner Tokyo it costs ¥140,000 per month.
We walked up to Ueno Park (a long way!) we passed a very inviting crockery shop. Beautiful and so cheap for cups, bowls, platters, but not able to cart them around all day, so had to resist. We saw the teacup building! Followers of Pinterest might recognise it. So I was very chuffed to see that.
On one side of this long road to the park, was a lengthy representation of what would be the equivalent of coffin shops. Shops selling shrines to honour late loved ones at home, complete with special other ceremonial adornments like receptacles and vases. Very intricate carving and woodwork involved here. It seemed like most of the salesmen standing at the door were old enough to be interred themselves.
Ueno park is the city's big green space, like Central Park, Hyde park, kings park or Phoenix park. It is replete with cherry blossom and other trees, a shrine, swan shaped paddle boats on the lake, turtles, fish, swans, picnicking families, old people exercising and playing croquet, extensive recycling bins, more food stalls and a view. Not forgetting to mention a grotto.
Ueno was a freak out for me. I was in my own google search. Why? In 2011 the holiday we'd planned to Japan would have started here and I had googled the area so as not to get lost and to readily locate the hotel. We walked past all those landmarks today, including the actual hotel. I had a massive sense of deja-vu.
By now, feet are getting tired, so we took an order land train to Harajuku. This district is known for the Lolitas and other weird Japanese fashion of the youth. We didn't see very many but they were there.... Takeshita St is not for the faint hearted. We were faint hearted, no not true, we couldn't be bothered actually. It was like a sea of black headed insects bobbing down a narrow, very narrow alley, unable to see much on either side (let's imagine a mosh pit) only to emerge at the other end..... Google some images and you might see what I mean. Sitting at the intersection of 2 main roads was good for people watching and furtive photo opportunities. In Harajuku we had a couple of WTHell moments. It is considered normal for boy or girl pop bands to advertise their latest record by having a truck drive around the streets blasting out their sickly sweet pop tunes. The side of these trucks feature larger than life posters of said girl or boy band.... There was also viewed today, a truck/float arcade style ride thing that totally defies description. I shall try to upload a a photo. There is simply no other way. Then you too, can share the WTHell moment.
After Harajuku and all the excitement we returned to our base in the now, ordinary Ikebukuro district to pick up some dinner to eat in the room while repacking and getting ready for a change of base and pace tomorrow.
We've walked about 22-24 km in two days. Sore hamstrings from steps....