Saturday, 15 January 2011

Tokyo Day 3: Temples, ramen, beer, photography and a minor car accident

Up early again I head out a little after 7am, this time to Ueno Park. It is in the north east of Tokyo, three stops on the metro from here I'm staying. On the way I grab a bento box for breakfast and eat at the station whilst I wait a few minutes for my train.

I've read in a couple of places that it is the height of rudeness to eat and walk at the same time in Japan, though I have seen a couple of people doing it. There are also signs around that I've seen telling people not to smoke and walk.

The park is beautiful, a big expanse of green in the heart of the city. Even at this hour of the morning there are two guys with clipboards sitting at each entrance, presumably counting the people who come into the park. The park has some activity, with a mix of joggers, dog walkers, old men strolling and a few tourists.

Ueno Park contains several noted museums and a zoo, but I entered at the south end where there are a handful of temples and traditional Japanese buildings. The first one I visit is on an island in the middle of a giant pond, with tall reeds and lots of wildlife around. I visit two more temples and enjoy the architecture and the peacefulness. I believe that these particular temples were largely reconstructed after being bombed during WW2, but it doesn't detract from my enjoyment.

After 9, the park fills up a little, a baseball team practices and crows swoop around. I take a slow stroll out of the park and back towards the station. In the shadow of the railway tracks is a huge, slightly grubby shopping arcade where traders set up for the day. I'm sure later these streets will be packed, but for now it is not so busy.

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I plan to visit Asakusa and see some more temples, but I make my first schoolboy error of the trip. I open my map and plot a route from where I am now to where I want to be and start walking. It's a nice stroll and I am enjoying being in the Tokyo streets, but after twenty minutes I figure I should be somewhere close and I have no idea where I am. After some confusion, I recheck my map and realise that the pages I was looking at are two separate maps, there is no join in the middle, so now I had no idea where I was!

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Abandoning my plan, instead I duck into the first station I see, scan my Pasmo card (an electronic transport card) and jump on the first train that comes along. It is going to Ebisu, so I dig into my bag and see what the guidebook has to say.

Edisu is home of the Tokyo Photography Museum, so I plan to make that an afternoon stop. It is also the home of Sapporo Breweries and the name of the area actually derives from a brand of beer Yebisu, that was brewed here at the turn of the 20th century.

Arriving in Ebisu, it seems to be an interesting mix of shops and cafes for the middle classes. It is approaching lunchtime and Lonely Planet highly recommends a particular ramen joint. I feel somewhat lame going with LPs recommendation for my first ramen experience, but ordering food can be so confusing that I decide to go with it this time. Trouble is, I cannot for the life of my find this place.

Tokyo street addresses are highly confusing. They don't use the system of a street name and number. Instead it is done in blocks and building numbers - which often don't go in sequential order. Thankfully I'd purchased a Tokyo map before I left the UK, or I'd have been completely screwed. But I am still struggling with pinning down exactly where some things are.

Most ramen places and indeed most restaurants as a whole, are identified only by a Japanese sign and plastic models or photographs of the food outside (a bit like in Benidorm!), along with strips of cloth hanging above the door.

I memorised the Japanese characters I was looking for in the name of my place, but couldn't find it anywhere. Just as I was about to give up hope of finding this particular one, I turn the corner and see a queue of 20 people outside a small building. This is the place!

I wait for about fifteen minutes before I get seated. on the counter next to the kitchen. The restaurant holds about 30 people and the place is frenetic, with staff rushing around all over the place. A basket is provided to put my jacket in and a jug of ice tea is on hand.

There are only 4 or 5 varieties on the menu and each you can add things to. After a little communication, I guess they are used to English speaking people, I go with a light broth. In a couple of minutes, a steaming bowl is placed in front of me with a smile. Thinly sliced slivers of pork float on top, along with chopped spring onions and thin noodles. Fresh garlic is provided in a bowl and I crush some and sprinkle on top.

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It smells divine and tastes delicious too. Etiquette dictates that slurping is fine, so I slurp away and enjoy the frenetic atmosphere inside and the chance to warm up. I polish of the bowl all too fast and it leaves me craving more. And at £6 for a big bowl, I'd say it is great value. Next time I vow to try a darker and spicier broth.

It is a short walk to the photography museum which is located in this weird huge shopping/leisure complex. To get there I get to walk on a skywalk, one of those moving platforms you get in airports and Las Vegas!

The museum has three exhibitions on, but the 3d one doesn't interest me, so I just purchase tickets for the two photographic shows. Their themes are 'snapshots' and I spend a pleasant couple of hours enjoying the work of Japanese and international photographers.

By far my favourite is a section by Paul Fusco called RFK Funeral Train. It features pictures taken from the train containin Bobby Kennedy's coffin in New York in 1968. The pictures are stunning, you see the faces of groups of people as the train passes through their neighbourhood and past their homes, cheering, crying, shocked, passive. It's an amazing piece.

Next it is onto the beer museum, which despite my faint hopes, turned out to be decidedly lame. It was free so I can't complain, but the main idea is I guess to get you to buy all kinds of beer themed tat, as well as take part in the 'beer tasting' - which is basically an overpriced bar.

I did get to find out the secret of the success of Yebisu beer that allowed them to get so popular in the early 20th century. Simple. Get the Germans in! German brewers were brought over to Tokyo to master the brewing process and get the right taste!

By now I'm getting tired, so I take a trip back to my neighbourhood. On the way back to my room I witness a small car accident. It is a light incident, with small damage to three cars and no apparent injuries. This doesn't prevent an impressive response from the Tokyo emergency services. Within five minutes, four or five vehicles show up, with about 6-7 police and 6-7 fire crew. Perhaps it is a slow day at the office, but this level of manpower seems a little excessive?!? Within no time the police are re-directing traffic, taking statements and getting things organised. The fire crews are...well... not doing anything at all really, but at least they are here just in case and I get a smile from the nice firelady.

Another day in Tokyo and by 9pm I'm falling asleep...

1 comment:

Paul said...

Excellent work :-)