100 Happy Days / Day 57: Asakusa, Ueno & Akihabara

Post snowboarding and back in the middle of Tokyo with no plans whatsoever. With Seichi-san out working and unable to suggest any nice places to go, and without any internet access nearby, we had no choice but to pick out a Tokyo metro guide and consult what Tokyo’s tourism board wants us to see! After reading the various descriptions of destinations, we started to miss being in Nagano and Hakuba. High-rise buildings, crowded places and shopping malls have lost their appeal for us a long time ago.

Eventually, we picked Asakusa as our starting point. “A place of culture with shops harking back to the Edo era”, said the brochure. Sounds interesting enough! Once we got off the station, we could discern many different languages being spoken by the fellow tourists, including the distinctive Singaporean accent. Overheard from one kid, “Daddy how come there is no dustbin?” Yep. One good thing about Singapore – dustbins (trashcans) everywhere! Except in MRT stations of course.

Many eateries were not open till 11am so we settled down at a 24-hour Chinese food place, open by industrious Chinese people who no doubt saw the huge breakfast – brunch market that nobody else was interested in. It didn’t look like we were in for any gourmet cuisines but we were super famished and super excited about our hot meal!

With our stomachs filled, we were all ready to forge through the crowded Nakamise Shopping Street leading to Sensoji temple.

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We didn’t know which we’re the famous stalls; but it was easy to tell by the queues they attracted. We followed the crowd and were rewarded by really yummy snacks! The best one is the croquette, which was juicy and well seasoned. The sugared loaf was also really tasty, and HUGE. About the size of my face!

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Sunday meant that there were a lot of locals in town. The Sunday crowd also attracted many street artists, such as this magician, robot geisha and spray painter. I don’t know what is the trick but the magician in this picture is levitating a piece of paper which he had twisted to look like a flower. He also did a trick which is to restore an empty Pepsi can into an unopened drink that had real Pepsi in it to be poured out! Amazing! I’m sure there are easy explanations to all of these, but sometimes in life ignorance is bliss isn’t it? I think I’d rather live a life full of wonder and amazement than to know all the answers to everything. Anyway the magician was really good. Great flair, great aura! Robot geisha girl was really funny until she came right up to us and did a creepy wave. Then she just became scary. Spray painter dude was really dynamic, almost dancing as he speed painted his way to some really spectacular creations. But he was sniffing and perspiring so much, probably from the noxious fumes…poor thing! Anyway kudos to all of them. Really admire people with a passion for their craft!

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After Asakusa, we headed to Ueno. We are too early for the cherry blossoms season, but already the main boulevard is lined with lanterns stating the pre-bookings made by individuals and companies. In Japan, it is a big event to picnic under the cherry blossoms trees to observe and delight in their transient beauty, so one has to book way in advance just for the precious seats under their choice trees! JR East got themselves a massive stretch. Can imagine the huge party in a few weeks time! Of course, the boulevard is still open for people like you and me to walk and enjoy as well, which we most certainly did, even with only a few early blossoms.

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Ueno park is the first designated park in Japan. It also has a zoo and lots of museums but we were not in the mood for them. Instead, we headed to the lake where there are dozens of boats powered by couples and young families enjoying the early spring sunshine. Lots of seagulls perching nonchalantly on wooden posts, as well as on the heads of the poor, helpless fibreglass swans. Very rude.

We also spotted interesting characters, such as this tall man walking even taller on his wobbly clogs; a family pushing a giant trolley with OMG a giant black pig inside and a duo playing really good modern meets traditional music to a very appreciative crowd. So energetic and so alive.

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The day was still young by the time we finished exploring Ueno Park, so we headed to Akihabara, which is the Mecca for electronics and games and comics (and often not the usual comics…). We didn’t go for any of these though; as we were more interested in the 2k540 aki-oka artisan craft street, which we happened to see in our handy Tokyo metro guide.

It’s located directly below the JR train track and 300m from Suehirocho station on Ginza Line. It has an interesting mix of craftsmen from all over Japan and some of these shops even have the creators themselves at the workshops so there is opportunity to interact and speak with them. We were really taken by the wooden keyboard, the hammock restaurant and the bamboo crafts! Talking about train tracks, it’s amazing how much activity goes on under the train tracks in Tokyo. There was also a long stretch of classy restaurants under the tracks at Ginza area on our first night where we had our dinner. Why is there never anything under the train tracks in Singapore? I never really thought of it before, but now it seems like such a big waste of unique, sheltered, linear urban space.

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Our couchsurfing host, Seiichi-san left us a message to be back for dinner by 6:30pm. He was going to cook a Japanese dinner for us (which incidentally is his “breakfast”)! When we opened the door at 6:30pm sharp (we didn’t dare be late), we saw that he had transformed our sleeping area into a dining space. The table was set for 3; and he gave us beer, saying “alcohol for you and none for me as I have to work later”.

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Seiichi-san works the night shift at a large printing company and usually his work starts at 11pm, but this is the peak period so it would be 8pm today.

Over dinner/breakfast, he showed us pictures of his past guests. He had actually hosted over 100 people over the past 2 years! As he works the night shift, there would be little overlap in the sleeping time between him and the guests, which makes it a comfortable arrangement given the tight sleeping space.

We were almost done with the food when he said, there is soba noodles next. Wow! We didn’t expect a second course. We seldom eat soba, as ramen is the default choice for Japanese noodles in Singapore. He handed us some spring onions and wasabi and taught us that the right way was to pick up a mouthful of noodles, dip it into the soba sauce along with a dash of spring onions and wasabi. The wasabi added a nice kick to the taste! We were very well fed tonight. What an awesome couchsurfing experience! Just when we finished the soba, he stood up and said, “I have to go, bye!” So we thanked him profusely, washed the dishes, put the table back in its corner, laid out the futon, showered, turned off the lights and slept happily ever after.

Good Night!

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