New Era

April 1st, 2019

(This song has my favorite keyboard solo [near the 3:00 mark] of all time btw. The keyboardist is also my favorite, Minoru Mukaiya. He is also responsible for the many train departure warning jingles throughout Japan’s train stations)

Dawn of the final (full) day. My back hurts. I long for a squishy bed. We had a plan today: speed run as many iconic sights as we could just so we could say that, yes, we saw them. Normally, I would hate doing something like this since it sounds like an onslaught of tourist traps. It was, but keep in mind that I’m not traveling solo this time. I think Abbie should get the chance to at least see some of these iconic locations before we leave. I also suspect that lots of the places we visit will be televised for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, so it will be really fun to say, “Remember when we went there? Yeah!”

Before we hit the tourist traps though, I made a point that we had to experience Hanami in Ueno Park. That would be our last “slow” activity to really take-in before we rushed around Tokyo. Something special was also happening this morning as well: The naming of a new Imperial Era. Right now, Abbie and I are in the Heisei Era. The Heisei era has been around since 1989 and will be ending at the end of this month, since the emperor is abdicating his position to his son. A “passing of the crown through abdication” like this hasn’t happened for nearly 200 years, so needless to say, it’s pretty interesting to be here for the announcement.

Ueno Station. This is a real image that Abbie took and has not been altered. It’s a good example of how the sun lights things differently here. It looks like an over-exposed 3D render, but I assure you, it’s real. It’s like living in a world with cartoon lighting.

All of the major news channels were filled with images of the politicians congregating around fancy tables and discussing the semantics of the new era name with the emperor. The new era name will be officially unveiled at 11:30AM today. Abbie and I decided that it would be amazing to experience the reactions of Japan in the sakura-filled Ueno Park. So we made our way down.

A little crowded, but not so bad.

Blossoms everywhere!

Hundreds of families enjoying their Hanami picnics on blue tarps

Soon, the clock rolled around to 11:30AM. The new era name has been announced. I check the news sources on my phone.

令和

It’s “Reiwa.” It means something along the lines of fortunate/auspicious harmony. I think it’s fitting and everyone here seems to really like it.

Here for the naming of a new era!

Again, it’s important to note that the era won’t “go into effect” until next month, but the naming event was still really cool. The new era name has been shrouded in secrecy for ages now, so getting to see everyone’s reaction to the reveal was really neat.

In the center of Ueno Park lies a courtyard with big open spaces, a really cool fountain, and a musician playing jazzy guitar licks. I like the ambiance.

This is a good place in the world.

Even as we left the park, the trees were in full, beautiful bloom.

A temple with its blooming tree

Even near the rough and rugged train tracks, there are beautiful trees

Abbie and I walked all the way back up to Nippori Station from Ueno park. This was a really long walk (and in retrospect, we shouldn’t have done it because we were exhausted at the end of it), but it was nice. I think we may have accidentally stumbled into the red-light district though. Love hotels for as far as the eye could see. I’ve never seen so many in once place before. Let’s go ahead and get out of here.

Crossing over all the various train tracks

Okay, let’s get some lunch and hit the trains. We’ve got a lot to see! We stopped into a local ramen bar.

Abbie’s lunch. Salt ramen with thin noodles

My lunch. Cream broth with thick noodles. So heavy. So good.

Delicious! But it feels like I just ate a brick. Abbie chose the salt ramen because it was a far lighter meal, but I just had to go with the cream broth. Don’t let hungry eyes dictate what you eat before a long walking day!

Alright. Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building? Yeah let’s hit it.

…A reasonably crowded train ride later.

Yeah, still really tall

The bright and sunny day we started off with was quickly devolving into a cold and stormy one. The temperature would be fine if it wasn’t for the freezing, persistent ocean wind. Guh.

Massive courtyard with odd orange pillar statues.

After waiting for about 45 minutes in an elevator line, we made our way up. Hey, at least this is free.

Great views from here. Look, you can even see the SkyTree

It really does just go on forever

People enjoying Hanami in a park below us.

Abbie continues her series of “T-Posing in interesting places”

Where did our sunny day go?

Tokyo really does go on forever. Okay, on to the next stop: Harajuku. Last time I visited Harajuku, I was just on the cusp of becoming the sickest I’ve ever been in my life. I couldn’t tell if I had a negative experience in Harajuku because of my impending illness or because I just genuinely hated Harajuku. Well, let’s find out.

…Yeah nah I just really hate Harajuku. This place suuuuuucks. It’s the most crowded area we’ve seen thus far. It’s not just crowded, it’s dangerously crowded. It’s crowded to the point of being a genuine trample hazard. If someone trips here, it’s gonna end very poorly for them. Pushy, shovey, packed to the gills, 45 minute waits for every single thing. Awful. Even the little secret side streets, while less crowded, still have huge wait times for every little cafe. If you’re here for the first time, avoid Harajuku. Take a photo of the Takeshita Street sign or something and get out of there.

A brief moment of escape in a crowded, tall building. This is pretty far from Takeshita, but it was still packed everywhere. Imagine that crowd, but x20.

By now, Abbie and I were really cold and exhausted. I needed to warm up with another coffee and some carbohydrates to keep going. Every cafe is packed for miles though. Let’s just keep walking towards Shibuya until we find a cafe.

Walking to Shibuya. It’s really getting cold now!

After a lot more walking, we stumbled into a fancy coffee bar. This place was very fancy and very upscale (expensive). We didn’t care though – we were so tired and just wanted to sit and warm up with something hot and sugary. This was one of those places that hilariously tries to separate the “smoking” and “non-smoking” sections, even though they’re in the same building within close proximity with no barrier in between them. Yeah, if you have a “smoking” section, the entire restaurant is “smoking.” I am so glad we outlawed smoking in restaurants back home.

Anyways, the coffee was really good, but I don’t know about $7 for an Americano good. The Coffee House in Osaka’s got this beat by miles. The blueberry toast was good though.

Time to warm up. (Abbie got an iced drink, why?)

Alright, let’s get the Shibuya Crossing over with. Fortunately, this was very much a “Welp, there it is” kind of tourist destination.

…And yep. There it is. It’s a really big, crowded crosswalk.

I can assure you that this does in fact allow you to cross from one end of the street to the other.

Abbie wanted to check out one of the iconic shops here though.

Floor upon floor of girl things.

I was totally out of my element here, so I just let Abbie do her thing. Eventually, it was time to head back to the hotel. We did mostly everything we wanted to do today. Only thing that was missing was Ginza, but we saw most of the good stuff already anyways and we were totally wiped. I say that was a pretty successful speed-run of the city.

We ended the day off humbly with Onigiri riceballs from the local kombini and watched the cold rain fall outside our hotel window. I think this vacation was perfect. Last day is tomorrow, let’s think about the 10 hour flight later.

They were eager to give out free papers at major stations exclaiming the new era

Posted in Japan 2019.

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