Day 3–The Underground Mystery

Each room in this hotel gets its own SSID for the wi-fi, and a (presumably) randomly generated password. My password could well be a phone number in Woollahra. I’m just kinda glad it’s not my grandparents’ old phone number, or I’d be worried that Zaphod Beeblebrox would drop by a kidnap me.

It is waaay too late right now to be starting on a blog post, but if I don’t do it now, it’s going to be a few days before I had the chance to get caught up. I’d intended this trip to be jam packed for most days, then have a rest day in the middle to revitalise, but when blogging is starting to cut into sleep, that could be an issue. Wanna blog while it’s still fresh. In any case, just be warned that if this post decays into indecipherable rambling in the middle, that’s because I’ve fallen asleep while still typing.

First thing after breakfast at the hotel, I decided to try giving the final temple from yesterday’s Yanaka Shichifukujin Meguri another shot, mostly because it’s in the middle of Ueno Park, an fairly scenic area. Especially in spring when the cherry blossoms bloom. More than just a bit of grass and a few trees, it’s actually quite a large area, and contains Ueno Zoo (closed Mondays, though), a number of museums, and a bunch of temples and shrines.

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Started off by heading up to the top floor of the hotel to see what I could see from the emergency staircase. Turns out there’s a fairly good view of the station.

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Then I left my hotel and headed into the park. The park is large enough that there was no traffic noises to be heard at all from inside, but oh, the constant cawing of crows. Anyway, I wandered around taking a few photos, then came across Ueno Tosho-gu. As with all shrines named Tosho-gu, it enshrines the first Shogun of the Tokugawa Shogunate, Tokugama Iemitsu. This one is quite lavishly decorated, all covered in gold leaf, which is what caught my eye. Also, the long stone-lantern-lined approach road.

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After leaving there, I wandered around a bit more and found a small Inari shrine, before finally reaching Shinobazunoike Bentendo (basically means “the Benten temple in Shinobazu Pond”). As you might be able to tell, it enshrines Benzaiten, or Benten, goddess of wealth, happiness, wisdom and music. Happily, they were open for business, so I got my goshuin.

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Strolled around Shinobazu Pond until I reached Ueno Station (passing Ameya Yokocho on the way, a little later in the day, so it was much more bustling than yesterday). I was here to start my main activity from the Ueno Metro station: the Tokyo Metro Escape Game.

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At least, it’s called an escape game, but it’s more of a clue-based rally than an actual escape game. Basically you buy a pack which includes a guide book, some puzzles and clues, a “pegcil” (= combination pencil and peg, basically a bit of graphite in a plastic handle), and a ticket to ride any Tokyo Metro train for free for twenty-four hours (Tokyo Metro being one of the nine major private rail companies in Tokyo, though is the only one explicitly classified as a subway).

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Since I don’t want to give any spoilers, I won’t talk about it too much (which should maybe help to keep my blogging time down), but I found it quite clever. It basically starts with three puzzles that each yield two stations, and you’re supposed to pick only one from each and ignore the other, which I found quite curious. Admittedly, one or two were too clever for me. One thing I didn’t like was that some of the later puzzles gave transit instructions in the form of “go to X platform, catch a train from there, and then get off when some specific condition is met” rather than “now go to Y station”. Trouble is, if you don’t recognise or don’t understand the condition, you could wind up somewhere else altogether.

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This event was one of the main reasons I wanted to come now and not next year, as it’s only run from the start of October to the end of January, though this is the third year in a row it’s been run. They sell packs in both English and Japanese. (Incidentally, further to the aid of avoiding spoilers, most of these images are just here for the visual enjoyment rather than because they’re illustrating the paragraph they accompany.)

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But I swear, though, some of these Metro stations have the lines incredibly far apart. Like, you go out the ticket gates, walk through underground passageways for literally half a kilometre or more, then back in some more ticket gates, but you’re still in the same station. Though one thing I am intrigued by is the way some stations have the platforms serving as concourses as well. So, getting to the surface from a particular platform at some station may involve walking through one of the other platforms.

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I wound up bumping into the same few people a number of times today, even hanging out with a few for a while. I worked on one clue with a pair of guys, and then we travelled together for a while, until we disagreed on the meaning of one clue, and we parted ways. Turns out they were right and I was wrong, which meant I completely wasted about half an hour. On the plus side, my mistake did give me a chance to visit Shibuya and get some photos of the scramble crossing. Weirdly, the Ginza subway line in Shibuya is actually three storeys above ground, as Shibuya stands in a depression (the “ya” in “Shibuya” means “valley”). The flight of stairs I wound up climbing from the ground to get back to the platform had a sign at the bottom saying (in Japanese) “77 steps to the top”, then one in the middle saying “only 36 steps to go!”

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After I got back to where I ought to be, I re-encountered a couple who I’d seen a few times around the place too, and we struck up an actual conversation, in Japanese. He told me my Japanese was pretty good. –) He also gave me his business card. We worked together on what seemed to be the last puzzle, only to discover we were still a ways from finishing, so we continued to work together, only parting ways just a short distance from the end for reasons I didn’t quite catch.

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In any case, I managed to finish, with only one or two glances at the clues – it took me about seven hours, and if I’d known it’d take that long, I might have tried to start a bit sooner. It was a heap of fun, in any case, and I got to see a whole lot of Tokyo. Crossed the city centre about three times. I was getting extremely turned around by the end of it, though.

Rewinding time a little bit, doing this event allowed me to visit a whole bunch of other places in Tokyo that have been on my “to visit” list, though there’s a whole lot more nearby that I didn’t have the time for. I grabbed some lunch soon after starting at a restaurant specialising in katsu (= port cutlet = what they call something that’s basically like pork schnitzel). Found it by applying the old “when in Rome” adage and looking for a place with a queue outside, which’d mean that it would be good. But not too big a queue – I didn’t have all day. I had menchi katsu, which had minced pork rather than a straight slab of meat. (Fun fact, katsu is frequently eaten as a good luck food, as it’s a homophone for the verb “to win”.)

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Later, I found myself standing next to the Bunkyo Civic Centre, and I remembered that it has a free observation deck on one of the uppermost floors, so I headed up to have a look. Quite scenic. There’s a whole lot of Tokyo. If today’s weather had been as nice and sunny as yesterday’s, I’d intended in the morning to cancel my plans and go to the Skytree today instead, but it was a bit cloudy, so I didn’t. That was a good call in the end, because couldn’t see Mount Fuji at all. It even rained for a bit when we reached our final stop. I’ve included an image below of where it ought to have been visible – readers of my blog may recognise the twin-towered Tokyo Metropolitan Government building on the right.

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Even more later, I found myself standing next to the Toden Arawakawa line, one of the two remaining streetcars in Tokyo, which I’d have really liked to have taken a trip on. Sadly, I didn’t have the time to ride it by this point.

After we finished the event, and despite the lateness of the hour, I decided to hop onto the JR Yamanote line to Shinjuku to knock off one or two more things I wanted to see off my list – specifically the old shopping streets of Omoide Yokocho and Shinjuku Golden Gai. And see them I did. Both of them are older style shopping streets, dating back to post-WWI, both filled to the brim with teeny tiny shops, though it’s mostly eateries (primarily kushiyaki (= grilled stuff on sticks) places) at Omoide and mostly bars at Golden Gai. (Omoide Yokocho means “memory alley”, but it’s got a more colloquial name from all the drunk businessmen who used to urinate on the walls. I ain’t gonna post exactly what that name is – this is a high-class establishment, after all – but save to say that it’s not “Hobo Alley”.) I thought of having dinner in Omoide Yokocho, but none of the places really caught my eye, and I wasn’t sure I wanted my clothes to smell of cooking meat (as most of the shops were making chicken skewers over open burners, and there was cooking smoke everywhere). Lots of foreigners, mind. Also, four-storey McDonalds.

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Instead, I stopped at a place for dinner on the way back to the station from Golden Gai – I had oyakodon, or chicken and egg on rice (the name means “mother and child”). This one did catch my eye, a lovely old-ish looking place in the middle of Yasukuni Dori, the big street in Japan with all the fluoro signs that they use in all the advertising to show how shiny Japan is – quite a contrast.

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Back at the station, I decided to go see a winter illumination show nearby, despite the increasing lateness of the hour. Incidentally, Shinjuku is the world’s busiest train station, with over three and a half million passengers passing through every day. If you can imagine the entire population of Sydney passing through Central Station daily (or perhaps more accurately, half the population twice a day) then you’ll have something of an idea of what it’s like. I was hoping the few hours between my first and second visits would thin out the crowd a bit, but there didn’t seem to be any noticeable difference.

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Hopped on to the Yamanote Line again for the trip back to the hotel… only to get stuck on the train for literally half an hour when the entire Yamanote Line outer loop was closed down for “door inspections”. Actually it seemed like one particular train was out of operation, but we were the very next train in line, leaving us stuck just outside the station. If we’d been able to pull into the station, I could have easily gotten back to the hotel by another route in that time. When we did manage to get into the station, we found the platform packed by the entire contents of the previous train, so we wound up extremely crowded. Not quite so much as to need the services of the professional pushers-on, but not too far off it either.

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Eventually made it back to Uguisu Station. Fun fact, the green colour used to identify the Yamanote Line is called “uguisu green” in Japanese, after the colour of the bird. Anyway, I took a bit of nice night time photography on the way back to the hotel – it was somewhat later tonight than last night, so a few more late-night places were open, including a kushiyaki place which was somewhat cheaper than the places at Omoide Yokocho.

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Time for bed now – it’s 1am. Photos to come later.

Today’s photo count: Five hundred and sixty-four

Today’s step count: 24,648 steps, or 17.6km, whew. I decided to wear my thermals today, and while they certainly kept me all toasty warm, they made my knees almost too stiff to walk up stairs, and there were a lot of stairs today.

Today’s goshuin count: Two – Ueno Tosho-gu and Bentendo. I was a little bit bemused that at Tosho-gu, they appear to have written it in texta rather than calligraphy. I’ve also folded out the covers of the book so you can see what they look like. (Though before you freak out at what I’ve done to the spine, I call it a “book” but it’s actually one long concertina-folded paper between two covers.)

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Today’s stamp count: Four – found a regular stamp at Bentendo as well, and one at the Bunkyo Civic Centre observation deck, plus Shinjuku and Ikebukuro stations. Actually, I think a brushed past a few JR stations during my Metro line travels, but I wasn’t able to find any of their stamp pads. Here’s a sample of what they look like.

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2 Responses to Day 3–The Underground Mystery

  1. Shelley says:

    No mention of your health. Hoping that means you are feeling better now?

    • Joel says:

      I felt just fine all day, but when I woke up this morning, I felt a bit congested. Guess riding on trains all day with thousands of people then going to bed at 1am is not entirely conducive to good health. Though, I felt fine again once I started moving.

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