Today was my last day of solo sightseeing in Tokyo. My body desperately needed a break from the go-go-go of the past week, but I just couldn’t sit around in the hotel with my feet up on a pillow when there was a whole new city out there waiting for me. So I plastered them in Band-Aid blister blockers and set off for another day of sightseeing.
I’m kind of amazed at how much I was able to accomplish in a day. I dunno if it was the metro helping me out or that I only gave each attraction a cursory look, but I seemed to hit at least three major sights each day. Oh, also – the late hours helped! Although many places don’t open til 10 or 11am, they stay open til 8, even on a Sunday.
So on this Sunday, I set off for the Fukagawa Edo Museum in Ryogoku because the Rough Guide said it housed a faithful re-creation of an pre-modern street, with buildings you can walk through and sound effects and even changing ambient light. This was my first time exploring a slightly more suburban area of the city, and it looked like this:
However, when I got to the museum, it looked like this!
One problem with the major guidebooks is they only get updated every 2 years, and Rough Guide missed out on the fact that this museum has been closed since July 2009 and won’t reopen til July 2010—d’oh!
But, since it’s easy enough to hop back on the subway, I headed for Ueno instead, where the Shitamachi Museum offers a similar experience—reconstructed homes and businesses—but this one focused on the common people of the lower wards of Tokyo starting from about the Taishō period (1912–1926) and on.
Ueno station is HUGE, and Ueno Park (where the museum is located) is even HUGER, so it took me a bit to figure out which subway stop and which exit would get me closest to the museum. My Pimsleur Japanese language program spent an entire unit on learning to say “Where is Ueno Park?” and “Where is Ueno Station?” so I was very excited to get to see these in person! Unfortunately, I did such a good job of figuring things out, I never got to practice saying either phrase.
Along the way I spotted…
I figured I couldn’t pass up a chain called “Sweets Paradise,” so I got one of the chocolate cream-filled thingies in the middle of the top shelf.
It was OK but, as I’ve mentioned, not as sweet as my American palate is used to.
When I got to Ueno Park, I spotted the first of many feral cats we’d see in Tokyo’s parks on our trip. I am a sucker for kitties, so like a big goofball I followed it around trying to take its picture.
The museum is in the southwestern corner of the park on the edge of Shinobazu Pond, which looked more like a lake to me! It’s saltwater left from when the sea receded. It was all brown and marshy in March, but I hear it’s covered with lotus blossoms in the summer.
Admission is ¥300 for adults. Inside the door they had a KidCot station…
When I walked in, one of the docents heard me butchering Japanese and introduced herself as someone who spoke English. Then she proceeded to lead me on a private tour of the entire museum! It was wonderful – I got so much more out of the exhibits with the background she provided. Unfortunately, I was taking photos, not notes, so my descriptions are going to be kinda sketchy.
What I loved about this museum is that you are encouraged to go inside the exhibits and poke around. There are things in all the drawers and behind the doors. You just have to take your shoes off before entering each exhibit. The bottom floor is devoted to daily life in downtown spaces like shops and tenements. All the artifacts were donated by the public, so the things you see were actually in use at one time.
This is a re-creation of a the house of a merchant who made and sold geta (wooden clogs).
Out front are a rickshaw and handcart from the old Edo period.
My guide very gamely posed for pictures as I snapped away.
I think she said this was a religious decoration that got added to over each year until it became huge!
The other side of the first floor contains a replica of a tenement—one building that housed multiple families and their businesses.
The story is that this part of the building was occupied by a mother and daughter who ran a sweet shop.
My guide was so dear to explain and demonstrate everything for me!
You get to pull out a fortune here. In keeping with the Japanese tradition of borrowing things from the Chinese and improving upon them, my fortune was so long that it would require a fortune cookie the size of a basketball.
No. 18 Good Fortune
You are just like a person which is going to up grade its clothes from hemp to silk. With the lapse of time, you will gradually be getting on the right direction of your life. It’s just the time now for you to make best effort. Never miss the chance.
There are many happy events with you. You will be much happier afterward.
You will win a lawsuit.
Sooner the better, for having marriage proposal.
Lost articles can be found. If not, you can get others as substitute.
It’s good for moving and building house.
The person you wait for will come. It will bring happy message to you.
It’s good both for selling and buying things. Good also for asking or giving advice.
Merchant, other jobs related to money will suit you.
You need to keep in mind that, this oracle has a form of “It’s bad if it’s old, it’s good if it’s new.”
Whew! It definitely makes me feel better to hear that lost articles can be found and if not, I can get others as a substitute!
Moving on, we came to the toilet. Of course I had to take a picture of the toilet!
I thought this was really interesting—this was the trash container for the entire building, and it was only emptied once a month! Talk about “reuse, reduce, recycle”!
Upstairs are more traditional exhibits of artifacts in glass cases, but there is also a table full of antique toys to play with and a few more re-constructed buildings.
Pachinko, which is sort of like pinball without the flippers, is still a very popular pastime in Japan.
This was neat—it’s the entrance to a local public bath, which was donated by the owner. You can walk through the door and everything—I know this, because I walked back and forth through the door multiple times, to the amusement of fellow museum-goers.
You can even look inside these boxes. Well, you can’t because I forgot to take a picture!
This tiny diorama was my favorite thing in the whole museum. It was placed near the souvenir stand, so like a big, ugly American I asked if it were for sale. Um, no. Whoops!
And this is a poster depicting adorable animals.
After I left the Shitamachi Museum, I set out to explore Ueno Park, starting with the pond and on to the Benten-do temple, then up the hill to the broad avenue lined with cherry trees that would be blooming the next weekend. And that’s only about a third of it—the park also houses the Tokyo National Museum, The National Science Museum and The National Museum of Western Art, plus a concert hall and the Ueno Zoo!
The pond is ringed with pop-up restaurants, complete with counters and seats!
It’s also home to a permanent colony of wild black cormorants and one of the largest bird sanctuaries in Tokyo.
I love the contrasts in this city!
The Benten-do temple is on a man-made island, and the causeway that leads to it was lined with food vendors. I’m not sure if it was because of cherry blossom season or if they’re always there.
Later I got to see how the waffles are mass produced, and it’s positively Rube Goldbergian!
Benten-do is dedicated to Benten (a.k.a. Benzaiten) who is the goddess of the arts, knowledge and wisdom. These days people come here to pray for help with exams and money.
Temples and shrines usually have a well out front where you’re supposed to wash your hands before entering.
And sometimes there’s an incense burner. You light it and stick it in the burner, then fan some of the smoke toward yourself for its healing power.
You can’t go very far inside.
People stand just at the entrance, bow a few times and pray.
As I turned around and headed back up the causeway, I decided to try something from one of the food stalls.
I settled on something that’s kinda like home-made potato chips – they spiral-slice a potato and thread it on a skewer, then fry it and give it to you to roll in one of four seasonings (BBQ, garlic, soy, and …something else!) It was pretty good, but salty as all get-out.
The pond area of Ueno park is separated from the rest of the park by a street and a hill. If you go up the hill, there are even more temples and/or shrines.
These torii lead to the Gojo and Hanazono fox shrines.
I didn’t take any pictures of the foxes, but don’t you worry. Patrick got a bazillion when we went back later in the trip, and I will be sure to bore you with all of them!
Continuing on, I found the famous broad avenue lined with cherry trees that you see in all the pictures of cherry blossom viewing at Ueno Park. Consider these the “before” pictures—the blossoms had not quite peaked at that point, but we went back a week later and got to see them in all their glory.
Not only is Ueno park lousy with shrines, it’s even got Shriners!
Oh wait, OK, Lions Club…
Just outside Ueno Zoo is a delightfully tacky kiddee carnival with plenty of Disney allusions (or possibly DElusions!)
Eventually I got to the gate of Ueno Zoo, and since admission was only ¥600, I decided I’d take a pass through. Normally I’d want to do a zoo from opening til closing, but I’d read that this one was kinda old-fashioned and depressing, plus it was s’posed to be wall-to-wall people on weekends. So I decided to just check out certain animals.
When I was almost to the front of the huge line, I momentarily panicked when I discovered there weren’t real people up there selling tickets—it was just vending machines, and they didn’t have much English on them. However, I just watched the woman in line in front of me and did what she did.
The place was plastered in signs warning patrons that there are no longer any Giant Pandas in the zoo and explanations that Ling-Ling died in 2008. I guess they get a LOT of disappointed patrons!
First, I got a locker, which I am happy to report only cost ¥100, and you get to keep the key so you only pay once. So there, Disney!
My absolute favorite animal is the red panda, so I made a beeline for that cage. But I only got to see about 30 seconds of him before he went backstage for a smoke break, never to be seen again for the rest of the day. They should also post signs saying “There are basically no red pandas in Ueno Park Zoo either”!
Instead, I give you the stuffed version of a red panda.
Also inside the zoo is the Kan’eiji Pagoda (the Rough Guide describes it as “marooned” there), which was part of a temple built in 1639 by the Tokugawa Shogunate to protect the Edo Castle against evil spirits. Only the pagoda and the shrine’s bell survived the Battle of Ueno in 1868.
Another incongruous structure marooned inside the zoo is this Thai pavilion. I suspect it was originally a ploy by Kodak to sell more film at the zoo.
OK, so elephants weren’t at the top of my strategic list, but they had gathered a big crowd because they were stamping and trumpeting, so….
An exotic American prairie dog exhibit!
I hope they gave them suitably American names, like…
When I got to the first souvenir stand, I knew I was going to have to limit myself to just one stuffed animal or we’d blow our airline luggage allowance before we even got to Disney!
And then I spotted it—a real, live capybara! And it looked NOTHING like its stuffed counterpart! First of all, the thing is HUGE! And second of all, it’s kinda grouchy-looking!
Stuffed Capybara in a Donut
Real Capybara in a Donut
Next I stood in a really long line to ride a tram from the upper portion of the zoo to the lower portion (it’s built on a hill, kinda like Universal Studios in California). The line was about three times as long as it would have taken me to just walk down there, but I wanted to take blurry pictures from the tram.
My favorite area on this side was the small mammal house, but it was sure hard to get pictures inside. This sign says “This way to the adorable critters. Caution: Cuteness may cause eyeball explosion!
For some reason, mixed in with all the cute little rodents they had these large bobcat-lookin’ things called Palla’s Cats. Maybe it was to constantly remind the rodents of their mortality…
They also had a curious display of animal doots!
Peering through the fence, I could see people on one of Ueno Park’s other ponds having fun in swan boats instead of being trapped in a zoo full of adorable animals…
And then there was the aye-aye. First, let us observe the stuffed animal version of an aye-aye:
And a photo of the real thing:
Fortunately, they only had photos of the aye-aye—probably because you cannot even look up on a real one without turning to stone.
They also had a children’s zoo-within-a-zoo that specifically advertised the petting of six different kinds of animals.
However, after I ran inside squealing with delight, I discovered you could really only pet a few goats and sheep, and maybe hoist a chicken. Boo!
These little girls obligingly offered their chickens for a photo op.
Here’s a list of all the animals you’re not going to get to see…
Oh wait—I think he’s off taping a Japanese game show…
On my way out of the zoo, I had to purchase the requisite stuffed animal. Why can’t they make a stuffed animal of a red panda – which is naturally one of the cutest creatures on earth – that doesn’t look like a deformed raccoon? Instead, I hadda get one of an animal I’m not even that into, just cuz it was the cutest plush they had.
I give you… the Fennec Fox
After I got out of the zoo, it was only 3:30ish, so I hopped a train for Yanaka Ginza, a more traditional shopping street with mom ‘n’ pop businesses rather than the chains I’d been seeing everyplace. What surprised me was how bustling and well designed the train station out there was—I was expecting it to be a backwater, but they had a very chic food hall where I got more meat on skewers for a snack (did I mention my breakfast was meat on a skewer?).
Yanaka Ginza was fun—there were some neat old shops mixed in with hip new ones and tiny restaurants.
When you go in this tea shop, they offer you a free cup of tea!
I’m embarrassed to admit my favorite shop was Japan’s version of our 99-cents Only stores, The ¥100 Shop. There was SO much cute cheap stuff to not buy because I didn’t want to tote it home!
The hardest to resist were the random pet products with adorable little kitties and doggies on them.
What I did buy, once I got back on the street, were a couple of these long donut stick things that come in different flavors and some dipped in chocolate. I liked that they were warm, but, again, they didn’t taste like much to my American taste buds.
Back to the train station…
I saw this ad in so many train stations and always did a doubletake at the “MUFG,” which looks remarkably like another abbreviation that involves an M, an F, and a G….
I was still kinda interested in staying out, so I stopped off at Shibuya station for a brief look around on my way home, but before I had a chance to take any pictures, I decided my feet needed a rest.
So what did I do when I got back to the hotel? Hoofed it all over the neighborhood looking for an affordable dinner. I finally ended up in a traditional Japanese tempura place that I forgot to take a picture of but made Patrick shoot the next day:
I forgot about the smoking until after I was seated—the air was practically tactile in there, but I didn’t want to make a fuss or be rude and leave, so I stuck it out. They had an English menu but I still ended up getting something that was not what I expected. The bowl of soba noodles was warm instead of cold, but who cares—it was delicious! And the tempura turned out to be a pile of minced and battered shrimp and vegetables all fried together. It was pretty good. I was embarrassed when they brought me a fork halfway through my meal. I guess I shouldn’t have been winding my noodles ’round my chopsticks like yarn…
After dinner I went back to the room by way of 7-Eleven, where I picked up a fresh assortment of Japanese candy to try.
I turned on the TV for the first time and look what was on!
I watched til my favorite scene…
…and then conked out! I think Patrick didn’t get home til after midnight, cuz he was doing this: