Wednesday, 13 April 2016

Tokyo: a very long walk

For my first full day in Tokyo, I decided on a walk. My take on Tokyo is that (at least when travelling alone) the main thing to see is, well, Tokyo. So my plan for today is to walk through the Yanaka/Nippori district, which is supposed to be very traditional, then down through Ueno Park to the National Museum of Nature and Science.

Strictly speaking this is not a particularly long walk, but given it's sightseeing, I expect it to feel five times longer due to museum legs.

I took the train to Nippori station, then wandered around ineffectually until I stumbled across Yanaka. The surrounding area just looks like any other set of streets, so it's not especially easy to find.

This shop appears to be a ghost. It appears in some Google Maps shots, but at other angles there's another in the same place. Anyway, I was just puzzled by a) the Union Jack, and b) how it might relate to the posters. I mean, it looks like almost some kind of local political centre, but why the flag???


A recurring theme for me in sightseeing has been getting my historical expectations slightly confounded. I've talked about this before, but living in the UK, it is strikingly obvious when you visit areas of different historical periods. This is true even if you're visiting shops, which tend to conceal (and frankly spoil) a lot of their historical and architectural value due to practical concerns of operating a business, like the obsession with having enormous glass windows containing three items and a big poster.

If you visit a Victorian arcade like the Victoria Quarter of Leeds, or indeed a mediaeval shopping district, like the Chester Rows, there are significant architectural differences, and in some cases shops have even preserved internal features that make them distinctive inside as well as out.

In Japan, I don't have the passive knowledge to spot the differences. As far as I can see, most of Yanaka continues to be concrete buildings associated with small shops. They're different from the large city-centre shops, but to my eye not obviously different from the many small shops I've seen elsewhere, like in Befu, the residential area of Fukuoka where I first lived. I mean, there are more of them in one place. It seems less historical than, say, Hita.

I suppose when I saw "historical", I was expecting a district of low wooden buildings possibly staffed by people in kimono. These are some touristy shops that were vaguely interesting to glance at, but of no very obvious historical value to my untutored eyes. That'd be those earthquakes again, I suspect.

The start of Yanaka

A sweet shop

A not-very-good photo of this ceramics shop

This shop's main stock seems to be the lamps; of course they don't really come out right in this photo

I couldn't work this out at the time and I've certainly no idea what it was now

A seal shop, amongst other things.

Don't ask me why there is a panda head in this bucket. I have no idea, and this looked to be someone's house, so I didn't like to stare too much.

This restaurant looked stylish, but I wasn't hungry yet.

Kyooji and Keiunji

Yanaka was honestly smaller than I expected. A little further up the hill, breaking out of the run of little shops, I reached a couple of temples, so I thought I'd pop in. These are Kyooji and Keiunji - I can't really separate the photos.

Not the best lighting for photography, but it was a nice enough place, and I didn't see anyone else there.

Yanaka Graveyard

The route now took a rather dull turn as I passed by Nippori station, and had a bit of trouble working out the route before I reached Yanaka Graveyard.

It's a very big graveyard. I didn't take much in the way of photos, I'm not super comfortable doing that, especially as a lot of Japanese graves still seem to be regularly visited and maintained by the families.

On to Ueno

This is the Kuroda Memorial Hall, which acts as an art museum. I didn't go in, I just spotted in on the walk. Quite like this building. It's just near the Tokyo University of Fine Art, which seems appropriate.

By this point my feet were really pretty sore from walking around pavements a lot while carrying a rucksack, but it was a bit early for food. I knew the coffee shops in the park itself would be utterly chocker (I was correct) so I managed to find somewhere just before I got there. It was still pretty full, but not overwhelmingly.

This is the outside of Ueshima Coffee Shop (上島珈琲店) near Ueno Park. They write their name using the kanji for "coffee", which in my experience is almost exclusively written as コーヒー in katakana. So exclusively, in fact, that even though I was sure this would be the kanji for "coffee", since it's similar to the Chinese, and I searched for it under the definition "coffee", it was impossible for me to locate the actual kanji this way. I needed the kanji to try and google for their location, since Google's bad at finding things across language barriers ("cafe" or "restaurant" in Japan, for example, massively under-reports).

Ueshima Coffee Shop was a bit underwhelming, to be honest. I can't remember what I drank - I think I plumped for coffee on the grounds that the tea looked underwhelming and they only have coffee creamer. I do remember that I didn't like it very much and I left half of it.

Ueno Park is basically a big stretch of grass with some buildings in it. You can walk around and stuff. I had a look at a few of them, before heading into the Metropolitan Art Museum for some lunch. I, um, either didn't look around the museum or wasn't allowed to take photos. I don't actually remember which...

The park map - I developed a tendency early on to photograph these for later reference, and it was often handy.

Udon with duck and some unidentified vegetable. Pretty good. The lighting at the back looks super blue for some reason.

The Museum of Science and Nature

At least, we reach today's second main event: 国立科学博物館, the National Museum of Science and Nature. Or the National Science Museum, as it appears to be literally named.

And, because this will be a long entry with tons of photos, I'm going to make it a standalone post, so y'know... move along, nothing to see here.

Going Home

I was all museumed-out by the time I'd reviewed the main history and biology sections, and chose to skip the remaining three floors. Wearily, I pottered away to seek out somewhere to sit down, then a coffee shop, and eventually began the journey back to my hotel.

I ate at Yoshinoya. I ended up eating in this chain a few times. Partly because, let's be honest, eating at chains is just simpler than trying independent places all the time, and when I'm knackered after travelling "simple" looks way more enticing than "probably deeply authentic, good for the local economy and potentially spiritually enriching, but also probably smoky with indecipherable handwritten menus and possibly flat-out won't serve me because the staff are scared of speaking to foreigners".

I also like the fact that I know I can easily obtain a simple, healthy meal with vegetables in it here at a very reasonable price. It's not the most delicious food in the world, but it's good enough.

I love this poster, which I spotted at the station. I was gutted to realise it is an advert for a phone company. Don't worry, though, it has already inspired me with a horror scenario.

By the time I returned, the streets were getting darker. Another very classic-feeling Japanese street scene.

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