Day 12 – Asakusa, Ueno, Akiba, and I go to Prison

It appears that the Japanese have the same problem with the weather forecasters that we in the states do; they are rarely right.  In this case I am happy for it.  The weather was gorgeous as I visited Asakusa, Ueno, and Akiba.

Asakusa is a small district located near Ueno in Tokyo’s downtown Taito district.  It is famous for its temples and historic artifacts.  Perhaps the most famous is Sensooji and P4120002its variety of gates leading up the temple. The biggest of these is Kaminarimon (thunder gate).  Guraded by the gods Fujin (Wind God) and Raijin (thunder god).  Beyond this gate sat the Nakmise shopping arcade.

I found a couple nice souveneirs touring the street.  Like most of the tourist areas in Japan it was heavily crowded, mainly because you are dealing with Japanese tourists, Westerners, and school groups at such historic sites.  In particular here, live prayer ceremonies were being conducted with a monk on hand.

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The structure in this picture is Hoozoomon, which is another gate marking the end of the processional road leading to a Japanese temple.  It is this processional road which comprises the afore mentioned Nakamise shopping arcade.

Unfortunately, the main temple is currently in the process of being restored on the outside, so all we say was the curtain. However, the building was open.

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As I walked back into the courtyard area I was greeted by a standard five story pagoda.  This would normally not impress given as many as them I have seen, but remember, I am in one of the worlds largest and most compact metropolises.  P4120010 The fact that the Japanese are willing to allow this land to remain as it has for centuries gives you an idea of how important their culture and history are to them.

And its not just this one temple either, this is an entire grounds that is just plopped into the middle of this huge metropolis, so occasionally you will get a shot of a temple with a lot of buildings behind it.  I love those sort of shots, because it really gives a sense of the mixture of old and new found not just in Tokyo, but all over Japan.

Following my stop in Asakusa I traveled over to Ueno, which is also located in the Taito district and serves as the main Tokyo station for servicing the northern areas of the island (I traveled through here when I went to Mito).  This being the case the JR Station here is HUGE and features the Hard Rock Cafe that I had the chance to eat at last week.

However, I learned that Ueno is also famous for being the location for the final stand of the Shogunate warriors before the Meiji government came to power.  You see, originally Tokyo was known as Edo and the capital of Japan was set in Kyoto.  P4120036 After 1400 years (or so) of rule by the Shogunate Japan revolted (if I remember correctly, the revolution was spurred heavily by the arrival of Matthew Perry from the US).  Shogunate warriors in Edo fought to the last and died on this hill (picture).

The hill is a part of Ueno park which is a popular spot for hanami parties (cherry blossom watching).  Unfortunately, sakura only bloom for a short time and so by now much of it has disappeared. I kind of look at it like my trip to Japan, which bloomed beautifully at the start but, like all good things, must come to an end.

Around the park there are many monuments dedicated to the Shogunate era and its people.  This again underlines the value of history to the Japanese.  Though they may have disliked the Shogunate toward the end, they understand and respect that this was a part of their history.

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Perhaps most famous of these is a statue of Saigoo Takamori (picture).  He is very famous for leading the P4120034Satsuman Rebellion against the Meiji government.  His story is one which may be known to many Americans as it was the basis for The Last Samurai.  But you would never guess it by looking at this picture as it appears to be just a man walking his dog.

I followed this by going to a museum which talked about the way Japanese life has changed throughout the years.  In particular, we talked about how Tokyo changed after the great Kanto earthquake in the 1920s and the destruction of Tokyo following World War II.  It is interesting how, even back then, the Japanese understood the decisions that had to be made to survive on such a small island compared to their population.

Before leaving the park I stopped by the Ueno zoo and got some shots of the animals, some of which are American, like Prarie dogs, but most from China and India.  This zoo does not have a panda as you might expect, but you get told that up front.  It was a nice spot to walk around and relax.

The final stop on my journey was a final trip to Akihabara for shopping.  As I have stated before, P4130073 Akiba (as its known by the locals) is greek heaven in every sense.  From computers, video games, anime, food, everything a geek wants is here.

The thing is that you have to be very careful with what buy and remember that DVDs tend to be region coded, so know your region before purchasing anything.  For me, its kind of depressing here.  I didnt pack with bringing back large things in mind as I needed to be light and swift given how much movement I was going to see during my trip.  So price is really not an issue for me, its a logistical thing.  Also, I cant really buy things like books because, well, I cant read Japanese well enough to enjoy them.  See, despite being a huge attraction to western tourists, its hard to find English material here so most of the things are going to be relatively useful unless you speak/read Japanese.  But it is still fun to look around.  The Japanese are nuts about technology, more then any ten Americans I know.

My first stop in Akiba was the Tokyo Anime Center.  My desire was to buy a small model of either a Macross VF fighter or a Gundam from the UC Gundam series.  Unfortunately, the models are build with detail in mind and so tend to be large.  And again, I have huge space issues as I prepare to head back so, in the end, I just ended up looking around.

In the end, I ended up purchasing a digital picture frame and after walk up and down a couple stores with nine different levels.  Like I said, the Japanese are nuts about technology and their electronic stores will destroy any store in the US, this is especially true of the stores in Akiba.

At this point, it was clear that I had reaggrevated the two blisters on the right foot and was beginning to develop a limp.  I quickly headed for the Yamanote line and returned back to my hostel in ShinjukuP4120001

My friend Megumi, who is currently teaching Japanese in China, introduced me to her friend Maminoto, who lives near Tokyo (it was Mami who introduced me to Mari).  We had decided to check out a resteraunt called “The Lockup”, a prison themed restaurantP4130077 not far from Shinjuku station.  This is one of those, only in Japan type things.

So yes, I got handcuffed by the hostess and led to a prison cell aka our table.  It was a really good time, they did all sorts of things to try to scare us, though it was really weak.  However, I found out that Japanese girls scare very easily.  At one point, a person dressed as an axe murder popped through the door trying to scare us.  Mami jumped back in terror, I asked him for some more beer.

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After this, my limp had become very noticeable and we still had the massive task of trying to find my backpack in the correct coin locker.  I didnt want to take it with me to the restaurant and Japan stations tend to have pay-for coin lockers you can put stuff in.

The other thing to understand is that unlike New York, Tokyo and its transportation do shut down.  I can remember times in New York, if you wanted to catch a train at 4am you could; not in Tokyo.  At around 1130 everything shuts down for the night and there are no more trains.  My theory is this keeps kids from staying out late and has them focus on school, maybe.

However, if you are out having a good time with friends, this can suck major balls.  The answer is, of course, stay in an area with places near you so you can walk as the bars and clubs stay open much later then the trains, this is mysterious to me.  Either way, after some walking, painfully, I managed to catch the second to last train.  Up tomorrow, is Yokohama.  I want to go to Cosmoworld, but I need to find some Dramamine first.

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