The first place I hit was the shopping street though nothing really caught my eye. It actually reminded me a lot of Korea. The vendors were shouting out the discounts available to those passing by. In the tiny shops selling fake bags, vegetables and cheap clothes were all available at relatively cheap prices. Even though it was early it was still buzzing with people.
I made my way to a nearby park to take in the view and finish off an iced coffee I'd gotten at a vending machine. The park was conveniently located next to a few adult stores. I think one was even advertising being able to watch an adult flick being filmed! Outside were a bunch of older gents reading leaflets and adverts plastered with attractive young vixens. It was kind of a funny site to see.
Across from this spectacle was a walking path with a huge field of lotus flowers. Between the sexy vixens and the beauty of nature my eyes were in heaven.
From there I entered the main part of Ueno Park with dreams of seeing a panda. As I walked through the park I saw people of all walks of life. Tourists, beggars, couples, flocks of older ladies and gents, and even two guys that may have been Yakuza (just something about lots of tattoo's, missing pinky fingers and giant gold watches that grabs my attention here). I leisurely strolled through the park taking a closer look at anything that caught my eye. The first thing was what appeared to a little shrine on a small hill.
It turned out to be the location where a giant statue of Buddha once stood dubbed, "The Great Buddha Hill" (Daibutsu Yama). Originally it was 2.8 meters tall but was demolished by an earthquake in 1647. It was replaced by a 3.6 Meter tall seated Buddha.
The face of the seated Buddha fell of during an earthquake in 1923. It was all downhill from there (no pun intended). During WWII the government confiscated the metal from the body and pedestal to produce guns and bullets and the like to continue the war effort. It seems a bit ironic doesn't it? 22 years after the war the head was enshrined once more and there it remains to this day.
A little further along the path I came to a building which would catch the eye of any Persian prince... and since I'm just a simple American it was an ever greater eye-catcher.
Ueno Toshogu was a shrine originally built around 1627 and rebuilt once more (those darn earthquakes demolishing everything again) in 1645 as a shrine for Tokugawa Ieyasu the founder of the Tokugawa shogunate. For further information check out the placard below:
Then I finally managed to get to Ueno Zoo. Let it be known that I'm not a huge fan of zoo's or incarcerated animals; but sometimes you really just want to see some elephants.
If you're a fan of zoo's I would highly recommend this one. From birds to bears, apes to tigers, bats to night cats and even pandas! Ueno zoo has them all. All around children smiled, ooed and awed at the creatures from far away places. The older folks leisurely strolled from one exhibit to the next and the middle aged, kids in tow, took millions of pictures.
The first place I went was to see the pandas. I was surrounded by at least two dozen elementary students on a field trip all staring and speaking emphatically about the pandas. The only other foreigner I saw in the zoo, who had the biggest camera there as well (size matters apparently), squeezed his way to the front of the pack of children and began shooting shot after shot. I found it kind of funny to see a grown ass man pushing his way through children to see a panda.
The zoo was lovely until I saw the one example of cabin fever I always see at the zoo. In Korea it was a wolf in a tiny cage pacing back and forth and an elephant gone half mad from the atrocious conditions. Here it was a sun bear (from China) pacing back and forth in the smallest part of its cage. Luckily this was the last exhibit that was to be seen and I left the zoo half depressed right after.
After lunch, pizza and beer (you've got to love a sneaky mid-day beer), I headed toward the national museum. Along the way I took a rest in the shade next to the fountain. I had a minute to relax and really take in the world around me. Nearby a couple was on a date, an old man took a quick nap, children played around the fountain and an elderly music group sang traditional songs. What a place to inhabit for a day!
Now after lazing around for a bit I had to once again board the brain train and enter the museum THIS PLACE IS HUGE! There are several buildings to walk through; though some are special exhibits only). Well it was your typical giant museum... basically waaaaaay too much to take in at one time. Nonetheless it was nice to see the national treasures of the country I currently live in. Below are a few shots from the main museum building. You'll have to visit there yourself to see them all!
By the time I had finished it was nearly 3 o'clock aka check in time at my hotel. I decided to catch the metro and head to the next destination Shinjuku. Along the way I mistakenly bought a ticket and entered the rail station instead of the metro. This was a major problem for once I got in I couldn't get out at the same station. I had to find a ticket clerk who was far too engaged with two teenage girls who were trying to sneak into the station. After 5 minutes of waiting I simply walked past him with no problem. The metro station was at the bottom of the block and I had to purchase another ticket. Live and learn I guess.
Upon exiting Shinjuku station I was graced with the awesome site of two giant robot looking statues on the back of a truck! Cool Japan indeed!
|A great site to see after coming from the subway|
After a bit of wandering the streets I finally found my hotel. I booked this hotel for pure unabashed experienced. It was a capsule hotel. Whats that you ask? It's basically a giant room with hundreds of boxes (stacked two or three high) to sleep in. The fee is cheap and they generally offer some other kind of service as well. My hotel was also a spa. It must be stated that its not the kind you're thinking of though... probably. It's more of a public bath, ancient Rome style (with modern amenities of course). There are stations in which one sits and showers (shampoo, body soap, etc.), pools for soaking (freezing balls cold, medium, and scorching hot), a dry sauna (which can be a bit weird when packed with a dozen or so other gentlemen), and finally skin and hair stations for once you're finished bathing (skin lotion, hair product, q-tips, toothbrushes and blow-dryers . I should note that if you ever want to enjoy one of these places be weary of the blow dryers. All too often I have seen them used for drying the old coin purse (for those of you unfamiliar with this metaphor I'm talking about gonads).
After a nice long soak, a shower, and briefly exploring the common room I ventured back out into the wild lands of Shinjuku in search of adventure, photo opportunities and beer... mainly beer. Shortly after I stepped outside I ran across another foreigner looking for an ATM. We spent about thirty minutes searching for one. During that time I learned he was a PHD student at a university just outside of Tokyo. He was in town to visit, in his words, "the titty bar." And although his field of expertise was economics he was apparently broke. Even now I find this rather ironic. Regardless he did inform me that my hotel was in the heart of the Red Light District (thus him being there). At first I thought nothing of it but this vital piece of information would come in handy later in the evening.
I roamed all over in search of the magical ATM that was calling my name. From the center building to the metro station alas nothing would work.
After wandering looking for an ATM that would work with my bankbook (I had not yet received my bank card at this time) it was time to eat a snack. I was to meet up with a few friends from Korea in a few hours so I couldn't eat a whole meal but I needed something to get me by. When I was wandering I had passed a small bar and grill tucked away in a side street. The place looked inviting enough and their beer selection left me drooling. Now, it must be said that when you are abroad, especially in Asia, things such as good beer that you have become accustomed to (like lovely golden wheat beers) are not always available and if they are they are rather expensive. It's best to jump at the chance to enjoy them when you can.
So I found myself at the Road House Dining and Beer Bar. I ordered a plate of chicken and a few hoes (Hoegaarden beers). There were only a few people in the bar section. An older man chain smoking, a lonely looking middle aged woman to my left and two cute young women in a table behind me. I sparked up a conversation with the bar tender and learned a bit about his life. He had been in Japan for about 15 years. He was originally from Nepal but moved to Tokyo to make some money with family that was already here. As things would go he found a Japanese woman, fell in love, got married and had a child. Now he is part owner of the bar and has enough freedom to travel a few times a year. As we chatted in English the two young women behind me would occasionally giggle. The bartender asked if they understood English and they said just a little. Before they left they said hello and chatted a bit. I had the distinct feeling that they were trying to pick me up... and as a man that never has this happen I found it to be a bewildering experience. As they left they both gave me smiles making my confidence level rise to a not so subtle level.
After the beer bar I had about an hour to kill until I would be meeting up with the Redcoats (a few British folks I met in Korea). The barkeep and the lonely looking lady gave me directions to the nearest JP bank ATM (finally found one that would accept my bank book) and slowly meandered to the metro station to meet them.
|Shinjuku Comes alive at Night|
It's a miracle that people are able to find each other in such a busy place. They didn't have phones so finding each other, even at an arranged entrance, would be difficult. As I waited hundreds of new faces fluttered in and out of my field of vision every few minutes. After about 20 minutes of waiting I saw one Brit and one Irishman; we were reunited and it felt so good. They had been traveling around Japan for a few weeks prior to our meeting so they had the undeniable air of traveler's lag about them. But they were more than willing to grab some dinner and tip a few brews back.
|Such a Happy couple|
I had forgotten how much I missed the UK folks continuously taking the piss out of each other. We shared some good stories, a few good laughs and a lot of delicious food (Jimminy Christmas they can eat!). After the meal we slowly migrated back to the station picking up a few road beers along the way. We said our teary goodbyes (a bit over dramatic really) and once more went our separate ways.
From there I began to make the journey back to my own hotel. It was only a few blocks away but I decided to take a round-about way to get there. Being slightly intoxicated I stopped at a souvenir shop to buy some goods for my family. I chatted with the lady (I don't understand why but while intoxicated foreign languages seem to flow more confidently) and she told me how much she wanted to visit Okinawa and all about her children.
|And I bought some Tshirts for the folks|
After there I stopped at a smoking area near the metro. There a dirty old man asked to bum a smoke from me and thought that stealing my whole pack would be okay. So I asked for them back and he smiled knowing he had been caught. Then he decided to talk about how he likes to have sex with women. Yes, he used visuals.
Two other folks next to me were watching and chatting with him as well. I sparked up conversation with them and came to realize they could both speak rather good English. After about 20 minutes of chatting it was time to continue the adventure.
|Good looking folks|
As I roamed the streets I began to notice a pattern. On every single street corner there were crowds of darkly complected gentlemen trying to get people into their establishments. What kind of establishments? Well, technically they would be called hostess bars. Places men go to drink and chat with women for a fee. But what they were trying to push on every corner was much more illicit. As luck would have it I also hit every single red light along the way, meaning I had to stop at every corner. Most of these men were from different parts of Africa and were simply trying to make a living hustling flesh to tourists and horny business men. Every time I had to politely turn them down. Somewhere along the line I met a large group of college guys roaming the streets. They said hello and we chatted and decided to take a drunken picture together. Obviously we chose someone who was also intoxicated to take the picture.
|I have no fucking idea who these people are|
A block away from my hotel I fan into one of these gentleman that was a rather cool cat. He was a struggling musician just trying to get by. He told me how he despised what he was doing but his music kept him alive. He called himself King Green Tea and even gave me a short freestyle. After being offered everything under the sun of these folks he simply wished me well and told me to be safe. If you want to see what he has to offer here is his site! http://www.afroking-japan.com/english/home.html
|GreenTea the King and I|
I finally arrived at my hotel. I can't lie I was rather intoxicated. I talked to the girl behind the counter all in Japanese. Apparently I was generally correct in what I was saying (being aided by liquid confidence probably helped!) and she guided me to my capsule and took a picture of it and of me. After that I drifted into the land of Morpheus only to awake a few hours later due to the incessant heat. I went back to the spa and finally back up to sleep until day break.