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Tokyo (Ueno – Ameyokocho) May 25, 2010

Posted by Dru in Japan, Kanto, Tokyo, Travel.
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Author’s Note:  Dru’s Misadventures has moved to HinoMaple.  Please venture on over there to read “Tokyo (Ueno – Ameyokocho)” complete with photos.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-mZ

Ameyokocho, or Ameyoko for short is a major shopping area of Ueno.  It’s literally translated as “Candy Alley” or “American Alley” depending on how you read it.  “Ame” is short for sweet or America and “Cho” can be translated as town, or alley.  This area was famous as a black market area for American products after WWII.  However, this area has changed significantly since then.  Today, this area is more popular for its small shops and cheap prices.  Ameyoko is located south of Ueno Station.  Immediately, you will be faced with a wall of buildings with the train tracks running right through them.  Next to the highway is a large department store, Marui, and next to that is a somewhat large toy shop, Yamashiroya.  Marui is a typical department store, and Yamashiroya is one of the best toy shops outside of Akihabara.  It’s also difficult to navigate as the floors are packed with good from floor to ceiling.  On the west side of the tracks, you will see Yodobashi Camera.  While this is a famous electronics goods shop, it’s not as good as their Akihabara branch.  This branch should only be visited if you have nothing better to do.

In the area just inside Ameyoko, you’ll find several small restaurants selling various typical Japanese foods.  You can buy everything from yakitori to sushi.  A good tip is to head south for about one block.  From here, you can see a few cheap sushi shops under the train tracks.  If you are on the west side of the tracks, next to Yodobashi Camera, you will be in the fresh market area.  Here, they will offer a variety of seafood, konbu, and other items needed to make a delicious dinner.  Do note that they are open at different times of the day, probably the afternoon.  If you see them, you will see, or rather hear, the fishermen selling their wares for a very cheap and reasonable price.  The only problem is that they tend to sell in larger quantities making it difficult to purchase seafood for just one or two people.  In the same area, they have a famous chocolate shop where everything is just 1000 Yen.  Basically, you can just walk up and they’ll throw a lot of chocolate into an average sized grocery bag, and it all costs only 1000 yen.  You never really know how much, or what you will get, but that’s part of the adventure.  Located somewhere under the tracks, you’ll be able to see a man selling “Ueno Okonomiyaki” and possibly another man selling mochi.  These two stands are great for trying Japanese junk food.  It’s not too expensive, but not cheap either.  Closer to the south end of Ameyoko, on the east side, there is a supermarket called Nikki.  This is one of the most famous shops in the area.  The shop itself is large, by Ameyoko standards, and they sell a variety of foods.  It’s not a traditional Japanese supermarket.  You can find various name brand snacks, along with western snacks.  If you are craving western chocolate bars, you can usually find the most famous ones here.  Don’t expect to find “Oh Henry!” or “Reese’s Pieces” around here though; just the standard Hershey’s Kisses.  The good thing is that you can get Japanese snacks such as sembe or dried seafood for a decent price.

Food is not the only famous thing to shop for in Ameyoko.  There are several shops selling everything you can imagine.  Walking under the train tracks will allow you to see a market that is more akin to a Chinese style market.  The shops are very small, and they sell things such as leather jackets/bags, jewelry, make-up, and perfume.  At the end of Ameyoko, in the south, they have all of the perfume and make-up shops.  Towards the north end, you will see more clothing shops.  Scattered throughout the entire area, mostly on the west side of the tracks, you will see similar shops.  Some of the biggest things you can buy are shoes.  There several shoe shops with a large variety.  After walking around for a bit, you will start to notice that most of the shops sell similar items, with the only difference being colours.  While Harajuku may have the most variety, Ueno still has a good selection, and it’s usually at a cheaper price.  If higher end goods are what you are looking for, be sure to head to Matsuzakaya, which is just south of Ameyoko.  It’s your typical high end department store.  If you don’t want to go to Ginza, this is probably the best place to go, if you are in Ueno.

Ameyoko is a great place to visit.  The atmosphere alone is worth the trip.  You can experience a typical Asian street market, without worrying about buying something of poor quality.  Japan prides itself on quality, and this area is no exception.  Do beware that sometimes you can get poor quality goods, but most of the shops are legitimate now.  You generally don’t have to worry too much.  It’s also a great way to spend a morning, or afternoon.  It’s very close to Akihabara, which is about 10 minutes from the southern point of Akihabara.  The walk itself isn’t very interesting, but you can always save a few bucks.

This is part of my series on Ueno.  Please continue to read more about Ueno at Ueno – Corin Street, Tokyo Bike Town and Ueno – Ueno Park.

Ueno Infomration:

Ameyoko – Official Site (English):  http://www.ameyoko.net/e/
Ameyoko – Official Site (Japanese):  http://www.ameyoko.net/
Japan Guide (Ameyoko):  http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e3012.html
Ameyoko (Photo Blog post by Danny Choo):  http://www.dannychoo.com/post/en/1514/Ameyoko.html

このblogは英語のblog。もし私の英語は難しい、日本語のquestionは大丈夫。

Tokyo (Ueno – Ueno Park) May 18, 2010

Posted by Dru in Japan, Kanto, Tokyo, Travel.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
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Author’s Note:  Dru’s Misadventures has moved to HinoMaple.  Please venture on over there to read “Tokyo (Ueno – Ueno Park)” complete with photos.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-mW

West of Ueno Station brings you to Ueno Park.  This is probably the biggest reason people visit Ueno, at least as a tourist.  The park is one of the largest in Tokyo.  The park area itself contains a temple, a zoo, three museums, and various activities any other park would have.  The park itself is nothing special.  There are few places to actually enjoy a nice picnic.  Most of the paths in the park are paved, with little to no areas to sit and relax.  It’s a very typical Tokyo park.  The best time to visit the park itself is during the cherry blossom season, in spring.  There are over 1000 cherry trees in the park allowing you some of the best views of the park itself.  During the cherry blossom season, the city brings in extra lights to light up the cherry blossoms at night.  While most parks do the same, Ueno Park is one of the most beautiful to see.  As with any other park with lots of cherry blossoms, the park will be extremely busy at the peak of the cherry blossom season.  It’s advised to be careful as you will more than likely have to navigate between people to get around.  At night, it can also get very noisy as many office workers are drinking and fairly drunk at that time too.  Many people do avoid the park for this very reason.  The daytime is still very tame, but in true Japanese tradition, at least nowadays, it’s best to see the blossoms at night.

Ueno Park has four major religious structures.  The first you will encounter, near the entrance, is Kiyomizu Kannondo Hall/Temple.  This hall is famous once a year for its “Dolls Funeral”, or Ningyo Kuyo.  This funeral for dolls is related to the Hinamatsuri.  The Hinamasturi is a “Dolls Festival” where Japanese people display dolls for a happy life for their daughters.  It’s an elaborate festival that is celebrated at ones home.  There can be several dolls, and when Japanese people get older, they must decide what to do with them.  Some believe that they are spirits and must be treated with respect.  Due to this superstition, they cannot throw them away.  Several temples and shrines around Japan hold a type of Ningyo Kuyo each year in order to wish them luck in their next life.  The Ningyo Kuyo at Kiyomizu Kannondo is not very large, but there are probably hundreds of dolls, including stuffed animals such as Mickey Mouse, that are “cremated” at this time.  It can be interesting to watch, but I believe there are more interesting versions outside Tokyo, but unfortunately I do not know them.  Next Hanazono Inari Shrine, which is dedicated to the Inari, or fox.  These shrines can be very interesting as they tend to have several red gates and stone foxes with red bibs.  Toshogu Shrine is the next religious building.  It’s a small shrine located deep within the park.  It is linked to the shrines in Nikko, however this shrine is not as grand.  Unfortunately, I have never been to the shrine itself, but it is recommended to enter nonetheless.  The last religious structure to visit would be Benten-do.  It’s a hall dedicated to a female Buddhist god.  This hall is supposed to be popular for various reasons; probably wealth and knowledge, but unfortunately, I have forgotten the true meaning.  I have also heard that couples should avoid going to this hall together as it could create bad luck for their relationship.

In terms of museums, you have the Tokyo National Museum, The National Science Museum and The National Museum of Western Art.  The Tokyo National Museum is located at the northern end of Ueno Park.  It is the biggest and most important museum of the park, for obvious reasons.  On display are various paintings, writings, pottery, and of course the standard statues of various eras.  It’s a wonderful way to learn and hopefully appreciate the history of Japan.  It can be difficult to visit the entire museum in just a couple hours.  I would suggest arriving somewhat early and to allow yourself enough time to take your time throughout the museum.  If science is more interesting, the National Science Museum is an interesting place to visit.  They have various exhibits in and around the museum itself.  It is a relatively compact space and worth a visit with children.  The quality compared to a science museum in your own hometown will depend on what is available.  Many of the exhibits are interactive, as any good science museum is, but do look at their website and see if they have anything you’d be interested in seeing before heading in.  The last museum located in Ueno Park is The National Museum of Western Art.  I have never ventured inside the museum; however, there is a famous sculpture by Rodin, “The Gates of Hell” located outside the museum itself.  This gate alone is worth a quick walk up to the museum.  There are also a few other sculptures located around the National Science and Western Art Museums that are picturesque.

Ueno Zoo is a popular destination for people, especially for Japanese people.  It is split up into two sections that are separated by a monorail.  Within the main section is a 5-storied pagoda.  It can be impressive.  The west side of the zoo, there is a children’s zoo.  This is mainly a petting zoo for children to hopefully enjoy feeding various small animals.  The zoo used to have a panda, but unfortunately, it died a little while ago.  The zoo is a popular place on weekdays for schools to have a field trip.  It’s also popular among locals on dates, or bringing their families for a nice day out on the weekends.  As you approach, you are sure to hear and see lots of kids.  Bring your patience cap when you visit and all will be fine.

Ueno Park is a wonderful place to visit.  You can spend as little as an hour just wandering around, or up to a several days exploring all of the nooks and crannies that are to be found.  If you are visiting during the day, it is lovely.  There is a down side to the park when things get dark.  Because it’s an open and public park, it never truly closes.  It is open 24 hours a day, so when the sun goes down, all of the homeless people in the area venture into the park.  They can come out of nowhere and set up a small “tent” out of cardboard boxes.  It’s a little scary at first, but you have to realize that homeless people in Japan are very different than Canada, or America.  They tend to be very quiet and to themselves.  As long as you don’t stare, you’ll be fine.  You can even strike up a conversation with one of them if you dare.  Either way, Ueno Park is something you should see, especially if you are in the area.

This is part of my series on Ueno.  Please continue to read more about Ueno at Ueno – Corin Street, Tokyo Bike Town and Ueno – Ameyokocho.

Ueno Information:

Ueno Zoo (English):  http://www.tokyo-zoo.net/english/ueno/main.html
Ueno Zoo (Japanese):  http://www.tokyo-zoo.net/zoo/ueno/index.html
Ningyo Kuyo:  http://www.jnto.go.jp/eventcalendar/search_result_en.php?num=719
Japan Guide (Ueno Park):  http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e3019.html
Wikitravel (Ueno):  http://wikitravel.org/en/Tokyo/Ueno
Wikipedia (Ueno):  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ueno,_Tokyo
Tokyo National Museum (English):  http://www.tnm.go.jp/en/servlet/Con?pageId=X00&processId=00
Tokyo National Museum (Japanese):  http://www.tnm.go.jp/jp/servlet/Con?pageId=X00&processId=00
National Museum of Science and Nature (English):  http://www.kahaku.go.jp/english/
National Museum of Science and Nature (Japanese):  http://www.kahaku.go.jp/
National Museum of Western Art (English):  http://www.nmwa.go.jp/en/
National Museum of Western Art (Japanese):  http://www.nmwa.go.jp/jp/index.html

このblogは英語のblog。もし私の英語は難しい、日本語のquestionは大丈夫。

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