Japan Part 10: You Can Chūō Your Own Way

We explored Tokyo by bicycle – whizzing past temples and parks. Spent the night time in alley way bars and restaurants – robot and regular. But there is more to this city, places to visit in the daytime, streets to explore. Culture on every corner.

If Tokyo is considered the centre of Japan then Chūō City is it’s beating heart. We would start our daytime adventure there before heading across town to Ueno Park and its surrounds.

Park Life

In stark contrast to the ’emerald city’ of nearby Shiodome district, the Hama Rikyu Gardens are a place to enjoy and unwind. Seawater ponds, pagodas, various tree species (maple, gingko, cherry blossom) combine to create a very peaceful setting on the banks of Tokyo Bay. They are quite unique as they are on reclaimed land at the mouth of the Sumida River.

It has had many guises over time – beginning as a castle for a feudal lord of the Tokugawa Clan, Tokugawa Tsunashige, the younger brother of the Shogun. After that it became a duck hunting ground (the original reeds and duck blinds are still present on the north part of the park) before become a strolling garden, an Imperial detached palace and then finally the public park it is today.

The largest pond is the central Shio-iri pond with its beautiful tea house and series of wooden bridges and walkways.

There is a famous resident in the park. Planted in 1709 by the sixth Shogun – Ienobu as part of a series of great works restoring the majesty of the park. Now over 300 years old this Pine Tree is very gnarly and very expansive. It is huge!

Loaves and Fishes

Walking east from the park up Shin-ohashi-dori Avenue we immediately passed the Tsukiji Nippon Fish Port Market.

The inner wholesale market of 900 licensed fish dealers and where the famous tuna auctions are held. Some of these tuna are 300kg in size. This market was built in 1935 (and has since been moved to a new area post our trip in 2018) after 419,000 workers toiled for 6 years to make it a reality.

Its a whale of an operation – each day over 1,600 tons of fish are sold.

And an outer market of food stalls, restaurants and fishmongers. We would be able to explore this on our trip as the queue for the Fish Auctions begin at 2am – Zzzzzzz.

This is what the auctions look like courtesy of the Only In Japan Youtube Channel.

“Killing Time in Ginza”

All that food at the market made us hungry so we popped over to nearby Ginza for some lunch. The original downtown center of Edo (Tokyo) it is all about the shopping here. Luxurious boutique stores jostle with malls for consumers and their Yen.

The streets here are wide and expansive – a feature of the area’s redevelopment in the 1870s (after the devastating fire). They used to be lined with Georgian brick buildings that made it look “more like Chicago or Melbourne than an Oriental city” (Isabella Bird – 1880).

These days it is all glass and steel but there are a few remnants of yesteryear on display, especially the 1930s Art Deco Wako Department Store and it’s famous Hattori clock tower (named after Kintaro Hattori the founder of Seiko).

Wako Building and Hattori Clock Tower (Ginza)


After a traditional bowl of ramen and some gyozo https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FMlx0K7a69wwe strollled across to Nissan Crossing – the showroom of the future and the flagship Nissan Store in the world. Here we managed to get up close and personal with the Nissan Concept 2020 Vision Gran Turismo.

Upwardly Ueno

In the afternoon we caught the Ginza Line Train up to Ueno Park and the Museum Quarter and visited the Tokyo National Museum and its impressive collection of Japanese Art. The Honkan (Japanese Gallery) is a nice example of 1930s neoclassical architecture and Japanese style roofing and was opened in 1938 by Emperor Hirohito.

There was a great collection of ō-yoroi armour and katana swords from the Heian and Edo periods.

The armour was usually worn by high ranking Samurai on horseback. The colour, design and material (lacing) used in the armour denotes and identifies the clan that the armour belongs to as well as the rank of the wearer. The face masks were highly decorated – usually with demonic features to instil fear in the enemy.

The Katana are swords with curved, single edged blade and a long grip to accommodate both hands.  They range between 1 foot long and 2 feet long. When a paired together the swords, the longer Katana and the smaller Wakizashi, were called a daishō (“big-little”) and was generally a sign that the bearer of both was Samurai.

A major form of traditional Japanese theatre drama is called Noh. It dates back to the 14th Century and is still performed today. A major feature of the plays involves the wearing of masks to represent ghosts, children and the elderly. The masks are all wooden, carved from Cypress wood are painted with crushed sea shells and glue. They are designed to capture lighting and one mask can have multiple faces in a performance. The TNM had a room devoted singularly to these masks that were once owned by the Konparu School of actors.

A walk among the Cat People

After spending 2 hours in the museum (Karen’s max time limit in one 🙂 ) we embarked on a walking tour through a rather interesting neighbourhood. Interesting for Tokyo that is.

Yanaka is a district untouched by WWII bombing raids, fires  or other disasters it is one of the few examples of ‘Old City’ Tokyo. Full of old world charm and an abundance of stray cats.

Yep you read that right – there is a huge population of cats. So much in fact that the flag of the district features a cat, as well as statues, cafes and buildings. Yanaka Ginza is where the majority of the feline appreciation is centred.

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