Trip Start Nov 03, 2008
19Trip End Nov 16, 2008
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I'd like a temple and a coffee, please
My first stop, before I even had my morning coffee, was the Zojoji Temple. Why? Simply because I passed it on the way to the coffee shop. That's one of the great things about Tokyo; you can pass by a temple on the way to the subway. Anyway, this particular temple is dedicated to the patron saint of travelers, which seemed appropriate enough. There are also two trees in the garden outside the temple planted by US Presidents: One by Ulysses S. Grant in 1879, and one by George Bush (Sr.) in 1982.
Riding the rails
With only a few hours left on my wonderful, magical, all-access "like gold" JR (Japan Rail) pass, I was determined to maximize it. So I decided to ride the Yamamote line, which makes a loop around the centre of the city, all the way around, and jump off wherever looked interesting, getting to know Tokyo in the process.
A word about the trains in Tokyo: Yes, they are as crowded as you think. Yes, they are quite confusing, though not as bad as they originally seemed once I managed to get ahold of some English maps and a few pointers. There are three different companies running the trains in Tokyo - JR trains, metro subways, and Toei subways, and they require separate tickets and passes. The good news is, all the stops are announced in both Japanese and English, and giant illuminated screens announce the upcoming stops, the length of time to each stop, and even what side the doors will open. Oh, and each stop has its own music that plays when the doors are about to close, and some of the jingles are quite catchy. Once I got the hang of the system, Tokyo suddenly seemed a lot easier to navigate.
Cell phone? Camera? Washing machine?
My first stop was Akihabra, otherwise known as electronics town. Here, I found shop after shop and stall after stall of every single kind of electronic device, part or wholesale item you could imagine. There were items as small as replacement chips and circuit boards, and as large as washer/dryers and - even - Japanese-style toilets for export. If you have ever wanted a toilet with about a dozen buttons and a seat heater, that's where to go. Now you know, folks.
All this was interspersed with major retailers with the latest cameras, cell phones, computers and other unidentifiable devices that we'll probably get in North America in about five years.
I didn't buy any electronics, but it was fun to browse. There were also loads of duty free and souvenir shops in the area. Having arrived at my last stop, I figured it was finally time to buy some souvenirs, so I stocked up. Of course, in retrospect, it might have made sense to wait until the end of the day, or even until tomorrow, so I wouldn't have to carry my purchases around all day. It's all the same stuff everywhere, anyway. Oh well.
Next, I headed to Ueno, where I had lunch at another rotating sushi restaurant. Yep, it's still hypnotizing to watch the sushi go round and round. Ueno has a few streets where the shops aren't ultra-modern and it actually feels more like other cities in Japan than like Tokyo, which is cool.
After lunch I headed into Ueno Park, which felt like entering an oasis in the middle of the busy city. Sort of like Central Park in New York City, I suppose. But Ueno Park has much more than that, and I ended up spending a couple of hours there. For starters, there are about five major museums in the park, including the Arts Museum and the National Museum. I wasn't really in a museum-y mood, so I passed on going in, but I passed by the impressive buildings. For another, there are several important shrines in the park, including the Ueno Toshogu Shrine, which dates back to 1627. There's a 5-storey pagoda that's visible from the shrine. Also, the shrine contains a peace memorial and eternal flame to remember the victims of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
Next to the fountain outside the National Museum, there was a busker playing Hotel California on Japanese-sounding instruments. Another busker was a Japanese bagpiper, decked out in full Scottish regalia, including a kilt. Street artists and performers were everywhere, too. It was a nice day, and Ueno Park is obviously a popular place to hang out.
When the sun went down, I headed to Ikebukuro, one of the busiest retail and entertainment areas of Tokyo. The station is the second-busiest in the city, next to Shinjuku. Like Shibuya, the main streets of Ikebukuro look like Times Square, only busier. There were young people everywhere, playing video games, going to see movies, shopping and eating and just generally walking around. It's a bit overwhelming, actually.
Just for the heck of it, I headed back to Shibuya again for dinner, just to wring the last value out of my JR pass. If anything, it was even busier and more crowded tonight than last night. I spent a bit of time walking around, just amazed by the volume of fashionably-dressed people who could walk by one spot in the course of a few minutes.
And, since it was Friday night, I had chicken and chicken soup for dinner. That is, chicken broth with udon noodles, and Japanese-style fried chicken. Don't worry, Mom, it was good, but yours is still better.
Ninjas and pod beds
A quick word about the hostel I'm staying at in Tokyo, just because it's so unique. For starters, it has a ninja theme, with pictures and cartoons all over the walls and staircases. You may have noticed from the updates that it also has internet, so I'm finally all caught up on my blogging. But what's truly different about this hostel are the pod-style beds. They call them cabin beds, and that's essentially what they are; each bed is a sort of stacked cubby with a sliding door to close for privacy. On the one hand, it's a bit claustrophobic, sort of like sleeping in a shelf. On the other hand, it's great for privacy. It's definitely very Japanese!
Up next: Last day in Tokyo.