Ueno

Golden Tokyo

Last weekend was Golden Week in Japan, aptly named for the string of public holidays that make it the busiest time of the year to travel. Travel and lodging are booked months in advance as people take advantage of this time off. I went to Tokyo for the four day weekend, and despite preparing well ahead we weren’t able to get reserved train tickets for the journey there. That meant standing in the centre aisle practicing my snowboarding stance and thinking enviously of those sitting around me. Lucky for us though, the train ride is actually pretty fast and we got to Tokyo in about four hours.

The weekend itself was a lot of fun, and maybe the most random assortment of activities I’ve experienced in a weekend. Saturday we traveled, checked out some shopping, and explored Shinjuku area. We ate dinner at a pretty great Thai place that made me realize how much I miss Thai/Vietnamese/Cambodian food that used to be a staple in my week.

Sunday we strolled around Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden, which was free since it was “Greenery Day” holiday, and went to “Happy Cakes”, which is a make-your-own pancakes restaurant. You pick your batter and toppings and cook everything at your own personal grill, exactly like okonomiyaki.

Then Harajuku for some fun which was insanely crowded. Around two in the afternoon we made our way over to Tokyo Dome, for the main event of the weekend, the YG Family concert. YG Family is an entertainment company from South Korea that parents many pop music groups, most famously PSY (though he was not at the concert). Without being too dramatic, I have to say this was one of the best experiences of my life, but I’ll save that for later.

Monday was very rainy, so we went to Ueno park to the Metropolitan Art Gallery. This was a great decision and we spent about 4 hours there. We happened to be there during the Shinkseiki Art Exhibition, which has since left the museum. It was cool to see contemporary art from so many Japanese artists.  In the park we also ran into an awesome guy who was celebrating his 20th birthday (legally adulthood in Japan) who was asking for strangers to write messages all over his white clothing.

 

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Panda Mania: A day in Ueno Park

Leaving behind a snowy wonderland in Toyama, Tokyo greeted us with open arms of warm sun and crisp breezes. After a midnight bus ride through the Japanese mountain ranges we arrived, slightly groggy but with giddy excitement. Fearing the imminent death of my phone low on power, we braved the crowded basement of a McDonalds. Amidst the travellers asleep on their suitcases and the late night adventurers changing clothes in the bathroom for work, we stealthily snagged at a much coveted power outlet and recharged over orange juice and greasy hash browns.

After dropping off our bags at our hostel we took a leisurely walk to Ueno Park, marvelling out the stillness of the morning. Tokyo, despite it’s reputation as a city of epic energy was unexpectedly tranquil in the morning. Our path led us through the Taito district, which is home to countless industrial kitchen suppliers.

Before entering the park’s interior we stopped at C’s Cafe where we enjoyed some truly mouthwatering sandwiches, mine with herbed salmon and Ebany’s with copious amounts of gooey cheese.

Ueno Park was bustling (given that it was a long weekend) and we marvelled at the sheer size and quantity of museums in the park. If you so chose, I’m sure this sprawling cultural hub would provide several days of enjoyment, at least.

To our Ueno Zoo was currently home to two giant pandas, Ueno and Shinshin, who were being treated like the celebrities they are with a pretty sizeable crowd. Pandas are by far the strangest creatures I have ever seen, their plump bodies covered in fluffy white and black fur, casually munching on vegetation lain at their feet. In a way it really was like seeing a celebrity, in the sense that I was seeing something in the flesh that I had previously only seen in pictures or video. I half expected their furry arms to reach up and lift their heads of their bodies, revealing an animatronic interior or sweaty mascot worker. In the Panda (and Christmas) spirit, we snapped a quick picture with a pretty adorable backdrop. This led to a day of strolling through the zoo- enjoying the beautiful grounds.

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Intent on making the most of the day, we spent a leisurely afternoon enjoying Ueno Park, taking in the sculptures and Monet exhibit at the Western Art Museum. This was another reminder of how English-friendly Tokyo is, as there were explanations in English throughout the exhibits. Perhaps it was the break from my daily grind (oh, I’ve become so cliché) or the change in weather. Tokyo felt at once peaceful, with its quiet streets and sunlight filtering overhead, and ripe yet with opportunity for adventure from the density of people and events in your immediate surroundings.

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