Random thoughts of a Brit living in the Imperial Valley of California

Ueno and Shinjuku Districts

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Sunday in Tokyo, maybe the last day to go exploring at our leisure. Over breakfast we all have different ideas so I wil be out on my own today. After consulting the guides I hit on a plan – the Tenmangu Shrine and Ameyoko market in Ueno district, followed by Toko Central rail station to see a bullet train, across to the Imperial Palace, and then to Shinjuku to see the mix of trendy shopping area and sleazy backstreets.

One of the difficulties when out and about is route finding. Getting to the right subway stop is easy but once out on the streets it is often difficult to find which direction to go. Although I have a map, the road signs are in Japanese and in a big city with lots of small streets, getting my bearing is tough. And so it was with the shrine. I could not work out which way to go so headed for Ueno Park which I could see nearby with the idea I would figure it out from there. After some walking around I gave up and decided to visit the park instead. There are several other shrines in the park, as well as some major museums. It felt very much like Central Park in NYC, an oasis of calm in an otherwise frenzied city. The park was busy with (Japanese) tourists and after a while I set off for Ameyoko.

Ameyoko is part-outdoor market and part-small shops hidden in lots of small side streets. Everything from fruit to foodstuff I could not identify, and leather jackets to vibrators available for purchase. It was a neat area. As I walked around I found a street guide and decided I would again try to find the shrine. This time I got lucky and found it (it was situated round a corner that did not seem like it would have an historic shrine on it). The temple is impressively built, made entirely of Japanese cypress, and was built in 458. I have to admit that it does look a lot like the other shrines I’ve seen but they had some impressive topiary for sale and many worshippers in traditional costume wandering about.

I had hoped to go on the bullet train but that required prior planning that I hadn’t done so instead I decided I would at least go see one. I had expected a grand rail station but the part you could get to without a ticket was unimpressive. The fact that you couldn’t get anywhere without a ticket meant I didn’t get to see any trains at all. Next stop, please.

Back to the subway and on to Shinjuku (er, wasn’t the plan to go to the Imperial Palace next? Oops, forgot!). My guidebook says that Shinjuku shows Tokyo at its best and worst – high tech shopping alongside mafia-run soaplands. I wandered around the area, up and down the side streets. Each street had businesses that appeared to be sexual in nature but it is tough to know for sure on all of them – a slot machine arcade had a picture of a girl in a bikini smiling on the door. Its clear that foreigners are not welcome in these establishments, though I did have one guy try to stop me and ask if I wanted a “nudie show”.

I had been impressed with the attire seen yesterday in Shibuya but that paled in comparison to that on display today. I had forgotten but in some time ago I had read that Sundays are a day for Japanese young people to dress up in “freakish” costumes and makeup.I saw a lot of young girls with what looked like hideous all over tans and impossibly short skirts wandering around. (Unfortunately) I had gotted fed up with picture taking so have no proof. Later on I saw the same girls sat on the pavement removing their tans; it was makeup rather than tan. I had lunch in a KFC ($7 for three pieces of chicken and a small diet coke) and another soda from a vending machine nearby.

It was still early but I had been walking nonstop for 4 hours and decided to call it a day. So I got back on the subway and made the short trip back to the hotel. The mist was coming in and rain is in the forecast for tomorrow. Not sure what I will do for dinner. If the others come back from their travels in time I will see what they plan on doing but I’m not that interested in straying far from the hotel.

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October 22nd, 2006 at 1:05 am

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