Sunday, 6 November 2011

Ueno, Samurai, Cuddly Toys

I was delighted when I heard that this Thursday was Bunka no Hi, a national holiday especially dedicated to Japanese Culture. Samurai, rakugo storytelling, kimono: heaven! Meiji Jingu Shrine, where I saw my first fire-lit outdoor (Takigi) Noh play last month, is THE place to go to see traditional culture. So on Thursday afternoon, at the Meiji Jingu Autumn Festival, I saw some brilliant samurai swordplay

sometimes in full armour

Yabusame (samurai archery from the back of a galloping horse)

and, to top it all off, a daylight view of the marvellous Meiji Jingu Shrine itself. Here is one of the Torii gates on the way to the main entrance, surrounded by huge Japanese cedar trees planted in honour of Emperor Meiji

Barrells of French wine and Japanese sake are piled up in their hundreds along the main avenue to the Shrine, too, symbolising cultural and spiritual exchange between Japan and the West

Meiji Jingu, the perfect setting for sightseeing Old Japan. But my cultural day didn't end there: it's not just traditional culture that is celebrated on Bunka no Hi. Next stop - Ueno.

The station doesn't look like much - it's a far cry from pristine Shinjuku or Shibuya. But Ueno is a real cultural hotspot, too. Tokyo's biggest park and only zoo (!) are in Ueno, yes, but even more exciting is that Ueno is also home to Tokyo's biggest food and clothes market. Add London's Brick Lane, East Street, Dalston and Spitalfields and together, and you get something a little bit like... Ameyoko!

The place is usually HEAVING, full of working people picking up sushi-grade fish, awful plastic slippers, doner kebabs, and a lot more

This being Japan, there were also lots of other weird and wonderful things to see on the way, including these mechanical chopsticks, which spend all day lifting noodles in and out of a bowl by one of the market stalls

Being a bargain hunter as well as a traditional culture geek, my afternoon just kept on getting better!

But, it didn't even end there. No cultural week in Tokyo would be complete without seeing at least one extremely weird cuddly toy. This specimen, from the four-storey toy megastore Kiddiland in Harajuku, was one of the best I've seen so far

It is, of course, very cute - most things here are. But I know what I think this round, brown item marketing itself as a loo roll case looks like, despite the pretty little strawberry shaped hat...

What doesn't count as 'Culture' in a city like Tokyo, for a voyeur like me? Ahem.

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