Sunday, January 24, 2010

Japan - Day 20

Another fun day!

Chris wanted to sleep in and then go shopping for souvenirs, so I took off early in the morning with the bike and went all over Tokyo. Have I told you that I think having a bike is great thing? As it turns out folding bikes are a dime a dozen here in Japan, with a staggering variety of models. The one I borrowed from Normis and Evan is a pretty sturdy version (made in China, incidentally), which is good for long distance travel on a highway. For city use I have seen some really cute ones, made of aluminum and with small wheels (16 inches?), so they are light and fold into practically nothing. I need to get myself one of those…

I was the Abominable Turista de las Nueve when I got to Ueno Park, the Chapultepec of Tokyo, so nothing was open. I did get a chance to observe the homeless of Tokyo, who use portions of the park as their residence. The well-established ones have built tents or hovels with cardboard and blue tarps. You can drag the Japanese into the lower strata of society, but you would never be able to take away the fact that they are Japanese; accordingly, outside of each hovel there was a pair of shoes, and I have no doubt that inside they were wearing a tattered house coat and cheap house sandals.

My next stop was the area known as Asakusa, which is the old part of Tokyo. Streets are narrow, the marketplace is extensive, and the place all of a sudden became packed! There is a very old temple complex here, and it attracts enormous Japanese crowds and a goodly number of tourists. I had great fun strolling through the stalls.

From there I biked to the Ryogoku area, where the Mecca of Sumo is located. Now, today is the grand finale of the winter sumo tournament, so I had no hope of getting a ticket, but I saw there was a sumo museum and I thought it would be a pretty cool thing to see. Alas, the museum must be inside the hall, and I never found my way in; however,
I saw a couple of "the boys" coming in. They look like enormous panda bears, all smiley and cuddly before they walk into the arena.

Fortunately the Edo-Tokyo museum was right there, so I got my museum fix after all. Edo was the original name of the small village that would eventually grow into the megalopolis of Tokyo, so it was the best way I could have hoped for a quick review of the history of the city. The displays varied from amazing (e.g., a full-scale reconstruction of the first Kobuki theater) to neutral (e.g., strips of documents in Japanese), but overall it was a fascinating couple of hours I spent there. One of the highlights was a concert of Japanese music with a flute and an instrument that could be described as a big salterium (a large string instrument with about 20 strings, which was plucked or strummed with the right hand while the left hand was used to fret the strings to the correct length). Very impressive both from the art of the performers and from the beauty of the music.

Afterward I worked my way back to the Ueno Park, because I wanted to visit the zoo. This time all the key ingredients were there: Sunday, after lunch, and a sunny afternoon. The Tokyo zoo is divided in two parts, with the first part being a rather standard animal collection on top of a small hill. The second part is a bit unique, in that it is dominated by a large lake, with wetlands around it, where all sorts of birds can be seen. I concentrated my attention on "birds" of the female type, who obviously came to the zoo to display the latest fashion. Tokyoites are fashion conscious and much better groomed than their counterparts in the country, but making a broad generalization I would say that they are generally short, stout, and prone to look like a manga character. Mini skirts and high boots are all around you, with generous amounts of bare skin in between (it was sunny but still chilly, so you know these girls are very devoted to the cause of fashion). Well-fleshed seems to be more popular than anorexic, and puffy jackets and scarves are liberally used to simulate a generous upper storey (which, alas, nature has not seen fit to endow the Japanese women with). Big oval eyes are also in great demand, so girls dutifully do their eye exercises when at leisure (e.g., while traveling in the train). And throughout all this, where is the male of the species? A sad disappointment, if you ask me (but then again, all fathers think the same of the new generation of males, don't they?).

The sun was setting as I biked back into my hotel, having spent a delightful day in this little town. I still had one more task to accomplish before I could call it a day, however, so at peace with the world I took the two bikes apart and packed them for the trip back home. Done!

This is the end of this blog as tomorrow we take the plane back. It is with a happy and grateful soul that we will say goodbye to Japan. They have been gracious hosts and have welcomed us into their culture with open arms. I wish I had the time, appetite, and money to have tried all their fabulous foods. Then again, we have just glimpsed at the southern half of Japan, so if anyone is willing in a couple of summers, I would be ready to come back and see the northern half. Fun place, Japan!

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