We decided to spend our first day in Tokyo at Ueno Park, a sprawling place with a number of museums and other attractions, plentiful street performers and people watching. We’d planned to head first to the Tokyo National Museum, a museum of Japanese historical artifacts and artwork. We left the station and walked up the park towards the end where the building sits. We passed a number of peculiar sights: a reproduction of the Rodin’s “Burghers of Calais” and a sculpture of a blue whale that put me in mind of childhood days spent crawling inside a hollow sperm whale at a more local museum.
We found the National Museum’s gates locked.
So we changed tact. We decided we’d try for the Shitamachi Museum, a museum of traditional culture and craft. First, we misread the map and left the park behind to wander the streets around it, streets filled with academic buildings and offices and small houses and shops. Our search led us to a locked annex for one of the museums.
Returning to the park, we took our time wandering in the direction that we thought we ought to go to find the Shitamachi Museum. We passed fountains and reflecting pools, playgrounds, street performers, and equestrian statues. We paused to climb a hill to view what remains of the giant statue of Buddha that once stood within the park.
We came to the far southern end of the park—and didn’t find the museum.
We found a temple complex—the Kiyomizu Kannon-do Temple—and then the road.
It wasn’t till we passed the temple that we discovered a long flight of stairs that led to the lower level of the park.
We hurried down the steps and not long afterward discovered why the Shitamachi Museum is so difficult to locate. We also found the pond that Kari had known was somewhere within the park and which had been the most puzzling site that we had seemed unable to find.
We followed the sign and found that museum locked as well. That’s when we realized that the museums are all closed on Mondays, and we had to reevaluate our plans.
We were already at the park, and it had gotten fairly late in the afternoon by this time, so we decided to spend the rest of the day enjoying the outdoors. We wandered along the paths of the park and decided to enjoy the pond to its fullest extent by renting a pedal-powered swan boat.
We pedaled ourselves around the pond for a full half hour, learning to navigate, pretending to be seamen, and serenading passing boats with Disney covers. It was a grand time. Others seemed to enjoy themselves too.
We explored the park a bit farther, but we’d done most of what we could there with all of the buildings closed to us, so we left for Sensoji.
The approach to the temple is composed of several streets of vendors, selling mostly snacks and tourist goods, including this wonderful treasure.
A popular and colorful temple, Sensoji is also the oldest temple in Tokyo, having been completed around 645. The temple’s Thunder Gate is one of the symbols of Tokyo.
Stepping off the main paths brought us to several other temple buildings and many statues, various copper and stone Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, the Bell of Time (Toki-no-kane), the Asakusa Shrine built to honor the men responsible for building Sensoji Temple, and the burial site of a samurai from the Edo period named Kume no Heinai.
Having explored Sensoji, we had time for one last adventure, and we went chasing it on foot. We walked to Tokyo Skytree, the tallest building in Japan and the second tallest structure in the world after Dubai’s Burj Khalifa skyscraper, and were going to climb as high as we possibly could do.
We wound through side streets of high rises and finally spotted the tower across and upriver from us. We walked through a park and along the Sumida River and then across it. We hadn’t any directions and were simply using the tower itself as our guide, heading for it as directly as we could do. It felt like a quest, like Frodo and Sam approaching Mt. Doom, though our destination was significantly nicer and our quest less epic and more personal.
The weather was not with us, and we were not able to climb very high within the tower, to the fourth maybe fifth floor, but we thoroughly explored the shopping center within the Skytree and allowed ourselves both dinner from the food court and crepes for dessert.
The trek and the journey were worth the trip and the food made an excellent reward for its completion.
(Those Northern-most points are our hostel and the railway station nearest to it, which we frequented.)
All photographs are mine. Click to see them larger. All maps are made using Google Maps.