After dear Fifi’s departure I spent an afternoon in mourning. Luckily by nightfall I had come to my senses and remembered that I was in a country with perhaps the best food and should not risk wasting a meal! I headed straight back to Ebisu, the area where we got the ramen from and instead ventured across the road to this food court type area that was packed with “salarymen” and groups of friends drinking and having a thoroughly good time. I somewhat foolishly sat down at the first available seat without viewing the menu. By the time I read the menu I was already too far in, they had brought me some mysterious bar snack and so I was committed…
Given the limited vegetarian menu I filled myself up on more of the atmosphere and less of the food (which whilst being delicious was rather small). The remainder of the evening was spent wandering through Ebisu and Shibuya until I realised it was in fact rather late and I was edging closer and closer to being lost with every side street I went down… Like a safety conscious traveller I returned to my hostel.
Finding my way to the Louis Vuitton exhibition the next morning was somewhat confusing but absolutely worth it. The exhibition was about Louis Vuitton the person as well as the label and tracked the progress of their luggage throughout the years. It was one of the most beautifully curated exhibitions I have ever seen and flowed seemlessly with a good mix of history, human interest and obviously luggage! Even better, the whole thing was free including the English language audio guide that explained to me many of the signs I could not read!
It turns out Louis Vuitton was not only a thoroughly interesting person but he really did have a vision for the luggage he created and had a very thorough understanding of functionality combined with design (the Steve Jobs of his generation perhaps). Moreover, much of the luggage was not some foul monstrosity that can be purchased today but was actually rather beautiful!
From the exhibition I wandered down to the Shinjuku Gyeon. The Gyeon is Japan’s national park and as well as having large, open, green spaces it has three distinct areas; a French garden, an English garden and a Japanese garden. Walking into the gardens it is hard to believe that you are still in the heart of Tokyo. Despite being almost the centre of the sky scraper area, the park is serene and quiet, a perfect place to lie and read.
Within the park there is also a greenhouse that houses some of Japan’s endangered or rare flowers/plants. While being in a greenhouse on a hot day is not an activity I would advise in general, this greenhouse may be an exception. Small enough to get around in 20 minutes it is bearable… And the flora is phenomenal! While I stupidly did not take a brochure on the flowers, I did take photos of some while I thought were stunning (if anyone can name them for me that would be appreciated)…
Now for the lesson on how to cause chaos in Japan… After a couple of hours wandering through the gardens and lying in the shade reading I suddenly felt rather ill. Deciding to head back towards a train station and potentially my hostel I started walking through the park. In under two minutes I went from feeling ill to projectile vomiting down the footpath of the garden. Well, that sure as hell got the attention of the Japanese who were near me. Stunned by what had just happened (myself included), 5 older Japanese people came to try and help me… No one spoke English and all I kept saying was gomenasai (I’m sorry/it’s my fault). I was being handed numerous hand towels and a couple of bottles of water, they forced me to sit down (about 10m away from the scene of the crime on a bench because sitting on the footpath was not an option) and someone found the caretaker to clean up after me. I wanted to scream! All I wanted to do was get back to my hostel and lie down, but these incredibly kind Japanese people just wanted to take care of me… While grateful for their concern and assistance I was even more grateful when an American came over and spoke to me (I told him I just wanted to leave) and then in broken Japanese managed to quell the concern and get me a get out of jail free card. In a loud confusion of thank-you’s and sorry’s I made a break for it.
Miraculously after a 3 hour nap I felt basically fine again (starting to wonder if the vomiting was over-tiredness)… Ready to do and see more (but also feeling a bit cautious) I walked down the road to Ueno Park with the intention of going to the National Museum. My plan was flawed for 2 reasons:
- I had lost track of time and it was already 5:00pm by the time I arrived there
- The Museum had been shut as the Emperor was visiting (I was informed this by a friendly Buddhist nun)
Apparently sighting the Emperor in such an informal setting is very rare… Hence why older Japanese people began to crowd round the Museum’s entrance. Deciding I had nothing better to do I joined the party and stood outside the National Museum for 1 hour for a 2 second sighting of the Emperor… But my god he is a cute old man
Again my evening was spent wandering the streets, this time in Ueno until I finally decided it was time to retire for the day. Returning to the hostel I found the bed below me (that had previously homed Fichan and a friendly French girl) was not occupied by an older Dutch woman who in the space of our 12 hours together accused me of stealing her prescription glasses, rummaged through my belongings and tried to tell me I couldn’t use the bathroom in our room (needless to say I was glad to see the back of her)… She also snored and coughed all night.
My final morning in Tokyo was upon me and as I had been unable to watch sumo wrestling (tournaments only happen 3 times a year) I decided to try and watch them practice. Lonely Planet gave me a recommendation of where I could watch from the street (the stables are notoriously private and hate spectators) so I loaded my google maps and ran there. Arriving at the stated location I found myself in the middle of a street of housing, not a single sumo wrestler in sight. Disappointed but not deterred I ran towards the Sumo stadium and museum figuring the closer I got the better the odds of me sighting one was. Sure enough, just before I reached the stadium I found three old Japanese guys standing looking at what appeared to be a wall with a look of awe on their faces… A viewing window to a sumo stable had been found!
Watching the keiko (practice) one couldn’t help but notice there was a lot of butt slapping, squatting and shifting from side to side for those outside the ring. Those inside the ring seemed to only last 30-45 seconds before someone stepped outside the circle and therefore a victor was found. In saying that, I stood therefore 30 minutes and there was never a moment where there weren’t two people in the ring battling.
The other thing I notices was some sumo wrestlers really weren’t all that sumo… Some just looked like normal guys with thickset legs and body (obviously others like our friend above were well rounded).
Returning to the hostel, packing my belongings and saying goodbye to my dear Dutch friend I headed to the train station arriving 45 minutes early for my train to Kyoto. Despite being early I managed to miss my train by 1 minute as I got distracted reading. I then jumped on another train to Kyoto only to discover that with my JR pass I wasn’t allowed on that train. 1.5 hours later I was very politely kicked off the train and given directions to one I could be on! My 2 hour journey to Kyoto therefore became something of a 3.5 hour ordeal but arriving in the city I can already see it will be worth it… Another beautiful city to explore!