Poagao's Journal

Absolutely Not Your Monkey

Feb 07 2008

Asakusa and the river cruise

Lovely weather out today. The people at the reception desk downstairs call me by my name with its Japanese pronunciation: Hayashi Mijiyaki-san! Hai!

It being such a nice day, I decided to go to Asakusa, but when I got to the subway station I accidentally ended up on the wrong platform. I told the guy at the window, and he issued me an “I am an idiot who cannot read plain signs” tag to take around to the correct platform. There I boarded a train and sat next to two heavy (in that entitled-due-to-excessive mass kind of way) Korean girls with identical Olympus mini DSLRs.

At Asakusa, once I managed to find my way out of the warren of shops and stores surrounding the station underground, I headed for the bridge over the Sumida River for a look. A mass of surprisingly unkempt old junks lined one bank, and on top of a tall glass building on the other side was to all appearances a gigantic, golden turd. I’m guessing Godzilla’s been drinking late at night again.

bowI turned around and made my way to the Shoji shrine/shopping complex, avoiding the main thoroughfare and taking side alleys to the shrine itself, which was swamped with tourists from all nations, though only the Japanese dared take the rickshaws for rental rides. The urn in the center of the square was surrounded by tourists trying to wave the smoke in their direction for good luck. I found this amusing because, whenever I am near smoke, it naturally blows my way, and so it was today: wherever I walked, the smoke followed me. I think the more devoted of the tourists were a bit jealous.

I walked around the rather neglected bell tower, which looked like a nice place to live, and then around to the rear of the temple, where workers were carting leftover snow and spreading it around to melt. Otherwise the area was deserted, but I felt that the shadows of the trees and the puddles left by the melting snow, mined by pigeons, were far more photogenic than anything in the busy front end.

basketcaseI left the complex and walked around the neighborhood. Once, when I was taking a picture of some colorful garbage left in front of a shop, a man walked by chuckling at, I can only assume, my choice of subject matter. So I took a picture of him. I am finding the hot packets quite useful for gloveless shooting in the cold, by the way.

Later, I came across a shop displaying shiny suits of all colors and velvet lapels. “Too small for you!” the owner told me. Probably a good thing, as I was eying the maroon number.

After lunch at a counter-style curry place, I walked back to the river and bought a round-trip ticket on the river cruise to Hinode Pier and back. With me on the flat, glass-ceilinged boat were dozens of schoolchildren who were doing some kind of school project that apparently involved shrieking and jumping up and down. It wasn’t terribly relaxing.

boat viewBut the view was nice, and I could rest my legs as I watched the city slide by. We went under bridge after bridge, but the woman describing them on the microphone at the front of the boat stood no chance against the students’ noise.

Eventually we arrived at the Tokyo Port. I had no idea where I was, so I asked when the last boat back to Asakusa was. “5pm,” the guy at the counter said. I had an hour and a half, so I walked across the road, under the highway, over a bridge and up a street until I reached a downtown-like area. A sign for an observation deck caught my eye, so I followed it to the Hamamatsucho World Trade Center. A ticket to the 40th-floor observatory costs 630 yen, so I thought I’d go up take a look.

observatoryI practically had the place to myself. Yet the view was wonderful, even better than the city government building, I thought, though it could have been the light. The sun was inching towards the horizon, and the whole area was spectacularly lit. I would have liked to have stayed until the city below lit up, but I would have missed the last boat back to Asakusa, and I was meeting Arnd later in Ueno. I guessed, however, that they would keep the lights on inside, spoiling any chance at good night shots.

Back at the dock, I noted a genuine vintage Airstream trailer made into a food stand sitting unattended on the dock as I boarded the ferry. This time there were only a few people on board, and the city was slowly lighting up as the sun went down. Navigating back up the river proved very relaxing and much more enjoyable than the trip down had been. I wondered if the people sitting behind me were inserting English words in their conversation for my benefit, as people in Taiwan often do. Japanese, however, has so many English words in it that I really couldn’t tell.

Back in Asakusa, I started walking in a roughly westward direction towards Ueno, somehow ending up on a street full of motorcycle shops. There is the perfect amount of motorcycles in Tokyo; they are common enough that people know how to drive around them, but they aren’t nearly as crushingly ubiquitous as they are in Taiwan. I saw some really sweet, low-slung models, too.

I thought as I walked how much effort people here have put into making life more convenient. From the little restaurants everywhere to the pictures of food, the vending machines, the ticket-based economy to the public restrooms and useful maps; everything seems taken care of. It’s a little frightening, but then again, I’m used to living in what amounts to a working anarchy, where things are left to solve themselves most of the time. Some would frame the contrast in terms of Buddhist vs. Taoist philosophies, but I’m sure there’s more to it than that. I’m still getting used to standing on the left side of the escalator.

A road sign read: “If the parks or schools in your neighborhood are not safe, please take refuse in the area indicated on the map.” The indicated area, shown below on the sign, was Ueno Park.

I reached Ueno Station early, so I sat down next to the escalator by the Hard Rock Cafe to wait. Unbeknownst to me, Arnd arrived about the same time, waiting just behind a column around the corner. We both sat in our spots for roughly 20 minutes, each wondering where the other was. Eventually I stood up, walked a few steps and saw Arnd and his friends, many from Flickr.

flickritesWe crossed the road and walked to Za Watami, a third-floor restaurant near the train tracks, the kind where you take off your shoes, put them in a little wooden box and sit with your legs in a depression around a table, and ordered beer and snacks. As soon as we sat down, out came the cameras, with everyone snapping away at each other while we waited for the food to arrive. Besides me and Arnd, flickrites Hiromy, Jimmy, Grumpy Old Man and Un Gato Nipon were there.

Over the course of the next few hours we talked about Japan, Taiwan, travel, photography, technology, and many other interesting things. It was good to meet up with the group; I had a lot of fun. I’ve now filled up my 4gb card on my big camera and have just 6 minutes of video left on my little camera.

Tomorrow I am going to visit the Ghibli Museum. I have no idea where it is or how to get there, but I’m sure I can figure it out. Much of this trip has involved figuring things out as I go, and it’s worked so far.

posted by Poagao at 12:09 pm  

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