It was looking bright outside my window and strangely quiet, but I suppose it was a Sunday morning.
At 9am my tour guide for the day, organised by Inside Japan Tours, met me at my hotel – Mr Makoto Hirata. We talked briefly about what I wanted to see and quickly set off for Ueno park – as I didn't see everything I wanted to the day before. We went via a different subway station so I saw some more of Asakusa area.
This was inside Ueno Station. The Japanese love their pandas and cherry blossom, even if they are both fake.
Mr Hirata was great, telling me a lot of historical background to the things that we saw and taking photos of me under cherry blossom and in iconic Tokyo locations. The two images below are of Ueno park before and after the civil war, during which a lot of the old buildings and land were burnt down. You can see how the first image looks typical of the samurai era whilst the second is more Westernised.
The man getting in the way in this photo was my tour guide!
We re-visited the Kiyomizu Kannondo temple, that I'd briefly seem myself the day before. Apparently it is a miniature of Kiyomizudera temple in Kyoto. I hadn’t known that it was based on a larger temple in Kyoto until Mr Hirata had told me, so already I was learning lots. It was also the temple featured in a famous Hiroshige print with the tree and its branch that curls into a ring.
We saw the shiny golden Toshogu Shrine and five-storied Pagoda which I hadn't found myself the previous day (although the pagoda is situated within the grounds of Ueno Zoo so we could only see it from behind a fence.
We went Kaneji Temple and cemetery, on the edge of the Ueno park grounds. This was my first time entering a temple – taking my shoes off of course. It was incredibly quiet.
This is the Tokugawa shognuate family crest.
Walking back to the main part of Ueno park there were lots of people gathered around watching a performing monkey. We watched for a little bit but it made me feel uncomfortable as in my eyes this was animal cruelty. Mr Hirata asked me afterwards if we have performers like that in England, I said we have street performers but not animal performers like that as it would be illegal – I also made it clear that I wasn't happy about the monkey being treated so.
Leaving the monkey behind, we walked across the Shinbazu pond – a lake, not a pond, but the Japanese like to call lots of bodies of water ‘pond’. We walked past Bentendo temple which was unusually octagon shaped, but there was a fair bit of scaffolding and fences around so it wasn't as picturesque as perhaps it could have been.
Next we went to Yushima Tenmangu shrine which is for the god of learning – it is the shrine students come to to make prayers before they have exams. They write their hopes and wishes on little wooden boards called ‘ema’, although I only learnt that name when I looked it up later on. Obviously, I remembered it due it being just one ‘m’ short of my own name.
These are ‘ema’.
We walked through a market and I tried some dried shrimp, dried small fish, wasabi coated something or other and a dried soya beans. I also bought dried nori strips which were tasty, and make for a good snack. I ended up carrying the bag around with me for much of the trip as it slowly deplenished.
We had lunch in a small restaurant close to the train station. I had udon soup and tempura vegetables. Mr Hirata said my chopstick skills weren’t bad and I did well to not make too much of a fool of myself! I’m afraid I didn’t photograph this meal as I thought it would be inappropriate.
Then we went down the road, on the Subway, to the so-called Electric City area and popped in a busy electronics store with 6 floors! I didn't buy anything but it was interesting to see. Mr Hirata showed me all the rice cookers and we sampled rice cooked by them. You were supposed to be able to tell the difference between rice cooked in the most expensive machine and the others… but I was clueless.
Back outside, we wandered around on the road because they close the roads on Sundays.
All of these people just seemed to be standing around in this area staring at Nintento DSs. I can only assume they were doing something through wifi together or it was just some kind of designated gaming area. Strange anyway, so I took a photo!
Mr Hirata asked me what I thought of all the advertising as a graphic designer. I said if it was in English in England I would probably dislike it but it's Tokyo so it works.
I liked this like leaf-hatted computer character – referencing Godzilla too! The Japanese can't get enough of cute characters, they are everywhere on everything whether it's deadly serious or comical.
We visited the Imperial Palace next or the gardens at least. Again I had another history lesson here but everything was fascinating to me. The land the palace is in is very large, surrounded by a moat and includes where the old Edo castle once stood.
Nice tree on the edge of where Edo castle once stood.
There was some more cherry blossom still in bloom and a lot of pine trees too – really interestingly shaped ones, like big bonsai trees. This is one of the better photographs of me from the day – Mr Hirata took some others that I'm not publishing here. There are no random people getting in the way of my personal tourist time here!
One of the remaining turrets. We couldn't go any closer as it was fenced off.
You can only go in the Imperial Palace itself twice a year – 2nd Jan, 23rd December. But I think the grounds were more interesting anyway.
This is apparently where all Japanese people must get their photographs taken – standing in front of the double bridges (there are two bridges that must be crossed to get to the Imperial Palace itself), but I'm not sure the second, further away, bridge is visile here.
Then we wandered on down to Ginza where I found pretty much the only Godzilla I saw in the whole of my time in Japan. I'm sorry Steve, but the Japanese just don't care about Godzilla anymore (he wanted me to bring one back).
We walked past a famous kabuki theature, Kabukiza. Kabuki is a Japanese style of dance/drama with elaborate make-up and costumes. Traditionally, male actors play both the male and female parts. Although there is a specific theatre in Japan where the tables are turned and only female actresses perform both roles. Hurrah for women!
The theatre even had its own shrine.
Ginza was lots of people and lots of tall buildings, much like Shibuya where we finished our tour. Below is the famous Shibuya crossing as viewed from the train station window above.
It is the busiest crossing in Tokyo and probably, therefore, in the whole of Japan. Shibuya is also home to a statue of a dog called Hachiko. Hachiko was a real dog who was incredibly loyal to his owner, even after the owner's death – read his story on wikipedia. He is the most famous dog in Japan and probably the world in general! I think my tour guide was particularly keen to show me Hachiko as he had a dog himself – he showed me a photo earlier in the day.
Mr Hirata left me there so, after our thank you and goodbyes, I made my way back to Asakusa. Asakusa was all the way from Shibuya, the beginning of the subway line, to the other end. 30 minutes to rest my feet, which felt like they were going to fall off after so much walking. But it had been a great day and I felt I had seen and learnt a lot.
At the hotel I got a can of coffee from the vending machine, just to try it – plus I hadn’t had any coffee throughout the day so I was in need. I thought it was the heat up kind but it was actually cold. Cold black coffee wasn't so bad though. I also had some delicious rice crackers, Pocky and the nori I had purchased earlier for a little snack feast.