Dateline: November 13, 2008
Lower Ueno Park
The sun came out today for pretty much the first time thus far, which was a pleasant change. Since we hadn’t done so yet, and it’s literally right across the street from the hotel, we decided to check out the lower section of Ueno Park. The first thing you notice as you approach this part of the park are the thousands of lotus plants in Shinobazu Pond (pictured at left); they mostly seemed to be in that pre-winter phase of “half-dead”. At a more central location by the pond, there was a small watery alcove where a bunch of ducks were hanging out.
Continuing along further down the road that bisects the park we made our way past the Ueno Zoo and managed to catch a peek at the monorail that transports people in (though the only picture I got of the monorail itself has it almost completely obscured by trees, so I settled for the track). As the road continues, you leave the park and enter into some quiet residential streets where we spent some time just wandering around. It was here that I finally came across some street address signs. From what I’ve heard, (some/many?) addresses in Japan are based on when a building was constructed, not its relative position on a given road, thus why it can be so hard to find things sometimes. Either way, we cut back through the rear section of Ueno Park — where we also hadn’t been yet — down to the station to head off to another new part of Tokyo.
We jumped on the Keihin-Tohoku line to make a stop at Ikebukuro. Unfortunately, we couldn’t find a way out of the underground station so we had to skip it and continue on down the line.
The station complex in Shinjuku is rather large with several attached shopping centers. Like many of the places we’d been to so far, the area outside the station was under construction; this would turn out to be a running theme for the duration of the trip.
Nearby to the station is the large Takashimaya Times Square department store, so in we went. This is a very nice building and we found ourselves up on the 11th floor in search of ice cream. One of the bonuses about checking this building out was the rooftop garden they have on the 12th floor. This offered us nearly-360˚ views of Shinjuku and we could clearly see Tokyo Tower as well as a nice vantage point to check out the Empire State Building-eqsue clock tower.
It was getting later in the day, so we grabbed some dinner and stopped by the hotel to unload most of our stuff before heading off to Roppongi on the Hibiya Subway to meet up with my brother’s flickr friend, Altus. Home to Roppongi Hills, this area is full of nightclubs and Westerners, both visitors and residents. Before heading to Japan, my brother coordinated with Altus for a meet up and since today was a Thursday, the plan was to meet up at his usual weekly watering hole, Agave.
The place was just dripping with atmosphere, but the first order of business was to get my brother inside. You see, Agave is in the basement of a building, down a set of stairs with not one, but two corners. Altus and I teamed up to slowly roll him down the stairs, which is a common method of moving him down when there’s enough stairs to make flat out picking him up in his chair a bit too ungainly. One claim to fame of Agave is that it hosts over 400 kinds of tequila. Not having a clue what would be good, Altus ordered up a margarita (known colloquially there as “a frozen”) for me made with Harradura Silver tequila. It was the smoothest tequila I’ve ever had, and I ended up having two. To make sure hydration was kept up, we also downed a large glass bottle of water from Italy.
Altus works for Merrill Lynch and most of the people that hang out during this regular Thursday outing also work in the industry, so the discussion tended to center around that. It was very interesting to hear from people “on the front lines” what the world economic situation was doing to their industry, especially since just prior to the start of our trip, Japan announced it was officially in a recession. There were rampant layoffs and cutting of dead weight, but luckily for Altus he was having a very good year.
The method used for bringing my brother into the bar doesn’t work well for going up stairs, so I just carried him up the stairs myself while Altus followed with the chair. I don’t like using this method for going down stairs because if I trip, he’d end up at the bottom, whereas going up I’d just drop him onto the stairs in front of me (still bad, but way better than the former). As we parted ways, Altus invited us back for a repeat performance at the end of our trip as we’d be spending our final night back in Ueno. On the way to the Tokyo Metro station, we passed the fanciest (and biggest) Banana Republic I’ve ever seen.
Random Snack Note
Yet another late-night convenience store trip netted me a tasty find. I’ve known for a while that you can find some really interesting Pringles flavours around the world, and Japan is no exception. True to my expectations, I picked up a tin of Honey Roast Chicken Pringles, and they were excellent. They were next to the Consomme tins, which is surprisingly common flavour as I discovered.