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Saturday, February 24, 2007

Bike ride round Tokyo

Plum blossom, Nakano ward, Tokyo.

I surfed myself half blind Friday night till the wee hours and went to bed dreaming of spending a long Saturday morning oblivious to the world. But, curtains drawn and all, with sunrise heralding a crystal clear day I was up with the larks, and any ambitions of sleeping in dissolved in the brightening dawn.

Before I knew it I was showered and on my bike heading for Ginza, taking in a little newly emerged urban plum blossom on the way.

Being before 10am, Shinjuku was almost devoid of cars and, off the main drag, pedestrians. It was all delivery trucks and vans lining the streets. I went all the way to and past the Imperial Palace and veered right at its south-east corner towards Ginza. Ginza was even emptier than Shinjuku. It felt kind of lonely, so after pedaling the length of Chuo-dori and photographing a funky koban police box (see photo below), I went down to Shinbashi then followed Sotobori-dori, then Aoyama-dori to Meiji Jingu shrine.

Ginza 4-chome koban police box, Tokyo. The wind was freezing and gusted fiercely at times, but I got there, albeit frozen mouthed, parked my bike at the Kitasando gate and did the pleasant ten minute walk through the shady wood that lines the path.

You walk through two massive torii gates to get to the inner shrine. The courtyard was bathed in brilliant, and blessedly warm, sunshine, and scattered with a mixture of worshippers, wedding guests and tourists.

Meiji Jingu, like Ise Jingu, is the center of state-Shinto in Japan and as such was one of the important foci of Japan's drive to catch up with the West (the Western-style Meiji constitution was signed here) as well as being a focus of emperor-worship.

Bride and groom at Meiji Jingu, Tokyo. I felt like wandering through the gardens, but, being the end of the month, decided to save myself the 500 yen entry fee, and, after about 20 leisurely minutes of wandering around the main shrine, headed back to where I'd left my bike.

I headed west through Yoyogi - a nicely preserved piece of Tokyo that doesn’t necessarily show the city at its best, but shows it at its most familiar and unaffected – yet mixed with just enough cool and edgy to keep it from being bland.

Took a few snaps on my way through and headed for Nakano where I met a couple of friends for lunch.

Election billboard, Yoyogi, Tokyo.Spent the late afternoon in Ochanomizu with another friend looking for second-hand CDs, then to Shin-Nakano for yakiniku. This was our third time to experiment with restaurants in Shin-Nakano and, after pretty consistent disappointment there, I’ve decided that in terms of dining, the residential districts just don’t measure up to the inner city.

Today, like the other restaurants we tried last week, things weren’t working, the beer tasted like piss, the waiters kept getting things wrong or simply forgetting things. Hopeless. Back to Shinjuku, Shibuya and everywhere else civilized.

Still, we salvaged a decent time out of it and walked home our separate ways at about 10.30pm. After five minute’s walking I was stopped on the sidewalk of Omekaido by a presentable young man. ‘Oh, what’s this going to be?’, I thought. He asked me if I spoke Japanese, explained all very quickly that he worked for a variety shop, and before I knew it I had in my chilly hand a trashy looking American-style billfold with what I presume was a fake $20 note in it - and he was rattling off prices! I twigged that he was targeting drunks, but I wasn’t far gone enough for him, pushed it back and he disappeared in a puff of cold breath.

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