Poagao's Journal

Absolutely Not Your Monkey

Nov 11 2009

Ueno and Roppongi

I took the JR to Nippori this morning, walking up the hill to the west side of the station to find the “Suzuki” guesthouse. Overlooking the rail station is convenient and all, but the constant trains and announcements must get really irritating.

Beyond the Suzuki is a huge cemetery, with many famous dead people. But I wasn’t there to see dead people, famous or not. I’d read that the area around there had more or less remained as it was decades ago, and I wanted to get a glimpse of old Tokyo. So I walked past the orderly stones and into the surrounding neighborhoods. I wondered what kind of people generally live next to graveyards in Japan, are they hyper-religious or completely non-religious? Also, how does it affect housing prices?

I came upon an empty lot, empty except for a couple of newly planted trees and surrounded by a fence with signs reading “Feel Wood.” Another foreigner, wearing all black, walked along behind me for a bit.

I proceeded down the hill and turned into an alley that zigzagged every few meters. Hardly anyone was around. Eventually I made it to Ueno Park, where old men sat on benches and fed the ducks, which swam through the rushes slurping the water.

Lunch was very nice tempura and sushi in limited quantities at a traditional Japanese place under the railway tracks, my meal interrupted occasionally by the rumbling of a train going overhead and shaking the dark wooden furniture. Outside, I noticed the same foreigner in black walking by. Does he read this blog?

After lunch I took the subway to Roppongi. The last time I was there it was in a snowstorm, and after becoming bored with the mall I trudged around the area in the snow before getting tired of it. Now it was a completely different scene, warmer and livelier with crowds of people, including many foreigners, on the streets. I walked through the area depicted in my home computer’s wallpaper, taking in the details, and then through some of the areas I’d wanted to see before but couldn’t due to the weather. The area is hilly, with slopes and dips in the roads that I miss in the flatness of Taipei.

I took the ear-popping elevator up to the top of Mori Tower, which was fogged in last time, to take in the 360-degree view. It was a hazy view, alas, but as the city’s lights came on, it improved quite a bit. It was strange looking at what was basically the wallpaper on my computer, and being able to think, “I’ll go down there in a minute and look around.”

As I walked around taking photos and video, I overheard a couple of mainland Chinese guys wondering aloud what the “H” on a helicopter pad meant. I told them, and they complimented my “Hanyu”.

“I’m Taiwanese, actually,” I said. That was the end of that conversation.

I was wondering what the people using their flashes were thinking, exactly, when I noticed the same foreigner in black walking around as well. This was getting positively weird. It was either coincidence or a really bad tail. In either case, there wasn’t anything to do, so I just kept ignoring him.

After about an hour, I left, satisfied that I’d managed to capture the scene well enough. I walked back down to the area in my wallpaper, this image, I believe, and just wallowed in the fact of actually being there.

When I was in the tower, I noted a couple of places where the freeway overpasses met in giant intersections, so I headed towards one of them to take pictures. After dinner at a cafe, I headed through a lengthy subway connecting passage, buying a hat on the way; Louis and I have noted that many photographers in Tokyo wear what he calls “character hats”, and I found one that matches the color of my Ramblers’ suit.

The second giant intersection, located over a canal, was partially under construction, but I managed to get some shots anyway. Afterwards I happened across a cool little neighborhood, full of cafes and restaurants, parks, squares and tree-lined streets where someone had parked an ancient baby-blue Porsche. Every third person seemed to be a foreigner of some kind. A wonderful smell turned out to be emitting from an old car with a wood-burning stove in the back, suspiciously near the gas tank, I though. But the driver, who was moaning a chant through a loudspeaker, was selling baked yams. I would have bought some, but after I took his picture he drove away.

I “borrowed” some wifi from a cafe and uploaded a couple of pictures from my phone before calling Louis and arranging to meet him at Yoyogi Station. After that, we went to a “photo bar” in a student-dominated area. The pictures on the wall were of a certain “concept art” type that I feel inhabits a kind of “uncanny valley” between realistic and abstract photography. The owner gave us some snacks and we drank wine while bitching about concept art.

Before we knew it, it was after midnight, and rain was pounding down outside. Louis got a loaner umbrella from the bar, and I had a tiny fold-up job in my backpack that did little to keep me from getting wet. We said good-bye on the platform at Shinjuku, and I managed to find my way back to the hotel without getting completely soaked. The crows seem to love the rain; they’re cawing louder than ever in the downpour outside as I type this.

Tomorrow I’m heading back to Taipei. I’d like to stay and see more, but I feel I’ve gotten a little better handle on this place than I had before.

posted by Poagao at 1:47 am  


  1. I really want to go to Japan. Right now there’s a possibility of next summer as we won’t be going back to the States for a visit until 2011.

    Assuming you’re able to get the needed rest, will you be joining us on Sunday?

    Comment by Brian Q. Webb — November 11, 2009 @ 11:32 am

  2. Probably, although we’ve already done that street.

    Comment by Poagao — November 11, 2009 @ 6:17 pm

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