This is the final installment of the Tokyo Diaries and I’ve compiled the last three days of my trip in this one entry because on our last couple of days in Tokyo, we started taking it one thing at a time, unlike in our Day 1 and Day 2, which were all about learning how to get used to the Tokyo Metro and visiting the most obvious sights to see. By the third day, I was already comfortable venturing out on my own in the city that when I woke up that morning, I decided I wanted to see some Giant Pandas that day. I did a quick Google search and confirmed the stops where I needed to get off and jumped on the train.
Using the JR Line, I exited the train at the Ueno Station and followed the Google maps’ app’s direction towards the main gate of Ueno Zoo. I happened to go through a different route so I enjoyed the view of Ueno Park first.
Ueno Park is a huge and spacious urban park, home to other museums and amusement attractions for locals and tourists alike. I wish I could have visited all the other museums there but the 14.3-hectare zoo alone took up most of my time already.
I found the zoo with no fuss and felt a sense of achievement that I was able to reach my destination on my own (without getting lost along the way). There is a ticket booth by the entrance where I purchased my ticket and got a free map to know my way around.
Looking at the map, I saw just how extensively packed their zoo was. But honestly, I didn’t want to see ALL the animals. I just wanted to see pandas, gorillas and the Sumatran Tiger. So I made it a point not to exhaust myself with all the walking and just focus on the animals I wanted to see.
First off, I need to see Po! (From Kung-Fu Panda!:) ). I kid, I kid.
I arrived there at around 10am and when I went to the area of the Giant Pandas, it turns out they’re still asleep and I learned that feeding time is at 11am.
Since the pandas were still asleep, I decided to walk around the perimeter a bit and come back right before their feeding time would start. There were several signs regarding the conservation of their species and how these two giant pandas, RiRi (the male panda) and ShinShin (the female panda) have been thriving in the zoo.
Apparently, the zoo has been attempting for them to reproduce in the last three years, however both pandas haven’t hit the “mark” yet, so to speak.
While waiting, I took a look around the nearby animals within the vicinity. There were some elephants being fed but since I already rode an elephant back in Thailand, it was a bit “meh” for me. There were some so-called Japanese Macaques that interested me…
There were also other species of monkeys nearby who were being fed at that time. This one was intriguing to see as the bunches of leaves were tied outside their cage and the monkeys would horse around from inside the cage, reaching out for the leaves and eat them. Look:
Finally, RiRi and ShinShin were coming along and I came back to their spot five minutes before 11 so that I can watch them go about their routine. Here is ShinShin waking up and stretching:
ShinShin turned out to be the more sociable one at that time and RiRi remained asleep. All the attention was on ShinShin as her zookeeper prepped her cage for feeding. They isolate her while the food is distributed in different parts of her room. Once the zookeeper was done and has exited the room, they opened the small door where they momentarily contained ShinShin and off she went to walk towards the pieces of carrots, potatoes and huges bunches of bamboo leaves, if I’m seeing them correctly.
ShinShin seemed to like all the attention as she literally stood in front of the glass cage watching us watch her eat. I was in a good position during the view that even though the guards were motioning the rest of the crowd to move along, I was able to stay long enough and do a Facebook Live of the Giant Pandas. As I watched them move, eat and walk, I couldn’t help but feel how grand these creatures were. I hope they’re happy being in the zoo.
As much as I wanted to see the other sights in the zoo like the gorillas, the Sumatran Tiger and even the lions, it seems that they were nowhere to be found. The tiger was MIA, the lions were asleep and the gorillas, well, it looks like they’re in their “rooms”.
The Great Buddha of Kamakura
Our next adventure was set in Kamakura, about 50 kilometers away from Tokyo. We took the Yokosuka Line and the trip takes almost an hour for 890 Japanese Yen (32 SAR). We were headed to see the Great Buddha of Kamakura, also known shortly as “Daibutsu.” It is one of the renowned icons of Japan that is a towering bronze statue built in 1252 AD. The temple in which it rests is called Kōtoku-in and houses a beautiful, quintessential Japanese zen garden complete with perfectly manicured flora, fauna and a fishpond filled with koi fish.
The statue has gone through repairs over time but the main parts still remain authentic, like the mast. You can go inside the actual statue and witness the repairs from the inside for an extra 20 JPY. It was nice to be inside an actual Buddha statue but there’s not much to see inside. I was more interested to see the Japanese gardens!
From the pond, there is a staircase leading to the second level where there is a temple and a collection of smaller stone Buddhas aligned. A view of Sagami Bay can also be seen from there.
If you walk around the vicinity, you will then find a long line of stone buddhas that are a sight to see (and touch)! I saw people offer prayers in front of the buddhas during their visit.
On our way down, I found a true blue Japanese rock garden (zen garden), much to my delight. Looking at it, I can understand how such perfection can instil peace. If you are looking to meditate and find your inner self (as Po would have in Kung Fu Panda), then this is probably one of the best places to meditate.
If the hustle and bustle of Tokyo’s city life gets to you, the tranquility of this place will be a breath of fresh air for you (both literally and figuratively). As much as I had wanted to really visit and climb Mt. Fuji, the cloudy weather during my visit wouldn’t have given it justice so as a nature trip of sorts, this was a nice alternative.
Before leaving though, I found a piece of Saudi Arabia right smack in the heart of Kamakura…check this out!
I also found another interesting stop on our walk back to the station and it was this “Happiness Capsule” where you write down something that will make someone else happy and as a form of ‘donation’ you drop 100 JPY.
Yokohama: Pokemon Center and Cosmo World
We proceeded back to the train station and made our way to Yokohama to tick another thing off of my brother’s Japan wishlist, which was to visit a Pokemon Center. My brother has been a Pokemon aficionado since he was four years old, (waaay before all this Pokemon Go craze happened) and he had asked us for authentic Pokemon plush toys which could only be found at the Pokemon Center. Luckily, one of the stores can be found in Yokohama (although it is not the Pokemon Headquarters) at the Landmark Plaza. I wasn’t able to take too many photos because I was too busy video calling with him, showing him the toys and asking him which ones he wanted.
A Pikachu mascot even came out that afternoon and while it was all done in Japanese, I managed to squeeze in a Snapchat of it in our account.
Meanwhile, it just so happens that I was also due to meet with some old Riyadh friends (already based in the UAE) who were also visiting Japan at the same time as me. We met up at the Pokemon Center after I was done buying my brother his goodies and we went to take a walk around Yokohama’s huge theme park called Cosmo World.
The Ferris Wheel is a huge attraction, especially at night where the colors are more vibrant and alive. The spinning rollercoaster is notorious for theme park enthusiasts as it not only spins around its axis as you are riding it, it also disappears underneath the ground for a couple of seconds. Proof:
Cosmo World has great location with the cool breeze of the sea and the fun vibe of the rides (tickets to the rides can be bought per booth but admission to the place is free). I would assume that it is also a romantic spot for dating couples, apart from being a tourist spot. The large clock on the ferris wheel will remind you of the time whether you like it or not and suffice to say that with such huge structure, you’ll never get lost in this part of Yokohama. On the other side of the park is an array of street food vendors. I’m saving those pics for the next part of this entry though. Here they are…
Food Scene of Japan: Unleashed
Now the last two days of our visit to Japan was spent on my mom’s gadget shopping and our food trippin’ so I decided to just compile and dump all of my food shots in this section for y’all to salivate over and swoon. Enjoy!
Tsukemen is a ramed dish that you “dip” into its soup. It is served separately and often offered with a slice of pork and garnishes. In Japanese tradition, it is encouraged that you sip your noodles and soup in loud and feisty manner to signify that you are enjoying it. Not doing so would appear to be somewhat of bad manners to a certain degree. They even have a guide for how you are supposed to eat it at the restaurant we ate in.
Yakitori is another Japanese dish that’s mainly composed of skewered meat items, whether it’s chicken, duck, pork, tofu and sometimes even some liver or gizzards. It’s basically their version of barbecue.
While I was with my friends around Cosmo World in Yokohama, my mom and Tito Roger walked around the area as wel land found this Banchetto-style street food showcase. I’m using pictures from my mom’s camera here hence the time stamps.
For desserts, my mom and I really loved the traditional Japanese ice cream that was accompanied by fruits, cereal and glutinous rice balls (just imagine all those textures in your mouth!). Of course, you can expect that they would put matcha (powdered green tea) on everything but it’s the real deal so I didn’t mind.
On our last day in Japan, we went back to the place where we first started: Akihabara. Our final goal was to see some cosplay performers and we were told that they usually hang out in that area during the weekend. Unfortunately, we didn’t find any flamboyant cosplayers around so I just maximized the closed out streets (they do this during the weekends for the tourists) by taking my final kawaii pics of Japan.
That evening, we headed back to the Tokyo International/Haneda International Airport for our flight back in the Philippines. Japan has been literally, amazing (not whitewashing it all). Above all else, the food and culture is what will really lure you into staying. Add to that how polite and disciplined the Japanese are, not just in the province but most especially in the city and you’ll wonder why you’d ever want to leave. I previously thought that I’d have a difficult time understanding or communicating with people there but for every train station I was in, at least one person could speak English and every signage for directions/menus would have an English translation. Also, Kanji seems to be a very interesting language that I have plans of learning it little by little. Their minimalist and technologically-advanced ways are also inspiring.
There’s still so much more to see and experience that I really, really intend on going back…next time I am definitely bringing my brother with me. Tokyo 2020, perhaps?