Josiah's Japan Travelogue
Part 6: January 2008
|Tuesday (1st): Nikko|
|Like Kamakura, Nikko is a popular New Years destination because of all the shrines, which naturally means that the biggest attractions and a lot of the shops and restaurants stay open, making it a good place to visit on the holiday. I already did a write up about Nikko and its really neat shrines last time I went so I won't repeat it. Being New Years, there was a lot of people there doing New Years type stuff. It was also lightly snowing for most of the day. Not enough to be a problem, just enough to make for a nice affect.
It's traditional to pray at shrines on New Years, there's also New Years wreaths people hang on doors and the like, roundish red dolls you buy and make a wish (you color in one eyeball when you make your wish and the other when it comes true), and wooden arrows (not quite sure what they're for). While visiting a shrine people also write prayers and wishes on little wood plaques which they hang up, and draw a piece of paper containing their luck for the year (not a fortune, just an amount of luck ranging from extremely lucky to extremely unlucky). Some people then tie that luck paper to a tree (sorry for the blurry photo), although I can't remember if you do that to make sure your predicted good luck comes to pass or to negate your predicted bad luck.
There were also a bunch of food stalls set up (a typical holiday thing). There was the usual noodles, sweets, candied fruit, grilled fish, yakiniku and the like (a lot of the same type of stuff that was at the local Matsuri I went to in Nogi). I also got to try some steamed Chinese buns stuffed with azuki. They were pretty good, too bad you can usually only find them filled with pork. Plus there was amazake, a traditional New Years drink. It's a very low alcohol and very sweet sake that's severed hot and often has pieces of rice inside. There's so little alcohol that even kids can drink it. I liked it but my brother thought it was a bit too sweet. Anyway, I had fun getting different things from the stalls instead of going to a real restaurant.
|Wednesday (2nd): Disneysea|
|Once again, a lot of stuff is closed around New Years which limited our possible destinations (no point in going somewhere if everything you want to see is closed). Disney is open 365 days a year and there's no equivalent of Disneysea in the US so I took Noah there. It was a good bit more crowded than last time I went (which was to be expected, given the holiday and all) and my brother has a lot less patience than me when it comes to lines but we still managed to hit most of the rides and attractions. I already gave Disneysea a pretty big write up when I first went there so I'm not going to repeat all that. Suffice to say, it's a great park and I always enjoy myself at Disney parks so we had a good time. Also tried the buffet restaurant they've got near the Tower of Terror, which was really good. Anyway, here's a few pictures (sorry about the over exposed sky in some of them, my camera settings were a bit off and I didn't really notice until today).
|Thursday (3rd): Shopping in Tokyo|
|I showed Noah more of Tokyo, namely Ueno and Asakusa. Useful tip, avoid Asakusa around New Years, there's so many people there to visit the shrine that even getting to a lot of the best shops is near impossible. Speaking of shops, in America we've got the day after Thanksgiving and the day after Christmas. In Japan, on the other hand, the two or three days following New Years are the big shopping days. There's lots of sales and special deals plus many Japanese stores have a selection of mystery bags for sale. A mystery bag is a bag full of stuff that would cost a whole lot more if you bought it all separately. But, since it's in a mystery bag, you don't really know what you're going to get until after you buy it. Although many bags are themed after various things such as a particular brand or product type and clothing mystery bags (the most common from what I saw) have sizes marked on them so you're not completely in the dark about the contents. They can be a bit of a money waster but they're also kinda fun and an incredible bargain if you can find some stuffed with things you want.
|Friday (4th): Sendai|
|Today Noah and I went somewhere I hadn't been before. Sendai is a city a ways to the north of Tokyo. It's the biggest city in that part of Japan with about a million people or so. It's too far for me to do a day trip on the local trains but it's not all that long of a ride on the shinkansen (bullet train), although shinkansen tickets are pretty expensive so that's a whole different problem.
First stop in Sendai was the ruins of Sendai castle, also known as Aobajo. There's a nice tourist bus that loops around a large portion of the city and stops at many of Sendai's main attractions, include Aobajo. Unfortunately, Noah and I didn't take it since my tour book said that a different bus also went to Aobajo and said other bus arrived at the bus stop first so we got on. Turns out the tour book was wrong and that bus left us stranded a decent distance from our destination. We eventually managed to get there (thanks to some helpful people and another bus) but we wasted a decent amount of time in the process.
There really isn't much of anything left of the castle but there's a restored gate house part way up the hill. The former castle site itself is home to a shrine, some restaurants, and a nice (although rather small and kinda expensive) museum with some artifacts from the castle and recreations of what it looked like when it was standing. One interesting thing I saw there was one of the shrine priests apparently blessing cars. Not really sure what was up with that. Anyway, there were also some monuments for Date Masamune, one of Sendai's former lords and the one who had the original castle built. He seems to be quite the local hero. The former castle site also offered a great view of Sendai. See that enormous statue in the distance? Want to know what it is? Well so do I. It wasn't listed in my tour book (would have gone if it was) so I'm gonna have to do some searching on the internet.
From there we walked down the hill and across the river, heading for the next stop on my list. We paused briefly to check out a small shrine on the way but our destination was Zuihoden, which is Date Masamune's mausoleum. It's quite a neat building and a couple of Date's successors have similar ones there was well. Unfortunately, the originals were destroyed in the war so the ones there now are very accurate (and very costly) recreations. But there is a little museum that holds relics from the original structures.
After that we made our way back to Sendai station to check out the large shopping arcades nearby. A shopping arcade it like a shopping street (as in it's a street lined with all kinds of stores and restaurants) that has a roof overhead. There was a good variety of stuff and a couple of my favorite stores from Akihabara even had branches there. Certainly not worth traveling to Sendai for, but the arcades make for a nice stroll if you're already there.
We headed home after finishing up in the shopping arcades. I had a couple more items on my 'to see' list but since we'd lost a lot of time in the morning thanks to the bus mix up there just wasn't enough time. Might go back on my own sometime (despite the overpriced shinkansen ticket) and check them out though. Besides, I'd really like to get a closer look at the huge statue.
|Saturday (5th): Trying Pachinko|
|Pachinko is the Japanese alternative to slot machines (although lots of pachinko parlors have some slot machines too) and it's very popular. For details, see the following Random Japan Comment.
So, I'd been meaning to give pachinko a try one of these days, not cause I particularly like gambling but just to check it out, and Noah did too, so Saturday night we stopped by a pachinko parlor in Akihabara. It took us a little while to figure out what to do (so the first 1000 yen disappeared pretty quickly) but with a little help from the person sitting next to us we soon got the hang of it. So we put in another 1000 and Noah got lucky and got a bonus round going. From that point on we swapped back and forth every now and then instead of getting two separate machines. Noah definitely had luck on his side but I didn't do horribly either (although he was the one who activated most of the bonus rounds). While he was taking his turn, I watched some of the other people in the parlor and was able to figure out what to do with our winnings. We quit after a certain amount of time although we had been doing pretty well so we probably could have kept going. After getting our balls counted (see the following RJC) and exchanging the points for prizes, we hung around outside the parlor for a couple minutes then trailed one of the other players to the real exchange station where we traded our prizes for cash and boy were we surprised. Our 2000 yen investment had netted us whopping 26,000! Of course, we probably just got lucky but after a first try like that I'm gonna have it give it another go at some point...
Random Japan Comment: Pachinko
|Sunday (6th): Japanese Alps Day 1|
|I'd always planned to do an overnight trip with my brother though the heavy hotel bookings and massive amount of closed shops and tourist spots around New Years made me change my original plans, but it worked out just fine in the end so I shouldn't complain. Anyway, we headed out fairly early in the morning and got a Shinkansen (bullet train) to Nagano, a city that's more or less the gateway to the Japanese Alps (not sure why Japan couldn't come up with a more original name for the mountain range, I mean we really don't need two sets of Alps). Nagano and the surrounding area was also the site of the 1998 Winter Olympics.
Nagano itself isn't all that exciting and generally serves as more of a stop over point on the way to other places further into the mountains. Nagano's one big attraction is the Zenkoji temple. I wasn't sure if it'd be all that impressive after some of the shrines and temples I'd already seen but I figured that as long as we were in Nagano anyway (had to switch from the Shinkansen to the regular trains) we might as well go see it. The tourist info office wasn't open yet so my brother and I just followed the signs. Unfortunately, we didn't quite follow them far enough. See, we ended up coming across a small temple, figuring that was it, taking a couple pictures, then heading back. Turns out we should have kept walking for another block. Anyway, we did get to see the real temple (which was pretty nice) the following day so I'll get back to it.
After our brief time in Nagano we got on a train to the first of our main destinations, Matsumoto. Either a very large town or a rather small city, Matsumoto is quite a nice place to visit. Even the weather was good (surprising considering that some major Japanese ski resorts aren't all that far away) There's a lot of museums, a shopping street with a frog theme, and plenty of other stuff to see. The big draw (and the main reason I wanted to go there) is Matsumoto Castle. It's the oldest surviving castle in Japan that's still in its original form (many of the other remaining castles had to be rebuilt or massively renovated). As you can probably tell from the pictures, Japanese castles are a lot different than European ones, although there's still a moat and a courtyard. The castle was really cool and there's a great self guided walking tour through the whole thing (complete with English translations of all the important stuff). So we got to see the inside, see some displays, and get some great views from the top. There's also an interesting museum right nearby that has relics and information from the town (and castle's) history.
I'd originally planned to go to another museum after that but Noah wasn't all that excited about it and wanted to go to a different place on my list instead (putting the museum off until the next day). I agreed, forgetting at the time that most museums are closed on Mondays (so I didn't get to go), and we headed to the Daio Wasabi Farm. Speaking of wasabi, the area around Matsumoto is rather famous for it. At the farm you can walk around, see the fields, get lots of different foods (all with wasabi), take a 'pickle your own wasabi' workshop, and the like. We got there a little late in the day so we didn't have time to do too much except walk around and check out the stores (wasabi chocolate anyone?) but it was still neat.
Eventually we made it to our hotel, the ryokan (a ryokan is a traditional Japanese style inn) Seifuso. It was chosen for a combination of online bookings (in English) and price. It was nice though I would have preferred a hotel with an onsen (hot springs). But the ones that I had found nearby were too expensive. Here's a picture of our Japanese style room.
|Monday (7th): Japanese Alps Day 2|
|The next morning we headed back to Nagano (since it's kinda the hub for trains in that area) then took a train to Yudanaka. Yudanaka is an onsen town close to some more ski areas. It was a lot colder and snowier there but we weren't there to ski or hang out in an onsen, but to see Yudanaka's most famous attraction, Jigokudani Yaen Koen. It's a park / wildlife preserve and the home of a whole lot of wild Japanese Snow Monkeys. Getting there took a bit of work (we had to take a bus from the station then walk for quite a ways) but it was worth it. There were monkeys all over the place and we weren't stuck on one side of a fence or glass window but right there with them. The monkeys didn't really mind people so taking nice close up shots was no problem and neither was posing with the monkeys. Of course, you weren't supposed to feed them or touch them (probably a good idea even though they look all soft and cuddly). Like I said, there were quite a lot of monkeys around and that included babies. They monkeys even had their own onsen, which a lot of them like to hang out in during the winter.
When we finally finished watching and photographing the monkeys, it was back to Nagano. Before heading back home, Noah wanted to check out a sake brewery he'd heard about. There wasn't all that much to see but they did have a restaurant and a store. While we were there, we also ran into the real Zenkoji temple (and realized that we'd visited the wrong place the previous morning) so we stopped to check it out. The road leading up to it is lined with shops, restaurants, and ryokan and there's big gate part way up. Note the statues on either side. It's kinda hard to tell from the photo but they're really around 20 feet tall. The temple itself wasn't super impressive from the outside but there was a lot of fancy stuff inside (which you naturally couldn't photograph) like hangings, statues, and all sorts of decoration type stuff. If you got an admission ticket (which let you get a closer look at said fancy stuff), you could also go through a pitch dark tunnel under the temple. Aside from the fact that it's kinda fun to find your way through without being able to see, you're also supposed to be feeling around to try to find a special handle that's on one of the walls. Not quite sure what the purpose of it is, but I found it. By then it was getting kind of late so Noah and I got something to eat and headed back to the train station.
And that pretty much wraps up my trip to the Japanese Alps. Definitely a lot of fun and I highly recommend Matsumoto castle and the monkey park in Yudanaka.
|Friday (11th): Quick Update|
|I took my brother to the airport today and we didn't do anything over the past couple days that's really worthy of a write up (took him to Yokohama but we didn't really go anywhere I hadn't been before).
|Monday (14th): Sumo Wrestling|
Hasn't been the best day for me. Some things went ok, but others... On the plus side, I got Monday off cause of a national holiday (the one for people who turn twenty in the past nine months or next three months) so I decided to hang out and relax Sunday. On the down side, my apartment was freezing all day on Sunday despite having both heaters running (not to mention my December electric bill was even higher (a lot higher) than November's). Plus my internet has been randomly dieing about every other day lately. Needless to say, I really dislike this apartment. I ended up getting a small cold on Sunday too (fortunately it's not too bad, just hope it goes away soon). To top off the bad luck, when I got back from today's excursion (which fortunately went fine), I found that my router had somehow reverted all its settings to the factory defaults, which kinda killed my network and internet until I got everything back to the way it was supposed to be. Ok, on with what I did today.
Monday (14th): Sumo Wrestling
A couple more things about the sumo tournament that I forgot to mention earlier. First, the sumo museum in the stadium. It was free with admission to the tournament. Pretty small but worth a look if you're already there. There was actually a decent amount of English translations but the grammar was pretty poor and there were some occasional (and really weird) spelling errors. My favorite line was, "His sun had a very healthly and strong childfood."
|Friday (18th): Schools in Japan|
|It's been getting colder around here and so has my apartment. I have to say, for such a tiny place (and with such a high electric bill, presumably from using the heaters so much) I find it very strange and annoying that the temperature of the apartment in general never reaches warm, just slightly less cold. I'm only warm in here when in bed, in the bath/shower (with the hot water running of course), or sitting right next to the heater (and even that usually only manages to warm one side of my body). It's almost like there's a space time anomaly in here that sucks out most of the warm air...
Random Japan Comment: Public School in Japan
|Sunday (20th): Odaiba|
|Odaiba is part of Tokyo set on an artificial island in Tokyo Bay. It's a popular area for dates, family outings, etc and features a whole lot of shopping malls, attractions, museums, fancy hotels, and the like. With the most obvious landmark being that giant Ferris wheel you can see in some of my pictures from Tokyo Tower.
So, after being told repeatedly that I should go, I decided to take a day to explore Odaiba. Despite it being on an island, getting there is pretty easy. There's actually an underground tunnel connecting it to the rest of the city if you've got a car. For everyone else, there's a monorail line you can get on from Shimbashi station.
I had a list of several places there I wanted to check out but, since my main goal was just to explore the general area, I decided to walk around and stop at whatever looked interesting along the way instead of just hopping on and off the monorail at each of my main destinations. First thing I noticed, hardly anything at Odaiba opens before 11 AM, at least on Sundays. Fortunately, there was some places open at 10, one of which was Sega's Joypolis, an arcade complex inside the Decks Mall. Although they say it's an arcade, Joypolis doesn't have a ton of arcade games. The main attraction is the large bunch of rides (motion , haunted house type stuff, a roller coaster, etc) and 'big' games (various Sega arcade games (racing and shooting type stuff) on big screens with the players sitting in fake cars, snow mobiles, etc, that move and shake along with the game). Some things were pretty fun while others were clearly made with little kids in mind. Individual rides and attractions are also a bit on the expensive side considering how long they last (although if you think you're going to be hanging out for a while you can buy an unlimited day pass).
Anyway, by the time I got tired of Joypolis, everything else was open. Since I was already there, I took a walk through the Decks Mall, which is actually two malls with some walkways between them. If you like walking around malls, Odaiba is definitely the place for you. Even if the prospect doesn't sound all that thrilling, the malls can be worth a brief look anyway as some of the floors have different themes (often with matching stores, restaurants, and entertainment). For example, this floor was kinda a Japan in the 50's or 60's style and this one was based on Hong Kong. One other interesting feature of the Decks Mall was Muscle Park, an indoor theme park with a bunch of game type attractions designed to test your speed, reflexes, strength, etc. It looked like a lot of fun but I didn't find it till right after lunch and it definitely didn't look like something I'd want to try immediately after eating. If I go back to Odaiba sometime though I'm definitely going to give some of the games there a whirl.
There's another big mall, the Seaside Mall, (complete with a big movie theater and a Toys R Us) next to the Decks Mall, which I also walked through, and a third (Pallet Town) across a couple of streets near the huge Ferris wheel but I decided two malls were enough so I skipped it and kept going. Oh, if you like weird signs, I think this was for a clothing line.
Being an island and all, Odaiba has its own beach. It was a nice place for a stroll but I'm betting it's much more popular during warmer times of year. If you're on the beach in Odaiba, and haven't had a chance to visit New York City, you can save yourself the trip and see the Statue of Liberty, although Odaiba's version is only ten or fifteen feet tall, making it a heck of a lot smaller than the real thing.
Once I got past the malls and hotels there wasn't a whole lot to see on the road I was on, aside from the occasional neat looking building. After a bit of walking I made it to the area where some of the museums were. Only one of the museums really interested me and that was the Museum of Emerging Science and Technology (although there's lots of others in the area including the Fuji TV Museum, Maritime Sciences Museum (think ships), Shell Museum (the gasoline company, not real shells), and more). It was a pretty big museum and had some neat exhibits about things like space, robotics, and nano machines. It had English translations for most of the stuff, which was nice, although a lot of it got really scientific. It started out interesting but my mind began to bog down a bit after reading too much of it. There's also some more visual and hands on type stuff for the kids (and people who get tired of reading description boards after a while).
Having had enough science for one day, and wanting to make it to my last major destination, I left the museum a bit earlier than I could have and headed for Odaiba Edo Onsen Montigiri, a "themepark" based on onsen (Japanese hot springs baths) and the Edo period. Now if you think that sounds like a really weird theme for a themepark, it is. Still fun though. It's a real onsen too (they actually managed to find a spring way underground) so it's a great place to try the whole onsen experience without the time or expense of traveling to one of the usual onsen resort towns. And it's definately an experience, in some ways more so than going to an actual onsen resort.
You start out by getting a shoe locker and ditching your shoes, traditional Japanese style and all that. After that you pay and get your pass, which is a wrist band with a locker key (for your main locker, not your shoe locker) and a barcode. To save you the trouble of carrying a wallet around (and I do think it would have been a bit of a pain to carry mine, you'll see why in a minute), any time you want to buy something while you're inside the park, they just scan your wristband and you pay up when you leave. After getting your pass, you've got to get a yukata (traditional Japanese summer time type outfit) to wear while you're inside. Yukata rental is included with admission to the park and guys and girls both have about eight different designs to choose from (mine was a light blue color with a mountain design on it). After that it's off to the changing room where you change into your yukata and dump your clothes and other stuff in a big locker. For people who can't figure out how to put on a yukata, there's a sign with English instructions in the changing room (useful since I probably wouldn't have gotten the belt right on my own). From this point on, it's barefeet and yukata only.
Emerging from the locker room, I found myself in Edo (old time Tokyo). Well, sorta. It's no Nikko Edo Mura (the Edo era village theme park I went to last year), but the "main street" is still fun to walk around and packed with stores, Japanese style carnival games, and restaurants. There's even some live entertainment from time to time. If you're hungry there's two foodcourts and a ton of restaurants. It's mostly various types of traditional Japanese food (but quite a wide variety of that). Nearly all the restaurants had picture menus but there was almost no English and some of the menus had so much kanji that I could have only figured them out with my electric dictionary in hand, so I went with kake soba (a Japanese noodle dish) for dinner, simple, popular, and and a nice safe standby when I can't figure out what the heck the rest of the things on a menu are. Aside from the food and shopping there's also a traditional ryoukan style rest room (a large tatami room with a lot of low tables people can lounge around when they want to relax). Most of that stuff stays open till around 9 although the main baths are open all night (closed only during mid morning when the entire complex is shut down). I heard they even have a capsule hotel in there somewhere.
Anyway, it's an onsen park after all so what people really come for is the baths. There's a lot to choose from. First off, the foot bath (it was dark outside by the time I went to check out that area). There's a large outdoor area with a sort of onsen river looping around it. Great for walking through or dangling your feet in the water but that's about it Keep in mind that, unless you're really tall, you're gonna have to hold up the sides of your yukata so it doesn't get wet. It's also one of the only baths that isn't seperated by gender.
Moving on, there was a whole lot of special baths (hot sand bath, hot stone slab bath, etc) and oriental massage type stuff available but those cost extra so I saved my money and instead headed to the main baths. There's seperate main bath areas for both men and women, the only exception to the rule being little kids who have to stay with whatever parent brought them. Naturally I was only in the men's bath but I'm going to assume that the two are pretty similiar. The baths start out with yet another locker room where you pick up towels and another locker key (yes, all the different lockers do get kinda redundant). You use this locker to stash your regular locker key, large towel (to dry off with after the bath), and yukata. The only things you bring into the bath itself are your bath locker key and the smaller of the two towels you were given (basically a really large washcloth). Keep in mind that, even though this is a "themepark" it's still a traditional Japanese onsen which means that everyone goes in completely naked. Like I said, it's seperated by genders but if you're extremely shy or have some other problem with being naked or being surrounded by a lot of other naked people, you're going to have to either get over it or take a bath in your apartment/house/hotel room, instead.
Interesting note, people with tatoos aren't allowed inside. It's nothing against tatoos exactly... Thing is, members of the Yakuza (Japanese mafia) have a tradition of being heavily tatooed so in Japan tatoos and the Yakuza are linked in many people's minds, making them uncomfortable around people with tatoos (like many people in the US would probably be uncomfortable if a whole bunch of Hell's Angels bikers sat next to them in a restaurant).
Anyway, I already covered onsen etiquette in a previous post so I won't go into it again but it's the same at the park. As always, it's very important to follow (there are some cultural things, such as onsen etiquiette and where you can and can't wear shoes, in which Japanese people have a lot less tolerance for mistakes than others). Fortunately, there's an English signboard somewhere in the locker room with the details if you're new to the whole thing.
The main bath area was pretty big and had something like nine different baths in a very nice setup. Water temperature was usually the main difference (mostly ranging from warm to moderately hot, with one really cold and a couple really hot) although there was also a bath with spa jets, and one with milky white water that I assume was from some sort of mineral mix (there was a sign explaning it but I couldn't translate the part that said what was in the water). Two of the baths were outdoors in a nifty little faux mountain retreat setting (complete with rocks, trees, waterfall, etc). And, if you wanted the heat without the water, there was a big sauna too.
And that's the onsen park. If you like (or just want to try out) the whole onsen thing without having to leave Tokyo I'd said it's definately worth checking out and your admission fee is good until closing time (the following morning since it's open all night) so it's great for anything from a couple of hours to an entire day if you're really enjoying yourself (although if you're staying that long, keep in mind that it wouldn't be healthy to stay in the baths the entire time, so take a break and hang out in the Edo main street from time to time).
I had work the next day so I didn't want to stay too late so after exploring the onsen park, hanging out in the baths for a while, and getting dinner, I changed back into my regular clothes, paid my tab, and headed for the nearest monorail station.
|Friday (25th): Update and Cute Stuff|
So, just a few updates on what I've been up to before today's RJC. First off, they finally finished construction on the sports field at school so I can go out and play dodgeball and stuff with the kids again during recess. It took something like two months but they transformed a big dirt field into...a big dirt field. I mean, it's nicer dirt now, there's a whole lot less rocks and they put some sort of gravel layer beneath the dirt to keep it even and all, but going just by looks it'd be pretty hard to tell the old field and the new field apart. And here I thought they were gonna put in grass or something fancy...
Random Japan Comment: Cute Stuff
|Sunday (27th): Ueno Museums|
I didn't want to do anything major Sunday plus I only have a handful of big day trip plans left anyway (like, two or three) since, having been here for so long, I've toured this part of Japan fairly extensively. Most of the remaining things on my 'to see' list are just stuff around Tokyo. So anyway, I decided to see some more of the museums in Ueno Park. There's quite a lot of museums in the park and the only one I'd seen so far was the excellent Tokyo National Museum (which I talked about in a previous post) so I went through the list in my tour book and picked out the ones that looked interesting.
I was originally planning to go to three museums but the National Museum of Western Art was closed while they get ready for some big special exhibit so I moved on to my second destination, the National History Museum, which is very easily recognizable by the giant whale in front of the building. If you've ever been to a natural history museum, this is the same type of thing. There were exhibits on things like animals and plants from around Japan, the life of ancient Japanese people (really ancient, like stone age), rocks, fossils, dinosaurs, etc. There was some neat stuff to look at but the museum has almost no English and I didn't want to spend all day trying to translate the signs so look was about all I did.
After walking through the park for a bit (there was a very small festival going on) and grabbing lunch from some stalls near the shrine in the center of the lake, I headed for the Shitamachi Museum. It's a small museum about life in Tokyo during the 1920's-50's. It's a very hands on place and they have sections from several old buildings inside that you can take off your shoes and walk around in. For example, here's a shop from the 20's that sold straps for traditional Japanese sandals and here's a candy shop from that same time period. And here's a house from the 20's and one from the 50's. There wasn't a lot of English (heck in some parts there wasn't all that much Japanese either since you're supposed to be checking all the stuff out for yourself) but the museum has a bunch of volunteer guides, some of which speak English. As soon as I got my ticket I was greeted by a Japanese lady who spoke passable English and gave me a very nice tour of the museum, explaining the history and purpose of a lot of the different things. It was very interesting and after my tour was finished I hung around for a bit longer to take a closer look at some things, snap a few pictures, and try out some traditional Japanese toys.
Since one of the museums I'd planned to see was closed, and I got through the National History Museum fairly quickly (since I wasn't reading any signs), I finished up earlier than I thought I would and had some time to kill so I went to Nakano for a while to browse the figurine, game, and music stores. As I've said before, it's no Akihabara but there's still some great stores there, especially when it comes to old toys and figurines. Besides, since Akihabara is so close to Ueno station I end up going there quite a lot, while Nakano is pretty out of the way so I don't get there much, making it a nice change. So yeah, I had fun, found some rare soundtracks I'd been wanting, and stumbled across a rather awesome clearance sale so it turned out to be a pretty great shopping trip. I'll probably have to go back once or twice more before I head back to the US in April.
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