When traveling, I always budget at least twice as much time as I think we’d need to walk between destinations. If we do end up with an impromptu sleep-in or general morning lethargy, the rest of the day isn’t thrown off course. If we don’t end up needing that much time to transit, then we get more time to explore or call it an early night. Three day trips in as many days left us exhausted, so the morning we were to move from Nagoya to Tokyo called for a sleep-in.
We caught a Hikari train rather than a Nozomi. The Hikari, which stops at 2 additional stations along the way to Tokyo as opposed to just Shinagawa, was the next train on the board. We weren’t in a rush and it added only an additional 10 minutes to the journey, so on we got. If you have JR Pass, which we didn’t, you cannot catch the Nozomi trains.
We see another shinkansen stopped at the opposite platform at one of the stations between Nagoya and Tokyo. And we have chocolate covered macadamias, which we bought from the Osu Shopping Arcade the previous day, as a snack.
And this is Ueno! We’re based in Ueno this time because it’s a major transportation hub. This is the east side of Ueno Station — the side that is without the park or museums — that we’d not visited last time. After dropping off our bags at the hotel (and dragging them up two flights of stairs because an architectural genius decided it wasn’t necessary for a hotel to have a ramp, of all things), we head back to Ueno Station to catch the train to Nippori.
We’re at Nippori Station to visit Yanaka. First stop is Yanaka Cemetery, which is 1 minute west of the station. It’s a large cemetery and the resting place of some significant shoguns of Japan, including the last. The central street (bottom, left) is apparently famous for its cherry blossoms during hanami, and hence referred to as Sakura-dori.
After the cemetery, we make our way through Yanaka to Yanaka Ginza. The Yanaka area is one of the few in Tokyo retaining its Shitamachi atmosphere (above, left). Along the way, we see a rather modernist looking sculpture art gallery.
Near the cemetery (we walked in a circle around it) is a gated shrine with more graves.
And a few steps away from the cemetery is Yanaka Ginza. There’s a major textile business around Yanaka, but we’re not here for that. We’re here for the shopping street.
Lucky for us, there was a festival of some sort going on at Yanaka Ginza that day. D and I were interested in visiting a festival, but didn’t really find any that aligned with our itinerary, so stumbling upon this one was really fun.
Cats seem to be a thing at Yanaka. At the entrance to Yanaka Ginza was a girl band dressed up with cat ears and belting out some rap-song tune. Cats appear on the banners welcoming you to the area, and there’s a makeshift exhibition of photographs of cats spotted around the area on a billboard.
Even north of Ueno, panda motifs abound! Their oversized heads make them so cute. We never did find out where to purchase these pandas that we kept seeing around Yanaka.
Towards the end of the street, we see a guy roasting chestnuts using an interesting contraption!
After taking a left, some street performers are entertaining a small crowd. The female is rolling a sphere effortlessly and fluidly over her body, while the male put a latex glove over his head and blew into it until it popped. I can’t imagine that being good for your health!
And here’s the highlight! Japan Rail had set up a mini track with a mini skinkansen, offering free rides to children down the length of the street! They even had staff members dressed up in their uniform. I so wanted to take a ride on the mini skinkansen, but it seemed like only kids were allowed. Alas!
We head towards Sendagi Station to catch the subway to Yushima Station for our afternoon around Okachimachi and Ueno. Sendagi Station is under renovation, but the new decal for the walls is just so pretty! And on stuck to a wall at the station is an advertisement for the Suica, telling you the many places it can take you and its many uses.
Ippudo is a big thing in Sydney. While Ippudo stores in Sydney do make some very tasty ramen, their prices are also. horrendous. So we head to the Ippudo in Okachimachi (a short walk from Yushima Station). The taste of the ramen is rather similar. In Japan, however, the egg and seaweed are included (and do not cost extra), and the servings of vegetables at the base of the bowl is much more generous. The price is also a lot cheaper in Japan being ~¥980, whereas in Sydney it starts from the equivalent of $17 or ¥1700 (with seaweed).
Pandas are really popular in the Okachimachi/Ueno area. The popularity stems from the pandas in Ueno Zoo. Pandas feature on the banners welcoming you to the area, salespeople dress up as panda mascots in the Uniqlo store, pandas sit next to wax food replicas, and plush toys decorate tea stores.
From Okachimachi, we have a quick look through Takeya, a multistorey discount store, before heading through Ameyoko. There’s a ridiculous number of people, pretty much back to back, which kills some of the joy of browsing through the shops. Nonetheless, we take a quick look around (we’d been here before on our previous trip), and I spot an Ueno themed phone charm that I want and popular foods like pineapple on a stick.
In the area around Ueno Station there’s bakeries specialising in animal shaped breads. On our last visit we tried the panda shaped chocolate bread. As that was all right, and nothing amazing, we pass on trying the the other ones — the turtle melon pan is particularly cute — as it’s time for dinner.
I love pasta, so indulged my penchant for cute things, by ordering a panda themed tomato spaghetti with bacon and broccoli at Piattoria. The panda face is created by the yolk of a semi-sunny side up egg, with seaweed cutouts for its eyes, nose and ears. Cute! The pasta, though, was rather so-so. The sauce was far too thick.
D, ever the more sensible one, tries Loterria. The portions are very small here even for Japanese standards, and we felt that ¥1000 for the meal was overpriced. The burger was quite ordinary, although the chicken nuggets were quite tasty. This meal left D hungry!
So we head to this restaurant underneath the train tracks. We’d eaten here last time we were in Ueno, and were keen to try it again just for old time’s sake. This time D orders curry udon. Japanese curry is tasty, and udon is yum, so we thought putting the two together couldn’t be too bad. It turns out though the curry udon is just normal udon (with dashi soup) with a spoonful of curry added on top, so the effect is just really watery, fishy curry. It was interesting, but not something we’d try again.
After dinner, we head off to Caretta Shiodome to see the Christmas lights. This is the most technically impressive set of Christmas lights we saw. There were light shows every 20 minutes accompanied by music, as well as a menu for similarly themed blue drinks that you can purchase from cafes and restaurants in Caretta Shiodome. We stayed to watch the light shows twice, having travelled to Shiodome for it especially.
On the way home, we see a Beard Papa and order an almond praline cream puff to snack. It’s not as crunchy as the ones we had in Osaka but the almond praline was very moreish. Yum!
And we’re back at our hotel in Ueno. Down the road from our hotel is a public bath, which was rather quaint. They have tiny lockers outside for your belongings, and we even saw people come there with their tiny buckets with bottles of shampoo and body wash. And then there was a tiny refrigerator with small bottles of milk. Yes, Real Life Japan is a lot like anime.