Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Asakusa and Uneo-Koen, Tokyo

May 29, 2014

The jet lag did not really set in as I was up and ready to go at 7am. We bought breakfast at Family Mart (keifer, green tea waffles and Mt. Rainier Coffee). The first stop was Asakusa, which is the old part of Tokyo and one metro stop away from our hostel. This neighborhood is the only to have Rickshaw runners bounding up and down the streets in Tokyo. Asakusa is also a popular tourist destination for Japanese and we saw several school groups visiting the Senso-ji temple. The temple is accessed by walking through the Kaminarimon gate (thunder gate), which has two wooden statues of Fujin (wind god) and Raijin (thunder god) for protection. Walking towards the main temple, we peered down the narrow streets which would be considered an alleyway in the US. The roads are marks of another time, when people moved through neighborhoods on foot.

Machine making "omiyage" or souvenirs. I think these are an animal shape filled with red bean paste.  Stalls selling omiyage are almost as prevalent as vending machines in tourist areas and temples.

Kaminarimon gate with a group of school children. Sensoji is the oldest temple in Tokyo!

Said narrow streets.

5 story pagoda. 

My favorite tree, ginko! 

In front of the temple, we noticed locals grabbing a metal tube, shaking it then pouring out a stick, and picking a pamphlet from a set of numerous drawers. This turned out to be a fortune telling station! We followed the english directions were you would (1) concentrate on your wish while shaking the cylinder, (2) pouring out a chopstick length stick with characters on it, (3) matching to drawer, and (4) reading your fortune. After thinking warm fuzzy thoughts of exciting things in my life, I received the following fortune,

No. 28 BAD FORTUNE: Although you are in a hurry, there will be no boat to cross the river. If you dare to sail, the boat will be swallowed by high waves. You can't go ahead and should go back to your homeland. When you get home, you will not meet any crisis and your mind will be at peace.

hmm. This is the first day of my 2.5 month stay in Japan. oh well!

Getting a omikuji (written fortune)

We enjoyed the rest of the temple grounds, looking into smaller gardens honoring warriors, humanitarians and poets as well as shrines to good fortune. From here, we were going to the Uneo area. Our path ended up taking several hours and several wonderful bits of exploration. It's the journey, not the destination, right? First, we took a stroll along the Sumida-gawa (river) before finding our way to the top of the Asahi brewery's HQ building's Skybar. We enjoyed a scenic view, some beer, discussed the wonderful day we were already having and it was only 11:30am (Hey, it was night-time in CA). We figured out that we could walk to the Uneo area and find some lunch along the way. This walk was full of pointing out different, interesting things, trying to stay out of the way of bicyclists on "granny bikes," and finding things one can only see off the beaten path. 

Asahi headquarters. Easy to spot on the skyline due to artful golden glob.

Excellent find. 

Shops are arranged according to goods. We walked along a block where a family could purchase their own shrine they could adorn for their own fortunes. My favorite was the kitchen goods block. Kaitlin and I day-dreamed about stocking our kitchens with the smartly designed and aesthetically pleasing kitchen goods and dish ware. My favorite find on this stop were shops selling the wax models seen in glass cases in front of restaurants! We saw wax models of spaghetti, grouper fish, sushi/sashimi, desserts, noodles, tempura and frosty beer cans. Prices were high ($20 for a simple sashimi!) and we noted the possibility for establishing a black market for wax models if cash became too tight.
Kaitlin and wax food.

Teapot fun.

We made it to Ueno and found our way into the Ueno-koen. Our wanderings took us around a lake with swan shaped paddle boats, around the zoo (white pelicans!), up worn stairs, by the biggest gingko tree I had ever seen, a baseball game, and a flower show. The main attraction was the Tokyo National Museum which was full of important Japanese art and artifacts. I particularly enjoyed the archaeology portion of the museum which had artifacts from the Paelolithic to Edo periods. I did not realize, but was not surprised to learn that Japan has the oldest pottery in the world (10,000BC during the Jomon period). The exhibit did a great job of walking visitors through the different artifacts and pointing out the advances in each period of different articles from every day life including pottery, decorative pieces and armor.

Uneo Koen

Prize winning bonsai.

After the museum, we did a walking tour of the Yakana neighborhood detailed in the Lonely Planet Japan guidebook. Once we were on the route, we were wandering narrow alleyways between houses, admiring family shrines and listening to the quieting streets as the time rolled past the working hours. Most of the shrines were closed, but it was interesting to see the families heading home on bikes, and elderly Japanese men taking their evening walks. This walking tour ended close to the hostel so after some rest and showers, we ventured out for a meal.

When I had come into the train station, I noted a yakitori stand and suggested we head there. Yakitori is a street food of meat grilled on sticks over coals and coated with teriyaki sauce. Needless to say, the perfect food to end our busy day in Tokyo. My favorite was pork with grilled green onions.
Start to the Yakana walking tour.

Beautiful Himalayan cedar tree

Family shrines.

The wooden sticks are prayers written by a monk on behalf of the family and ancestors.

Walking back to the hostel, Tokyo Sky Tree in the Distance. Well organized streets.

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