Poagao's Journal

Absolutely Not Your Monkey

Feb 02 2008

Ueno and Akihabara with Arnd

I actually slept well on the beanbag pillow; maybe I should buy one to take back with me.

At about 8:30am I learned of a possible reason why this hotel is so cheap, in addition to the basic nature of the rooms: construction equipment began operating next door, where they’re digging a large hole in the ground. It didn’t really bother me as I went to bed around midnight, i.e. relatively early, last night. I’d gotten in touch with Arndsan, a flickr acquaintance, and he said we could meet at Ueno Station in the afternoon, so with the morning to myself I decided to check out the neighborhood around the hotel.

Downstairs, I paid for another day’s ticket (a lot of things here, including restaurants, utilize a ticket system, which makes sense when you think about it) and handed my key over to the guy at the desk, who happens to have the same surname as I do (“Hayashi” in Japanese) The weather outside was still cold and slightly overcast. Dodging people lined up in front of stores, I bought a mask to keep my nose warm and found it tolerable as I walked up the street to the station, crossed the Panda Bridge without sighting any actual pandas, and entered Ueno Park.

lakeA sign by the pathway told visitors not to feed the birds or the cats, yet both species, at least the ones I saw, were impressive in size and utterly unafraid of people. You’d think one would have won out over the other by now; perhaps they’ve arrived at a truce.

I walked by a temple and onto a kind of land bridge between two of the several lakes in the middle of the park. Out in the water a man sat forlornly by himself in a pink swanboat, causing it to list noticeably to one side.

sign and crowdAfter exiting the park I then walked over to the market alongside and underneath the railway tracks, stopping by a Mister Donut just to make sure that it is as tasteless and awful as the ones in Taipei (it is, if possible, even worse). The market was very lively with cool retro signage and a very tempting hat store I might return to later if I have enough money.

After ordering lunch it occurred to me that people here don’t seem at all afraid of English. From the moment I enter a store they are entirely willing to refrain from running in fear for the back room, staying at the counter and actually greeting me in nothing but Japanese. Of course I can’t understand a thing they say and have to use gestures or writing, but as I’ve said before, I consider this to be my problem, not theirs.

While I was waiting for Arnd in front of the Hard Rock Cafe inside Ueno Station, I watched the people passing by. It seemed that everyone was wearing either black or tan. Tasteful, but a bit dull. I’m sure my big red jacket stood out in the crowd.

Arnd showed up and introduced himself as well as his lovely new Nikon D300, even allowing me to handle it and making me feel a bit ashamed of my old 20D. We then walked south towards Akihabara and the electronics stores there. Arnd, an architect, is from Germany and has lived here for a couple of years. He also likes to take pictures of the taxis, as, he observed, people here tend to limit themselves in terms of the color of their cars as well as their clothing, while the taxis run the whole spectrum and come in all kinds of flashy colors.

We walked to a shopping center where they have all of the newest cameras on display, actual working models you can fool around with and change lenses. We were both shocked at the machine-gun-like speed of the Canon 1D MkIII, and after playing with the 5D with a 17-40L lens, I once again confirmed that I would really like that camera.

swingWe proceeded upstairs, where Arnd had heard that there was a golf range with a good view, but while we found the range, the view was blocked off. Then a woman who worked there politely kicked us out, so we went downstairs for drinks at a cafe. I was glad of this, as I’d been on my feet all day. While we drank, Arnd made various helpful suggestions for my time in Tokyo while looking at my guidebooks. Just outside the cafe I saw a sign for “Big Echo” karaoke. Finally, truth in advertising.

My curiosity had been peaked when Arnd mentioned a place one could get really cheap deals on just about anything, so we crossed a bridge as the sun set and visited a few unusual shops that seemed to have everything. “They don’t know anything about the goods they have,” Arnd explained. “They just sort of…have them.” We priced a 5D and after looking up the exchange rates, found it was just a little more expensive than they are in Taipei, but still cheaper than we’d seen in the other shops. It’s just as well; I really can’t justify the purchase.

Arnd taxiAnother of Arnd’s interests is Japanese action figures, so we visited a few such shops. I was sorely tempted to buy a certain figure, but again, I’ll wait and see how my financial situation ends up before I make a decision on that. We also visited some really gaudy Pachinko parlors. No photos were allowed at either type of venue. We did take shots of each other taking pictures in the streets nearby, though. Arnd got some really nice shots of some girls in a restaurant who were apparently from the Planet of Fashionable Communists. The D300 does a great job at high-ISO shooting, though if you zoom in you can see the processing and resulting slight loss of detail.

It was dinnertime, and Arnd had to go, so I had some food and walked around the area some more. It didn’t seem as cold to me as last night, though perhaps I’m just getting used to it. Even though it’s Saturday night, the streets emptied of people fairly quickly. As I walked, the city gave off a vibe not unlike New York City, at least to my mind. Perhaps it’s the cold weather, perhaps it’s the sheer size of the place, or maybe it’s just the availability of sidewalks. I walked around the elevated sidewalks by the station for a while, wondering if people were assuming that I was just another pedestrian occupied with the stress of his daily grind, when in truth nothing could have been further from the truth. I love exploring and being someplace new and different, and the only things on my mind were variations of “I wonder what’s over there.”

By the time I’d returned to the hotel, the streets were almost deserted. I got some breakfast stuff from Lawson’s and came back up to my tiny room, footsore and tired, and soaked in the small yet deep plastic tub located underneath the sink. Rain is forecast for tomorrow, but I haven’t decided what my rain plan is just yet.

posted by Poagao at 9:47 am  


  1. A small yet deep tub? I can recall. Same thing in the hotel room I stayed in Kyoto. Enjoy!

    Comment by Daniel — February 2, 2008 @ 7:50 pm

  2. another classic Poagao travel diary. Keep ’em coming…

    Comment by Prince Roy — February 2, 2008 @ 11:38 pm

  3. Sounds like a good start…don’t forget to take nice long baths. Foot theraphy if nothing else.

    Comment by Hadi — February 4, 2008 @ 7:34 pm

  4. I am, this place is dryer than I am used to, so the baths are good, and my feet need the therapy as well after walking all day.

    Comment by Poagao — February 4, 2008 @ 8:19 pm

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