My adventure to Ueno began with an overheard mention of the zoo over breakfast at the hostel. With nothing planned for the day, I joined my new friends Tom and Eloise for a trip to Ueno Park and it’s adjoining “zoological gardens” i.e. just your average zoo.
Ueno Park is one of the biggest parks in Tokyo. It’s a culture lovers paradise, heavy on the museum and temple front. Not super keen to see either, we decided to just wander around the park for a while, and discover what else it had to offer. Upon entering the park we were greeted with a nice surprise – cherry blossoms! Or were they plum blossoms? To be honest, we weren’t sure but these were the first blossoms of any kind that any of us had seen, and by the looks of the crowd, the first everyone else had seen too. We took a few commemorative photos and strolled down a lovely little passageway lined with the trees on either side. I can only imagine how gorgeous this area must look when all the trees are in full bloom.
After wandering down the path and enjoying the excitement of spring, we spotted a large pond – with boats for hire! Our options were paddleboats in the shape of swans or old-school rowboats. Deciding the opportunity looked too fun to pass up, we opted for the more challenging option, a good old rowboat.
Well, challenging was certainly right. Being a keen canoe enthusiast, it was only fitting that Eloise took the reigns (or in this case, oars) to commence our voyage around the pond. She did a stellar job, navigating us around the perimeter at a very, very safe and relaxing pace. Next up, it was my turn to captain the vessel. Terrified of capsizing, it took Eloise and I longer than I care to admit to change places within the boat, but after that ordeal was over, I actually didn’t do too bad! We only spun around in a circle for about ten minutes or so… and only once did I row us into a flock of seagulls (which proceeded to attack us). Perhaps sea-borne orienteering is my calling in life? I’ll have to remember to join the Navy when I get home.
After our spontaneous water activities, we headed to Ueno Zoo. On the way, we stumbled across this cool shrine. With too many shrines in Tokyo for me to count, I unfortunately can’t even tell you what this one is called (I’m a shitty traveller, I know). But it looked pretty nice, so here’s some photos anyway.
After a peek around the shrine, we finally made it to the zoo. Turns out Ueno Zoo is the oldest zoo in Japan, built all the way back in 1892. Whilst it’s not a particularly large or entertaining zoo, we did get to see some interesting faunal friends. Like these guys:
and this dude:
After a few hours, zoo fatigue started to set in. We made our way back to the hostel and chilled out for the rest of the afternoon. That night happened to be the last shift for Wataru, a staff member at the hostel. To celebrate, the rest of the hostel staff threw him a Takoyaki party and we were all invited! Takoyaki are small, octopus-filled balls made out of a batter, which are fried on a specially designed hot plate in the center of a table. They are then topped with fish flakes and nori, a slathering of special sauce and a generous dollop of Japanese mayo. This sort of tabletop cooking is very common in Japan and it makes for a very fun and social addition to parties.
So that night we made and ate tonnes of takoyaki, and drank enough sake and sochu to break down language barriers. While most of the party made its way to karaoke, I called it a night at the sensible time of 11pm.
The following day, I decided to explore Asakusa, the local area in which I was staying. It’s a fairly well known neighborhood due to it’s long history which is still visible in the architecture of many buildings, as well as the numerous temples dotted around the place. The whole area has a very peaceful vibe to it. Pot plants line the front of most houses, adding a bright, homely touch and giving the area a somewhat suburban feel, a feeling that’s difficult to find in a city as urbanized at Tokyo. An extremely popular mode of transport within Asakusa is bicycle, so I did as the locals do and rented a sweet set of wheels. For only 200 yen ($2) I had a bike all to myself for the whole day! It was at this point that I realised I probably hadn’t ridden a bike since around 2005, and whilst they say that you’ll never forget how to ride one, let me tell you, it happens.
I feel as though the bike should have came with flashing lights and a massive banner trailing from the rear reading “WARNING: WHITE GIRL ON A BICYCLE.” I just could not get my balance on the stupid thing! After nearly crashing into cars, people and other bikes in the busy areas I walked the bike down an empty side street where I could practice without almost killing anyone. It took me a good half hour to remember how to ride a bike – but oh my god, its so fun! Like seriously if you’re sitting at home right now, get out your dusty old bike and just take it for a spin around the block. You will be surprised at the goofy grin that appears on your face that you won’t be able to get rid of.
I rode around the streets of Asakusa, getting terribly lost and loving every minute of it. It’s a bit unnerving, riding a bike in Tokyo. There are no bike paths, and there doesn’t seem to be any rules about where you’re supposed to ride. People ride on both sides of the road, on the footpath, through traffic lights – anything goes! But somehow, just like Shibuya Crossing, it all works perfectly.
I eventually hunted down the Sensoji Temple, the biggest temple in Tokyo.
I wandered around the temple area, filled with organised tour groups and couples snapping selfies and then headed down a long passageway lined with food stalls and souvenir shops on either side. Of course everything was insanely overpriced and the place itself was suffocatingly crowded, so I was out of there pretty quick and back on the bike.
I found my way to Sumida River, which runs all the way through Tokyo and has a gorgeous view from all of the many bridges that cross it. I rode my bike up one side of the river and down the other, making the most of an amazing spring day.
By late afternoon, I had total numb bum from sitting on the bike seat. (Why don’t they just make super cushiony comfy ones like seriously why????) So I returned the bike for a night of chilling out at the hostel complete with some yummy yakisoba and green tea. Am I turning Japanese yet?