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foodjapan.net - Day 1: Tokyo - Ueno, Asakusa

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Day 1: Tokyo - Ueno, Asakusa

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Day 1

[blog]* Welcome to foodjapan.net! On our first day: Akihabara, Ueno, Asakusa and the sexiest airline meal EVER. Well, technically it's the second day, since I missed my flight... but who's counting? 


Hello all! I am now in Japan.

Actually, that in itself turned out to be a rather impressive achievement for me, since the first time around I actually managed to miss my flight. Thing is, a few days ago, the church I was living in caught on fire. They had had an evening sermon for the blind, and had forgotten to put out the candles - I'm serious.



Luckily no one was hurt, but we had four huge fire engines roaring up our otherwise quiet London street at stupid AM, and all in all there was a huge hullabaloo about it.

You would be correct in pointing out that it had happened a few days ago and as such had no direct effect on my missing my flight... anyway, that's beside the point.


In any case, a relatively uneventful flight, except for the sexiest, most gorgeous-est in-flight meal I have seen in my entire life.


Bento does a little strip-tease.


I was seated at the back of the section and kept on worrying whether they would run out of bento by the time they got to me, since it was either that or beef stew, and there really would be no point in covering beef stew.

But apparently not something I needed to worry about, since everyone was ordering the beef instead. I don't understand it all - the stew looked suspiciously like they had puréed some poor cow they just pulled out of an old cow graveyard, then put it raw on a plate.

But in any case, the bento:


(Can you feel the steamy goodness already?)

Rice in bamboo leaf (above) and miso soup


I got distracted...


Satsuma-age, lotus root, tamagoyaki and gari (ginger)


Rice vermicelli salad (fusion) and gyoza


Soba noodles


So the soba was flat and pasty, and the gyoza disturbingly crusty. It was still miles better than the average airplane meal, and I had so much fun with the bento format that in any case I didn't really mind.


Random cabin shot


Super-scarily foreboding when we flew into Narita


Just kidding! Bad photo settings there


Cleaning crew


Passed through the airport with no problems, and headed via Narita Express to Tokyo Station. Honestly I wasn't going to bother, but at one point I looked around, saw everyone else looking like they had been pulled straight from Japanese ELLE, and decided I needed to look at least a little less like I'd been mugged on the Tube.

Headed back down to the station toilets, where I saw this:


Charm box??


To put this in context - it's a squat urinal, and the charm box is facing right where your face would be. Hmm.

Otherwise, nothing too interesting except this old lady who asked me to look after her bag for a moment, but was then obviously so scared I'd run off with her life savings that she was in and out in 10 seconds flat, with barely her underwear back on and her jeans not up yet. Slow down, old lady, I'm not going anywhere...

Anyway, I decided to head to Akihabara as planned, to pick up an electronic dictionary.



If you want to get all poetic, Akihabara literally means "Field of Autumn Leaves", which I think must be one of the prettiest names in Tokyo. Sadly almost no one knows about this, though, as it is quite tragically preceded by its world-famous reputation for cutting-edge computer goods and middle-aged "otaku" men who love anime and rarely shower.

In any case, of course I had to stop here first.



Nothing of culinary note more than Pizza Hut here, so shopping completed and otaku skilfully avoided, I hopped back on the train and headed up north to Ueno.

Actually, it wasn't food that I was after in Ueno really, either. But Ueno is only two stops up from Akihabara, and I remembered it as one of the places in Tokyo I had really loved as a kid. Reason enough.



I thought I remembered the street above from my last trip, so I headed down.


Pachinko parlour


Smog for sale?


Dodgy entrance to "love hotel"


A little side-note on these "love hotels". They are purpose-built to allow couples privacy for sexual intercourse, and appropriately have a bit of notoriety in Japan for housing all manners of illicit affairs. To minimise staff interaction you can often order and pay for your room entirely via machine, and apparently high-end ones come with various "accessories" - rotating beds, ceiling mirrors, S&M gear.

(And no, I haven't been to one. You'll have to refer to the excellent Wikipedia article on this for more information.)

Anyway. I'd actually wanted to photograph the blatant employer-employee "couple" I saw walking shadily out of here, but I didn't really want to get punched in the face so early in the evening.


Lots of restaurants and alleyway stalls too


Milk speciality shop at nearby Okachimachi station



Eventually I hit this street and realised that this had been what I had been looking for. Explains the abundance of love hotels and pachinko parlours in the street earlier which I did not remember from childhood.


And this, of course, was why I loved Ueno. It was just reaching that point in the evening where everything takes on a sort of starry glow - when shops start turning on the roadside lighting, even though it isn't quite dark yet - and the colours, and flow of happy conversation left and right of commuters heading home, and housewives heading out to make last-minute purchases before dinner - it was all quite sublimely magical. 


And of course, the food. So much food, all crammed down one narrow lane! Fresh fish and dried wakame (seaweed) and cut fruit, and whole fruit, and fruit juice - pork and manjuu buns and things I couldn't even beginning to recognise. It made my head spin, in a happy sort of way.

This store makes and sells manjuu buns fresh


It wasn't just food - there were also plenty of stores along the main street selling everything from shoes to jewelery to beach towels. It's a little treasure cove for adults who haven't quite grown up yet.


In one of those arcade crane machines. Aww...


As much as I wanted to stay, I thought I should at least try and get one food article in for today. So, it was back to the JR station, this time to Asakusa.



Asakusa is famous largely for the ancient Buddhist temple of Sensoji, but in fact the entire area is bathed in tradition and an old, Edo-style ancient sense of beauty.


Kaminarimon - "Thunder Gate"


It is, by the way, completely impossible to get a good shot of the gate, because the gate is absolutely huge. And - of course - there were lots of pesky tourists getting in the way as usual as well, even at the late hour I was there.


One of the statues guarding the temple


The side streets have a strange sort of charm


The inner gate, Hozomon


It was already fairly late, so some of the stalls in the plaza around the temple were shutting for the night by the time I'd reached the inner gate.

There would be a decent amount of food to be had here at a normal hour - it is, after all, a tourist spot. I counted taiyaki, kakigori (crushed ice with syrup) and a seemingly infinite number of "senbei" rice cracker stands. Asakusa in particular is famous for its senbei crackers - I come back to this another day, but for now you'll have to be satisfied with just knowing as much.


Omikuji (fortune telling)


Even if the food stalls were closed, I had at least wanted to try drawing omikuji (lit. sacred lottery - a sort of fortune telling) at Sensoji. So I was happy to see that one omikuji stand was still open.

You put 100 yen into the slot at the bottom of the stand, shake the container, and draw out a stick corresponding to a numbered drawer, from which you take your fortune.


My fortune, #97


Black is bad. There are degrees of badness, though, so I was reasonably hopeful when I reached for the fortune in #97.



Word for word (they were thoughtful enough to include the sort-of translation) -

Your wish is hard to be realized. The sick person is in danger. Lost articles will not be found. The person you are waiting for will not come. It is bad to build a new house or moving. It is bad to make a trip. It is bad to marry and employ. There are a lot of troubles.

Oh dear. "A lot of troubles", indeed.



There are stands around the omikuji stalls to which you're supposed to tie your fortune, if it turns out to be bad (and you take the good ones home with you) - but I grew so fond of my "lot of troubles" that I kept it as a souvenir.

This turned out, for various reasons - you will see later - to be one of the dumbest things I did in Japan. I tried innumerable times over the course of my trip to change my fortune by drawing a better one, but not once - not once! - did I get anything except really awful.

Let this be a lesson. If you get a bad omikuji, tie the damn thing on the rack. 


The rest of the temple grounds were also really beautiful. These Buddha figures were secluded within a small enclosed garden to one side, which would probably have been bustling with tourists during the daytime, but at that moment felt strangely calm.


And of course, at this point - about to head to the restaurant I was hoping to check and review for dinner - my camera battery promptly gave up and died. Well, so much for my first assignment.

Without anything else to do for the evening, I decided to head back. That night I was staying in Yoyogi, back in the western area of Tokyo, near Shibuya, and a largely residential area (like Ueno) I think. Not quite as lively, but still host to a bubbly collection of restaurants and bento shops near the station.

That's one thing you have to give Japan credit for - it doesn't matter where you are, there will always be food available somewhere.



Results: Day 1

Photos: 487

AreasTokyo - Ueno and Asakusa districts (sort of)

The List: nothing! Oh dear. Rather disappointing...

So that was it for Day 1. It might have been marginally better if I had actually been able to eat something, but I surely get credit for drawing what must be the most worst omikuji in the history of all mankind.

As for what I was going to eat? Hmm. Well, you'll just have to stay tuned, but here's a hint: aquatic animal, possesses a suckermouth. Appetising? Mm, most definitely.

Next: Day 2 - Tokyo: Shinjuku 

And by the way...

... let's get a conversation going! Been to Asakusa, or Ueno? Tried the famous senbei? Have someplace special to recommend? Send in an e-mail, comment below, or follow me on Twitter / twitter.com/foodjapan


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