We got up fairly early the next morning and had a sleepy breakfast in our comfy hotel room while looking down at the ant-like people milling about Shibuya. At 8:00AM, there weren’t many people using the crossing. It’s really a big change to see that crossing, usually teeming with life, almost empty. Shibuya in the morning seemed like a different place entirely! There was a distinct atmosphere of tranquility and quietness blanketing the city at this hour. The sun was shining cheerfully and the clouds that had swathed the sky in dull shades of grey the past few days had disappeared. It was a welcome sight.
Our breakfast consisted of the cream-filled chocolate dorayaki and milk coffee drink we purchased at a convenience store late last night. It wasn’t a big breakfast, but we’d been eating so much all through this Japan trip that we figured cutting down on our food intake wasn’t a bad idea.
Our next stop was Ueno Park, a humongous public park in the Ueno district of Taitō. The park, established in 1873, was built on land that used to belong to the temple of Kan’ei-ji. Its sprawling grounds are home to several attractions, including a number of temples and shrines, prominent museums, a baseball field, a zoo renowned for its giant pandas, and the Shinobazu Pond, which is actually an impressive 16 hectare lake home to extensive lotus beds, large carp, an assortment of water birds and Bentendo Temple. Ueno Park is also famous in Spring for its cherry blossoms and the Japanese traditional custom of hanami (“flower viewing”). As Japan’s most popular city park, it draws over ten million visitors a year.
One of the first things we did upon arriving at the park was find food. Alright, so that tiny breakfast didn’t fill us up nearly enough. We had some trouble finding a place to eat. It didn’t help that the place was packed with hundreds of people for Golden Week. In fact, we went to Ueno Park with the sole intention of visiting the zoo but decided against that idea once we saw that it would probably take us about an hour just to get inside the zoo. Anyway, we finally settled down at a small little café-esque eatery that served buns in the shape of a panda head and bento lunchbox meals.
I decided to try the panda bun thing. It tasted much like a buttery croissant. But other than that, it wasn’t anything special. It was rather cute though! We also had their pre-packaged bento sets, which were interesting because we’d never had anything like them before. Although being pre-packaged and not exactly freshly made, the contents were dry and cold. Still, they had very interesting ingredients in there.
Because we wanted to avoid the zoo, we decided to take a peek through the National Science Museum, which cost us ¥600 (AU$7.50) to get in. And yes, packed to the brim with people, we had trouble navigating the corridors of this building. Although smaller than I expected it to be, it was still an interesting museum. We weren’t allowed to take pictures in many of the exhibition rooms, so I don’t really have much to share with you. Sorry! Here are pictures of the ceiling of the building’s foyer and a picture of James’ head in front of a replica blue whale.
After our exploration of the science museum, we wandered the giant park once more and passed a few shrines and picnic spots. It was actually hot outside, which was a nice change to the chill and cold rain that plagued us from the start of our Japan trip. We finally came to the Shinobazu Pond and suddenly, we found ourselves in a completely different place.
The heavenly part was that there were rows of small food stalls that lined the pond leading up to the big temple. These were stalls selling the most authentic Japanese snack foods, made fresh in front of you. From puffy takoyaki to steaming hot oden to grilled sakura dango, they had it all!
We tried some takoyaki, which was seriously the best takoyaki I’ve ever had! I also bought a stick of sakura dango and James bought a stick of plain dango smothered in mitarashi sauce. The sakura dango had a pleasant taste, but was nothing like what I expected! The mitarashi dango was nothing short of delicious.
There was also a stall that let you play kingyo sukui (“goldfish scooping”), which is a popular summer festival game where you can win a pet goldfish if you’re lucky! Read this article and watch the embedded video to see what I mean!
We had a great time wandering through the lane of stalls that led up to the temple. But alas, all good things must come to an end. When we ran out of stalls to examine, we made our way out of the area and slowly meandered back to the train station. We figured it was time to move on to our next place of interest: Asakusa, which I will talk about in my next blog entry, along with our visit to Tokyo Tower at night. Until then, be good citizens of the world and come back soon!
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