On March 13th, just five days ago, the Japanese government decided to relax its recommendation that people wear masks at all times, leaving the decision up to individuals (though I don’t believe it was ever a legal requirement). Since Japan has long had a culture of wearing masks when there’s nasties about, though, pretty much everyone here has still been wearing them anyway. I can count the people I saw on the trains so far without masks almost on the fingers of one hand (though counting people wearing masks under their chins might require at least a couple more hands).
I’ve brought the same pack of fifty regular blue masks I bought before the Croatia trip, but so’s I wouldn’t have to drag the whole thing on the plane I also bought some slightly more heavy-duty masks in individual packs. I discovered when I opened it that it had back-of-the-head straps rather than behind-the-ear straps, which I was hoping would make them a bit less painful than the ones I had on the flights last year, but they were only less painful for my ears – besides applying even more pressure to my nose, this one felt like it were trying to crush my whole skull. Caught sight of my reflection when going through immigration, and boy was my nose red. (ANA also decided not to require passengers wear masks on March 13th, and indeed I would estimate that the vast majority of the passengers were maskless. Maybe I’ll just wear the regular blue mask for the flight home – I managed just fine all day with one of those today.)
In any case, today began with pouring rain as the forecast promised. I started with breakfast (after a not awesome sleep), then commenced my sightseeing by dashing around the block to the nearest 7-Eleven to get some cash out and buy me a nice transparent umbrella. It’s amazing how much easier it is to deal with the rain when you can see through your umbrella. Though… still not particularly easy.
Took a slightly roundabout route back to the train station so I could see a few local sites like the former Yokohama Bank main branch building, though I’m not entirely sure what it is now – seems to be directly attached to an office building. Also this pair of mail boxes topped with Pikachu and Eevee. I’d also hoped to get a nice shot of the Yokohama Landmark Tower disappearing into the clouds, but the wind was driving the rain right into the camera lens if I pointed it in that direction.
At the station, I hopped onto the train, heading for Ueno. An hour-long trip – did not realise when booking this hotel just how far Yokohama is from central Tokyo – but on the plus side, I could do it with just one train. For Ueno was where I had booked to pick up my Tokyo Metro Underground Mysteries 2014 Revival puzzle pack. This is the second-last day it’s going to run for this year – finishes tomorrow – so I was concerned enough that they’d run out that I booked it on the day it became available, but when I collected it, I couldn’t see anyone else doing the same.
I found myself a quiet corner, and started solving the first few puzzles. The game followed a similar pattern to the later editions that I’ve previously played – the first puzzles are ones that you only use the stuff provided in the kit to solve, solutions yield station names, and when you go to said station, the game directs to you various artworks or designs which are used to solve subsequent puzzles. And once I started arriving at said artworks or designs myself, I started running into large crowds of people also playing. And then I started seeing them on the trains travelling between puzzle stations.
As it’s the very first edition of the game, it was made before they became popular enough for an English (and later Chinese) version to be run simultaneously, so I did this one entirely in Japanese. And it’s not the first time I’ve solved puzzles in Japanese (it’s not even the first time for puzzles created by this company), but oof this was definitely a challenge. A few people I ran into helped to rephrase the game’s wording of some clues into a way that I could understand better (and I helped then with other puzzles in exchange), but for some of the later more complex puzzles I wound up just straight up resorting to the hints website to see if I was even on the right track. I mostly was, but here and there I hadn’t quite translated an instruction correctly. For example, one clue read “read the characters after kanji with five strokes” which I’d interpreted as “if a kanji has five strokes, read the next character instead”, but the meaning was actually “read only the characters that immediately follow kanji with five strokes”.
Lots of familiar stations visited – the one with a 300 metre tunnel between platforms of the same station, requiring you to leave the station to transfer, the ones where reaching the surface from one platform involve walking through the platforms of other lines, the one where I had lunch in 2017 (didn’t have lunch there today), and the one where I had lunch in 2019 (where I did have lunch today, at a different restaurant – I got ta’nin-don, “strangers rice bowl”, a version of oyako don, “mother-and-child rice bowl” which is made with chicken and egg, with beef instead of the chicken, hence the strangers). I was rather starving by the time I got around to having lunch, but felt weirdly full after completing it.
Definitely a workout for the brain. And for the feet too – I feel like the destinations visited covered much more of central Tokyo than the 2019 puzzle (and possibly even the 2017 puzzle), so much time was spent walking from train to train. And standing. Such standing. Maybe next time I’ll bring a folding chair so I can sit while working on things instead of having to juggle everything in my arms or use a random wall to help fold things straight. I did notice more than a few people with clipboards, though.
But oh, the constant rain. Not quite the cyclone conditions that I got during the 2019 event – don’t think my shoes or trousers got particularly wet at any point – but wrangling with the umbrella just added an extra layer of complication. Quite cold too – not helped by the fact that I accidentally left my gloves at the hotel.
One puzzle asked us to leave the station by such-and-such an exit, turn left, turn left at the next corner, walk down to the end of the road, cross at the lights, and enter a park, and when I got there, I went “hold on, this is Chidorigafuchi Park” – generally regarded as one of the top spots in Tokyo for cherry blossom viewing. And the cherry blossoms, or sakura in Japanese, were already starting to bloom. Tried to take some photos, but this is probably the section of my day where it rained the hardest.
In the leadup to this trip, I’ve been keeping an eye on the sakura forecast – sakura viewing (called “hanami”, literally flower-looking”) is such a big thing in Japan, and is so predictable, that the Japanese Meteorological Agency releases a forecast every year for when the blossoms will bloom all over Japan. The forecasts are updated weekly, and for much of the leadup to this trip, they’ve been predicting that first opening will happen in Tokyo sometime next week, with full bloom occurring a day or so before I return to Tokyo. Pretty much everywhere else I’ll be going wouldn’t even get first bloom until after I leave (though, of course, there’ll always be the occasional tree that decides it wants to get started early.
In the last week’s forecast, though, everything had suddenly jumped forward by several days – Tokyo saw first bloom the day before I arrived, and will be seeing full bloom early next week, when I’m heading off to visit other places, so I hope the flowers will still be going by the time I return. Though in exchange, I think everywhere I’ll be visiting this trip will at least have partial blooms going, and some might just be hitting full bloom towards the end of my visit there, so I have hopes. Certainly a change from being too early everywhere I go.
But to continue with today’s activities, at Roppongi I discovered another trio of sakura trees blooming. And I spent so much time there muddling over the puzzle that the rain had actually let up by the middle of it, so I headed out to see if I could take some artsy photos. Unfortunately, the sunlight was also starting to let up at the same time.
By the time I reached the following stop, it was full dark – and there was a whole crowd of puzzle-solvers stumbling around a dark plaza trying to see the clues well enough to solve the puzzle. And then after I’d been there for a fair amount of time, suddenly big floodlights came on illuminating the whole place. Someone gotta adjust the timer on those.
Eventually I found myself heading towards the final destination – actually, the same one as the 2019 puzzle, albeit not the same artwork (this one was underground, fortunately). And after a long day, I was done. This took me from about 10:30am to 7:30pm, a total of nine hours, so I certainly got my money’s worth out of it. But yeah, it was undoubtedly a challenge, but definitely a whole heap of fun, especially doing it with a group of others (though the downside is occasionally you’d see someone solve a clue and pull out some other item from the puzzle kit, making it rather clear that I’d need to use the same thing).
I’d heard that it was possible to walk all the way from Higashi-Ginza Station to Otemachi Station entirely underground, a distance of about three kilometres, and I was sorely tempted to do so, but I was also just plain sore from standing most of the day, and I still had an hour-long trip back to my hotel, so I decided to content myself with just Ginza (where I was) to the JR Yurakucho Station (where my train would stop). Popped into an underground food court on the way, and discovered myself not at all hungry. Lots of things looked very nice, though.
Hopped on my train and made it back to Sakuragicho with little fuss. I did, however, remember there’s a manhole card available at the tourist information centre at this station, far too late to actually get it. Gonna have to try again tomorrow. Or the day after.
Today’s photo count: two hundred exactly (many of them duplicates, because the lens cover doesn’t always open itself all the way when it’s cold, and I usually don’t notice until I actually take a photo and realise the opposite corners are black).
Today’s step count: 16,226 steps, for 10.8km. 48 flights of stairs. (Though I did idly wonder at one point during the day how the Health app counts walking up escalators so far as flights of stairs go.)