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Tuesday 4 June 2024

Book V ~ Chapter 28 ~ The Tokyo Terminus

Book V ~ Chapter 28 ~ The Tokyo Terminus

19-Sep-2023 - 22-Sep-2023

Table of Contents

This is the final stop of our Japan trip, and it also marks my return to the one area that I have spent most of my time in Japan thus far, namely...

Since I wanted to accommodate my travelling companions with a central base for our last days in Japan, I chose a Ryokan that is squat in the centre of Tokyo, the cultural district of Asakusa (浅草 "Shallow Weeds").

And because I already covered everything else about this area in an earlier chapter (see Book II ~ Final Chapter ~ Of Spirits and Shrines), let's continue straight to...


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The Place

We're staying in the Ryokan Asakusa Shigetsu (旅館浅草指月 "Travel Building Shallow Weeds Pointing to the Moon"), which is located in a side road of Asakusa's Nakamise (仲見世 "Relation View Society", a traditional shopping street near a Shinto Shrine). With the Asakusa station only a few minutes away, and Sensou-Ji (浅草寺 "Shallow Weeds Temple") right on our doorstep, this is about as central and cultural as it gets.

Naturally, our room is small as always. Much to Bea and Brett's delight, however, this time around we have to separate rooms once again.

The view from our room is... basically okay. Mostly, we only see the nearby residential buildings, but there's also a gap through which we can see the roof of Sensou-Ji and its 5-storey-pagoda.

Now, another reason why I chose a Ryokan for our final stay is that I wanted my companions to enjoy a last few servings of amazing Japanese breakfast. That's why I specifically looked for a place that had a breakfast option. But alas, it should not be...

At least there's magically replenishing snacks in the form of rice crackers. No matter how often I consume these, they are always right there again when I return to the Ryokan in the evening. Pure magic!

Our room also has just enough space for a laptop-friendly workspace in the form of a low table with a zabuton (座布団 "Squat Cloth Group" = "Sitting Cushion"), where it once again pays that I've preferred kneeling ever since I was little.

Outside our room, there's a discretely lit hallway in which fittingly the room number 404 cannot be found. It's unusual enough that the building even has a fourth floor, what with 4 being considered an unlucky number in Japan. I've been in hotels where the 3rd floor was immediately followed by the 5th, with no 4th floor in between.

Finally, this Ryokan also advertises its "specious bathroom", which turns out to be a surprisingly adequate description, considering how this clearly is the least spacious ofuro that I've seen in all my travels in Japan: While still larger than your average bathtub, the other ofuro that I've seen were more akin to small pools, so calling this an ofuro is almost an insult. Oh well, at least there's a nice view, and privacy be damned!

So much for the place. Now, there isn't terribly much time left on the day of our arrival in Tokyo, but it should still suffice for...


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An Evening Expedition

19-Sep-2023
Distance: 2.4km
Ascents: 25m
Duration: 1.0h

Since we've just reunited with Bea and Brett, and since I've taken the lead in all our joint ventures thus far, I decide to let Bea and Brett take point this time. That should result in a number of metro rides, followed by two short strays through Nippori (日暮里 "Twilight Village") and subsequently Ueno (上野 "Upper Field").

However, for starters we make our way first through the aforementione Nakamise of Asakusa...

...followed by one of the many Shoutengai of Asakusa...

...before entering the underground passages of the metro, which actually don't look all that different. Sure, the ceiling is a little bit lower, but there's still plenty of shops left and right (although quite a number of those clearly did not survive the Green Shnolz).

From the Asakusa station, we take the Ginza line until Ueno...

...where we have to make our way through quite a bit of underground walkways which I suspect taller westerners find find quite uncomfortable to navigate.

After that, we proceed aboard one of several train lines to Nippori, which features state-of-the-art air cooling devices. Did I mention that it's still HOT?

Fortunately, it's just two stops in the crowded train until Nippori. Of course it's still hot outside too, even in the evening, but hot and spacious still beats hot and crowded.

The reason why Bea and Brett wanted to come here is that they red about Yanaka Ginza (谷中銀座 "Shopping District in the Valley") a supposedly cat shopping street where we're also hoping to get some dinner. However, while the place turns out to have at least a bit of a cat theme to it, there's no actual cats around, and no dinner places that pick our interest.

I mean, there's one that naturally picks my interest, but since all of us have just recently had sushi, we decide to give that one a pass and keep on looking.

Since we don't find anything promising in the immediate vicinity, we head for the nearby Sendagi (千駄木 "Thousand Packhorse Tree") metro station...

...and instead head for Ueno, where the Ueno Nakadoori Shoutengai (上野中通り商店街 "Upper Field Middle Road Shopping Street") offers a considerably more promising selection of food places.

The dietary restrictions of Robert (who doesn't eat meat) and Brett (who is allergic to seafood) still doesn't make it easy, but eventually I spy a place where I am reasonably certain we can find something for everyone. At the very least my Japanese is good enough that I can read Toriten (とり天 "Deep Fried Chicken") and Yasaiten (野菜天 "Deep Fried Vegetables") on the cloth fliers outside, which is enough to cover Brett, and I know Robert likes Tenpura.

So in we go, each ordering something fried to their liking, and a little bit later we sit for what should be our final meal together in Japan, enjoying our respective dishes. Everyone has a bunch of deep-fried things on top of a bowl of rice, and I for my part have a dish of chilled Soba noodles in addition (but a smaller bowl of Tenpura and rice).

Afterwards, Bea, Brett and Robert decide they still want to enjoy the nightlife a bit, maybe hit a bar or two. Since that's nothing for me, I take my leave right there and then, and head out, back into the brightly lit night.

Making my way to the Ueno station, I come across a shop that offers pizza at an amazingly cheap price of 500¥, and with a diameter of 25cm the size isn't too shabby either. The only problem (apart from me having just eaten) is that why would I eat pizza if I have all that tasty Japanese food as an alternative? But for the locals, this is a really great deal.

Anyway, a short ride in a reasonably full metro later...

...and I am back in Asakusa, where the familiar shapes of the Golden Carrot and the Skytree greet me.

By the time I get back to the Asakusa Nakamise, it is only 19:30, and yet all the stalls are closed as though it were already midnight. Clearly this is not a night life place.

From there, it is only a short walk to the hotel, where I proceed to wrap up the evening. Tomorrow should feature a big day on which I should tackle...


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The Southern Shrine Strays

20-Sep-2023

As mentioned before, our Ryokan unexpectedly bailed out on breakfast, so the first order of business on all days is securing some of that. Fortunately, the Ryokan provided a list of nearby places which offer breakfast that we can and will check out over the next few days. And so, we start our day at 8:00 by making our way through the yet pretty empty streets in search of one of those places.

The first place we check is closed, but the second one - a Teishoku Restaurant by the name of Yayoi - is open for business, so we go in and take a seat.

There, we get a proper mixed Japanese breakfast, which also includes some fish. Feeling adventorous, I pick something that I'm not familiar with, and as a result end up with a fish that's frustratingly difficult to eat with chopsticks. By the way, this place features another interesting payment method: Everything you order comes with a little "ticket", and when leaving you bring all the tickets to the cashier and pay for them.

After breakfast, we head for the next metro station, naturally not without passing a number of shrines along the way. One of the shrines also features a dog statue that has a bit of a history to it, but unfortunately that's a bit too complex for me to translate.

We also pass a vertical carpark that would seem modern if not for the rust standing testament to its age. How come Japan has already had such things for decades and yet we don't see them in German cities?

Our first goal today is Kawasaki, and to get there we first take the metro to Shinagawa...

...where we subsequently confronted by an intricate system of waiting lines. It's actually quite simple and elegant once you know which line you need to get into, but at the very first moment it's pretty confusing.

In the end, I cheat again by using my Japanese skills to simply ask one of the station attendants to point us into the right direction, and so we happen to end up on the right train bound for Kawasaki. And since we're not only above ground now, but the train is also running on an elevated viaduct, we get a good view of the city and later the Tamagawa on our way south.

Once in Kawasaki, we change again into the Keikyu Kawasaki line, which is a short local train with only 7 stops and  a total length of less than 5km. Despite that short distance, the train is still pretty busy.

Of those seven stops, we get off at the central one, which is the Kawasaki-Daishi (川崎大師 "River Cape Great Teacher") station, located in front of the entrance to the Daishi Sandou (大師参道 "Great Teacher Visiting Road"). Note that "Sandou" is typically the name of roads approaching a shrine or temple, and people who have been in Tokyo are probably familiar with Omote Sandou (表参道 "Front Visiting Road"), which is the main approach road to the Meiji Jingu (明治神宮 "Bright Reign God Hall"). However, technically many other shrines and temples also have their own Omote Sandou.

This concludes the approach to the site of our first stray, which should subsequently take us through...


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Kawasaki & Kamata

Distance: 6.0km
Ascents: 30m
Duration: 2.0h
10 (9🦊); 1; 2/2🎁︎

This stray should takes us through parts of Kawasaki, and then north across Tamagawa and back into Tokyo, where we should visit one shrine that means a lot to me before taking the train to Kamata and going for lunch there.

My original intent was to show Robert the temple that featured all of the Shichifukujin standing around a pond, and so I make for the great Kawasaki Daishi temple. However, while this temple with its pond and 5-story-pagoda sure is impressive, it sadly turns out that I messed up in regards to the Shichifukujin pond: That one is located at Iou-Ji (医王寺 "Doctor King Shrine"), which lies a little over a kilometer west of here.

Here in the field, however, I don't have access to that information, and so instead we stick to our scheduled route, which takes us through the shade of the trees in Daishi Kouen (大師公園 "Great Teacher Park")...

...and past another thing I wanted to show Robert: The Kawasaki Daishi Jidousha Koutsu Ansen Kitou Dono (川崎大師自動車交通安全祈祷殿 "Kawasaki Great Teacher Car Traffic Safety Prayer Hall"), which is effectively a drive-through temple where people can stop on the way to wherever they need to go to get a blessing. Unfortunately, we seem to have just missed one of their services, and in this heat we don't exactly feel like sticking around half an hour until the next one.

Moving on, our next stop is the nearby Daishi bridge, where we come across what is probably the shelter of a homeless person. Those are in fact not uncommon in the Radiant Metropolis if you keep your eyes open, especially near bridges such as this one.

From atop the bridge, we can see all the way to nearby Haneda airport, from which we will depart in three days' time...

...and we also get to witness the restoration of the Kousoku Daishibashi (高速大師橋 "High-Speed Great Teacher Bridge") in action. This is actually a fascinating project where they used tracks to slide out the old, aging section of the bridge, and replaced it with a brand-new segment. We pass this construction project at a point in time after the replacement has occurred, so the "loose" piece of bridge here is the old one, that will subsequently be demolished and removed.

Right on the other side of the bridge is Haneda Jinja, which is clearly making a killing selling Ema (絵馬 "Picture Horse" = "Prayer Plaque") for safe flights.

Subsequently, we make our way through the streets of Oota-Ku (大田区 "Great Field Ward"), amazingly without encountering so much as a single shrine...

...that is, until we end up in front of Anamori Inari Jinja, a Shrine that holds special significance for me on account of it having been the first Golden Fox Shrine I encountered on my travels in Japan. In fact, right from the start of my first journey through Japan, I had designated this is the place to meet up with everyone that I gave a piece of gift artwork to, leaving coordinates and a date on each of them, and I had everything in place to make it to that meeting in 2020, but alas, the Green Shnolz put an end to that. So here I am now, 1233 days late for that meeting, and wondering how everyone is doing.

But back to the shrine: There's another reason why I came here today, apart from nostalgia. You see, Shinto shrines are traditionally rebuilt every 20 years, and it just so happens that such a reconstruction now took place here. In fact, when I first visited the shrine in 2018, it looked like this:

Then, when I returned in 2019, shortly before my departure from Japan, I was surprised to walk into the shrine in the middle of its renovation:

And now, four years later, the renovation works are finished, and the shrine has gotten a completely new look!

However, despite all the changes, the overall structure is still the same. For instance, there's still a Torii-tunnel to the right of the shrine with several tiny side shrines next to it.

And in addition to the big Torii tunnel, there's also now a tiny Torii tunnel next to it, snaking this way and that between the Torii tunnel and the side shrines.

At the end of the Torii tunnel there's something new: A stone tower named Inariyama (稲荷山 "Inari Mountain"), which features quite a number of side shrines all over it.

Ascending the tower is not only permitted, but encouraged (because that way people can pray and make offerings at all those shrines). Naturally, I don't need any more encouragement than that, and in addition to many fox shrines along the way I also get an okay-ish view of the neighborhood from the top of the tower (which actually is only barely taller than two stories, and thus is dwarfed by the office building across the street).

Beneath the tower, there's the Kitsune Tsuka (狐塚 "Fox Den"), which houses the biggest concentration of foxes in this foxy shrine...

...as well as a modern neon Torii tunnel, which one one hand seems a little bit out of place here, but on the other hand really comes across nicely in the dim of the den.

And of course, there's SO MANY foxy side shrines all around that I can barely stop bouncing, grinning and giggling.

Eventually, Robert manages to drag me out of this foxy paradise shrine, and we proceed on our way to the nearby Anamori Inari station.

By now, it's already about lunchtime, and we're starting to look for interesting places to eat along the way. However, both Robert and I concur that a food place that has a chili pepper as part of its name is probably not what we're looking for.

At the station, the cute little  marble fox statue named Kon-chan awaits us, and today it is dressed quite festively in celebration of the 120 year anniversary of the nearby Haneda elementary school. How adorable!

From there, we take the Keikyuu Kuukou (京急空港 "Capital Express Airport") line to the Keikyuu Kamata (京急蒲田 "Capital Express Cattail Field") station...

...which is a remarkable station because it not only is elevated, but in fact stacks two layers of train platforms on top of one another, the tracks of which elegantly merge along the ways to all three next stations. As such, at this station you don't have 4 tracks next to one another, but rather arranged in a vertical square pattern.

At this point, I already have a destination in mind for our lunch. It's a little bit of a walk since we need to get over to the Kamata station, which is over half a kilometer to the west...

...but then our destination - the SunRise Shoutengai - is right on the other side of the station.

And in there, there's another of those secret little places: A Hanamaru Udon ("Flower Circle Udon"), which is a chain of Udon canteens that few westerners are like to set foot into on account of it being all labeled in Japanese.

The Udon in there is probably not the most yummy in all of Japan, but it's cheap, and there's another charm to it: This place is pretty much an Udon buffet, where they have all the ingredients at the ready. You walk down the line of counters picking whichever ingredients you fancy, and emerge with a tasty bowl of Udon custom-tailored to whatever you feel like that day. Pretty much the only things you need to tell the kitchen staff is what your main ingredient should be, and how big of a portion you want (in my case that's "Kitsune Udon Chuu" (狐うどん中 "Fox Udon Medium"), and by the time you pick out your optional ingredients they've already got it at the ready. My personal recommendation here is to take one of the fried onion "cakes" because one of these is great for soaking up the remainder of the broth once you're finished with everything else.

Going to a Hanamaru Udon again has been one of the last things on my to-do-list for Japan, but there's still more. However, my next goal should not match up with Robert's, and thus we decide to go separate paths from here, with him going to visit a museum for modern art while I should spend the afternoon...


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Straying to Shinagawa

Distance: 13.3km
Ascents: 150m
Duration: 4.75h
25 (11🦊); 6; 1/1🎁︎

Those of you who have been around for a while may recall that I left the Radiant Metropolis with three separate territories connected (the biggest one being central Tokyo, followed by Kawasaki to the south, and finally a little one in between that came into being as a result of my visit to Kemoket) by a single long stray from Minato to Kawasaki.

One of the things I want to do is to connect them into one big territory. Fortunately, this aligns nicely with my other goal of finding new fox shrines on account of those being pretty much everywhere, so as long as I'm going somewhere new, the fact that I'll find new fox shrines along the way is pretty much a given. Now, the shortest path to connect the territories for maximum impact would be hiking from Musashi-Nitta (武蔵新田 "Warrior Storehouse New Field") to Shibuya (渋谷 "Astringent Valley"), but there's several problems with that: For one, that's kinda far and I've only got half the day left, and for another Musashi-Nitta is still some distance away from Kamata, so I'd have to cover that on top. As such, I instead opt to split this endeavor in two parts, with the first part involving me straying from Kamata to Shinagawa right now, thus already connecting the Kawasaki and Kemoket territories, while also carving out a wedge towards the central Tokyo territory. This also frees me up to take a bit of a roundabout route as I pursue strays in the area, which results in a bit of a zig-zag route that gradually takes me north to Shinagawa.

And thus begins my stray from Kamata to Shinagawa. First, I follow the tracks of the railway line north...

...but before long I cross over to the other side by means of a well-decorated underpass, illustrated with a Toki bird and a (now extinct) Japanese wolf among other animals.

After that, I make my way mostly through quiet side roads (once again, take note of the absence of cars)...

...before finally coming across the first shrines of this stray, some of which even feature foxes.

My stray through the streets and paths of central and eventually northern Oota-Ku continues for some time...

...and along the way I am lucky enough to run into a 100-Yen Jidouhanbaiki, where I can get a can of  a fruity drink containing at least 10% actual fruit!

Moving on, I eventualyl find myself on a street where the flagstones of the sidewalk are adorned with the pictures of various birds, so if you've ever wanted to know about the Japanese names of some birds, the Tokijo Douri (登記所通り "Registry Office Street") of Oota-Ku is your chance! The easiest way to get there is probably going to Oomori-Eki (大森駅 "Great Forest Station") and then walking south.

It is also on that street that I come across a supermarket of a chain that I haven't seen before: A Maibasuketto (まいばすけっと "My Basket"). First established in 2011, this is a small brand of Supermarkets that currently only exist in Tokyo and Sapporo, which focuses on walk-in customers from the immediate neighborhood in response to the ever-aging population of Japan.

Eventually, I cross back over aforementioned railway line again, this time by means of a level crossing that features some nicely illustrated warning signs. Also note that there's a display that shows from which direction the train is coming. In this case both arrows are lit up, so I know I need to wait from a train from both directions to pass.

On the other side, I come across the first Buddhist temple of this stray, this one being called Zenkeiji (善慶寺 "Virtuous Jubilation Temple")...

...and then its back to Shrines. Speaking of which, this one is particularly unusual: Normally, you walk up some steps to reach a shrine, but since this one is located at the side of a hill, you actually have to walk down some steps instead. Quite a rare sight.

Also, on that same hillside, someone came up with a very creative way of parking his bike.

Oh, and speaking of bikes, I don't know if this is a new development, or if I simply didn't pay attention to it the last time around, but I do now take note that quite a few of the bicyclers that I encounter are, in fact, riding on e-bikes in this part of the world too.

This particular area is just full of surprises it seems, for next up is the Sanno Hanashimizu Kouen (山王花清水公園 "Mountain King Pure Flower Park"), which combines on a area of less than an acre a park, a playground, a Koi pond and a shrine on an island in said pond. Talk about being space-efficient!

Shortly thereafter, I move into Shinagawa, and naturally, the (fox) shrines do not stop there.

However, to my great delight I also come across something entirely unexpected: A fox bridge! This bridge is called Kaneko Kosenkyou (金子跨線橋 "Money Child Railway Bridge"), and it features adorable paintings of foxes on both railings.

At this point I have covered a little over half of my intended distance, and yet the gradually setting sun is reminding me that I kinda have a natural time limit on how long I can take and still get good pictures of shrines and such.

However, my initial resolve to hurry it up a little is soon broken by me running squat into Shinagawa Yukatachou (品川豊町 "Goods River Bountiful Town"), which features a road where cute Manga-Style Shinto priestess and priest(?) statues are holding up the lamps...

...and every single lamppost also bears an illustrated description of some trivia, often numerical in nature, be it the world record of the triple jump, the size of a polar bear, or the height of the goals in blind soccer.

Eventually, I also come across a board that literally sheds some light on the history of this place. Apparently, this is all about the tale of Yukata no Hikari (豊の光 "light of prosperity"), and while I'm still not so good at translating these things, this tale is written in a children-book style, so I think I can manage at least a rough summary, which goes like this:

At one time in the spring, the days were dark and foggy, so a princess by the name of Seira went to pray at the Oohara Fudouson during a full moon night, wishing for light to dispel the gloomy darkness. Her prayers were heard, and two light bearers named Oh-Kun and Hara-Chan appeared bearing lights brighter than the moon that drove the darkness away. Soon after, the flowers were blooming and the children and animals were frolicking in the new found light. And to this day Yukatachou is still blessed by the light of Oh-Kun and Hara-Chan.

Oh yes, and naturally the Oohara Fudouson (大原不動尊 "Great Meadow Wisdom King") is still standing along this road, a modest little Buddhist site worshiping the fierce Buddhist deity Acala.

Even after leaving Yukatachou behind, the roads stay busy with pedestrians as most streets in this area seem to be some kind of shopping street.

This naturally means there's a higher chance to run into curiosities around here, such as this doggie brigade poster. I think this is advertising for disaster prevention areas (a sensible thing considering Tokyo is in an area threatened by Earthquakes, Tsunamis and Typhoons), but really, I'm not sure.

Also, I know I already covered the discount 100¥ Jidouhanbaiki, but around here I actually run into one that sells certain drinks for only 90¥. Now, normally I'm all for discounts, but this is getting ridiculous!

More temples and shrines await along the way, but of those I especially want to mention Togoshi Hachiman Jinja (戸越八幡神社 "Surpassing Door Hachiman Shrine"), which not only features a rabbit guardian statue, but also a live cat watching over the shrine... more or less.

After that, I run right into Togoshi Ginza (戸越銀座 "Surpassing Door Shopping District"), which immediately manages to win me over with its cute mascot. Also note that the road is closed for car traffic from 15:00-18:00 on weekdays and 14:00-19:00 on weekends and holidays to facilitate a relaxed evening shopping experience.

Oh yeah, and mandated by the fact that my three travelling companions - all big fans of Hotei, god of Yolo - are not with me today, I naturally run into a Hotei Jizou somewhere along the line too.

By now, the sun has set, but I'm also finally reaching the tall buildings of central Shinagawa, and there's still a good amount of light scattered around courtesy of the diffuse clouds in the sky.

However, I am not quite there yet. This station  is only Oosaki (大崎 "Great Cape"). In order to connect my strays and complete today's territory, I still need to go roughly one and a half kilometers further.

And that final stretch is not even a flat route! Rather, it's a path of ups and... well, actually more ups... somehow. Tokyo is not a flat city, which makes me quite glad that I'm not riding a bike today. Some of these paths would be outright impossible to navigate, courtesy of extensive stairs.

However, after that final hurdle, I finally reach the Shinagawa station, thus completing today's territory. It's not even 18:00 by now, mind you, and yet it's already getting dark.

From there, I take the train back to Asakusa, and said train sure is full, but still not as crowded as what most people imagine when they think about trains in Tokyo. Those pictures of attendants pushing people into trains is only on certain lines during the morning rush hours when all the Sarariiman ( サラリーマン  "Salary Man" = "Office Worker") are headed for work at the exact same time, while in the evenings the commuters are distributed more evenly across time as many of them spend time with their co-workers in the evenings.

Once back in Asakusa, I note that it has started to rain. Also, I still have to address the question of dinner. Since I'm on my own today and still got plenty of things to do documenting my strays and shrines, I simply choose to grab some food to go from the next Konbini.

Returning to the Ryokan, I randomly run into Robert right on the doorstep. He tells me of his own trip this afternoon, which included visiting the teamLab★Planets among other things. Officially a museum for modern art, from what he told me it was more like an interactive sensouround experience that I might also be interested in trying out if I ever get back and have more time on my paws.

Robert has already eaten, so I proceed to enjoy my own modest yet tasty dinner, consisting of some fish with rice, plus a small bottle of ice tea to go with it. That also ticks the Konbini dinner off the list of things to do while in Japan.

With that, the first busy day in Tokyo comes to a close. However, tomorrow should keep me just as busy - if not more so - with...


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The Twin Territory Trips

21-Sep-2023

Today should be a separate stray day once again. I for my part already have two strays planned out, and since I'm ready and rearing to go as it is, I simply decide to skip breakfast altogether and embark on my first stray...


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Around Asakusa

Distance: 11.6km
Ascents: 70m
Duration: 3.5h
15 (9🦊); 18; 0/6🎁︎

One thing that is still on my to-do list is finding a Geocache in central Tokyo, so for the first part of the day I've plotted a stray that will take me past half a dozen caches while also slightly expanding my territory towards the north. Surely I'll find at least one of those, right?  This search should take me first east across Sumidagawa (隅田川 "Corner Field River"), then northeast a bit, and then back west across the river, and all the way to the northern end of Ueno Kouen. From there, I should head south to the Ueno station which is quickly becoming this trip's Tokyo equivalent of Ise's Ujiyamada station (see Book V ~ Chapter 24 ~ Interesting Ise).

As I head over the bridge across Sumidagawa towards the sky tree and the golden carrot, I eye the sky with a measure of concern. On the plus side, after almost two weeks of oppressive heat, the temperatures have dropped at least a little bit to a point where they should stay below 30°C during the day. But on the other hand, rain is almost inevitable at some point today, which is why I packed my emergency rain coat today.

Now, to get this out of the way, naturally I should come across many shrines and temples on my stray through Sumida...

...but I also pass through the Sumida Kuritsu Sumida Kouen (墨田区立隅田公園 "Black Ink Field Ward Corner Field Park"), which illustrates nicely the issue with homophones in Japanese: Although the Sumida river and Sumida city are pronounced the same (and probably share the same linguistic origin), they are written with different Kanji and thus technically mean different things. Yay for being confusing!

Within that park lies Ushijima Jinja (牛嶋神社 "Cattle Island Shrine"), which features a cow guardian statue that is surrounded by bushels of thousand origami cranes each. I'm sure I already explained this in Book 2, but since that's already been some time ago, here's a short recap of the 1000-origami-crane-custom: Basically, when someone in a communal environment gets badly sick (like school or work) the other members of the community pitch together and fold a thousand origami cranes, string them up into ten lines of a hundred cranes each, and then hang up the bushel of cranes at a local shrine, praying for the recovery of the sick person. I think that's actually a pretty nice thing to do, and if you split the work across, say, 20 or 30 people, the effort for each individual person is reasonable too.

Shortly thereafter I reach my closest approach to the Tokyo Skytree, which is actually still half a kilometer away, and yet if the Skytree now fell over in my direction, it would still crush me, and the tip would land in the Sumida river. That thing is Mega-Freaking-HUGE!!!

Walking through the streets, I notice curious Shinto ornaments on a number of houses. Once again, I am not sure what they signify, but I imagine they are related to the upcoming autumn equinox, which is actually tomorrow.

Another thing I notice here (and in other parts of Tokyo) are these conspicuous fox eye signs. They read "Akisu Keikaichuu" (空き巣警戒中 "Empty Nests under Vigilance"), which effectively announces that the people in the area are actively watching for burglars that break into empty houses during the day, basically a neighborhood watch.

The last interesting thing I come across while in Sumida is this interesting temple, which also incorporates a Kindergarten...

...and then I cross back over the river by means of the very interestingly shaped Sakurabashi (桜橋 "Cherry Bridge").

On the other side, I run right into Matsuchiyama Honryuuin (待乳山本龍院 "Waiting Milk Mountain Main Dragon Temple"), an old Buddhist temple famous for its connection with Daikon radishes. They literally even sell those there, and of course a Daikon bought at the temple has got to be better than one bought at the supermarket, right? Also, it not only features rows upon rows of Jizou, but delightfully also a tiny Inari side shrine.

After that, I proceed through the long and narrow Sanyabori Kouen (山谷堀公園 "Mountain Valley Canal Park"), which as the name suggests stretches along the run of a former canal. There's also a Chokibune (猪牙舟 "Boar Tusk Boat") on display here. These little roofless boats were used as river taxis during the Edo era, and are ostensibly called such because they are long and pointy, like a boar's tusk.

This park also features culturally appropriate public toilets that sport traditional Kabuki pictures in addition to the modern ideographs for male and female.

Oh, and speaking of traditional, here in Japan, people are still raking up leaves the good old-fashioned way without using noisy leaf blowers.

Moving east through Taitou-Ku (台東区 "Eastern Pedestal Ward"), I naturally come across quite a number of shrines again, many of which delightfully feature foxes.

Of the non-fox shrines, I find Yoshiwara Benzaiten (吉原弁財天 "Lucky Meadow Benzaiten") particularly noteworthy. This Shinto shrine worships Benzaiten - one of the Shichifukujin, Buddhist goddess of music, water, knowledge and everything that flows - and is pretty much a little park in its own right. Not only that, but it's very colorful too, starting right at the plaque above the shrine gate and ending with a colorful mural depicting Benzaiten.

Another shrine further down the road still has notices for the Tsukimi festival out. This festival is traditionally celebrated on the first full moon in September, which this year was on the 9th, back when we were only just setting out from Munich (see Book V ~ Chapter 21 ~ Charms of Changi ~ Nights of Nara). Oh well, it's still a very nice poster.

Eventually, I cross over the railway line coming from Ueno, and with this being one of the busy main trunk lines, it's no rarity to see two trains passing beneath the bridge at the same time. Those Japanese sure know how to keep their infrastructure running smoothly.

Funnily, once on the other side of the tracks, I start running into mostly Buddhist temples and Jizou, in contrast to all the Shinto shrines of before. Also, it is around this time that it starts lightly raining. Fortunately, at this point it's only a light drizzle, and with the temperatures still being on the hot end of comfortable, I don't even feel the need to pull out my emergency rain coat.

And anyway, before long I reach Ueno Kouen, where the trees intercept most of the drizzle anyway.

It is here that I walk past a crowd of people gathered for what appears to be some sort of event, or maybe a political rally, I don't know. I can't understand Japanese well enough to understand it through a megaphone, and frankly, it doesn't look interesting enough to be worth my time, so I simply move on.

Something that should turn out to be of much more relevance is that I happen to walk past what I can clearly identify as preparations of a festival, and since the autumn equinox is kind of a big thing in Japan it's not hard to guess that tomorrow there'll be a big happening going on here, which shouldn't be relevant to me and my companions since we already made other plans for tomorrow, but even so I still mark the place down, just in case.

Eventually, I reach the edge of the park, which directly transitions into the 20m-wide Panda bridge that is exclusively reserved for pedestrians and bicyclers. Also, it's gotten quite windy by now, to the point where I have to hold on to my cap. On the plus side, the rain has stopped... for now.

Why is it called the Panda bridge? Well, turns out pandas are kind of the mascots of Ueno, as such there's a giant panda plushie at the station, as well as a stained glass artwork depicting pandas among other things inside.

In fact, this whole panda theme even goes as far as the subway barriers in the metro. Why don't we see something cute like this in more countries? The world could do with more cute!

Now, there's one last thing to report before proceeding to the next stray, and that is that while on the metro, I notice someone wearing a technological development that looks weird, and I have no idea how well it really works, but at the very least it seems designed to solve a problem that I've already had: You see, when it's hot and raining, I already had to choose between getting wet by rain or putting on a coat and getting sweaty. Wouldn't it be great if you could wear a coat and stay dry and cool at the same time? Enter the air-conditioned coat which features an electric fan to keep yourself cool!

And then, I arrive at the Shibuya station, where the Metro actually terminates at a rather modern above-ground station at the foot of several skyscrapers.

As I mentioned above, Shibuya was one of the cornerstones for the connection of the territories, and as such, it seems only natural that I should choose this as the set-out point for my second stray today (though the fact that the Ginza line runs straight from Ueno to Shibuya factored in as well). However, regrettably this stray should result in a rather...


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Rainy Route

Distance: 11.4km
Ascents: 100m
Duration: 3.75h
18 (14🦊); 23

By now the northern and southern territories are already quite close, and in theory it would be possible to connect them with a very short stray from Tamachi (田町 "Field Town") to Shinagawa. But where would the fun in that be? Instead, I am heading out from the Shibuya corner of the northern territory and heading south-southeast to Togoshi with its many shopping streets. The way to there takes me through what apparently is deep fox territory, where over three quarters of the shrines along the way feature foxes.

But one thing after another. First, I need to find my way through Shibuya, and the name "Astringent Valley" really fits it to a T: With how much infrastructure there's around here, including bridges and bridges across bridges, it can get really confusing to figure out where you are and where you need to go.

Eventually I manage to find my way down to the ground level, where I find myself in front of the Shibuya Stream building - a combination of hotel, shopping mall and office building that instantly catches my eye with its animated stairwell. Reminds me of the piano stairs of Auckland (see Chapter 2 ~ Absolutely amazing and astoundingly awesome adventures at Auckland).

The second thing that catches my eye is a nearby Soba restaurant, where a tasty-looking bowl of Kitsune Soba picks my interest. It's just about lunchtime now, and as I mentioned before, I haven't had breakfast yet, so in I go!

This place is one of those typical "fast food" canteens that specialize on catering to the local office workers, and these work actually a lot like western fast food places: You go in, place your order, pay, get a number, wait for your food which you get on a tray, and then sit down to eat on one of the free tables (or stand if there's no place left to sit). Fortunately for me, I manage to find a seat at a table divided with acrylic glass and enjoy my tasty Kitsune Soba - the last I Kitsune dish should eat in Japan. Incidentally, with the weather still being pretty hot, I've ordered it as Hiyashi (冷やし "Chilled"), which is a standard option at most noodle places. Especially during summer you have to be prepared to answer the question "Atsuhiya?" (熱冷? "Hot or cold?") at noodle places like this.

After a satisfying meal, my first goal is to get out of the crowded streets of Shibuya...

...but before I manage to do that, the pavement still manages to inform me that smoking is prohibited, that the district flower is the Japanese Iris, and the district tree is the Japanese Zelkova.

Finding my way out of the heart of Shibuya doesn't take long, and almost immediately after turning off the main road I start finding the first shrines, the majority of which features foxes, as mentioned before.

Heading south, I mostly stick to the side streets, which are narrow, mostly empty, and have all cars neatly tucked away in parking lots, off the street, keeping the road nice and clear. It's such a simple concept that makes me wonder why they don't do it this way in other places too.

In addition to shrines, today's stray should also feature quite a large number of Buddhist temples, more than shrines, in fact, which is normally an oddity, but somehow seems to be the theme of today.

Eventually, i have to cross one of the big roads again, and I do so using one of these interesting pedestrian overpasses that allow free travel to any corner of the junction without having to wait for the lights or risk getting run over. The downside is that you have to climb stairs, so it can be a bit of an accessibility problem, but for me right here, right now, I find it pretty convenient.

After that, I pass through Tako Kouen (タコ公園 "Octopus Park"), which lies just beyond a heavily restricted little stream...

...and soon thereafter come across a fashion store with the exotic foreign name Kirsch*Blüte (German for "Cherry Blossom", written in Japanese as "キルシェ・ブリューテ" = "Kirushe Buryuute").

Moving on, I soon find myself facing what appears to be a small obstacle course for the visually impaired...

...as well as the rather impressive chimney of the Meguro Seisou Koujoiu (目黒清掃工場 "Black Eye Pure Sweep Craft Place" = "Meguro Garbage Burning Plant"), which also marks my crossing over from Shibuya to Meguro.

It is there that I unexpectedly find the foxiest shrine of today: Kasamamo Inari Daimyoujin (瘡護稲荷大明神 "Protection from Pox Inari Shrine"). Tucked away on a narrow strip of land between two buildings, this inconspicuous little shrine features a cabinet filled with dozens, if not hundreds of tiny porcelain foxes that make it worthy of the title of silver fox shrine.

Eventually, I reach Gohyaku Rakanji (五百羅漢寺 "Fife Hundred Arhats Temple"), where they actually charge admission to enter.

"Who would pay for something like that?" I wonder and walk a few hundred meters more to the significantly larger Ryuusenji (瀧泉寺 "Dragon Spring Temple") complex, which is free of charge, except for a few special areas that I can do without. And if today has one main event, then it is my visit to this very temple, the complex of which covers an area of over 5 acres right in the middle of Tokyo, and which also features a number of Jizou, side shrines and even side temples on its grounds.

Covering all these would blow the scope of this post, but at the very least I want to mention Tokko-no-Ike (独鈷の池 "Vajra Pond"), which not only has dog-statues all around, but also a dragon waterspout and a submerged coin-throwing bowl. I imagine it is considered lucky if you can hit the bowl. And if not, better throw more coins to hit it and avert bad luck! Legend has it that here once a Buddhist monk threw his Tokko - a single-pronged Vajra, which is a hand-held Buddhist implement that is difficult to describe, so just Google it - and a spring burst forth that has not dried up once ever since, nourishing this pond. I figure that would be the eponymous Dragon Spring then.

The other would be Ryuusenjimae Fudoudou (瀧泉寺前不動堂 "Acala Hall in front of the Dragon Spring Temple"), which has dog guardians sitting in front of it. This whole place seems to have a bit of a dog theme going on, which is something you surprisingly don't see very often in Japan.

And while there are no foxes in the temple complex itself, right across from it there's a triplet of shrines, located on a small island in a pond, where two out of the three shrines feature foxes. Incidentally, it started raining while I was on the grounds of Ryuusenji, and by now the rain has become quite strong, so this is where I sit out the worst, beneath the roof covering one of the little fox shrines.

However, while the rainfall certainly gets lighter after some while, it shows no sign of stopping entirely, and since I still have a few kilometers to cover today, I eventually venture out into the rainy roads as the rain recedes to an intensity of "basically okay" (which is around level 2).

Along this last leg, I come across only two more shrines, both of which feature foxes...

...but that might also be on account of me more or less making a beeline for my destination at this point, what with the rain alternating between levels 2 and 3 at this point. So I don't exactly stop very often along the route while I make my way through the rainy roads more on instinct than by actively navigating.

Eventually, the rain becomes so strong that I have to seek shelter beneath the covered walkways of the Shinagawa Kuritsu Ebara Daiichi Chougakkou (品川区立荏原第一中学校 "Goods River Municipal Bean Meadow First Middle School"), which is also where I finally take out my emergency rain coat. The problem is, despite all this rain, it's still hot, and up until now I figured getting rained on was the lesser evil. However, by now the rain has gotten so strong that I finally yield and put on my coat, hot though it is.

However, on the up side, I am pretty close to my destination by now. Already, I cross over the western end of the Togoshi Ginza shopping street, which once again is already closed for car traffic on account of it being around 16:30 already.

Even so, I yet have to make my way through a number of progressively more busy rainy roads...

...before finally reaching my destination: Togoshi Kouen Eki (戸越公園駅 "Surpassing Door Park Station") past which I walked yesterday, thus closing the circle, and finally connecting the two territories of Tokyo.

From there, I return to Asakusa over the course of 45 minutes by a series of progressively fuller trains: First The Ooimach Line until Ooimachi (大井町 "Great Well Town"), then the Keihin Touhoku (京浜東北 "Tokyo-Yokohama Northeast") Line until Shinbashi, and finally the Asakusa Line until Asakusa.

By the time I arrive, it's already getting dark (read: sometime around 18:00)...

...which makes it as good a time as any to go and look for dinner in one of the nearby Shoutengai.

Eventually, I settle on an interesting-looking ramen place...

...where I subsequently finish my last bowl of Ramen for this trip. And since I purchased a set meal I also get some tasty Gyouza as a side dish.

Afterwards, I notice that the rain has stopped by now, and decide to walk back on a road parallel to the busy Shoutengai, and what a splendid idea that should turn out to be! For just like that, I run into another local attraction: The Tanuki street, which features a dozen tiny cute Tanuki statues, each styled in a different manner. For example, there's a Daishi Tanuki (a reference to aforementioned Kawasaki Daishi), a  Daikoku Tanuki (a reference to Daikokuten, one of the Shichifukujin), and a Tenman Tanuki (a reference to the Tenmangu shrines).

And finally, I find my one geocache in central Tokyo, right next to Kaminarimon.

With that, I figure, it's a good time to call it a night and return to the Ryokan.

Another busy day is now over, and it was our second-to-last full day in Japan. I spend some more time updating my maps and plans, and then I go to bed in anticipation of...


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The Festive Finale

22-Sep-2023

Today is the day of the autumn equinox, and that means it's a day of festivals, at least in Japan. My companions and I fully intend on visiting one of them, but since Bea and Brett want to sleep in a little, Robert and I go ahead in order to get some breakfast at one of the nearby food places. Along the way I take the chance to show Robert the nearby Tanuki street that I discovered last night, and in the light of day I also note a couple of details that I missed during the night.

After that, we head to the local Denny's, which is a chain of Japanese Famires, and interestingly one of the few feasible options for getting Japanese breakfast around here. I suppose breakfast is included in most other Ryokans and hotels.

Being a Famires, it naturally features convenient touch pad ordering...

...and a short time later, Robert and I get to enjoy one last mixed Japanese breakfast. I for my part also get myself a drink bar pass and enjoy what will most likely be my final Melon Soda for quite some while.

Afterwards, we take the Ginza line south, and since it's still some time until we agreed to meet with Bea and Brett at our destination we get off a few stops ahead at Toranomon (虎ノ門 "Tiger Gate") and walk to there.

Our destination should again be one of those special places for me, which is why I picked out that place of all those available. Much to my dismay, however, this should turn out to be a...


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Meager Matsuri

Distance: 3.8km
Ascents: 70m
Duration: 1.75h
7 (4🦊); 2

The place that I have in mind is Toyokawa Inari Tokyo Betsuin, where I once attended a ceremony during my last few days in Japan the last time around (see Book II ~ Final Chapter ~ Of Spirits and Shrines), and with my fascination for that place, it goes without saying that I planned this whole journey around being there today for the Matsuri. However, since that doesn't start for some time yet, Robert and I have time to walk over there from the Toranomon station, taking in the sights along the way.

However, if anyone was expecting an actual tiger gate around here, we're both quite disappointed to find out that there's only modern buildings and skyscrapers around.

Well, and shrines, of course, but that's a given since this is still Japan. Of these, Toranomon Kotohiragu (虎ノ門 金刀比羅宮 "Tiger Gate Comparing Silk Hall") is of particular note, since its great Torii features sculptures of the four cardinal beast: Seiryu the Azure Dragon of the east, Suzaku the Vermilion Bird of the south, Genbu the White Tiger of the west and Genbu the Black Tortoise of the north.

As we make our way through the skyscrapers, we get to enjoy Truck TV, that is, a huge television screen mounted on the side of a large truck, constantly showing some advertisement or another. Talk about modern marketing!

Eventually, we turn off onto a side street that is almost as narrow as one of the tall buildings to its side...

...before eventually arriving at the Akasaka Ikoi-no-Hiroba (赤坂憩いの広場 "Red Hill Resting Square"), and yes, I know Akasaka and Asakusa are easy to mix up, especially when you don't see the words written right next to one another. You don't wanna know how often I messed that up he first time around.

The trademark of this little park is a pair of humongous swinging canaries, which I sincerely hope are securely mounted on their perch, because a single one of these adorable monstrosities could easily squash a person flat.

On the way to our destination, we still pass a number of shrines and temples...

...before we reach Toyokawa Inari Tokyo Betsuin, where an Oomatsuri (大祭 "Grand Festival") is announced for today on huge signs. So far, so good.

We're pretty much on time, but Bea and Brett are nowhere to be seen yet, so we head inside already, figuring that since the place is not exactly big, we'll run into them sooner or later. Regrettably however, there's not much of a festival going on despite all the signage. Sure, there's some extra stalls and more people than usual, but compared to some of the festivals that I just randomly ran into during my first year in Japan, this is pretty disappointing. Even so, it's still good to be back to this, one of my favorite foxy places in all of Japan.

As anticipated, we soon enough run into Bea and Brett here, but after that it doesn't take long until we've seen all there is to see. We sit in on a Buddhist ceremony in the public area, I buy a couple of souvenirs, and even have a nice chat with a Japanese woman from the Toyokawa main temple, but before long we get the feeling that we've exhausted what this place has to offer, which is really a shame. But there's nothing to be done about that, and that's where my plan B comes into play! Step one of that plan involves us walking over to the nearby Akasaka-Mitsuke (赤坂見附 "Red Hill Approach") metro station.

Step two is riding the Ginza line to this trip's favorite station (Ueno), while also enjoying the random program running on the various screens in the train...

...and step three is heading over to that one place that I marked on the first of my two strays yesterday and prepare for the power of...


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Ueno Unleashed

Distance: 3.2km
Ascents: 30m
Duration: 1.5h

That place is naturally the festival that I saw being set up in the Ueno park just yesterday, and that's just a short walk from the Ueno station. However, for reasons that I shall soon explain, Robert and I wouldn't stay there for long either, and eventually walk south to Akihabara (秋葉原 "Autumn Leaf Meadow") in search of some running sushi, which is one last Japanese experience we're still missing.

It takes approximately 5 STEPs to get from the metro station to the place where the festival is being held, which is near the northern end of the park, where the big open square is located. The southern end of the park meanwhile is home to big ponds, with plenty of trees in between the two.

After the disappointing Matsuri at Toyokawa Inari Tokyo Betsuin, I am very relieved when we finally get to the square and see that they've really set up a proper festival here. Welcome to the Ueno Panda Chuushuusetsu (中秋節 "Mid Autumn Festival")!

Now this is finally a proper festival, if not a traditional Matsuri. There's plenty of people around, and plenty of food stalls (though most of them sell non-Japanese food like Rongu Poteito (ロングポテイト "Long Potatoes" = "Long Fries") or Nazar Kebap, but there's also Japanese foods like Hokkaido-Style fried chicken and Yakisoba, the staple festival food in Japan.

Also, there's an eastern dragon from Kobe dancing around, accompanied by some rather raucous - though certainly atmospheric - music.

(Click here to view the video if the website fails to load it)

At the very back of the festival, there's a stage where first a bunch of officials are giving their usual official talks. Not even I understand much of what they're saying, much less my companions, and yet that barely subtracts from the entertainment value of this speech. Seriously, I don't get why people listen to things like that. Much more interesting is what comes after, when the stage gets claimed by the Kamen Joshi (仮面女子 "Mask Girls"), a group of idols wearing flashy outfits and wielding unwieldy prop weapons, such as an swords, chainsaws, an oversized mallet and even more oversized scissors.

They are but the first of a whole ledger of bands putting on a performance her today. However, unfortunately it turns out that the volume of the whole program is so amped up, that in order to get the ideal sound balance you'd have to sit within large concrete bunkers some 37 miles away from the stage.

(Click here to view the video if the website fails to load it)

As for Robert and me, the two of us quickly decide that this ambience is WAY too loud for us, and decide to consider lunch options situated in a less boisterous environment. Thus we continue south, walking the border between the park and the Ueno station...

...and soon find ourselves within the extensive walking malls of Ueno. Finding a food place in here is not hard. However, since Robert and I are specifically looking for running sushi, that narrows down our options a bit.

Among other things, we walk by what I think might be a snack bar for cubic egoists. What's a snack bar? Basically, it's a type of bar typically run by women where men can enjoy drinks, snacks and the (decent) company of the female staff at a flat rate of usually around 3000¥ or so.

Moving further south in search of Sushi, we unexpectedly pass by one of the supermarkets that I frequently shopped at while I was living here in Akihabara: The Niku no Hanamasa (see Book II ~ Chapter 4 ~ Action at Akihabara), which really brings memories back. I might have been gone for over four years, but a part of my heart never really left this place.

It is only once we've walked all the way to the Akihabara station square that we finally find what we're looking for. It's pretty full too, but after a short wait we can claim two seats near the sushi belt in the cozy little shop. By the way, in Japanese, running sushi is called Kaitenzushi (回転寿司 "Revolving Sushi"), which is a really handy thing to know if you're in Japan and trying to find such a place using Google maps.

So, how does this work? Basically, you can just take whatever you like from the conveyor belt, and eat it, keeping the plates as tabs. The plates themselves are color-coded and correspond to how much each dish costs. In addition, you can also just call out an order to the sushi chefs standing in the middle, and they'll hand it to you once it's ready, which usually doesn't take more than a few minutes. Also, plates with little price tags on empty plates denote dishes that are not currently on the conveyor, but available for order. Also, there's soy sauce as well as complimentary Maccha (抹茶 "Rubbed Tea" = powdered green tea) that you can put into a drinking cup and then fill with hot water from taps all around the counter.

Running Sushi can be dangerous for one's wallet though: Although the individual dishes are not expensive, you can quickly stack up quite a bill if you don't watch out. By the time we're finished with lunch, Robert has stacked up 8 plates in contrast to my 5, and ends up paying 2650¥, while I get off relatively cheap at only 1550¥. And yes, that's nothing compared to what you'd pay for an equivalent amount of Sushi in western countries, but if you consider that you can get a bowl of Kitsune Udon for less than 500¥ it's still relatively expensive.

After that, it's time for us to go our own separate ways one last time here in Japan. Robert is going to take the train back to Ueno and meet up with Bea and Brett, possibly to visit the Ueno Zoo, while I in turn should go for a stroll through the busy downtown areas of Tokyo while...


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Looking for Literature

Distance: 8km
Ascents: 80m
Duration: 4h
6 (5🦊); 5

[To be continued...]


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The Retrospective


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The Road Ahead