Senso-ji, National Museum and a Japanese cemetery

After my failed attempt to find a SIM card, Ron arrange for me to meet with Caz’s boyfriend Reeve today to track one down. We both then spent the day together sightseeing, before catching up with the Uniqlo gang for a birthday dinner.

Once again I caught the train to Akihabara, where I met up with Reeve. 10 minutes later I was the proud owner of a shiny new Japanese SIM card!  I was in the right department store yesterday, but the SIM card was hanging on a shelf with other electronics, separate to the individual phone stalls. I was so glad I went back with Reeve, because it made the rest of the week a lot easier being able to look up maps, in particular the Japanese train system. Unlike Melbourne, Tokyo train times are available directly in Google Maps making it a breeze to get around!

Having found the SIM card so quickly, we had plenty of day left to explore. We jumped back on the train, and made our way further north to Asakusa to visit the Bhuddhist temple Senso-ji, the oldest temple in Tokyo.

Senso-ji
Senso-ji

The road leading to the temple was lined with stalls selling offerings and souvenirs. There were so many people crowding around to buy things and take in the sight of the temple. After squeezing through the crowd, stepping into the open square surrounding the temple helped to accentuate the buildings. In the centre of the first building a massive lantern was hanging, and two statues were guarding either side of the entrance.  The courtyard was surrounded by luscious, green trees and gardens.

Just past the first building, visitors were crowding around a pit, lighting sticks of incense and covering themselves in smoke as they prayed.  Beyond that was the main building featuring a large golden shrine, decorated with flowers, lamps, candles and smaller statues. As was the tradition in other temples I’d visit so far, people approached the shrine, made a donation, reflected and then clapped loudly. We read the English guide and followed suit.

Visitors lighting sticks of incense
Visitors lighting sticks of incense

The rest of the buildings were closed to the public, but we wandered through the gardens for a little while, enjoying the peace and quiet in the middle of the otherwise bustling city. After a while we found a small gate, and made our way through to see what was beyond.

A temple building on the side of the main square
A temple building on the side of the main square

Outside the walls we were back in the regular streets of Tokyo. This area wasn’t quite as busy as the main city, and had more of a suburban feel. We strolled through a quiet shopping strip, then came out into another street lined with restaurants. Feeling a bit peckish, we stopped in at a ramen bar which had just enough room to seat 10 people at a time. The place was tiny! There was just enough room between the stools and the wall for people to get past to the next stool. We ordered at the vending machine out the front, and took our tickets inside where we perched at the bar facing the kitchen. A few minutes later, hot bowls of ramen were served.

Squeezing into the small ramen bar
Squeezing into the small ramen bar

It was great to eat somewhere that felt so local. For under $5 we had a delicious, hot bowl of ramen in a restaurant otherwise filled with only Japanese. By the time we finished eating, a small queue had formed outside the door so we didn’t linger.

We made our way back to the train where we travelled to Ueno.  We had read about Ueno Park which surrounds the National Museum. We explored the park for a little while, where we came across a street performer with a rather creepy puppet. We watched for a few minutes, but had no idea what was going on. Further in the park was a large water fountain, with a Starbucks nearby. Feeling the heat, we stopped for a refreshing frappe before continuing on to the museum.

Outside the National Museum
Outside the National Museum

There was a lot to see in the museum, including pottery, statues, paintings and ancient artefacts. There was a particularly interesting section on the process of making dolls, showing the head at various stages in the process. We spent almost two hours exploring the halls of the museum, before heading on our way.

An impressive warrior statue
An impressive warrior statue

Back in the heat, we found a handy vending machine for a quick drink, then wandered down the road to see what we could find. We were heading for a train station, but got a bit lost along the way and came across a cemetery. It covered a large area, with small streets running through. Some graves were marked by tombstones, but most were marked by a collection of wooden planks standing upright, similar in shape to skis.

Graves marked by wooden posts
Graves marked by wooden planks

It was very quiet walking through the cemetery, and a little bit eery. As we walked past a small temple, a lady hit a gong and the sudden noise was startling. A Japanese cemetery definitely wasn’t on my list of places to visit while in Tokyo, but it was very interesting to see.

We finally came out the other side and found the train station. Exhausted from all the walking we’d done that day, we decided to find somewhere to stop for a drink. We walked past what looked like a video game arcade, but also looked like a collection of pokies. It turned out to be a form of gambling, with games that looked something like pinball machines, but were used to win tokens. I learned that it’s illegal to gamble for money in Japan, so rather than exchanging the tokens for money you use them to purchase items at the counter. The items available ranged from lollies and softdrink, to laundry detergent, cigarettes and even electronics. It was a little bit similar to exchanging tickets for prizes at Timezone in Australia, but the prizes weren’t aimed at kids. After a confusing ten minutes, we decided to find more productive things to spend our money on.

We were meeting Ron and the others from Uniqlo for dinner, so we made our way back to Kayabacho and found a bar near the restaurant while we waited for the others. When they were done with work, we met them at their hotel where they surprised the birthday girl, then we all made our way to dinner.

Dinner was a form of banquet, where we sat cross legged on chairs with no legs. It was a lot of fun! We had soup, skewers and various other small dishes, and in the middle of the table were several large pans filled with meats and vegetables which were turned on halfway through dinner and cooked at the tables.

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It was a great experience, and a lot of fun in such a large group. A great way to wrap up a big day of exploring!

Posted from Taito, Tokyo, Japan.

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