This morning's destinations are the Senso-ji Temple and Asakusa Shrine which are both in the older east side of Tokyo. We get off the metro and are immediately mobbed by young men competing for the privilege of carting us around the district in rickshaws. We escape by dodging into a side alley, and from there into a restaurant to get some breakfast. The waitress puts an iPad on our table, opens it at a language tab, and then leaves without speaking. We choose our food from a menu on the iPad, then press an "Order" button, and a few minutes later our meals land on the table. The waitress still hasn't uttered a single word. I'm not quite sure why you'd want to be a waitress if you didn't like talking to people, but if that was the case, this would certainly be the restaurant for you.
We head up some narrow alleyways towards the temple and shrine. The alleyways are all lined with small shops, and are a far cry from the skyscrapers we've seen in all the other Tokyo districts we've been to so far. The scene is all very colourful and cute. It has started to get
very crowded with tourists, particularly in some of the main alleyways leading to the temple. We read that Senso-ji is Tokyo's oldest Buddhist temple and was completed in 645 AD. The temple and the shrine are both spectacular, and the crowds and the burnt incense both add to the atmosphere, the latter in more ways than one.
There are lots of Japanese people here in traditional dress, particularly young women. I'm not brave enough to ask them if they mind being photographed, so I spend a long time stalking a group of them from a distance with a zoom lens. I wonder if this constitutes actual stalking under the Japanese criminal code, and decide that I should probably pretend to be taking photos of something else just in case. Issy then tells me that she walked up to a group of these young girls a few minutes earlier and asked them to pose for her, and they were more than happy to oblige. I think that I need to become a lot braver.
We see a man collecting money for a charity which is trying to establish more refuges for dogs and cats made homeless by earthquakes. It’s
occurred to us that we’ve only seen about two dogs since we've been here, and no cats. We're not quite sure why this is, as we'd understood that Japanese people were very fond of pets. We'd thought that lack of space might be a bit of an issue for pet ownership here, but we're now beginning to wonder whether it's got more to do with earthquakes. We also wonder how pets become homeless during an earthquake. Is it because their owners have been killed, or they've got scared and run away? It doesn't look like there have been too many big earthquakes here recently, so we're not sure any of this is helping to explain why we've seen so few dogs. We decide that maybe we should move onto wondering about something else.
Next stop is Ueno Park which is a few metro stops to the west. We have some lunch near the Park, and as we leave I spy a group of schoolgirls in sailor suit uniforms. I'm very keen to get some photos of them, but it's proving a bit difficult as they all seem to move around very quickly and erratically. I decide to run down
the laneway ahead of them so that I can snap them when they catch up to me, but they go into a shop, and when they come out again they head back up the laneway in the direction they came from. This is becoming a bit frustrating. I begin to wonder whether they're deliberately avoiding me, although they're not giving any indication that they've noticed me at all. I think that this is probably just as well, given that I’ve probably just contravened local stalking laws for the second time today. I look around nervously for any evidence that the police might be onto me. Issy tells me that I’m being embarrassing. I get that a lot.
We walk through the Park. It is huge and is full of temples and shrines. We come across the Japanese Cultural Festa, which is in full swing in the middle of the Park. We are invited to join the Ninja Experience which appears to comprise young ladies wearing samurai suits blowing darts out of a pipe into a target. The main feature of the Festa is a very enthusiastic display of Japanese drumming by a group of young men. Issy says that
all the drummers are sweating a lot, and I begin to worry that she might be taking just a little too much interest in them. As we walk on further we see a group young ladies in traditional dress, complete with face masks, waving samurai swords at each other. Now it's my turn to take just a little bit too much interest.
I haven't forgotten about the schoolgirls in the sailor suits. We spy a group on them sitting under a tree in the middle of the Park. Issy says that if she waves at them while I'm trying to take pictures we might get a better result. She's right. They wave back. I'm now slightly less worried about being charged with stalking.
We go into the Tokyo National Museum. We're sure that this might be interesting to some people, but we find it a bit mundane, so we don't linger for too long.
Issy rests up back at the hotel while I head off by myself to the observation deck on the 45th floor of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building near Shinjuku. The views are spectacular, and I can even see the silhouette of Mount Fuji
against the horizon in the far distance. It looks very big.
It is now peak hour and all the trains are packed. I'm not sure that I've ever seen quite so many people in one place before. No one seems to rush too much because they know that if they miss a train there will be another one a few minutes later. The trains all run perfectly to schedule, and I suspect that if a train ran late it would make front page news in the the Tokyo Times the next day. The swipe cards which everyone uses to access the metro are ridiculously efficient, and we can walk through the station gates without breaking stride.
We wander south out of Shibuya in search of a traditional Japanese restaurant. Our chosen restaurant's menu includes "salted fish entrails" and "fish bone soup". Whilst we’re sure these would be very tasty, we respectfully decline, and order mixed sashimi instead. The waiter asks us whether we'd like whale with that. We respectfully decline that as well. We’re not entirely sure what will come with the mixed sashimi. We’ve read that puffer fish is sometimes included. A few drops of puffer fish
toxin is apparently enough to kill the entire population of a small African country, and several hundred people in Japan die every year when the chef doesn't get it quite right when he's removing the toxin glands. I worry that we might have offended the chef by declining the whale, and that he might take it out on us by getting a bit careless when he's preparing our fish. We decide that we will worry about this less if we drink a lot. I order beer, which comes in a very large bottle accompanied by a thimble-sized glass. Issy settles on sake. We’re still alive after we finish eating the sashimi, so we celebrate by doubling up on the drinks orders before staggering very happily back to the hotel.
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