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!!!’
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.
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.
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.
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!’
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.