Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Hanami: Ueno, Asakusa, Sumida

Quick news item: yesterday afternoon there was a 7.1 earthquake, about halfway between Tokyo and Sendai. It felt abnormally long and it was a bit anxiety-inducing, but it was just house weebles. I don't know how it affected areas to the north, but we're fine here. We've also had a couple noticeable ones this morning, but little. Well, little compared to the Big One. It's all relative at this point. A friend on the other side of Tokyo has been feeling all of these aftershocks much more acutely and counted nearly 40 yesterday. I only felt two or three.

I've changed my editor version, so a few things are different. Pictures are no longer clickable to see a larger version, so I'm including some of my favorites as very large for the design of this blog. Just know it's not broken, it's more or less how it's supposed to be. Pardon the occasional break in aesthetics. (Edit: never mind, they're totally clickable. But I'm not going to bother changing things, so you'll still have to pardon the occasional break in aesthetics.)

Hanami in Ueno Park:
On Sunday, I went with a friend to check out Ueno Park. It was definitely more crowded than Yoyogi Park, but I'm not sure if it's because of the location (approximately five steps from a major train station and contains a zoo that recently acquired a panda) or the weather (65ºF and sunny!).

Shortly after we arrived we had our first Weird Encounter of the Day. Some random Indonesian twentysomething guys asked if they could get a group photo with us, then chatted in a little English and a little Japanese for a few minutes. They were friendly and asked where we're from and told us that we should visit Bali, and then we went our separate ways.

Most of the sakura are very pale this year, but there are a couple different varieties and some are a deeper shade of pink.

It doesn't show up spectacularly well, but when the breeze was strong enough, petals fell on the crowd like friendly snowflakes.

I'd heard rumors of a crazy Chinese dude in Ueno park with fishbowl earrings (with live fish), but I wasn't sure I'd ever see him myself. But here he is, basking in the attention from the circle of people all madly snapping photos.
 Here's a closer shot, so you can better appreciate his accessories.

Back to hanami!

I'm particularly fond of this photo:

There were narrow corridors full of food vendors. The atmosphere here was the same as any street festival, but the types of snacks are unusual to me. You could get an entire cucumber on a stick. Or a whole fish. I'm not sure how I feel about that.

This booth was making something, but I have no idea what. There was batter and an egg, topped with a piece of bacon, but I don't know more than that. I'm sure it's some sort of yummy filled pancake thing, it's just the first time I've seen it done like that.

We followed this path to the end, where we came to a shrine.

The area with the food booths was very crowded, but three yards away it was much easier to move.

Can you see what's odd about this shrine? Let me get a little closer.

It's...painted. As in two-dimensional. People were still lined up to pray and donate coins.

I think it's under renovation or restoration so they've put a picture of the building on the outside to preserve the aesthetics. Painting an image of a building on a screen isn't common, but it is standard practice for a scaffold and screen to be erected around a construction site and removed when the building is complete. It's like a magic trick!

 We followed another pathway and were a little surprised to discover a small area of theme park rides for kids.

I found sakura ice cream!
 It might have been a slightly-cherry-but-mostly-vanilla flavor, it was hard to tell. But hey, ice cream!

In front of the zoo, friendly plastic monkeys direct the queue.

Immediately beyond the zoo queue is a sea of people under the sea of cherry blossoms.

We left Ueno Park and headed for Asakusa, my friend hadn't been there yet and it's one of those Must See spots. Along the way, we saw a frankencherryblossom tree.

And an awesome building.

This is Tokyo Sky Tree. It's under construction, but when complete it will be one of the tallest building in the world.

I'm not sure what this place is, but there are cows.

Senso-ji Temple in Asakusa

Here we are out in front of the big torii gate before our other Weird Encounter of the Day. Does this girl know how to take arm's length photos or what?

We stopped to get something warm and delicious at a food booth, and when we sat down to eat an older Japanese man walked by and made a big show of seeing what we had. So I volunteered, "Oishii desu!" (delicious!) and expected that to be the end of it, but he sat down to chat.

I take random conversations to be part of the cultural experience. I had part of a conversation the other day with a tiny old Japanese lady...I say "part of" because I was this close to understanding what she was saying to me, but it just wasn't there. That didn't stop her from talking to me, though, so she obviously wasn't offended that I can only talk about an extremely limited number of topics.

Anyway, this guy spoke a little English and I speak a teeny bit of Japanese, so we could make some small talk, but there was definitely a language barrier. He started to give us a (very slow-moving, unsolicited) tour of the grounds, but we did our best to gracefully part company after a few photo ops so we could catch some sakura along the Sumida River before it got too late.

Our new acquaintance, whose name I never did catch:

Along the Sumida River

Walking along the main path, parallel with the river:

Another one of my favorite photos of the day:

The view of the river itself wasn't particularly stunning, with concrete barriers along both sides, between two industrial-looking bridges...I'm sure there were some great photos to be had, I just didn't see any through my viewfinder.

This is a playground under the canopy of pink blossoms.

We rounded out the afternoon (coming up on evening) by going to a sushi-go-round for dinner and deeming the day a success.

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