Day 4–The Shallow Grasses

Yesterday’s post now has photos.

Throughout most of Japan, they walk on the left, same as they drive – the main exception being Osaka, but Osaka likes to be obtuse like that. For some inexplicable reason, though they walk on the right on the overpass from Uguisudani Station, and the stairs leading down to street level on the other side. I’ve not the foggiest idea why.

On a side note, there is a scheme to my post titles. And a logical one. Props if you can figure it out. =)

So, today dawned absolutely bright and sunny, so after breakfast, I hastily enacted my “absolutely bright and sunny” contingency plans: I went to the Tokyo Skytree.

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Plus, a bonus advantage in going today is that I could still use the pass from yesterday’s escape game until about noon, and I’d need to take a Metro train to get to the Skytree. Actually, I took trains from three different companies: JR from Uguisudani to Ueno, Metro from Ueno to Asakusa, then Tobu from Asakusa to Tokyo Skytree Station. The pass only covers me for the Metro trains, so I had to use my Suica card for the Tobu line. (Actually, I could have gotten to the Skytree using Metro lines only, but that would have doubled the travel time, which is a bit daft.)

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Tokyo Skytree is Tokyo’s newest broadcasting tower, intended to replace the Tokyo Tower, as the latter is surrounded by too many buildings almost as tall as itself. At 634 metres tall, it’s the tallest structure in Japan, the tallest tower in the world, and the second tallest structure in the world (after the Burj Khalifa in Dubai). There was also some claim about having the fastest elevators, but I don’t recall precisely what the claim was, and doing internet research now, the numbers they gave don’t really match up to the current fastest elevators in even Japan, much less the whole world. The tower opened to the public in May 2012 – it was still under construction when James and I were here last, but even so, it was already the tallest structure in Japan by that point.

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Actually, the 634 metre height of the building is a kind of linguistic pun called “goroawase” in Japanese – since numbers have a bunch of different pronunciations, it’s possible to form words out of them. For example, the English “thank you” is pronounced “san kyuu” in Japanese, which just so happens to be a homophone for 3-9, so in Japanese text speech, “39” is the equivalent of using “tnx” in English (or whatever it is the cool kids are using these days). But by the same token, it’s also possible to form numbers out of words. It’s useful for mnemonics and just for making jokes. For example, the word for dentist is “haisha” (literally “tooth doctor”), but using goroawase, it’s possible to write it as 813, so it’s quite popular for dentists’ offices to have “813” in their phone numbers. In the case of the Skytree, though, it was built in an area formerly named “Musashi”, and Musashi in goroawase is, you guessed it, 634.

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But anyway. Sadly, when I arrived at the main observation deck at 350 metres above sea level, I discovered it was not quite so blindingly bright and sunny as I’d originally thought – there was a fair bit of haze, and Mount Fuji was completely invisible. So far I’m zero for three on Mount Fuji sightings, which is a bit sad. Still hoping for a glimpse when I go past on the shinkansen. In any case, there was still quite a spectacular view, though the haze was increasing a bit – when I arrived, Yokohama was visible, but it disappeared while I was there. I made an attempt to do a panorama, but since the cafe was in front of some of the windows, I had to go in a buy something so I wouldn’t have too big a gap. Thought I’d get something new, so I bought something called… dessert vinegar. It’s basically fruit fermented into vinegar but somehow without the sour taste of actual vinegar. I got blueberry with milk – it wasn’t too bad, kinda like tangy blueberry.

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Panorama turned out pretty nice, too. Spent some time after that taking some closeup shots of things that looked interesting. Even got a shot of my hotel, just; in the last photo, down and to the right of the big brown Candeo sign in the middle is another sign in blue and white saying “” – that’s the roof of my hotel. The Uguisudani platforms just visible on the left side too.

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After a while pottering around there, I decided to pay the extra charge to head to the upper observation deck, at 450 metres. It was quite a nice view, but the windows were not really conducive to taking another panorama, so I mostly just enjoyed it. Rather than the open-floor-with-windows layout typical of observation decks, the upper deck is kind of a spiral tunnel wrapped around the outside of the building, so you get off the lifts at 450 metres, but then walk up a ramp for another five or so metres of elevation.

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Spent some more time up there taking photos of interesting stuff. Even spotted Bentendo, which I visited yesterday.

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Soon, I decided it was time to head out, so I went back down to the lower deck, played for a bit on the obligatory glass floor on the lowest storey there, then headed back to the ground for lunch.

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Found a food court in the attached shopping centre, where I bought Chinese-style meat sauce, miso flavoured, with noodles. Quite tasty.

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Head back to the train station and caught the train back to Asakusa, because in Asakusa is Senso-ji, and its attached Kaminarimon, which is another thing that’s in pretty much all the Japan tourism posters. Extremely popular, lots of people there. I browsed my way up the shopping street leading to the temple, then ran around for a bit taking photos. I also bought another omikuji, and got exactly the same fortune as last time – delayed good luck.  Though I did notice one difference – as well as the big fortune, they also give pointers in specific areas. For travel, the one from Nezu said something like “don’t travel, because something’s going to catch fire at your destination”, but this one says “it’s alright to start a trip”.

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Also in the area is Hanayashiki, Japan’s oldest amusement park – and my Tokyo Skytree ticket would give me free entry (though I’d still have to pay for rides). Buuuut… it’s closed today. And tomorrow. And also next Tuesday and Wednesday. It’s open every other day this month, but I just had to come on their rest day, lucky me. Guess if I have the time later I can go have another shot, see if my Skytree ticket is still useable on a different day.

So instead I went for a bit of a wander. Found a very old-style shopping street nearby, and bought a melon bread from a bakery. Like, fresh melon bread, still hot. Most tasty. I was quite amused, though, by the way the obligatory vending machines had a fancy wooden signboard over them, like all the other shops in the street. Also found a tiny shrine on a side street. That’s one of the things I like about Japan – tiny shrines and tiny temples everywhere.

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After that, I decided to go for a wander up the Sumida River to wait for sunset, because I could get a really good view of the Skytree as it lit up at night. Wound up walking to the bridge after the next one up river, crossing over, and then walking back. Quite a long walk. Some nice shots, though.

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Decided to stop for an early dinner – mainly to give some time for the sky to get darker. I thought I’d give Mos Burger another shot, so I googled for the closest one, and it turned out to be just a hundred metres away. Turned my head to the left to see if I could spot it, and instead my eyes landed on a Yoshinoya just across the road. Yoshinoya is a chain of restaurants that specialise in gyudon, or beef on rice, and it’s one I’ve been wanting to try, so I went there.

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I got gyunegitamadon – to break that down a bit, that’s beef (gyu), spring onions (negi), a raw egg (tama) on rice (don). Japanese food rules are quite strict, so it’s perfectly ok to eat raw eggs here – as I understand it, they give them a good wash to clean off all the nasties, but since the process also washes off a protective coating, it also shortens their shelf life. In any case, it was extremely tasty. Quite warming, too.

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Dinner done, I went back out for a few more snaps of the tower, then headed back to the hotel. And I’m certain that some of the passageways in Ueno Metro station have changed since I walked down them yesterday – I’m sure that yesterday, the walls were covered over by boards, since they’re in the middle of refurbishing, but today those boards are gone. (Actually, a lot of the stations I passed through yesterday were in the middle of being refurbished.) I’m also pretty sure that the platform safety barriers on the JR station platform weren’t there yesterday either. Maybe I’m just unobservant. Also rode a fun escalator which has a flat bit in the middle.

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And now it’s time for… well, not an early night, but at least not a stupidly late night.

Today’s photo count: Five hundred and eighty.

Today’s pedometer count: 15,304 steps, or 10.2km. Pff, easy day.

Today’s goshuin count: Two – Senso-ji and the adjacent Asakusa Shrine.

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Today’s stamp count: The Skytree had three mini ones, so I put them all on the same page in my little book. Kinda less ornate than I was hoping – think they’re intended more as something fun for the kids.

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