Japan 2014 — Day 8: Tokyo — Yanaka, Okachimachi, Ueno, Shiodome

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.

Ueno

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.

Yanaka

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.

Okachimachi

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.

Ueno

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.

Shiodome

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!

Ueno

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.