Tuesday, February 7, 2012

visiting japan : tokyo 1, ginza + ueno park

Intro to our trip to Japan
Tokyo 1, Tsukiji Market

After leaving the fish market, we walked up to the Ginza shopping district. I'm glad we paired these two together because they're so close - but it is a little strange to go from the fish-smelling, hope-I-didn't-step-in-fish-blood mentality to one of the most high-end, glamorous shopping areas in the city.
We backpacked in Japan (more on our packing in another post) and room in the ol' pack was tight. Meaning shopping was not really an option. Not that we'd be dropping any dough in most of the Ginza stores anyway (Dior is slightly out of my range, you know) but given the packing constraints, most of our time spent in any of the Japanese shopping districts was strictly window shopping and drooling over the gorgeous buildings themselves.
I'm lucky that my travel companion is an architect and enjoys the design-dork architecture/interiors sight-seeing as much as I do. We went in a few of the high end stores to see the gorgeous finishes and displays. We were both impressed at the store's exteriors more than anything - an entire neighborhood of gorgeous, incredible, unique buildings.
While walking through Ginza we noticed a big crowd of people in a dessert store. We figured 'when in Rome' and joined them - purchasing a gorgeous mochi ball (I'll be honest, we didn't love it but fun all the same).
Hoping for a little green space, we next hopped on a train up to the area around Ueno Park. We walked through the shopping area above on the way to the park, looking for a late lunch. Enter: the ramen vending machine restaurants. After watching a few locals go through the process (attempting to be discreet), we hopped into one of the small restaurants and stepped up the vending machine. The machine had a series of photos of each of the dishes offered with a price next to it (no English but the photos are all you need!) and we each picked one, paid and then handed our printed tickets to the hostess. We were seated and within a few minutes two glorious bowls of ramen were delivered. It was delicious and inexpensive - about $7 per person. My husband had pork while my ramen had seaweed, bean paste and lots of green onion.
We had read this ahead of time, but it definitely proved true - when the Japanese eat noodles they slurp them loudly. It's a sign of 'this is very tasty' respect and we tried our best to slurp with the best of them. I admired their art of slurping without ending up with broth all over themselves (luckily I wore a lot of black).

After lunch we walked up to Ueno Park. The park was beautiful and it was great change in pace to be among the quiet and trees - however given our short time in Tokyo I'm not sure we'd recommend it (there's so much to see I'm not sure this should be on a quick itinerary like ours). We did decide to pop into the zoo and visit with the elephants and pandas.
Walking through Ueno Park.
We walked by a shrine inside Ueno park. At many of the shrines we noticed long bars with hundreds of strips of papers tied to them. We found out (and if this isn't correct please let me know!) that you can get a fortune at the shrine. If it's a good fortune, you take it home with you. If it is bad you leave it at the shrine where the spirit can get rid of it.

While inside the zoo we stepped up beside a group of school children watching the gorillas. A little girl looked at me and then whispered to her friends. She turned to me and said "Hello!" I said "hello! ... konichiwa!" (Japanese for hello) she smiled and turned back to her friends and they all giggled. It was so sweet!

On our way back to the hotel we went through the 'electronics district' this was another sensory overload of neon signs, arcades, casinos and electronics stores. Another spot we'd probably skip if we ever to go back to Tokyo but it was fun to see the crowd of young people that hang out there.

Coming up, day two in Tokyo...

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