Monday, May 23, 2011

Tokyo Day 2: Senso-ji temple, Tokyo National Museum, dinner and karaoke in Shibuya

(written Saturday)

Yesterday morning I took the train and the subway to Asakusa, grabbing a red bean bun with a panda printed on it on the way. Asakusa is home to the Senso-ji temple. You enter through a huge gate on the um... one of the sides (my sense of direction doesn’t work in the northern hemisphere) and walk down a long avenue lined with stalls and filled with people. From the gate you can see the temple and the five-storey pagoda beside it, which is pretty impressive.

Lots of people were giving offerings and lighting candles to put in cabinets, and lots of people were taking photographs so I didn’t feel too out of place. I couldn’t resist a pair of chopsticks from a stall, and some kind of foodstuff that I still don’t know the name of, but it had Japanese peach paste inside.

From Asakusa I took the subway back to Ueno, which is famous for its gardens and museums. The gardens are beautiful, with vistas aching for photos. I took many. There’s a statue of a man walking his dog, more temples and shrines, and hundreds of cherry blossom trees, though the cherry blossom season is well past.

There are many museums in the park, but I went to the Tokyo National Museum (I think. It’s now Monday and I can’t be sure. It was a National Museum, anyway), which has five buildings of different ages and architectural styles. I visited the main one, where the exhibits are all Japanese cultural artefacts, and spent a good few hours standing in awe before ancient statues, 8th century samurai swords, beaten metal mirrors, calligraphy, silk paintings, samurai armour, kimono and pottery. They had a station set up where you could stamp your own samurai picture with different coloured stamps, layering them into a complete picture, so I did one of those.

I was meeting Circus Girl in Shibuya later, so I caught a train just before rush hour and stared out the window at all the buildings. So, so many buildings. I’d thought Tokyo would be all high-rise apartments, but most of the buildings you see are two-storey detached houses, squeezed in together with less than a metre between them. In the old days, fire used to break out periodically in Tokyo (formerly Edo), and these were called the Flowers of Edo. Tokyo’s built upon the ashes of all those fires. Hopefully nothing catches hold nowadays...

We roved the streets of Shibuya looking for good restaurants and karaoke places. Normally Shibuya is ablaze with neon lights, but they’re saving power because of the earthquake and subsequent troubles, so at least half of them were off. It was still a pretty impressive sight.

The restaurant we chose in the end had no non-smoking area, but it did have little screened booths, you could order by wireless touch screen and everything was 270 yen (about NZ$4). So many people smoke here, and as Circus Girl pointed out, mostly the best seats in restaurants are in the smoking areas. Our booth wasn’t too smoky, however, so it was fine in the end.

There were seven of us, and we each ordered some things and shared them. I had sake, which actually wasn’t too strong, and teriyaki chicken, octopus balls (balls with octopus in them), edamame (soy beans), sprouts, pizza (I didn’t order that, I swear), crispy chicken cartilage (better than it sounds) and raw fish. Yum.

Then we retreated to karaoke, Japan style, where you sit in a room with your friends and use a remote to pick songs. We only had an hour and half there, which wasn’t really enough, but we had to go to catch the last train. The train was a sardine train, with people running at the doors and pushing their way in even when you thought no-one else could make it. I wonder why they don’t run trains all night...


  1. Those prices sound much less scary than we were led to believe :-). Hope you didn't have too much trouble changing the 10,000 yen note lol.

  2. No, it was easy changing it - the ticket into Tokyo from the airport was 1000 yen so the ticket man had quite a bit of change. Funny - it's actually cheaper to get into the city from the airport in Tokyo than it is to get in from the airport in Auckland, even though it's 60km away.


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