Sunday August 30th, 1998
I got an early start today because I was itching to see if the ATM was working yet, and also wanted to examine the map I noticed last night that had been added to the machine since I was last in the area... it seemed to indicate a second location that might be another viable ATM machine for my American card. The second possible machine should be in Shimbashi ward, which is on the JR Yamanote line, if I read the map right; but I didn't have to go look for it because the Ikebukuro ATM was coughing up money again. Now I had the money to mail off packages... as well as the money to buy more stuff to mail off!
I headed to Ueno ward to waste the day. Ueno is famous for it's park, which includes a zoo, museum, temple complex, and lake that you can boat on and fish in... but it's mostly known for the beautiful cherry trees that blanket the park in pink petals every summer. I, however, wasn't there to visit the park.
Along the tracks of the JR Yamanote line between the Ueno and Okachimachi stations, there's a long rambling shopping area with all sorts of random new and used stuff that's lots of fun to wander through, and right along the lines of my budget. One warning though; there are a lot of fish and seafood stands selling raw ocean food stuffs... just hold your breath and push through the crowd. The smell's so powerful that even the people working the stands constantly fan it away from their faces and occasionally abandon the stands for a taste of fresh air. Also, you'll find lots of foreign clothing here... but at import prices. If you need a t-shirt or pants, you may want to look elsewhere unless you have to be currently fashionable and hip at any price.
UPDATE 2002: The name of this shopping district is the "Ameya-yokochou", often shortened to just "Ame-yoko". The market is said to have first developed during American occupation, when this area was the center for black market sales of American goods. The name seems to translate to "candy-shop alley", and some say that this is because candy was a big black market item; others think that the Ame in Ame-ya is short for "American", making the name for the place mean "American-shop alley". Take your pick, eh?
Poking around the various new and used specialty shops I found a used video store, and grabbed a couple of movies, the most notable of which is the first two episodes of the American TV series The X-Files, in English with Japanese subtitles. I also found a small stand that was selling some old Super Famicon games -- which is the japanese name for the game system known as the "Super Nintendo" in America [I don't know why it was giving a different name in America] -- so I got a couple of old games too. They will play on an American Super Nintendo, and still display Japanese text. Who says studying a foreign language has to be boring, eh? For unknown reasons, one of the department stores near the Okachimachi station was selling used books on their ground floor along with all the usual clutter (cosmetics and gift box candy sets)... heck, who am I to complain? So I bought some books too; comics, naturally.
I turned a corner to look down an alley I had not yet explored in the middle of this packed and crowded shopping area, and I found a Buddhist temple... an island of calm in the raging sea of commerce. Someone had left a box of McDonalds chicken nuggets on the steps, perhaps as a food offering or, perhaps, just out of laziness. I had known the temple was in this area -- you can see it quite clearly below the JR Yamanote train line as you ride by two stories above the ground level of the shopping district -- but I hadn't been able to find the entrance to the temple before. And no wonder!
The temple itself is raised a floor or so above the ground level in this area and surrounded by commercial buildings. You have to go up a flight of stairs from the street to reach it; this is why it's so visible from the Yamanote train line, which passes by the temple a story above it... but it's also what makes the temple so difficult to find while wandering around at ground level, eh? Up above the ruckus of the shopping area, you can find a quiet little courtyard with trees, a couple of benches, and a few statues. It's a nice break. [UPDATE 2002: The temple is called "Tokudai-ji", which translates to "the temple of great virtue". I still visit it every trip to Tokyo.]
While I was wandering through the area, I stopped at a combination video game parlor and used/new CD shop to ask if they had the CD I saw on TV in Tsuruoka the other night. The answer was 'no'... well, actually the answer was more along the lines of "what are you talking about?" and "is that a real band?" I'm thinking I'm going to have some trouble tracking the album down. The name of the band? Believe it or not, they're called the "Ass Babboons From Venus"! They're a new-wave Japanese punk band and definitely not in the top forty J-Pop chart, which may be why this hip little music shop doesn't have it. Ah, well... try and try again. I would love to give this CD to my brother and sister-in-law!
Having entered the shopping district from the JR Okachimachi station end, I eventually emerged at the JR Ueno station end. I headed back to Ikebukuro, still trying to track down the elusive Ass Babboons CD, which I know isn't in used book stores, but... okay; so I bought some more used books. I picked up the Dr. Slump collection I saw the other day, then found more. I'm incurable.
It had started to rain early in the afternoon, and as the day went on the rain got stronger and stronger; so I shuttled my bags to the hotel room whenever the rain got too intense. With a typhoon sitting off the coast refusing to come in, there's a lot of rain in town right now; enough, in fact, that I finally had to buy an umbrella (to protect the books I was carrying, of course). Luckily, you can't walk one hundred feet in Japan without finding a store that sells umbrellas; they're generally between 300 yen and 500 yen... cheap. And you'll usually see a few dead umbrellas abandoned on the sidewalks when you go walking in heavy rain.
Admist the rainfall, I finally found the Ass Babboons CD at a used CD and video game store called "GEO". I know it's not an important gift, but if I didn't track it down this trip while it was fresh in my memory, the odds were good I never would. After finding it, I officially called it a trip and a night... there's no more souveniers to find, and it's too late to do any more exploring. It's time to get things ready to leave tomorrow, much as I don't really want to. So I bought a bento lunch box for dinner, and headed back to the hotel. [UPDATE 2000: My brother and sister-in-law love the Ass Babboons From Venus CD, and still play it a lot! I'll have to see if the band made any more albums...]
Tonight I soak and clean up. Tomorrow, I'll buy boxes at the Post Office, then pack and mail the last of my stuff to the USA. After that, I'll check out of the hotel and then mail off the staff I carried up the three mountains... and then I'm off to Narita, the town near Narita airport. There's a temple I want to visit before I go to the airport and check in for the eleven hour flight home. Night!
On to August 31st, 1998
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