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April 8, 2013 / oneworld82

Yokoso Japan! Hanami (sakura watching) in Ueno Park, plus the nightlife of Taito and the sights of Narita City

So, I finally made it Japan. The last time I visited this beautiful country was in 2009, when I embarked on a 10 days trip from Tokyo to Himeji via Kyoto, Nara, and Osaka (that was my second visit to the country). As I mentioned earlier, I decided to embark on this trek across the Pacific specifically to take a look at the famed cherry blossoms that are one of the most recognizable symbols of Japan. I was lucky enough to find everything I was looking for. Perhaps, I only regret not having spent enough daytime to catch a glimpse of sakuras during sunlight hours; yet, I am very satisfied indeed.

As soon as I cleared immigration I proceeded to the bus bays, where I spotted the hotel shuttle. I had to stay around Narita as all hotels were incredibly booked in Tokyo and Yokohama, and so I opted for one of the few options still available, the Hotel Mercure Narita, part of the French Accor Hotels chain; think Holiday Inn with a French flavor (godo breakfasts). I picked this hotel because of its location next to the JR and Kaisei train stations, allowing me to easily get into Tokyo and to explore town a bit.

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Note the upper billboard. Pachinko is a form of gambling Japanese people love

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Area between Kaisei and JR stations

The room was small (in pure Japanese fashion) but clean and with almost all the amenities you need (only iron and board were missing). Unfortunately, my room had a rather unpleasant smell as well, that I feel came from a dirty vacuum cleaner filter. the staff was very polite.

Bed

Bed

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Bathroom

Bathroom

After taking a quick shower I jumped onto the Kaisei line, all the way to Uenokaisei station. The total journey would take approximately 1h15m, during which I started reading a new book (“Cry, The Beloved Country“) in preparation to my early-June trip to South Africa.

I love Japanese trains. They are so clean and efficient. Plus, they offer a great insight into the life of many local people, as taking the train is well oiled routine for a country where space is precious and parking spots as scarce as water in the Sahara Desert. You can see any sort of character on a Japanese commuter train, from junior high school students to white-collar professionals. Most interesting indeed.

I arrived at Ueno Park that it was already dark. I was counting on the fact that – as in Texas by 6:30pm this time of the year it’s still wide clear outside – I would have some time to take some daylight pictures; but unfortunately time zones differ from each other, and Tokyo is in one that gets light very early in the morning (5:30am) but that gets dark pretty early in return (around 6pm). Oh well, no big deal, as I knew that Ueno Park was going to be lighted up for the blossoms…

What I wasn’t expecting were the myriad traditional lanterns lighting up the entire park. It was dreamlike; it felt like watching a romantic Japanese movie featuring one of those scene where a happy couple walk holding each other in the chill breeze of an early Spring evening. It was impossible, and magical.

Closest entrance to Ueno Park (coming from Uenokaisei station)

Closest entrance to Ueno Park (coming from Uenokaisei station)

I won’t bother you with too many words. I will let my pictures speak to it. But I want to mention that this is a very improtant time of the year in Japan, and people flock at night to the park(s) to eat and drink together with friends and families; food stalls dot the tree-lined pedestrian ways, and  I couldn’t resist having some delicious takoyaki while walking around. But enough said.

Ueno Park

Ueno Park

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No picture can describe how beautiful this walk is!

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I tried to play with different light effect and shooting times…

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It can even get better than this:

Let's get artistic!

Let’s get artistic!

And if you fancy a nice Japanese meal, you can definitely have it right inside the park!

Restaurant

Restaurant

The shear number of people walking about this beautiful park (one of the most important in Tokyo) only added (and not subtracted) to the perfect atmosphere of the place. This was something that will stick to my memory forever.

After leaving the park, I wondered around Taito (where Ueno is located) as I had never really been here. Shopping arcades – a oh-so-wonderful feature of Japan – dot the area around the train station, and made for some good pictures.

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A lot of people were walking around and enjoying their saturday dinner in one of the many eateries around. That made me think that life could be much worse for those lucky enough to be living in Tokyo.

After a bit – exhausted and jet-lagged – I made my way back to the Kaisei station, where I caught a train back to Narita. The train was much quieter now, and I happily fell asleep for part of the trip. Once at the hotel, I crashed… only to wake up at 4am.

After taking a quick shower, I started watching a rather puzzling cooking show on a local TV station, before getting ready to catch the sunrise sun. Unfortunately, it looked like clouds were covering the sky this morning, but I decided to go out to check the Naritasan Temple anyways.

Walking the mile-or-so from the hotel to the temple brings you through Narita’s city centre. Traditional Japanese architecture – from modern buildings to old wooden houses – gives a good glimpse of the Japan outside of its megalopolis.

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Break of dawn

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Some awesome details…

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…and the old part of Narita City:

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While walking I stopped by one of the many, fantastic vending machines scattered all over the country and I got a can of coffee. I was expecting some ice coffee, but to my delight… the can (and the coffee inside) was actually warm!

Awesome vending machines sell everthing, from tea to coffee to - well, yes - beer

Awesome vending machines sell everthing, from tea to coffee to – well, yes – beer

Unfortunately, it started drizzling and right before reaching the temple it actually started pouring. Bummer. That didn’t hinder me from wandering around the temple and taking some pictures, observing monks and people rushing to the main hall for the 6am ceremony. Naritasan is a Buddhist temple, rather vast, with a big part behind it that – because of the rain – I was not able to explore.

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During daytime they are even more beautiful!

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Temple’s main hall

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Pagoda, with stunning wooden details

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A Seiko clock advised that it was almost 6 o’clock, time for me to get back to the hotel as my shuttle to the airport would leave at 7am…DSC_0019-2 DSC_0018-2

It’s been a short trip, but it’s been totally worth it. Au revoir Japan. I am sure I’ll see you very soon again.

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