Sunday, April 2: I’ve still not adjusted to Japan time, so I am awake a couple of hours in the middle of the night. Because of that, I sleep in till 8:00. It feels so good once I go back to sleep, I don’t want to climb out from under my cozy futon.
When I finally get up, I make myself some fried eggs, a bit difficult without a spatula. I use a fork, and it is a mess. I also have a carton of cold milk tea from 7-11 which I heat up, but I resolve not to drink tea again. I’m a coffee person, through and through.
I have been undecided about doing a big outing today because the weather forecast is cloudy and cold. We also have off Monday, and the forecast is better for Monday. However, the skies have hints of blue this morning, so I rethink my plans. Today is supposed to be the peak of cherry blossoms in Tokyo and I’ve been told THE place to see them is Ueno Park. Cherry-blossom viewing is called hanami in Japanese, and as it’s Sunday and peak time, I expect there will be huge crowds. Still, I guess that’s what hanami is all about – the whole festive atmosphere and mingling with millions of Japanese all at once. Walking Tour 9 in my book, Tokyo: 29 Walks in the World’s Most Exciting City, covers Ueno, so I figure I’ll do that. Ueno Park has a bunch of museums within it, and since they all seem to be closed on Mondays, I’ll be limited in my choices if I wait till Monday. Also, for my first solo outing negotiating the Tokyo metro, it won’t be too intimidating as it’s the exact route I took yesterday for our orientation.
All this figuring and rethinking leads me to a very late start, which I’ll come to regret later.
I debate whether to ride my bicycle to metro (a 20-minute walk) because I hadn’t seen a bicycle parking area. If I rode my bike all the way there and couldn’t find a place to park, I’d have to ride back home and then walk. I ask a couple of Japanese people along the way, including the bicycle shop man and his mother, but no one understands me. Finally, a young Japanese woman points me to the left of the station, a couple of blocks down. I see people disappearing into a garage opening pushing their bikes, so, voila, I follow them. There are steps bordered by ramps leading to a second level and I’ve found the bicycle parking lot. I find a less crowded area toward the back, so I park there, but when I ask a man in business attire if I need to pay, he tells me in his limited English that the back area is for yearly pass holders. He says because it’s Sunday, I don’t have to pay, but I would have to pay Monday-Friday. At first he tells me 1,000 yen, and when I look shocked, he corrects himself and says 100 yen. He motions that I should park near the front of the parking lot.
After the long metro ride, which I won’t cover in detail as it’s the same one I took yesterday, I arrive at Yushima Station and walk toward Ueno Park, right past our ramen shop where we had lunch yesterday. A long line of about 10 people stands outside. I follow the path to the left of Shinobazu Pond, using my Walk 9 as my guide.
The cherry blossoms seem a little past their prime, but that doesn’t stop the hordes of people who have come for hanami. Every inch of grass is covered by groups of Japanese picnicking and laughing and talking. The path is packed with people as well.
The second portion of the pond is full of people skittering about in swan-shaped pink paddle boats and row boats. At this point, I’m to cross Shinobazu-dori and visit the House of Taikan Yokoyama.
I debate whether to enter the House of Taikan Yokoyama as no photos are allowed inside and it cost 800 yen. After walking away once, I decide to go in anyway, and I’m glad I do. The artist’s traditional wooden house is in the sukiya style found often in Kyoto. I’m allowed to take pictures in the entry area, shown below.
After removing my shoes, I go inside the house to see the tea room, with 15 windows looking out upon the artist’s garden, and a brazier in the middle of the floor with a teapot hanging over it. The adjacent studio workroom contains the artist’s working tools. I go into the upstairs bedroom, which also has a view of the garden.
Since I can’t take pictures of the house, I buy a postcard showing a view of the house from the back of the garden, shown below. The garden is lovely, with its little stream, rocks, carp in the pond, and stone lanterns.
Taikan Yokoyama (1868-1958) spent much of his life in this house, painting in the traditional Japanese Nihonga style, but adding Western approaches to painting later.
I also buy some postcards of the artist’s work. I pick out three, plus the one above picturing the house, and the clerk holds up five fingers, but I’m not sure what she means. Finally, she gets her co-worker to explain to me in English that I should buy 5 for 500 yen. Once the woman finds out I am a teacher in a university, she loads me up with 4 booklets about the museum to hand out to fellow teachers, which I now have to carry around the rest of the day!
Below are more postcards of Taikan Yokoyama’s art. Click on any of the photos for a full-sized slide show.
I follow the walk back down Shinobazu-dori to the metro stop where I started, and take a left at Kasuga-dori, and go down a ways until I make another left onto Ameyoko Shopping Street. More than 500 shops crowd this quarter-mile bazaar under the elevated rail line for the Ueno rail station.
The name Ameyoko combines two words, Ameya Yokocho, or “Confectioner’s Alley.” After the Korean War, a pun evolved from the contraction of American Market, since the area sold black market goods from American military Post Exchanges during those years.
The small shops here now continue the tradition of the Shitamachi, in which small-scale vendors have always operated, selling a wide variety of goods.
After this, I continue back into the main part of Ueno Park, where the real fun begins!