On April Fool’s Day 2011 we woke from our hangovers to a glorious day in Tokyo.
Parks, pandas and plastic foods were on the menu for us April fools.
After breakfast in our host’s beautiful Japanese garden, we headed to Ueno Park. Ueno Park is a large park in the North-East of Tokyo. It has four museums, some temples, a few shrines and a zoo in it. Preeeeeetty busy.
It’s also a sakura hotspot. We were still a bit early for the cherry blossom, most of the trees were just budding, but there were a few spectacular early bloomers. We’d originally planned our holiday at this time because of the cherry blossom usually hitting in the 1st week of April. We are super sakura chasers.
Ueno Zoo had re-opened the day we went there, so there was a bit of hubbub going on there as people were happy to see the pandas back in action. Japan LOVES pandas. A lot of the area near Ueno park is littered with panda imagery.
One of the temples in Ueno park had a long avenue of food stalls, apparently an old tradition dating back to times when temple-goers would eat on their way back from their visit. An exciting collection of unidentifiable things on sticks, most for around 100Y (just under £1). At this point we were still a bit shy and didn’t have the confidence to buy any of the things.
Instead, we availed ourselves of the shy-person’s gift – the vending machine order system.
A quick note on vending machines.
They are EVERYWHERE. Honestly, they pop up more frequently than every 100metres, sometimes three in a row, offering slightly different selections of drinks with names like “Calpis” and “Pocari Sweat”. They are amazing – they sell drinks (hot and cold), beer and cigarettes. Many Japanese use their mobile phones to pay for things in vending machines using some sort of chip technology. They can also use their phones as their Pasmo (Oyster card equivalent). They just hold their phone against some bit and the payment comes direct from a digitally set up account. It is brilliant. That’s also how they can ensure vending machines that sell booze/fags, do so only to adults.
It’s very tough to get thirsty in Japan. Vending machines pop up in shrines, temples and even on mountains. Convenience is a key element of Japanese life. I wish we could have them in this country, but people would vandalise or rob them. Remember when we used to have chocolate vending machines in tube stations? God, I love vending machines.This particular vending process is slightly different.
The machine has a button
for each thing on the menu. You choose what you want, press the button, put the money in and the machine gives you a ticket. You then hand that ticket over to the person on the counter who makes your order up fresh. I had a matcha ice cream and Luke had a banana and chocolate crepe.
Not far from Ueno Park is Ameyoko Market. This market sold black market American goods during the war and is now still the best place to get specialist foreign imports, especially American candy. It sells everything for good, negotiable prices – the opposite of the Ginza department stores. Clothes, accessories, seafood, candy, electronics – it has a bit of a Delboy vibe.
After our stroll through Ameyoko market we decided to walk to Asakusa, one of the most famous temples in Tokyo, which I’ll tell you all about in the next post – this one is already so full of photos.