Culture Day at Asakusa, and Ueno Zoo

Yesterday, the 3rd of November, is Culture Day in Japan and is a Japanese holiday. And so, we decided to head to Asakusa, to go to the Sensoji Shrine, and check out the White Heron Parade.

Asakusa is three stops on the Asakusa line funnily enough from Asakusabashi. Just go from A16 to A19, and you’ll be alright. When you’re in the subway station, you’ll see A1 and A2 and stuff like that, which refers to subway exits, i.e. how to get out of the subway building, so don’t be too concerned that you’re at A3 at the A16 station.

160 yen and about 5 minutes later, we were in Asakusa. Right by the subway exit is the first gate of the Sensoji, a big giant Tori (gate) with a lantern. You’ll see the reverse swastika everywhere, but in this instance it’s a buddist symbol. Continue to walk past the Tori, and you’ll go down a lane selling gifts to foreigners, so if you get a gift from me, this is probably where I bought it.

Past the lane, is the Sensoji Temple. Alas, it’s being renovated at the moment, so it’s all wrapped in white sheeting, but the inside is still simply amazing. Just past the area where you throw your coins and pray (and I thought a good way to get rid of those 1 yen coins), is the most decorative, fancy, opulent, worship place I have ever seen, easily exceeding the Destiny’s Church. Gold is literally everywhere.

From the masses of people heading to Sensoji, just to the left of the building is the temple grounds and garden. I can understand why Japanese people really enjoy parks and greenery – it’s because they don’t personally have any, so any they see, they really relish. I mean in New Zealand, we’re lucky to see so much greenery, it’s coming out of our eyes, and hence we don’t really care about it, and are more excited about going to The Base. But here in Tokyo where everywhere is The Base, to see a stream or a waterfall, or some Koi Carp in a pond is truely relaxing and peaceful and a welcome respite from everything else going on all around.

We found out from the Tourist place the the parade didn’t happen until 1.30pm, so from here we headed to Ueno. Ueno is about three stops away from Asakusa on the Ginza line, but do note that the Asakusa Lines and Ginza Lines are run by two different companies, so it’s not as easy as just transferring.

Ueno is a wonderful part of Tokyo, with wide open spaces, and of course, Ueno Park. Probably smaller in size than Hamilton Gardens (including the zoo part), Ueno Park once again is that sliver of green you miss in a sea of concrete and neon. A quick stroll through the natural though perfectly manicured gardens, and you’ll be at the Ueno Zoo entrance. 600 yen later and you’re in. There’s really enough to see and do for a whole day at Ueno Zoo, which is pretty good considering how small the grounds physically are. We saw sun bears, brown bears, and polar bears, which were hanging out in a pretty sad exhibit, but at least they’re not cages anymore.

Then we waited in line for about 10 minutes and 150 yen to catch to Tokyo Zoo Hanging Monorail! This monorail goes 350 meters, and takes 1.30 minutes for the trip. 350 meters for a monorail! It hardly seemed worth it to build it – but they did, and we rode it.

One great thing about the Zoo is the food places. I don’t know why, but there is another food place within 300 meters from any other food place in the whole zoo. From one end of the zoo to the other, we must have hit at least five, and the zoo size is less than Lake Rotoroa, in the middle of Hamilton. 800 yen was a bit expensive for a Chicken box, and 230 yen for a Sizzler on a stick seemed a little pricy, but overall, the zoo is excellent value for money, especially compared to Tokyo Disneyland. The Australian guys I was with last night headed to Disneyland and was stuck for two hours a pop waiting for rides, meaning a whole day would only get 4 rides.

Anyways, by this time it was time to head back to Asakusa and check out the White Heron Parade. Pretty much the same as the Taumarunui Christmas Parade, but with more fancier costumes, and instead of taking about 20 minutes, takes about two hours. After about 4 of the guys walking past, we’d had enough. If we had had good seats, it would have been different, but since you’ve been walking for pretty much three days straight now, it turns out your feet start to hate you, and make it well known.

So instead we caught the Subway back to Asakusabashi, had a rest, and then headed to Akihabara.

Akihabara really is a Otaku, or Geek’s paradise. Imagine the complete opposite of Ueno Park, and that’s Akihabara. It’s no surprise that it’s called Electric Town.

We weren’t really feeling great, more tired and sore, so we didn’t spend much time in Akihabara, but some of the stuff we saw was delightful, and others not so much.

We ended up stumbling into a book shop, that had thousands and thousands of Hentai, or Japanese Drawn Pornography. Turns out that in Hentai, anything can be drawn, including girls and boys younger than 18, in fact, I’m sure some were younger than 10. This would obviously be considered to be Child Pornography back home, and would be frowned upon quite seriously. I think here there’s just an understanding that a drawing is a drawing, and so perhaps isn’t harmful. I don’t know if this is reflected in the amount of sexual abuse on small children here, but it’s certainly not something that you’d be expecting to see. Kathryn dutifully noted that she was the only woman on the floor, and so decided to wait outside. I noticed that all the woman on the covers (since most of the books were sealed) all had some sort of fluid depicted on them.

And so we went to another floor, and this time it was full of figurines. This is serious business over here, and it shows. No longer just limited to the Toy Section of the Warehouse, figurines cost hundreds of dollars, and are very intricate. From maids who have fallen over in awkward sexual poses, to beasts of the underworld, and futuristic overlords, everything plastic and shaped roughly human-like can be found here.

Even the model cars were fantastic, including a hyper-detailed bus. It wouldn’t surprise me if a little button would make the bus lower itself so wheelchair people could enter. And of course, these things would exceed 10,000 yen pretty regularly.

But what I was really interested in was consumer electronics. I did see quite a bit of them actually, but the prices weren’t that sharp, such as an Iphone 3Gs for 109,000 yen. To convert into dollars, remove two zeros, and add half. So 1090 + 545 = 1635 dollars roughly. That seems a little expensive really. On the plus side, you can be certain that what you’re buying is original and not fake, but if you’re expecting prices cheaper than back home, you might be surprised.

After a quick look around, our feet were killing us, and we had no energy left, so we headed back to Asakusabashi for an early night, and ready to head to Odaiba tomorrow.