Thursday, March 18, 2010

Ueno - A Nice Surprise: Cherry Blossoms

We started our day by attempting to replenish our cash supplies. The guy at the place we were staying had mentioned a couple of days earlier that there was an ATM at the local seven eleven. When we tried this ATM, we were a bit worried because it kept rejecting our card, but we were relieved shortly after when we attempted to use the post office's ATM instead as this accepted our Australian debit cards and allowed us to withdraw some cash.

After that we set off to Ueno. If you ever go to Tokyo and have an iPhone, I highly recommend you get the app ''. Thanks to this little app, we think we have finally figured out the best way to deal with Tokyo's crazy rail system. The app allows us to enter in a departure station and a destination station name and it will tell us what trains to take, which trains to transfer onto and how much it will cost you to get to each station. Using this app, getting around via the trains is a breeze.

Once we arrived in Ueno, we walked through the Imperial Park. Here we saw the 'Grand Fountain' (sorry to be a spoil sport, but that just didn't seem that grand...). To our surprise we also saw some cherry blossoms (Sakura). The cherry blossoms only appear once a year in Japan for a very short period (about 2 weeks I think), so we were delighted to see these as we thought that we would be too early to see them. There were lots of people in the park, including us, taking photos of them.

We continued on through the park to the Tokyo National Museum. It too was very busy due to a special exhibit. We decided to get a regular pass (rather than paying the extra money to see the special exhibit and brave the line which snaked its way what looked to be about 500m long) and see the regular exhibits in the museum. This did not disappoint. We spent a good 2 hours or so navigating the amazing building seeing sculptures, tapestries, swords, samurai armour, dolls, gowns, pottery and many other things that were all from various periods throughout Japanese history. The oldest pieces we saw were from about 20,000 BC. The most impressive exhibit that Jenni and I saw would have to be a clay statue that pre-dated a few thousand years BC that were very intricate. How on earth someone managed to excavate that piece and retain its intricacy after so many years is beyond me.

After the museum we found ourselves very hungry so we on search for some food. Unfortunately all of the local museum restaurants were full (probably due to the fancy pants special exhibit). Instead of waiting we thought we would take a quick walk through the National Museum gardens before exiting and getting some lunch. At this stage it started to get really cold, but luckily on our way through the gardens there was a food stand where we were able to purchase a 'Japanese Lunchbox' and a nice hot chocolate. The gardens had old Japanese houses throughout. It was interesting to see how short the houses were. The little old Japanese ladies walking in front of us were right at home with their height, but I had to duck under some of the low roofs.

After our late lunch, we moved onto the Ueno zoo. Entry was nice and cheap (600yen ~ about $8 AUS). We only had about 2 hours to rush through the zoo before closing time, but we managed to see pretty much all the exhibits we were interested in.

The zoo is as big as Perth zoo, but the exhibits are far more exotic. The highlights would have to be: very colourful birds from around the world that looked like someone had painted the colours on them; a couple of very frantic Red Pandas that looked like they had been drinking red cordial; massive eagles that stood about 2.5 foot tall; massive penguins that were about 2 foot tall; lions and tigers prowling back and forth in their exhibits; a gorilla with a tea towel on her head; polar bears, Japanese black bears and a sun bear; Hippos that were swimming about 1m away from us; orange and pink flamingos; small mammals chasing and wrestling with each other; and a family of lemurs huddled together to try and stay warm in the cold.

After the zoo, we went back to Asakusa. There we went into the ROX shopping centre. ROX is a multi storey department store, similar to Myer. There I picked up a funky looking T-Shirt for about $15 AUD. Jen and I have noticed that prices for clothes are quite comparable to Perth. In fact, we have noticed that Perth is actually probably more expensive in terms of clothes, shoes and electronics in comparison to Japan; not something I was expecting. (Claire: We found a franchise of fashion accessory shops named after you!)

Even an amateur shopper such as me has noticed that the variety of clothes available in clothing department stores is far superior to the selection available in Australia. I will let Jen elaborate on the available fashions in her next post.

After some shopping we had some ramen at one of the local ramen stores and then headed home to do some laundry and get an early night so we could wake up at a reasonable time the next day to get out and see the rest of the Asakusa markets before making our way over to Shinjuku for our next place of accommodation.

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