Day 2: TOKYO, Ueno Park

10 July – weather: 32 °C at noon

Erhan’s note: We woke up, took the comically tiny shower, and headed downstairs for breakfast. It was a combination of western/japanese sort of canned hotel breakfast type. They had little croissants, some miso soup, natto, rice, and some pickles on the buffet. First time having tasted natto (fermented sticky soybeans with a wet sock taste and consistency), I understood why people have different opinions on it.

Even though Erhan seemed to enjoy the taste of sticky wet sock, I was left a bit wanting after the breakfast. We googled our environment and decided to go to the Ueno Park: a great destination for the first day orientation. We grabbed our cameras and wandered out.

Ueno Park

It is a big park with a lake in the middle covered by water lilies. Unfortunately, we had missed their bloom, but it was already beautiful, covering the entire lake there was a sea of green leaves. I couldn’t imagine how beautiful they would be in their bloom (maybe a goal for the next time?). 

Ueno Park

Mystery of the Konbini Onigiri

For lunch, we took our Onigiri (Japanese rice balls where there is a flavored filling inside) from the nearby Konbini (Japanese convenience stores, like 7eleven, Lawsons, Familymart). I already had a favorite one: Tuna Mayo. I wouldn’t think something so simple would be so delicious (oishii: a word for delicious we would often use for the entire trip). By the way, being new in Japan, this was already our second time tasting the store sold onigiri and we were struggling with the packaging. They all had this double plastic wrapping with the seaweed in between, so that the rice ball would not touch the seaweed (Nori) unless it is opened. The reason was simple, the nori would get soggy and stick to the rice ball immediately once you opened the package, so it had to be kept isolated. Once we learned how to slowly unwrap it and hold the nori in a way to pinch the rice ball so it wraps around it, it was no longer a frustrating mess of rice and seaweed mush.

the Onigiri counter at the Konbini

First Temple Visit (temple/shrine count #1)

To our surprise our walk in the park led to our first temple visit! Benten-do Temple. 

Erhan’s note: We quickly learned that in Japan most parks have a shrine/temple or both given how the Japanese religious structure encompasses nature in a way. We further later learned that Japanese tend to build shrines everywhere nature or not. I had heard that some tourists experience Shrine Fatigue, a term which encompasses the disinterest they start feeling after visiting shrine after temple after shrine after temple. I was quite ok with it personally.

You may see from the photos how excited we were to come across it. The very thing we only saw in so many other photos was standing there in real life in front of us. 

Benten-do Buddhist Temple
Daikokutendo next to Benten-do Temple

We went straight to the booth of temple where they sold charms and temple related things. We immediately bought our goshuincho (御朱印帳), the special book in which you collect goshuin (御朱印) (seal stamps that worshippers and visitors to Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples collect), and of course first goshuin was made there. Btw, you make a donation to take a goshuin, it’s normally around 300 yen, app. 3 dollars. 

Erhan’s note: I think we learned about the goshuincho during our preparation phase. So we already knew we should purchase it the moment we saw it. The booklets are beautiful for the most part, covered with a silk weave stitched on the covers, a depiction of whatever makes that particular temple or shrine you bought it from famous. Some booklets are really nice and some are rather minimalistic. Later in our trip, we also learned that even though most touristic temples charge you a fee for a stamp and signature, local temples where tourists rarely go to do not ask for a fee. Some temples just leave pre-signed leaflets to put in between your booklet, and a donation box nearby.

In the temples and shrines you may also purchase fortunes,  boxes, wrappings, charms, inscriptions in any form or method you can imagine.

Erhan’s note: I think we should make an additional blog post covering temples and what you can find in them.

me holding my first fortune 🙂

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Life in Ueno Park

We were already impressed with the local people when we saw this man casually chatting with his friends while playing/feeding the birds, he was so natural and nonchalant about it, he didn’t even look at them. 

the man and the sparrow

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Did I say it was a hot day? On the first day of our trip we had already experienced the famous humidity and heat of the Japanese summer. We started looking for some interior coolness.

While walking in the park we found out that there were many museums in the area, perfect for cooling down. Namely Tokyo National Museum, the National Museum for Western Art, the Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum and the National Science Museum. The park was also home to the Ueno Zoo. As appreciators of fine art, our first choice was The Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum. It was closed, so we chose to visit Tokyo National Museum.

And what a luck! we saw the banners for the “JOMON” exhibition, we wandered in excitedly.

To be continued in the next post…

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