Pandas At Ueno Zoo

Last night I had my first bout of feeling lonely. As I tried to sleep, I just kept thinking about all the people I left behind in Australia, who would be going on their daily lives without me. I missed them, and the thought of how far away they were made me feel really isolated and small. I guess because I have literally been on my on for a few days, the solidarity began to kick in. I mean, I haven’t seen friends (Japanese or Australian) for a few days, nor have I volunteered with a group of other people. The only human interaction I’ve had has been with sales clerks, or the occasional ‘sumimasen’ on the train. I’ve had nobody to share adventures with.

In any case, I slept in really late this morning, only waking up around 10:30, which is unheard of for me. I debated whether or not I still wanted to go to the zoo, but decided that I would still have time to see all the animals. So I got up, packed a bento, and walked to Ueno park for the third day in a row. I was really warm and sunny, and by the time I got to the park, I needed to shed a few layers.


Ueno zoo is, I guess, ‘famous’ for its pandas, because the whole suburb of Ueno has panda-themed everything. All the convenience stores sell panda toys and hats, and there are many shops that sell all kinds of foods in the shapes of pandas. I’m talking bread, meat buns, obento, cakes- everything! Even the bus in Ueno has the fave of a panda sculpted onto the front. So I guessed I was in for a bit of panda overkill by going to the zoo where they actually lived! I bypassed the stalls selling ice cream, pizza, and panda paraphernalia, and entered the zoo through the main gate. But there was no escaping them. The very first exhibit was the giant pandas, whose every move was being narrated by a megaphone-touting panda caretaker. There was, of course, a huge crowd around the female (who was eating bamboo), and a not-so-huge crowd around the male (who was asleep with his back to the crowd.) They were pretty cute, but incredibly dirty. I imagined Japanese pandas to be immaculately clean, with snow-white fur and perhaps little bows clipped to their fur (possibly with plastic gems and Disney characters emblazoned on them.) Not so. In any case, you could get really close to them, and it was kind of surreal seeing them in real life.


Next, I saw giant birds and eagles, as well as vultures and other such horrible birds. Anyone who knows me knows I am deathly afraid of birds. And these ones were giant. I’m talking bigger than a toddler! If the birds stood next to me, they would easily reach halfway between my hips and shoulders. I managed to keep my cool and pretend like I was fearless in the face of having my eyes pecked out.

Then I saw the zoo’s tiger, who was a lot more advanced than the tiger at Melbourne Zoo. Whilst Melbourne has the stuffed version, and the mechanical version (why do you think they are always ‘sleeping’ or pacing only at the back of the enclosure? Think about it…) this zoo seemed to have a real tiger. It walked around and climbed trees and actually did stuff. Although this is Tokyo, and it was probably just a really advanced robot.

I visited gorillas, birds, nocturnal animals and Japanese cranes (which are so much bigger than I expected!), before heading to Ice and Snow world to see seals and a really cute polar bear. He looked like my old dog, basking in the sun, and looking around at all the primary school kids yelling ‘suuuuuugoiii!!!’




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Then I went to bear mountain, which housed a Malay sun bear, a Hokkaido brown bear, and a Japanese black bear. They were all very active, and I had even timed it right so that I saw them being fed. They ate mostly sweet potato and carrots. I passed by the elephant enclosure on my way to have lunch, but they were cleaning it, and the elephants were stuck in a tiny room inside whilst they waited for their home to be cleaned. I felt really sorry for them, because the enclosure wasn’t that big, and was pretty bare and ugly. Like the old enclosure at Melbourne Zoo used to be.

I ate lunch at a picnic spot next to ‘Monkey Mountain,’ so I could watch the little kids watching the Japanese macaques jump and run around, and steal branches from one another. I had a salad and an onigiri for lunch, both which I’d purchased yesterday and packed into my little bento, in an attempt to pretend I’d actually ‘made’ lunch. I also had a mini banana.

After lunch I saw the bison, squirrels, Japanese deer, and other monkeys, as well as a tapir. Then it was time to head to the West Garden- the other side of the zoo. You could take a brightly coloured monorail for 150 yen, or walk for about 3 minutes. On the other side, there were African and Madagascan animals, as well as Australian animals. Everyone fawned over the kangaroos, and loved the cockatoos. They looked at me weirdly when I didn’t stop to pay these particular animals any attention. It was interesting to see how much people cared about Australian animals, which aren’t even cool compared to, say, wolves and armadillos.


But around the corner from the dumb kangaroos were GIANT ANTEATERS! They were so funky! There were two, but they were separated, and they both paced around really fast, not stopping for anything. I thought they were so funny looking and very very cool. Their noses are so long! Next to the anteaters was the small mammal house. This housed lots of mice-types, including desert mice, meerkats, and naked mole rats. They were really cute, but the whole place stank really badly. If you’be ever had a pet mouse, imagine that smell multiplied by 100. The small mammal house had two levels, and the bottom level was the nocturnal small mammals. I loved this part. There were all kinds of rodents, bats, and squirrel-looking things, but the best bit was a pair of real life armadillos. They were incredibly cute, and looked like something out of a video game (think Crash Bandicoot, in the level that’s at night time, and you have to jump on the armadillos and squash them. Too obscure? Sorry. My sister will understand it.) I have never seen an armadillo before, so I stood there for ages watching them go around and around and around, following each other’s paths. Eventually they went in their little nest hole because they’d had enough of being watched.



That’s when I saw hedgehogs.

NYAWW! I had also never seen one of these in real life, and I was glued to the enclosure like a kid watching cartoons on a TV.

They. Were. So. Freaking. Cute.

They were very small, about the size of guinea pigs, and had tiny little peg legs. Like the armadillos, they ran around and around in circles, following each other. I couldn’t stop myself from smiling like an idiot the entire time I watched them. All the little school kids raced past me in a river, glancing in at the hedgehogs to give a quick ‘kawaii,’ before heading off to the next animal. Not me thought, I stayed there for ages.

Eventually I dragged myself away from my new wish-pet, and followed the school kids to see African animals. There were all the usual suspects; zebra, giraffes, hippos and rhinoceros. But I really didn’t like this part, because I didn’t like the animal’s enclosures. I’m sure that the zoo staff take really good care of each animal, but the small, concrete cages that they were kept in made me feel sad. It was like going back in time, to an Australian zoo in the 80’s. The hippo had a tiny pool to swim in, and the giraffe had a concrete building with a patch of hay. The rhino only had dirt. All the enclosures were small and old looking, and lots were covered in poop. It made me feel really really uncomfortable. I have this strange double feeling about zoos, and I don’t really know how I feel about them. I love animals, and I do admire the conservation and breeding aspects of worldwide zoos. But there is something about keeping wild animals in captivity that I don’t agree with. If they are there to be brought back to full health, or for careful breeding in order to help a species survive, then I am able to accept their captivity. But I don’t like the idea of holding animals purely for people to look at them. There’s something really sinister and backwards about that, in my opinion. This feeling is especially reinforced when the animals are kept in ‘cages’ rather than ‘enclosures.’ By ‘cages,’ I mean horrible metal bars, tiny living spaces, and conditions that don’t suit the individual creature. I think the Weribee Zoo in Melbourne, for example, has excellent enclosures for its animals. Large open spaces that closely mimic the animal’s natural habitat. But concrete cages and tiny patches of dirt made me sad, if not a little angry. So I bypassed the rest of the African critters really quickly, trying not to think about it.

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I headed to the Vivarium next, which had reptiles and amphibians, including snakes  frogs, crocodiles and tortoises. These creatures had nice enclosures, so I felt a bit better in there. Near the entrance of the exhibit, an old Japanese man started talking to me in Japanese about this giant salamander, which he was super enthusiastic about. He explained that it had no eyes, and just opened its mouth and snapped to capture things to eat. He sad that in te wild there are lots of small ones, but none as big as the one that was in front of us. He was really really into this salamander, so I thought I’d better take a picture of it and appear interested. When I left the Vivarium, he had latched onto another group of people, and was continuing to talk passionately about this big salamander.

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I visited Aye-Aye Forest next, to see the only Aye-Aye in captivity in Asia (or so the sign said.) Aye-Aye are those ones you’ve seen on the animated movie, Madagascar- the ones with the really long skinny finger. They are associated with the devil in their home country, apparently. I also saw lemurs in this area, and some more water birds.

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After watching a porcupine sleep for a bit, I had a quick look in the children’s zoo, which is where they keep all the farm-type animals for children to pat. You know the ones- goats and sheep- the kinds that won’t bite your face off or shred you to bits if you touch its ears. Then it was time to head out.



I was going to get some things for dinner to take home with me, but then I thought I’d go to the art gallery next to the zoo, just to see what they had on. There were a few ticket exhibitions that weren’t of much interest to me, but then there was also a free exhibition of some art university graduate work. I loved the graduate work I saw over in Roppongi last week, so I was keen to have a look here too. There was some excellent work in there, but I didn’t take photos because I thought you weren’t allowed to. But I loved some of the design and advertising work (inlcuding one student who made this whole campaign about eating anpan from a string.) I also loved the work by Yurie Hongama, who had made a whole heap of 4 panel comics on canvas. They were funny and quirky, just simple line drawings and basic colours. Her website is here, but unfortunately it doesn’t have any of the comics I’m talking about.





I was also a bit sneaky and saw one of the paid exhibitions without actually paying. The exhibition was called Ezotic Art, but it was on the bottom floor of the building, and you could see it from the top floor without having to go down. If you’d like to save yourself 1000 yen, please look here and don’t worry about going through the ticket gate.


Next, I headed back to Ueno station, and wondered around for a bit looking at some different stores. I looked at clothes and shoes, as well as food. I got some supplies from a grocery store called “The Garden,” and then went back to the place I bought the okazu last night to get some fish. I have wanted to eat this particular fish since coming back to Japan, because I love the taste and texture of it (and it has no bones.) But everywhere I look, it’s really expensive. Like 5-7 dollars for one small piece. But at this place, it was around 300 yen for 100 grams. So I picked the smallest piece I could find and took it to the counter. ‘This’ll be under 100 yen,‘ I thought to myself smugly. ‘I’ll get my tasty fish at a bargain price!’

Wrong again.

The scale said it would cost me 400 yen for this tiny piece of fish. 400 YEN?! That’s more than I paid for my entire lunch yesterday. That’s enough for FOUR onigiri. But of course I couldn’t back out of it at that stage, so I handed over my coins thinking ‘this better be the best darn fish I’ve ever eaten.’ So me and my expensive fish took the train back to Nishi-Nippori, and then walked back to the apartment, stopping at the supermarket for some mochi ice cream balls. At lease I got a bargain there- all the ice cream was reduced to 98 yen!!! I also stopped at 7/11 to buy an onigiri and some pumpkin.

It was already 7:15 when I got back, so I started cooking vegetables for dinner. Every night I use a bowl as a lid for my frying pan, because the apartment doesn’t come with a frying pan lid. So every time I have to take the lid off (which I do with a spatula), I end up steam-burning myself. But it’s worth it to have tasty veggies. Tonight I had some nimono which was leftover from yesterday, some of the pumpkin from 7/11, an onigiri, fried vegetables, half of the expensive fish (I thought it would seem more affordable if I ate it over two nights), and a special bun filled with eggplant that I got from The Garden. The bun was so good. The eggplant inside was soft and sweet, with a kind of sticky soy sauce filling. It came frozen, and I didn’t know how I was supposed to cook it, so I microwaved it until it had defrosted, then gently fried both sides in olive oil to give it a bit of golden colouring and a bit of crispness. It was the best thing on the plate! There were 3 other kinds at the supermarket, so I want to go back and try them all! The expensive fish was also very very tasty. But still expensive.




As I was eating, I realized the onigiri had pork inside, so I couldn’t actually eat it. Luckily I had only had a tiny bit, and hadn’t eaten the porky bit. I’d stupidly overlooked ‘pork’ on the ingredients list. So after I’d finished dinner, I went back to 7/11 and bought a chicken soboro onigiri instead, because I knew I’d be hungry if I didn’t eat something else. I also had the last of the All Bran, and the leftover bit of dorayaki from last night. And the new mochi ice cream!! There were two new flavours that I hadn’t tried- strawberry mochi skin with strawberry icecream filling, and plain mochi skin wiht vanilla ice cream and liquid berry filling (this one was called ‘Rare Berry Cheesecake.’) The strawberry one tasted like strawberry flavour (ie: fake), but the cheesecake one was so good. I’m going to stock up on these tomorrow whilst they are still 98 cents.


Hina Matsuri

I still can’t believe the precision timing of Japan’s weather. It’s almost like the seasons ‘know’ when their time is up, and switch shifts overnight. Since the first day of spring, it has been noticeably warmer every day. There has been some spring rain and some spring wind, and sunshine. I guess I should stop being surprised, this is Tokyo after all.

Today I visited Asakusa to see a special celebration held for Hina Matsuri- the ‘doll festival’ or ‘girl’s festival,’ held every year on the third of March. I wasn’t sure what regular Japanese people do on this day, so I googled the festival and found that there would be a special event near the Sumida-gawa (Sumida river.) Here, visitors could set paper dolls into the river, in the hopes that the dolls would take away bad spirits and worries. I took the train to Ueno, then the subway to Asakusa. When I walked up the steps to ground level, I was faced with the pride and joy of the the Asahi building. This giant golden statue sits on top of the building, and is supposed to be beer foam, but is is commonly referred to as the ‘golden turd.’


I found the site of the festival easily enough, and was instantly greeted by some school-aged kids handing out packets of tissues. These tiny packets of tissues are a common form of advertising in Tokyo, and are handed out on virtually every street corner. I usually try to make eye contact with the people giving them out, in the hopes that they will think this gajin is worth advertising to, because these little tissues come in handy. I didn’t even have to try today. Pretty much every kid wanted to give me a packet, and I couldn’t refuse their cute calls of ‘onegaishimasu!’ I ended up with both pockets stuffed to the brim with tissues, as if I were a hoarder.


When I first arrived at the site, there were a few family groups writing on the little paper dolls, which they would later set free in the river. They then began to form aline along the edge of the railing, leading down to the water. Within half an hour, the line and grown to 10 times the length, filled with excited little kids and camera-toting parents.


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And that’s when the kimono girls arrived.

Firstly, a few camera buffs crowded around the makeshift ‘stage’ area, but before long there were hoards of them, and the crowd control people made a little barrier for them to all stand in front of, so they didn’t obstruct food traffic behind. I was allowed inside the barrier, which I thought was strange, as I wasn’t a high-brow media person, but I soon realized that any old person with a camera (or even just an iphone) was allowed in. Firstly, the two winners of ‘Miss Kimono 2013’ made a little speech each, then posed for the hundreds of zoom lenses in front of them. Then three maiko (apprentice geisha) came onto the ‘stage,’ and the camera people went into a frenzy. The poor girls! I thought the crowd of ‘media’ and hobbyists was so funny. There’s a photo below.

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After some more speeches were made by organizers and other important people, everyone did some deep bowing, and then moved down to the water’s edge. It was time to release the dolls! Some children had been specially selected to go on a boat in the river, and set their dolls into the water via a little slide. The whole crowd had to count down, and triumphant music was played as the first child released his doll. It was all very epic. Below you can see the ramp, with a doll boat being released, as well as some of the dolls floating down the river. They lasted for about 3 minutes each before the paper became soggy and they started to disintegrate, or got caught in the wake of the boat’s motor and sunk.



When I was heading away from the river, a Japanese guy stopped me as asked if I would participate in his photography project, called ‘Beautiful Name.’ All I had to do was write my name on a big piece of paper, and have a photo taken with it. He instructed me to ‘smile like a child,’ which is why I look like a retarded chipmunk. My writing is also relly bad because my fingers were numb from cold and couldn’t hold the texta properly. You can see this guy’s collection of people and names here.

58470_521774744528306_1265181243_nAfter all that excitement, I headed towards Sensoji, the big temple that is in every review or article about Asakusa ever written. I’d been there a few years before, but thought it might be a good place to get some postcards, as it is the most super-tourist place I can think of in Tokyo. The street leading up to the temple is lined with hundreds of stores selling all kinds of trinkets, t-shirts and ‘real kimono.’ There is also lots of little food stalls selling cakes, rice crackers, and Japanese sweets- a lot of them are made on the spot.


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I wondered around the area for a while, exploring the other side of the pagoda, as well as some of the backstreets surrounding the shrine. I saw a lot of pop-up food stalls, selling everything from okonomiyaki to weird American hotdogs on sticks. There was also a guy selling these ‘choco bananas,’ which looked a little bit too fluro to eat…



After a while I decided I could do with some lunch, and I we getting really cold, so I thought eating would be a good warm-up strategy. I felt like hot noodle soup, so I wondered around looking for a soba store. I accidentally stumbled upon a really cute looking one with no English menu. I peeked inside, and there were a lot of people eating there, so I decided it must be ok. I stepped inside, and everyone in the restaurant looked at me as if they’d never seen a foreigner before (strangely enough, Asakusa is swarming with gajin.) I asked the owner if they had sansai soba, as I couldn’t spot it on the menu, but they didn’t have it. So I ordered kitsune soba, which is soba in a dashi broth, topped with inari tofu and leek. It was delicious and warm, and the inari had absorbed the flavour of the soup.


There was a group of three men and three women sitting opposite me, who were all overly amazed that I could speak Japanese and eat with chopsticks. They all wanted to speak to me, and all wanted to take my photo whilst I was eating. They took a few when I was smiling awkwardly with the bowl of soba in front of me, then they asked me to eat, and snapped away happily whilst I tried not to look like an idiot, or get noodle all over my face. It was the strangest thing ever. What are they seriously going to do with 30 photos of an Australian eating soba? They seemed to enjoy asking me questions, anyway. And when I say they all took photos of me, I meant they all took photos of me. Every single one of them had a camera pointed my way. All this fuss cased the store owner to start calling me ‘moderu-san’ (model.)

_DSC2388So after that strange experience, the fanclub left, all wishing me good luck and a safe journey (kyoskette kudasai!!) and I was left to finish my buckwheat tea and pay for my meal. The owner kept talking to me, and I told her that that was pretty strange. She asked me if I was scared, and I said no. She had bright purple hair.

Next, I headed back outside and wondered around some more. I ran into a lot of little food stalls that I would have loved to eat at, should I not already have been full of noodley goodness. Is it weird that I want to go back to Asakusa just to eat lunch? I found a vegetable man that I want to try (man is a steamed bun, not an actual human), as well as a lot of freshly made wagahi, and amazake (the sweet hot sake I tried in Kamakura.) I also came across this street food that I have never seen before- the “okonomiyaki bar.” I guess it’s just an okonomiyakai compressed into a square and served on a stick, but it looked pretty strange. People seemed to be enjoying it though.



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After wondering around for a while longer, I came across a mini department store, where I had a look at all the levels. I paid particular attention to the shoe store and the book store, but bought nothing. At least I know I can get shoes in my size in Japan. I wasn’t even the biggest size! I was headed towards Kappabashi-dori, which is a street filled with kitchen supply stores. But I couldn’t find it, which is how I ended up at the department store. But as I was looking on a map to find a nearby subway station, I spotted the street. So of course I had to explore.

Kappabashi-dori is definitely the place to go if you need anything to do with food, kitchens, restaurants or plastic food models to decorate your newly opened store with. The whole street is lined with these stores, and each store is literally bursting at the seems with goods. There are stores for plates and bowls, deep-frying equipment, plastic packaging (yes, an entire store just for this), chef uniforms, and anything else you could ever possibly think of. Even if you can’t think of it, they have it.At the top of the street is this giant chef head, who will ensure your safety and prosperity when buying goods from his kitchen themed stores.

Ok, I made that up.




Lured in by the exciting bargin bins outside, I went into a plastic food store to have a look around. This store had every kind of food, replicated perfectly in both colour and scale. There was sushi, sandwiches  and noodles that defied gravity and had chopsticks suspended above, as if an invisible person was about to slurp them up. The plastic replicas are actually really expensive, and cost so much more than the real version of the food. One piece of nigiri sushi was almost 1000 yen! For a bowl of tempura on rice, you’re looking at about 9900 yen!



At the end of the street, I found another area map, which said it was only 1.5km to walk to JR Ueno station. That didn’t sound that far. I originally planned to catch the subway back to Ueno, then walk from Ueno back to the apartment, as I did yesterday. But and extra 1.5km wouldn’t make that much difference. It started to spit as I crossed the road in the direction of Ueno, and I began to wonder if walking back was really that smart. But the ‘rain’ only lasted a few minutes. It took about 10 minutes to get back to Ueno, where I bought a mushroom, carrot and burdock root dish to have with my dinner. Then I walked all the way back home, stopping at the cheapo Lawsons to buy broccoli and eggs. So I walked all the way from Asakusa to Arakawa. I didn’t feel wrecked when I got back, which was good news for my hike next month. But I did think about that hike whilst I was walking. I think I need to do some ‘training’ before I go. A practice run, of sorts. I might load up my new backpack with everything I would take to Kumano Kodo, and walk around with it all day. To get a ‘feel’ for the weight of what I’ll have to carry. I’ll need to walk for 5-8 hours every day on that pilgrimage, and there’s no giving up half way and catching a train if I get tired. I think it’s going to be hard. I think it’s going to be one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. And I’ve been through year 12.

My tiny fridge is stuffed full of vegetables and little bits of random side-dishes, so for dinner I made a huge vegetable stirfry, using up a lot of loose ingredients, as well as the rest of the bibimbap that I’ve bee trying to get rid of. I fried an egg to have on top of it, and had it with the side dish that I bought at Ueno station. Neither bowl looks very good, but they were both delicious!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAFor dessert I tried this mini pudding thing that looked cute. It was vanilla and kind of coffee flavour, and came in a mini cup with a handle. Cute! The coffee beans on top were actually coffee bean shaped chocolates. The whole thing was about the size of a golf ball.



There was an earthquake in the middle of the night last night. It woke me up, and the shaking felt very strange. It was only a mild one, but was very disorientating in the middle of the night. It also woke my mind up so I couldn’t get back to sleep for ages. Then I woke up again at 6am when the alarm of the person in the apartment above me went off. So I felt half dead when I got out of bed. I’d also pressed one too many buttons on the airconditioner control again, and couldn’t work out how to make it do hot air again instead of cold. So no heater for me this morning.

I spent a few minutes writing a list of things I wanted to do whilst I was in Tokyo, and I’ve accumulated a lot of mini lists in random places, as well as piles of brochures and art exhibition postcards. Then I made a little calendar and penciled in the dates, so that I wouldn’t forget anything. Feeling all motivated and organised  I got up and ready to go out in record time.

I decided to attempt walking to Ueno, which is 4 stops away from me, if I start at Tabata. I figured it wouldn’t take too long, because it wasn’t much further than the cemetery I walked to the other day. Outside it was sunny and warn, but incredibly windy. Within minutes, my hair had turned into a tangled bird nest, and I felt like one of those people in videos about Antarctic blizzards. It took me about an hour to reach Ueno station, which wasn’t that bad. I think of it as training for my hike next month. Eep!

I walked through Ueno park to get to the station, passing about five thousand people headed (I thought) to the zoo. The park is probably really pretty in spring and autumn, but today it was pretty grey and brown. But you could see the feint tinge of pink spreading through the trees- sakura getting ready to sprout. I saw my first sakura flower today- one tiny limb on a tree had begun to sprout the delicate pink petals.

Today I noticed that Ueno has a lot of panda-themed things around. Last week when I was there, I saw a panda-shaped bus with a panda face and panda ears on every seat. Today I saw lots of panda-themed food and hats. Below is a menu serving panda buns, bento, and cookies, and below that is some kind of panda rice cake.


As I passed through the park, someone dressed in a panda suit handed me a packet of tissues. The tissues, however, were advertising fire safety, and had nothing whatsoever to do with pandas. I was very disappointed.

I made my way over to Ameyoko, which is a bunch of streets that are jam packed full of semi-permanent market stalls. There is everything from watches, bags, shoes and jackets to little food stalls and a fresh seafood market. And also enough people to populate an entire suburb. I wanted to return here to buy a bag to take hiking in April, and to capture some photos of the seafood vendors (as well as some of the stranger goods on sale.)








By the way, the image of the octopus above hasn’t been overly saturated. It was actually that colour!

I hunted for a bag for a while, also checking out some incredibly cheap shoes. I stopped in a 100 yen shop to buy batteries, as well as a cheap bento and bento bag, so that I can make my lunch to take some places in Tokyo, if I choose to. Before long, I felt like devouring food, so I headed to a cheap kaiten zushi store that I knew was popular in the area. For my mother, kaiten zushi is the sushi that goes around on a conveyor belt. I had to que outside, and then inside, for about 20 minutes, but it was so worth it! This was the first time I’ve eaten sushi on this trip, and I wasn’t disappointed. The sushi was so fresh and delicious, and cheap too! All plates were only 126 yen each, and contained two nigiri.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA The chefs stood in the middle, and made different sushi upon request, as well as random things to put on the over-crowded conveyor belt. I made myself some green tea, then watched the perfectly sculpted dishes go by. I ate 3 plates of salmon nigiri and one of tuna. I would have tried many kinds, except the salmon was that good that I just kept asking the chef to make more. He did make some to put on the conveyor belt too, but it was always snapped up before it got around to my end. May I just repeat- it was soo good!

Next, I headed back through the market to a place that sold green tea and softcream (soft serve ice cream.) I had a sudden craving for matcha ice cream, and this was perfect. I got a mix of vanilla and green tea, which I ate inside the store in a special area. The store owners also gave me a complimentary cup of green tea, which was perfect after the cold ice cream.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe next stop was the department store next to the market, because I wanted to visit a store called Loft. It is one of my favourite stores in Japan, and sells all kinds of things, but I especially like the stationary and bento goods. But today I had to pick up a birthday card for my grandad. I’d been looking for one for a few days, but couldn’t find them anywhere. Loft did not disappoint.

I looked around the other levels of the department store, then went back to the market and bought a bag for my hiking trip. I asked the girl at the register if I could get a discount (you’re allowed to do that at this market), and she said she was sorry, bout she couldn’t give me any discounts on this particular bag. She then proceeded to give me 200 yen off. It was almost 4, so I thought I’d better head back towards Nippori. But on the way, I passed a stall selling nuts and snacks, where the stall owner asked me where I as from. We then had this long conversation about what I was doing in Japan, and how he is best friends with Jackie Chan. A random woman on the street joined in our conversation. He insisted on taking a photo of me in the street.


I gave him one of the crappy clip on koalas that I carry for such an occasion, and he was delighted by it. So much so, that he asked me to wait whilst he collected a handful of little snack for me to take with me ‘on my journeys.’ What a nice guy. He also gave me his business card and said to drop by the store anytime.


Crossing back through Ueno park was like trying to swim against a current. I think the zoo had just closed, because thousands of people were heading to the station, in the opposite direction to me. The wind had picked up again too, and it was beginning to get cold. I spotted this guy and his overenthusiastic dog as I crossed the main square. Sorry about the quality, it’s cropped from a wide shot, which is as close as I could get with my 14-42 lens. I thought the pair of them looked hilarious.




It didn’t take me as long to walk home as it did to walk to Ueno. On the way I stopped at the 100yen Lawson store to pick up some supplies. I was glad to get home because I was absolutely freezing, and walking with my giant bag in a bag was hard in the wind. I had to try my best not to accidentally bash people in the face when the wind picked up and swung my bags around wildly.


For dinner I made a Korean-Japanese fusion fired rice, with the leftover bibimbap, and some fresh carrot, mushrooms and spinach. And lots of garlic. I didn’t have high hopes for it, but it was really good. I also ate some cereal and a mini banana that I’d bought earlier. Then I had to resist the temptation of finishing the rest of the mochi ice cream, because I’d already had a huge ice cream today and really didn’t need anymore.


I had the best sleep last night since arriving in Japan. My 100 yen pillow worked a treat! I even woke up at 8 and then went back to sleep for two hours- something I very rarely have the ability to do.

Last night at dinner, my friends and I had organised to meet up at Ueno for lunch today. It was their last day in Japan, so we thought we’d have a special last lunch. After last night’s meeting-point nightmare, we decided to be more organised and choose a station exit and map location to meet at. We decided on a book store, meeting at 12:30.

When I got to the station, it was way bigger than I remembered, and had about 20 exits. There was also no bookstore. Shit.

Cutting a long story short, I spent 30 minutes searching, before eventually running into L and D. We then bumped into K, about a minute after. Then we had to hunt for S. We searched for almost an hour, but couldn’t find her anywhere. I said that we should give up, because that’s when you always find someone, so we pretended to give up and did one more lap of the station. We were all starving, so we decided we’d better actually get some food, and headed away from the station. That’s when S came running up behind us, having spotted us from afar.

Like I said, we needed to give up in order to be united.

It’s actually a miracle how we’ve managed to find each other each time we meet.

D wanted to eat ramen one last time, so we walked around the market area of Ueno, passing an abundance of fresh seafood, bag stores, and shoe stores. We couldn’t find a ramen store that we liked, and we were all hungry, so we decided to give up and cross the road to a kaiten-zushi shop instead. That’s when we accidentally stumbled upon a little ramen store that looked really really good.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA We ordered our food from a vending machine, which spat out a little ticket that we had to give the waiter. My Japanese came in really handy again, as I was able to tell everyone what was in each dish (there were no pictures on the machine, only buttons with kanji and kana.) and order myself a bowl without pork. We went upstairs and waited for our food, glad to be out of the freezing wind.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe food came quite quickly, and it was humongous. I had ordered miso ramen with spring onions, whilst everyone else had miso ramen with pork, corn and butter. Mine also had bamboo shoots, bean sprouts, a thinly sliced vegetable with a kimchi-like taste, a raw egg, nori and sesame seeds.

I’ll let you in on a secret- I’ve never had ramen before. Despite having been to Japan 4 times, and being obsessed with Japanese food, I haven’t tasted the real thing ever (2 minute noodles don’t count.)

I’ve been converted…

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA It was so delicious, and the soup changed taste as I ate (as the egg and kimchi-stuff mixed in.) It was so so so good! But I don’t think I;ll ever be abe to finish a bowl- there was that much food there! I really did my best, but even though I kept eating and eating, the level of food never seemed to go down.


We all had a go of the garlic press, which required a bit of muscle. The minced garlic tasted great in the soup, but we all probably had really bad breath afterwards.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAfter waddling out of the restaurant and back into the cold, we visited a few stores in a nearby department store. I took the gang to Loft, and another crazy shop that sells all kinds of weird things. Everyone went nuts there and bought heaps of stuff- as you do on your last day anywhere.

I decided I want to buy a Fujifilm mini polaroid camera, but I’m going to hunt flea markets for it first. You can get really cheap film at some of the stres we visited today.

Next, we took the subway to Akihabara, so that D could do some last minute present shopping. Akihabara hasn’t changed. It’s still full of flashing lights, millions of electronics stores, and spruikers on every corner trying to get patrons to come to their maid cafes. The boys went off in search of gameboy games (yes, really), whilst S and I headed for some of the kitchy and crazy stores. On the way, we spotted a tiny corner which did nail art. S was so excited because she’d been looking for somewhere to get detailed nail art done the whole time she’d been in Tokyo. This place was so nuts, each little sample was a work of art, and featured imagery of anime and manga characters in ridiculous detail.

I had a look in a multi story shop in the AKB48 building whilst I was waiting for S. I really wanted to buy this black and white cushion with a face on it (why am I sucked in by cute simplified faces?), but I used exceptional self control and reasoning and didn’t buy it. Besides, if I wanted to take it home in my suitcase, nothing else would be able to go in as well. As compensation, I bought two t-shirts with the face on them. One black and one white; one for me and one as a gift for my sister.


S was so thrilled with her nails- they were really puffy and super cute. I love the face of the jellyfish! We had a quick look in a used Mac shop before we left. There were laptops, ipods, iphones and ipads, as well as cameras and lenses and other technological goods. I couldn’t beleive how cheap everything was! There were macbook airs for 20000 yen, and ipads for 30000. Crazy! I wondered what was wrong with them because I literally had enough cash (and desire) to buy one on the spot.

On the way home, I stopped at Lawsons to get some supplies for dinner. I didn’t feel like that much after my sumo-sized lunch, but I’m trying to eat lots because I think my body needs the energy to keep warm. I made a stirfry of carrot, shimeji mushroom, bok choy and edamame, and had that with some kinpira, an egg, the last of the sweet beans, and some yaki-imo. Yaki-imo is a charred roasted yam (like a purple sweet potato with yellow in the middle), that convenience stores sell in winter. They are in little display cabinets on hot black charcoals at the front of the store. It was pretty tasty, but also kind of dry inside. The skin was the best part!

I think the plate on the left looks like a face.

After dinner I had a new mochi icecream that has a strawberry in the middle! It was pretty good, but the strawberry was frozen solid. I think the regular ones are still my favourite.


My shower flooded again tonight- it’s getting really annoying. I had to speed shower, because the water level was getting dangerously close to spilling over, and my laptop cord was on the other side. I think the drain is even more clogged than before Might have to call in the plumbers tomorrow.