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The Awesome Japan Trip. Day Two

We both woke up at about five AM.

This is no real big deal for either one of us. I usually wake up about a quarter to five for work anyway, and Martial is usually still awake. But we were up and running, and neither one of us wanted to waste any time, so we got showered and rolling right away.

Aaaaand it turns out there's not really a lot to do or see in Ueno Park, Tokyo, at six AM on a Wednesday morning.

A lot of Japan is like that, as it happens. The nightlife starts at about seven PM and runs until just before midnight, when the last trains leave. Then there's the late-night action, which goes until four or five AM. Then most shops and stores don't open until ten or eleven. Most of the early morning Tokyo action consists of people walking around, trying to get to school or work, or taking their pets for a constitutional.

We joined this crowd and took a short stroll around Ueno Park.

The "center" of Tokyo has been slowly shifting westward over the past century. In the early parts of the previous century, Asakusa was the social and entertainment hub of the city; these days it's Shinjuku, on the western end of town.

Right around the time of the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, however, it was, however briefly, Ueno. So Ueno has that mix of ultra-modern Tokyo crazy and swingin' sixties You Only Live Twice-type retro style that I actually enjoy. I'd never spent a lot of time in Ueno before, but I could really see doing so in the future.

The park is nice, as more Japanese parks are. In a country where most people don't have a front or back yard, parks are pretty important. This one has an old temple, a nice lake, plenty of walking paths and benches, a museum and an outdoor stage, several memorials, about eighteen thousand vending machines selling hot green tea (of which I made ample use), and a huge shrine, which Martial and I checked out.

Oh yeah, and TWO major rail stations built underneath and next to the park. This made it extremely convenient for our explorations of Tokyo. I highly recommend the Kinuya Hotel for the Tokyo visitor on a budget.

I also recommend it for its proximity to McDonald's, which is only about a block or so away, and which serves breakfast. I avoid McDonald's when in the States, for a variety of reasons, but I enjoy Mickey D's in Japan. The service is generally excellent, and the food is served HOT, unlike here, which actually makes their chow palatable. We got down on some sausage and egg muffins, then went out on our next quest.

I had two objectives in mind.

"I want to find a CoCo Ichiban for dinner later tonight," I announced, "and also a Lawson's."

Martial shrugged. He's not a particularly demanding travel partner.

Having found both, and having introduced Martial to the hitherto unknown experience of a convenience store that is actually convenient, we set out for Motorcycle City.

Which was largely closed.

I had visited MC in 2000 when I was first in Tokyo and was impressed. Block after block of bike shops, selling equipment, aftermarket parts, souvenirs, and, oh yeah, motorcycles. The major anchor of this area was Corin, which owns a series of shops of different sizes dotted around the area.

Right up until they either moved, or went bust, taking most of the activity in the district with them. We went to a few places that were open, and Martial picked up loads of brochures, but it's apparent that the recession has smacked Motorcycle City but good.

"Oh well," I said to Martial, "it's still early. Wanna hit Akihabara? It's only a couple stops up the Yamanote."

Akihabara, also called Akiba, is, essentially, where good geeks go when they die. It used to be primarily devoted to the sale of electronics equipment and parts, which makes it cool enough, but, in the past few years, the district has branched out to become the Total Nerd Experience, selling videogames, comics, hobby stuff, anime, manga, and related materials. There are also "cosplay cafes," in which the waitresses dress up as characters from famous anime.

There are blocks and blocks of multi-story buildings devoted to the sale of this stuff.

The Japanese term for people interested in this sort of thing is otaku.

The American term for people interested in this sort of thing is Jack and Martial.

We stood in front of Akihabara Station and looked around.

"Squeal," said Martial.

Several hours and a sizable chunk of our discretionary income later, we managed to escape back to the Yamanote loop line train. We were only two stops from the hotel, but we decided to go the other way for a viewing tour of Tokyo, as well as a chance to sit down for a while.

Back in Ueno, we walked around for a bit, buying a new watch for Martial and looking at all the little shops around the station, then we stopped in at a kushi-katsu place for dinner. Kushi-katsu is little bits of meat and veg, deep-fried on sticks. You nom the goodies off the sticks, then at the end of the meal, they count up the number of sticks and charge accordingly. It was a nice little neighborhood bar, and Martial and I enjoyed ourselves a great deal.

After dinner, we decided that now was the time for a taste test of the four major Japanese beers, so we stopped along at 7-Eleven and picked up one of each. (That's another entry.) We went back to the hotel, put some music on the iPod (well done Martial for bringing the portable speakers), and that was that.

I've got to admit, Tokyo is growing on me.

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