Day 5: Tokyo – Yanaka including the National Museum

Or the day that we experienced the Tokyo rush hour.

As a tube commuter in London, I’ve experienced the worst indignities that the city can throw at someone for a service that I spend roughly £8 a day on – overcrowding, loud music, blokes sat with legs akimbo, delays, overheating. Been there, done that.

Tokyo has another approach to below ground public transport, a nice mix of order and chaos.

The order starts when one arrives on the platform. There are designated queuing areas for individual train doors, as opposed to the amorphous freeform approach that people adopt in the Smoke.

Tokyo queueing – note the space between the queue that we were in and the next queue

Now time for the chaos.

The mood changed though when the train arrived. It was something that was akin to a rolling maul in rugby union. The passengers in front of us all headed for the doors. An attendant literally pushed the last people on as the doors closed without a care for their dignity or any potential harassment lawsuits, never mind the bag straps and coat sleeves trapped as the train moved away.


Once inside, personal space was an alien concept, with bodies pressed against each other in some sexless frottage. You were leaned into and as the train moved forward, those who didn’t have access to an overhead handrail just braced themselves against the adjacent passengers.


The train emptied significantly at Ginza and we completed the rest of our journey up to Ueno Park in relative comfort.

As we walked through the park toward the museum, we saw the lengths that the locals go to enjoy the cherry blossom. There were set pitches along the central path through the park. Plastic tarpaulins were laid on the ground with boxes to perch and serve food and drinks on, with adjacent comprehensive recycling facilities.

Closer to the museum, there were street food stalls setting up and cherry blossom bonsai for sale.

We entered the museum, intent on exploring the food stalls when we left. The museum was stunning. We kept to the Honkan which was the main gallery building. This captured endless classical Japanese treasures, with particularly beautiful kimono, samurai swords and ceramics. Particularly impressive were scrolls dating back 900 years, charting the progress of Buddhist monks around Asia.

IMG_2724Hungry, we switched back to the street food festival, grabbing some steak kebabs and baked sweet potatoes. A man had a small van with charcoal coals on the back. There was a choice of three types of sweet potato. You pointed to the particular potato that you fancied, he weighed it, cut it in however many pieces that you wanted and popped it in a brown paper bag. It was extraordinarily simple but delicious. He would clean up at Glastonbury. Combined with a bottle of warm sake, it made a perfect lunch.

We wandered back to the Metro via the Yanaka area. This is old school Tokyo, unaffected by earthquakes and World War II bombings. The area was replete in temples and shrines, the narrow streets a source of constant interest.

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