Sat 18 Jun 2005 25 °C
Despite promising weather forecasts, our second day in Tokyo turned out to be only slightly less damp than the first. The Lure of the Giant Pandas was too much to resist by now, so we made our way to Ueno Zoo. Sure, there were snakes, giraffes, zebras, turtles, even a giant turtle, but let's face it, we were here for the pandas. Ling Ling and Zhuan Zhuan, the two pandas who call this zoo home, were asleep when we walked past, so we decided to have a look at some of the other animals and come back. Wandering amongst the school children, we strolled past the gorillas, tigers, lions, elephants and other animals. But we could only be distracted for so long and so we headed back to the pandas' neck of the woods to see if they had woken up. Though both were still snoozing we watched for a while and were very pleasantly surprised when Zhuan Zhuan finally decided to get up for a spot of lunch! We were very pleased What a beautiful creature. We're glad we stopped by for a visit.
But animal loving aside, how can Tokyo be properly experienced without a few shopping trips? Shopaholics would find no cure here. The numerous department stores are packed with goods from every corner of the globe. Anything you want can be found, providing you look in the right area. It seems whole districts are devoted to one particular profession. For instance, a whole area with practically nothing but 'Hair and Make' shops, or the rather famous electronics district Akhabara with a sufficient range of tempting gadgets and gizmos. Yes, that's a real word, my spell checker says so. We thought we may have ended up in the 'Star Wars' district at the Tokyo International Forum, but it turned out to be a convention of sorts.
Tokyo is a fascinating city. Bustling to its brim with activity, and yet it feels safer than any other large city I've been to, including Melbourne. People are polite, the advertising isn't. Visiting various areas of Tokyo, it is interesting to compare the differences in the suburbs. Shibuya, in Western Tokyo, with what seems like 100 giant TV screens all shouting for attention, is the bustling crazy Tokyo most imagine the city to be. In contrast, Ginza in Central Tokyo, though busy, is refined and kind of feels like an open air hushed library. The street was closed down to traffic while we were there, so people were wandering the street freely.
We visited Yoyogi Park for their flea market on Sunday. Surprisingly, no purchases were made here, but it was entertaining wandering around listening to Japanese punk music and enjoying the street performers.
Afterwards a visit to the Senso-Ji Shrine in Northern Tokyo, not particularly far from our hotel, was a necessary stop. Though packed with tourists, ourselves included, there are still enough worshippers here practising their rituals. Fanning the incense smoke over themselves, tossing coins into the giant offering area and going about their routines. The construction itself is a magnificent sight to behold and a pleasure to walk around. The nearby stalls provide some good colour as well.
Returning from the shrine, we noticed there seemed to be quite a few scantily clad Japanese men walking around in matching outfits. As we headed further away from the temple, we noticed more and more of these men gathering. Before we knew it, we were in the middle of a procession of some sort, fully equipped with a creepily masked man, an old guy on a horse and what must have been a very heavy shrine.
We have enjoyed our stay in the Hotel New Izu. The staff were very friendly, even presenting us with a gift of two pairs of chopsticks on our last day! Not much was ever on TV, apart from The Ring one night; that's the American adaptation of the original Japanese movie, dubbed back into Japanese. If only they had English subtitles.
Heading out of Tokyo on the Shinkansen, by now we were ready for a change of scenery.