Sunday, November 20, 2005

Day trip down the Tobu line to Asakusa...

Headed in to Asakusa today to check out the so called "old-downtown" area of Tokyo. We hopped on the Tobu line first thing this morning since it's a direct link between Asakusa and Utsunomiya (and also about half the distance than the JR station, it's pretty nippy these days out here in Tochigi) and only makes a few stops on the way down making it the best option by far. Settled in to our comfortable reserved seats on the train and enjoyed the panorama unfolding before us as the train took us past the mountains around Nikko, including of course the massive Nantai-san which was covered in snow.

After a nice relaxing ride in, we arrive in Asakusa around 9:30 and proceeded directly to the Excelsior cafe across from the station where I had a delectable Maple latte. Yum!

We then headed out for a look at the Kaminarimon (Thunder Gate) where hangs this huge lantern. As with all of the tourists around, I got the following typical picture of said gate and lantern...

After walking under the gate, we were faced with every tourists dream (or nightmare depending on your point of view), a long street of shops catering solely to tourists... this is Nakamise, a shopping arcade\street with a history stretching at least a few centuries. picked up 4 Christmas gifts here... lovely stuff. Unfortunately, once you head outside of this tourist area, shops immediately revert to selling western style clothing and goods... so I haven't yet completed my Japanese-themed Christmas shopping yet.

Here is a shot of the lovely Pagoda located on the grounds of Senso-ji temple which lies at the end of Nakamise.

We eventually made our way through the throngs of shoppers and arrived upon Senso-ji Temple, this behemoth of a building teeming with worshipers. We proceeded inside where we threw our coin into the largest donation box I've ever seen. We actually launched the coins over a few rows of worshipers to get it in there, I guess the size is necessary... lol

This is the incense burner outside the temple which worshipers use to purify themselves before entering. I understand the smoke may have some healing properties as well.

And of course, what visit to a popular Tokyo temple is complete without the requisite flag-waving loud-speaker-using tour groups to add to the fun!

After diverting from the tourist district to find a Mizuho bank for my stupid-ass self who didn't have time to withdraw cash yesterday, we walked around Asakusa for a bit getting a feel for the ol' 'hood. One some side street, we found this cat sleeping the afternoon away in sunshine that is unfortunately slipping away as the day progresses. Now I'm not a cat person, not sure I would ever go so far as to own one, but they can be rather cute and adorable, on occasion...

These little alleys litter Asakusa, some leading only to residential quarters, others to fancy Ryokans... interesting area...

After putting around for a while, we headed back towards Senso-ji for another go at the tourist shops... here's a different view of the Temple, complete with a traditionally dressed young lady.

After a final assault on the shops, we decided to head to Ueno to check out a neat market district and the zoo. The market is called Ameyayoko and it houses some of the most boisterous vendors I've seen in Japan... from their respective stores, you'll here them calling out to you and haggling with customers on prices... quite interesting.

And then, the (culinary) highlight of the day. What could it be you ask? Fresh sushi? Kobe beef? Oconomiyaki? Some other delectable dish? NOPE! Today's outing appeased a craving I've had for months now, a craving for some kind of middle-eastern food. After living and working within such close proximity to dozens of great Shawarma\Fallafel\Donair places in Ottawa, the move to Utsunomiya has substantially lowered my intake of ethnic foods. Right here, in the middle of all the madness that is Ameyayoko, stood this stand... we initially walked by ignoring the calls of "Umai! Umai! Ichiban number one kebab in Tokyo" from the vendors... but once we got downwind from the stand, it stopped us dead in our tracks and we headed back.

If anyone is in the neighbourhood and craving some good turkish\lebanese food, I'd suggest giving these guys a go... this lovely chunk of food heaven cost 500 yen, worth every last yen.

We then headed towards Ueno park to find the zoo. Now, while I will admit to being entertained by the monkeys and the porcupine, and while it was nice to see the animals actually out and about doing their thing, I found the overall zoo experience to be rather sad one. I think what set the tone was the very first exhibit, that of Ling Ling the Giant Panda. There was Ling Ling, cuddled into a corner passed out in a small enclosure surrounded by flashing cameras and shouts of "Kawaii!!!"... I found it quite depressing actually. The state of disrepair in which the Ueno Zoo finds itself is shameful, cages are rusted, viewing windows are opaque with dirt and mold, living environments are not much more than concrete pads with leaves strewn about... Now seeing as my only previous zoo experience was a visit to the zoo St-Felicien, Quebec, where the HUMANS are the ones in cages, and the animals are roaming freely, I guess I don't have much to compare with... are all zoos like this?

Like I said, the monkeys were of course amusing, running around doing their thing in their cages. They are rather social animals...

This is a shot of the biggest monkey enclosure, which hosts over a dozen Japanese mountain monkeys, like those which can be found up around Nikko, though I have yet to see any in the wild, after 2 trips up there. Now, for those of you with good eyes... no they aren't doing what it looks like they're doing.

Hungry hungry hippos... it was at this point, after spouting out factoid 392 of the day: "Did you know that some consider hippos to be the most dangerous animal in Africa? Far ahead of lions and crocodiles? They've been known to capsize boats and swiftly kill it's occupants with their massive teeth" that I realized my head is filled with a crap load of useless junk... Sir Lewis, I think I have officially joined ranks with you in the "knows a little about just about everything" category... glad to join the club.

Finally, some Canadian company on this day... This was the first of 3 Cannucks I saw... the North American Porcupine... this fella had climbed a tree near the walking path and was being admired by quite a few people. The other Canadians? The Canada Goose and of course the Beaver.

So after completing the hike around the zoo, which tacked on a couple of clicks to our shoes, we headed to Ueno station for the trip back. Unfortunately, the ride home wasn't quite as comfy as the ride to Tokyo since we had to use the JR line, and didn't get a seat on the train until about 45 minutes down the line. After a day of walking, that seat sure felt good though! Picked up some veggies and I made up a quick dinner before seeing my lovely little lady off. Great day!

Tomorrow, I'm meeting up with Scott for our weekly "Tully's and a Walk tour"... and again later when I will introduce him to a friend of a friend over dinner at Al Noor... best Indian food in the prefecture! mmmm, I can taste it already. Following dinner, the three musketeers might head out to Kegon for a relaxing drink and maybe settle in for some comedy on DVD shortly thereafter. This week promises to be a good one with Wednesday being a National Holiday and Motoki planning a party for Saturday night...

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Anonymous S'Mee said...

The secret to knowing something about everything, and everything about something basically comes down to sylables. You may not know the word, the context, or even the language, but you can always count the sylables. And there's your something. :-)

"If you're not cheating, you're not trying hard enough."

3:45 PM  

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