Sunday, April 02, 2006

A succesful mission in Tokyo

Wow, what a day we had in Tokyo yesterday... but first, a remedial picture posting.

On Friday morning, I'd gone to Ji Ko Ji near my home and snapped 2-3 pictures of the beautiful Cherry tree there that is in full bloom. However, since I met someone I knew there, I ended up doing more talking than picture taking and wasn't happy with what I came back with.... so I went back on Saturday morning before work to try again and did much much better. I especially liked the shots of the blossoms framed by the torii gate.




OK, now that that's done with, on to our fabulous day in Tokyo. So we headed out early yesterday morning with only two objectives. First we wanted to check out the Cherry Blossoms in Ueno Park, and secondly we wanted to have dinner at a nice Mexican restaurant in Harajuku. I am pleased to report that both objectives were met, and we also hit plenty of secondary targets as you'll see below. Keeping things simpler certainly made this a more successful trip than ourlast foray into the big T with the large group and diverging plans.

So, we hopped on an 8:37 rapid service train from Utsunomiya station, meaning only 10 stops between Utsunomiya and Akabane, as opposed to the 20 on the local train... I will definitely try to plan my trips around these express trains in the future, I am getting sick and tired of trains. On the way to your destination, it's not so bad.... but on the way back it's pretty rough to sometimes have to stand for 2 hours. Unfortunately for me, my plans for the next little while involves plenty of travelling. I'll be heading to Tokyo one more time this month, then to Narita airport for my trip home (YAY!) and of course the trip back to Utsunomiya afterwards... not to mention the 5 planes I'll be taking... oy... the life of a nomadic English teacher. So anywho, we detrained at around 10:20 after transferring to a different line in Akabane and there we were, in Ueno park among the throngs of people checking out the view. Luckily, due to the poor weather and chance of rain, most places in the park weren't so busy.

Spotted these folks here as we came into the park. There is one of two explanations for their presence. Either they are holding a spot for a hanami (Cherry blossom viewing) party that night, or they were the ones who were too drunk and couldn't make it home from a hanami party the night before. Their overall organized appearance, complete with umbrellas at the ready, would tend to make me thing the former is more likely.


As we walked through the park, we saw many many hanami parties in full swing, even at this early hour. The beer was flowing freely and everyone seemed to be having a great time. As we neared certain sections, we could see that the cherry blossoms had already started to fall, which created some really nice "snow-like" effects. Very cool with people running around trying to catch flower petals out of mid-air. In some areas though, the cherries were in full bloom and were absolutely gorgeous. This feller inadvertently stepped into my shot, and thus turned a flower picture into a hidden camera secret spy taking pictures of people picture... which I love so much.


This is here was definitely the top spot, very nice.


As we made our way around, we took a quick detour into a shrine where a dance was being conducted on a small stage. It was interesting, and drew a small crowd of quiet onlookers.


Also spotted this tree which was sprouting flowers right from its trunk. I've been somewhat disappointed by the amount of cutting and pruning that goes on with cherry and plum trees (as well as others) sometimes to the point that you have just a stump sticking out of the group with one branch protruding from the end where there was once a full, healthy tree. But as you can see here, nature still finds a way.


While visiting this shrine (Maybe the Ueno Toshogu shrine?) we also came across this monument to the victims of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The story goes that a man went to Hiroshima following the bombing in search of his uncle. When he arrived at his uncle's home, he found that it had been destroyed and was still burning from the atomic blast which struck there on August 6th, 1945. In memoriam of his uncle, he harvested the atomic flame and brought it home where he kept it burning for many years as a personal memorial and to symbolize his resentment and hatred for what had happened to his family and his people. Over the years however, this resentment changed into a desire to see the world rid of nuclear weapons. His village built a monument into which the flame was transferred in 1968. By 1988, this little flame had grown and was even involved in a petition signed by 30 million people and brought to the UN calling for disarmament. In 1990, this monument was built at the Ueno Toshogu and the flame was transferred there where it has burned every since, and with any luck will continue to burn and remind the people of the horrors of Nagasaki and Hiroshima. Certain world leaders should definitely looks at memorials like this and should visit places like Hiroshima and Nagasaki to see just why these weapons are so evil. Maybe then they would be less-likely to discuss preemptive strikes and the use of "tactical" nuclear weapons... terminology which has been designed to make it easier to drop a bomb and possibly kill millions in the process.


After a lovely walk around the pond in Ueno park and a great little dish of Yaki Soba, we headed to Ameyoko street to find our beloved donair guys. We were in fact lucky enough to find them again and enjoyed another one of their exquisite donairs while listening to their cries of "Maaaayuuuu" and "Konnichiwa-wa". In case you don't recall\know, Ameyoko is essentially a bustling market area selling everything from clothes and jewelry to fish and octopus. Speaking of octopus, this feller was selling some nice big juicy red tentacles.... mmmmm.


After Ueno, since we still had plenty of time to kill and a free ride on any JR line due to our special travel ticket, we decided to ride the Yamanote line down to Shibuya to check that out. Shibuya is one of Tokyo's 23 ku or districts and houses some of the best shopping around. All of the major stores and designers have a presence here and the young ladies of Tokyo head here in droves on the weekend to dish out their hard earned money on shoes and crap. Shibuya is to shoppers as "Mecca is to the jews" or as "Kentucky is to the chickens" as Ali G puts it so eloquently. Shibuya crossing, located outside of Shibuya station, is the busiest pedestrian intersection on Tokyo, and most likely the busiest in the world with anywhere from 1000-2000 people crossing at every light change.


Unfortunately (kind of) the crossing was not as busy yesterday as it usually is with the threatening weather keeping many people home from shopping. So after walking around a bit and checking out a few places... including a lumber store right here in the middle of Tokyo??? We had a coffee and decided to move on to Harajuku where our restaurant is situated. When we got to Harajuku station, we decided to fulfill one of our goals from our last trip and check out the cosplay in Yoyogi park.


Cosplay (costume play) is quite the trend here, with dozens of people spending hours and lots of cash on their outfits and heading out here to Yoyogi park to hang out and be seen. This is kind of a way for the youth of today who spend all week in cookie-cutter school uniforms and living in an extremely regimented society to break loose a bit and try to be unique and different.


Gotta love the hair!


After scoping out a few of the freaks, we headed into Yoyogi park proper to check out the Meiji shrine. The Meiji shrine was built in 1920 to honour the Emperor Meiji who ruled from 1868 to 1912. He is the one who led Japan out of the isolationist Edo period where Japan was closed to the world. During the Meiji Restoration, he opened Japan up to trade with the world. The temple was destroyed during the war and subsequently rebuilt. It is interesting that while doing almost any travel in Japan, you are constantly confronted with the spectre of World War Two. It just goes to show how much of a mark the conflict has left on the rich history of Japan. While the Allied bombings of Japan were intense, efforts were made to lessen the damage to the country's cultural relics. To this end, Kyoto was not bombed... and my city, Utsunomiya, only suffered minor bombings due to it's close proximity to Nikko, suffering only 1000 casualties.


We were lucky enough as we entered the shrine ground to be able to see a wedding procession make its way through.


In another section of the shrine, we encountered the next lucky couple to be wed, it seems they're got these folks running through the shrine on a conveyor belt.


In the courtyard of Meiji Jingu stands a large tree around which are placed the wished of some of the thousands of visitors who come here. It was nice to see that so many nationalities were represented here, with languages ranging from English and French to Thai and German.


I especially like this one. And a message to Bill, wherever you are... please to stay out of trouble.


It was at this point that our luck thus far with the rain fell through and a light drizzle started. Nothing too serious, and a 400 Yen umbrella quickly took care of the problem. This procession of shrine employees was quite entertaining with their white robes and black umbrellas.


Following our walk around Yoyogi park and Omotesando, we headed out to Fonda de la Madrugada which is ostensibly the best Mexican restaurant in Japan. The entrance itself is nothing special, just a simple stairwell heading down, but when you come out downstairs, the atmosphere is amazing. The decor was fabulous and when the mariachi band came out, the mood was set. The food was quite good, though Matto-sensei would be pleased to hear that his Guacamole is better than theirs, and we had a wonderful meal. Thanks so much to Alex for suggesting this place.

With dinner taken care of, we headed back into the train system and slowly made our way back to Utsunomiya. Luckily this time around I got a seat shortly after we left Tokyo and was able to doze and nod until we arrived in Utsunomiya, another fabulous day spent with my Yo-chan. When we got here, I headed to Scott's place and caught the tail end of a movie viewing evening with the boys before heading home in the fog and falling into bed officially exhausted after being on my feet for the better part of 14 hours.


Plans for today are relatively simple. Scott will be here shortly and we'll check out some of Utsunomiya's sakura which are now around 50-70% in bloom. After that I'll come back home, maybe pop in a movie and then spend the evening practicing my hiragana. I should be able to finish up all of the basic ones tonight, no problemo. Tomorrow morning is my second class, I am looking forward to it and regret not having taken the initiative of learning about this gem earlier on in my stay.

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