Thursday, September 3, 2009

The Afternoon at Ueno

Ueno Zoo

Today we got up quite early and set off for Ueno Zoo which was about a 15 minute walk from our hotel. The zoo in on the grounds of a big botanical gardens that has lots of interesting shrines & statues & a big lake.
It was only about 600 Yen to get in (about $10 AUS). The zoo is really quite big and has a monorail that runs from one side to the other (for a fee). The zoo had the standard zoo animals but they also have a really big selection of weird birds & alot of nocturnal animals like (to my joy) Slow Loris & bats & rodents. There is also quite a big reptile section. All in all it was a nice zoo and there weren't that many people there. There were quite alot of the cutest pre-school groups all wearing differnet coloured hats. We had just as much fun watching them as the animals.
The animal enclosures left alot to be desired. They were small & stark and a bit sad. But not so bad that they were cruel.
One of the highlights of the day was when the lady (?) gorilla came right up to us at the glass and sat down and just gazed into our eyes with such sadness. She was so beautiful we just wanted to give her a big hug. After she went away again the HUGE male gorilla came right up to the glass and sat with his arms crossed right up at the glass & glaring at people. At this point the Japanese started taking flash photography, yelling & tapping on the glass. We did NOT feel like hugging him & we high-tailed it! It was hard to see the Slow Loris because they were in a dark house and you weren't allowed to use flash photography. After the WORST lunch ever of fried chicken & chips that tasted like they were about a month old. Blech. we headed over to the other side of the zoo.
The pygmy hippo had the cutest baby hippo that was chasing it's mum around and slipping over playing. It was so great! We also got to see the real life Tanoki which is like a raccoon.
It was a really really good day & the weather was lovely & cool. It was around 3pm when we finished at the zoo so we headed for the lake in the park to ride some swans!

Wednesday, September 2, 2009


Let the Croc hunting begin!

I got up reasonably early & put on some washing in the laundry upstairs (with the crappy dryer). I thought I would walk about 20 metres up the road to Lawsons (like a 7-11). I bought us some breakfast of onagiri & boss coffee & calpis. As soon as I stepped outside I couldn't remember which way to go! I wandered around fretting for about 10 minutes before I found our hotel. It was nerve-wracking!
We hit the town at about 11.30 and headed for the streets of Ueno to have a look around. Ueno is very very interesting. From the initial look it appears a bit boring but... in the back streets there is a whole other world. Like Amerika-Mura but without the "look-at-me!"attitude. It is a bustling place with all sorts of shops (like a fantastic western wear store that we could have spent up big in if they had Mick's size). Shoe shops, a HUGE fish market area, cosmetics & clothes. But we decided that we would do Ueno streets another time because now it was time to hit Shibuya in search of a pair of crocs for Mick. The crocs over here come in all sorts of different styles that you wouldn't even guess were crocs brand. I had read that you could find them at Loft (Loft is a 6 story department store filled with all sorts of kitsch, cute & very cool stuff and now my new favourite shop ever). My brain very nearly exploded in the art section. It was fantastic! Everything from cool retro furniture to cutesy onogiri containers to toys to stationery. Everything left me with my mouth wide open mouthing öh my god! .
We did a quick tour of each level until we got to the top where clothing was... nup no men's crocs.
The girl in the store drew us a map & told us (in very limited English) to go to Sony Plaza.
We walked for ages through this other mall until we came to a basement level called Plaza. We checked and found out that this was indeed Sony Plaza.. even though it is only called Plaza. And again... only women's. By this time I was starting to get cranky. I wanted to pop into the Campers store & we asked the girl there who told us we needed to catch a train to the Crocs store. OK. We stopped and had a latte and caught the train. I have now worked out how to 'do'the train station crowds.. JUST KEEP WALKING. Do not stop politely to let somebody pass. Do not be polite. Just walk head up and purposefully.. And you know what.. it really does work.
The crowds of Tokyo are the only thing that is getting to me a bit.

We got off the train and walked to the place where she told us to go to but it wasn't there.... UNTIL THERE IT WAS!!! JUST AROUND THE NEXT BEND! THE CROCS STORE!!! We almost kissed the floor! Mick got a pair of the most comfortable shoes in the galaxy.
I tried on a pair of nice ballet flat ones but they did'n't have any arch support for my mongy feet so 'no go.
The girls in the shop were lovely & recommended a good ramen shop for our late lunch.
We wandered over to the shop & had some really delicious ramen & gyoza & a couple of Chu Hi to celebrate the finding of the crocs.

By now it was about 4pm & my feet were killing me again so we headed back to the hotel for a rest. I had a bit of a nap & Mick watched weird TV.
At about 7.30 we went next door to a little place that specialises in Yakitori (chicken skewers).
They were alright. I think the Ma the elderly woman who ran it and the clients thought it was a bit of a novelty having Gaijin (forgeiners) eating in this little businessmen's eatery.
The meal was more of just a snack so we paid up & went for a wander around.

Japan is (in my opinion) much better at night. It is alot cooler and there aren't as many people around. The walk was nice. We settle on Yoshinoya (beef and rice bowl). I wasnt' hungry so I had miso soup & salad.
In Ueno there are alot of homeless people, almost like this is where all the homeless live. Most are men in their 50s and they make these beds from cardboard boxes. And yet, they are still really really neat & tidy. It is very sad.
We got back to the room around 10 and I put my feet up & slept while Mick watched Discovery Channel.

Back to Tokyo

Hiro had to work in the morning so we had breakfast & bummed around until he got back in at 11.00. We did a detour back to the doctor's surgery and the doctor did another quick analysis of my legs "Better? Grunt" Luckily this time there was a matron on who spoke almost perfect English. The rash on my legs we think was actually broken capilleries from the swelling in my legs. I was prescribed another 4 days of antibiotics & to try & rest up and not walk too much.
They wrote us up a proper receipt so we can claim the doctor's on our travel insurance.
It put a bit of a dent into our holiday fund (about $230!)

We then drove around trying to find a place to eat some lunch but time was getting away from us so we settled on Family Mart food (still good food though). Mick & I filled a bag with all sorts of goodies for our trip back to Tokyo.

Hiro, Myumi & Rin waved us goodbye from the platform and we headed on our 3 hour train ride back to Tokyo.
We passed the time on the shinkansen by making up songs about the passing scenery & about the conducter who seemed to count the number of seats on the carriage every 10 minutes.
We words were something like "I am walking down the aisle .. I'm countin all the seats.. 15 seats yeah 15 seats.. I'm countin all the seats"
We finally got to Tokyo station & had to catch one more train to Ueno. DURING PEAK HOUR!
We crammed ourselves onto the train. We only had about 4 stations to travel but at each station we would think that they couldn't squeeze anymore people on.. the did! Keep in mind we had all our luggage too. At our stop it was like a huge surge as nearly everybody got off. We felt like lemmings!
We walked straight to the cab rank and told the driver where we wanted to go. He drove around lost for a while & finally found our hotel... it was about 200 metres from the station.. we could have walked to it in about 2 minutes!
Our hotel is small (as usual) but has a Lawsons (like a 7-11) just across the street & is (as I said) right next to the train station and is walking distance to the zoo.
We settled in, freshend up & took a train to Akiharbara. We wandered around the littered lit up streets just people watching and had some Mos Burger for dinner.
All the stores were closing so we decided because we only had one more day left on our Japan Rail pass (unlimited travel for 7 days) we would just jump on the Yamonte line which just does a big huge loop of Tokyo and train surf for awhile.
We did jump off for some starbucks & more people watching at Shibuya which was fun.
By this time it was around 10pm and the trains were starting to fill up again & me feet were hurting so we hopped the train back to Ueno. Unfortunately we had to deal with a bit of a crush again & stand the whole way. But we did get to see a girl romantically picking her drunk boyfriend's nose! Icky.
We watched some crazy crazy Japanese TV for awhile & then crashed.
I realised just before I went to sleep that we didn't take any photos today!!!!

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Random Stuff

Us in Mie

Rin's portraits of Us

Mie - Day Two

We had a bit of a sleep in and Hiro had some work to do at the office so we hung out & played with Rin & surfed the net. I sat on the couch with my feet up.
When Hiro returned he took us to the Ise shrine markets which we found out later were just across the river from one of the biggest shrines in Japan. At the markets we got to be front row at a display of Taiko drumming. Very very loud & intense. It was excellent & we got goosebumps.
The drummers were really getting into it especially the girls. It was very much like a Maori war chant. Like a haka. Mick videoed it thank goodness.
We then had a bit of a stroll around the market shops which were designed to be like old Japan. We bought our lucky cat statues at the lucky cat statue shop which had every variation of the lucky cat you could imagine.
If the left paw is up it means to bring people & the right paw up means to bring money.
We were tempted to buy about 50 of the right paw ones. We settled on one of each.
The toy shop was pretty cool too as it sold older style toys like tin toys & wooden tops.
Once again I could have spent a small fortune on very cool tin toys & art & kawaii coin purses.
We went down the steps and walked a way down the river which was very shallow but very clear. It was lovely. We looked around some of the ceramic & art shops then stopped to have a really refreshing bowl of shaved ice with green tea syrup. It was really good.
As we were going back the Taiko drummers started up again but this time with a girl on the flute & a girl on these hand cymbols. This time the theme was more fun than serious.
With Rin up on Mick's shoulders we left the markets & hit the fireworks shop that seemed to be run by two old ladies about 100 years old. Mick was like a kid in a candy shop. The old lady added up our purchases on an old abacus.
Next stop was to another of Mick's favourite Japanese places... "Workmen store" (like RSEA at home). Mick purchased about 9 pairs of his ultimate clothing..... toe socks!
After a quick trip home to have a shower & freshen up we went out for dinner at a Yakiniku restaurant where we gorged ourselves silly on ox tounge & beef karubi & daikon salad & harumi.
It was so delicious.
When we got back to the house Rin quickly organised our fireworks and we went out onto the front footpath & road. One by one we lit the fireworks which ranged from quite big ones that made me want to run into the house, to ones just like big sparklers, to ones that only produced a tiny little spark. None of them were the shoot up into the air and potentialy maim someone ones. ( I did have the video camera filming just in case though) It was fun though. Alot of the fun was watching Rin's excitement.