The arrival of the cherry blossoms is cause for major celebration for the Japanese, and for these two weeks, all the inhabitants in the surrounding areas come to join all the festivities. Tokyo metropolis has a population of 35 million, so you can imagine what the crowds are like here. It is also the richest city in the world, with New York being second. Almost all hotels have been booked for months, along with all guided tours of Tokyo. We usually take the Hop On Hop Off bus tours when we arrive in a new and unfamiliar city, but internet reviews on them were terrible so we had no choice but to figure it out on our own…which means…tackling the Tokyo subway. Yikes.
Two different companies run 13 lines which crisscross and can get you to most major tourist destinations in the city. There are 1-3 day passes which can be bought at a discount at the Narita airport, but unless you’re planning on running all over town in one day, just buying a ticket to your destination makes more sense. We travelled a distance of 9 stops for $2. I have to say, it’s a slick system that works very well and it’s immaculately clean.
Our first stop was Asakusa to visit the Sensoji Temple, Japan’s oldest temple built in 645. Once you pass through the Thunder Gate, the path is lined on both sides by the Nakamise Shopping Street leading to the temple itself, which is filled with small shops selling souvenirs ranging from fans, wood block prints, kimonos, Buddhist scrolls, traditional sweets of all kinds, Godzilla toys, fans, and Japanese masks. These shops have always been a part of the pilgrimage to Senso-ji temple. It’s a crazy madhouse of chatchka shopping and weird foods.
In front of the temple stands an altar of burning incense where visitors wave the smoke on the parts of their bodies that need healing. A lot of the bald men were waving the smoke to the tops of their heads.
Our next stop was to Ueno Park, the city’s most popular park who’s grounds also contain an ancient temple, several museums, a zoo, and a children’s amusement park. It’s also a central place for celebrating cherry blossom season, and people have come out in the thousands to picnic beneath the arching branches of the blossoms.
Blue plastic tarps are spread on the ground, and all their shoes are lined up on the edge of the tarps. This is major picnicking! They bring boxes to build long tables, propane gas burners, and major food! This is no sandwich and hot dog affair! If you happened to forget your food, don’t worry…this is also the site of the biggest food faire I have ever seen. Just when you’ve seen every kind imaginable, you turn the corner, and there’s another long row of more food stalls. They are really big on octopus, grilled squid, and BBQ’ed fish but you name it, they have it, and then some!
At the bottom of the hill, there was another great little lake with more rowboats and paddle boats shaped like swans, which floated past another beautiful bank of cherry trees. What a great way to celebrate the coming of Spring. This goes on every day for the two weeks of cherry blossom season. After that, the Ueno food faire happens only on the weekends, but picnicking is for any day.
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