23 July 2009

Asakusa, Drum Museum, Ueno, Akiba, and Sou!

Thursday, 11.35pm

Today I was on my own in Tokyo. Ian had to work, and Reiko had to study. No matter, for I am an intrepid explorer! After taking a lazy-ish morning to nurse my sore ankle (I twisted it in a rocky puddle at Enoshima yesterday), I headed across town to Asakusa at around noon. Reiko thought I would definitely enjoy it, and she was right! It’s a huge shrine right in the middle of Tokyo, complete with some Buddhas, a Kannon, shrines of different shapes and sizes. The main shrine is covered in scaffolding as it undergoes renovation, but here’s the main gate:

And a charming statue. They say if you rub him, you’ll have good luck.

For lunch, I had a few small cakes that were just-baked (still hot) and filled with red bean paste:

After leaving Asakusa, I wandered south, and then west. I went to a really great drum museum, which unfortunately didn’t allow photographs. There were about 600 drums in there, most of which you can play. I wish that I had been traveling with another musician! The museum is sponsored by the company that makes most of the traditional drums for Tokyo musical groups, and in the gift store, many were for sale. Alas, they were too expensive for me. I couldn’t bring myself to spend $84 on a pair of finger cymbals, no matter how Japanese they were.

I continued to wander west towards Ueno Park, which is one of the bigger parks in Tokyo. If you can imagine Central Park, but add to it lots of Shinto Shrines, a small carnival, and a zoo, then you have Ueno Park. Here’s a series of gates that lead to a tiny arbor and shrine:

And here’s a shot of the pond, covered in lilies, with a building on the far side.

After Ueno Park, I thought I’d take one of the walks that my guidebook suggested. It wasn’t terribly successful, as the maps in the book don’t match the reality of Tokyo streets (we had a similar problem in Beijing, as I recall). Nonetheless, it did get me from Ueno Park to a bridge over the river, where I snapped this balance of nature and industry:

After the walk, I headed back to Akihabara, where I thought I’d do some shopping. Alas, what I was searching for was not to be found. Still, I got to experience Akiba one more time (probably the last time, as I won’t return tomorrow and probably won’t go there on Saturday either).

By this point, I had been on my feet and moving from about 12:45 to 6:45. From Akiba, I took a train (finally sitting down!) back to Ikebukuro to meet Sou for dinner. Sou directed the Japanese piece in Shanghai that was particularly challenging last month. He works near Ikebukuro, and he took me to a Japanese restaurant for some Japanese frittatas. Here’s the frittata:

And here’s me and Sou:

After dinner, Sou and I went to an arcade to play some video games, including one where you bang on taiko drums. Think Ondekoza, Guitar Hero, and Japanese pop music! I did respectably well. After that, Sou took me upstairs to an entire floor of photo booths. We had our photos taken and then got to decorate them with computer imagery. I’ve got the photos and will scan them when I get back to the US. Interestingly, the floor we were on is reserved for straight couples or groups of women. I guess they’re both anti-gay and worried about men prowling the floor. An attendant actually came over and yelled at Sou and I for being up there. He explained to her that I’m an American tourist, and that was enough for her. I guess ugly Americans are allowed to be on the photo booth floor.

Before getting back on the train, Sou and I made plans to get together tomorrow night as well. That’ll be nice.

In the meantime, I need to figure out what to do tomorrow. I think I’m historied out. I’d like to see some fashion, design, and modern art. I’ll check my guidebook in the morning. Any suggestions?

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