Tag Archives: Ueno

You say Shimoda and I say Shimota

Back at the New Tohoku after the day at the seaside, my Restless Legs woke me every 45 minutes.  I finally gave up at 1am and cracked open my book.  Then my brain did a side eye to my phone, sitting on the bedside table.

I try not to look at my phone after 9pm.  “They” say the blue light stimulates your brain and keeps you awake.  But I had posted some photos on Facebook … had anyone Liked them?  I tried to resist, then grabbed the thing and saw who had Liked and commented on my photos, tried to read my book again, went back to Facebook after 10 minutes like an alcoholic who says, “Just one more,” repeat.

Social media is like those pellet dispensers in B.F. Skinner’s psychological experiments.  You know, the one’s where the rat gets a food pellet every time it performs whatever task the researcher is trying to teach it.

I wasn’t being taught a new trick (that I am aware of).  I was succumbing to intermittent reinforcement.  This is where a reward is dispensed intermittently, and it’s the most addictive kind.  On social media, you never know when you’re going to get rewards, or in what form.  When there’s a flood of them, you get a rush, so you try and try to get a repeat.  Ugh.

I gave up on sleep at 4:30am and did some rejiggering of my itinerary.  As I’ve mentioned, I was going to have my nine-year-old nephew, Charlie, for five nights at the end of the trip, and after much research with Keiko we had settled on Hakone as the ideal destination.  Hakone is a resort area about an hour from Tokyo.  It’s got cable cars, a lake with boat tours, and lots of kid stuff to keep an active child busy.

But Keiko had received an alert from the Japan Meteorological Agency about volcanic activity near Hakone.  According to NHK, Japan’s equivalent of the BBC, Hakone’s cable cars were closed, there was danger of landslides, and some local restaurants couldn’t get black eggs—a local delicacy—because certain roads were shut.

We would have to cancel Hakone and find another destination.  We lobbed ideas back and forth on Skype, then she and her dad suggested the Izu Peninsula.  When I saw there was a city at the very southern point called Shimoda, I figured it was a sign, since as I wrote in a previous post I have an ancestor from Shimota in the former Czechoslovakia.  I have built travel plans around flimsier hooks.

I started getting What’s App messages from Lynn, who had landed at Narita.  It took her an hour and 45 minutes to get from her gate to the Skyliner, the airport train which took another hour and 15 minutes to arrive at Ueno.  I could see why Keiko had insisted on flying into Haneda, which is so much closer in to central Tokyo.

I would not make Lynn try to find the hotel on her own.  I walked to the station, then serendipitously decided to wander a bit and discovered there was a separate station with the same name across the street, just for the Skyliner.

To kill time I took photos of panda buns and a posse of school kids.

There were many groups of cute little kids, but I would never take photos of small children.  I figure high schoolers are fair game because they’re posting selfies all the time anyway.

I spotted Lynn and we were off.  I insisted on carrying her suitcase up the 30 stairs.  She fought me but I won, this time.  Lynn always travels with a very small bag—just one step up from a carry on.  But it’s like a black hole—tiny but extremely heavy.

“What the hell have you got in here?” I asked as I huffed up the stairs.

“A very large bottle of whiskey for Vince,” she replied.

Vince, my son who is in recovery.  This is not what it seems.  Lynn’s husband Richard had sourced a very good bottle of whiskey with which Vince would pay the officiant at his wedding in two months’ time.

Speaking of which, here’s another photo:


The hotel website’s directions were so detailed and clear.  On the east side of Ueno Station, there was a massive roadway criss-crossed with pedestrian overpasses.  Seen from the air, it probably resembles this lattice-top pie, only a lot messier.

I just had to spot the Joyo Bank building and everything would flow from there.   It was pouring again, so I donned my poncho, furled my umbrella, and with my other hand dragged my suitcase up the 30 steps to the pedestrian level and scanned the horizon for Joyo Bank.

No Joy. No Joyo.

And no one around to ask except the smokers huddled in the smokers’ corral back at the station entrance.  I chose to walk on, hoping I just hadn’t spotted the word “Joyo” yet.

Just when I was about to give up and go back to the station to catch a taxi to my hotel, which really was only five minutes from the station, I ducked under an overpass to shelter for a moment and found a couple students also huddling from the deluge.  They were supposed to be handing out flyers for a hair salon but there were no takers around because in the downpour.

One of them handed me a flyer, looking very doubtful that I was the trendy salon’s intended demographic.

“Do you speak English?” I asked.  One of them did, although it was patchy. I asked if she knew where Joyo Bank was, and showed her the word in English when she didn’t understand.  She nodded vigorously; she and her coworker googled it and pressed the screen toward me to show me an image of a red sun.

I immediately spotted it at the top of a building.  I thanked them profusely and walked on.  Obviously this incident makes the case for having a mobile hot spot.  On the other hand, I got to interact with some delightful young people who were happy to be helpful.

The hotel had provided detailed, excellent directions in English, but it had failed to realize that not everyone knows the Joyo Bank logo.  Or maybe it’s just me.

I rolled into the New Tohoku Hotel and was greeted by another chatty—but brusque—hostess.  “You pay now!” she barked at me as I fumbled with my dripping wet suitcase, umbrella, backpack, and poncho.

I paid. “You leave bag, room ready at 3:00!” she ordered.  There were a half dozen other bedraggled would-be guests hunched together on a couch in the tiny lobby.  I left my bag and walked out for a look around the neighborhood.

I carefully counted the blocks and memorized landmarks so I would be able to find my way back.  There were several blocks of stores that sold nothing but household shrine supplies.

I came upon the tiny dog shrine I wrote about in a previous post.  My sister-in-law wondered if it was actually a shrine to foxes, but there’s no way of telling.

It was now 1:30 and it was still raining, hard.

I walked back, passed the hotel, and kept walking.  There was this cool street art; did it indicate what went on inside?

I passed an apartment building bike storage area.  Note it isn’t locked.  There isn’t even a door.

After six or eight blocks I was relieved to find an open-air but covered mall. It was full of veg stalls, restaurants, and posters for mysterious products, like these water bug toys.  Water bug toys!?  I kind of felt like a water bug myself right now.  My sister-in-law would shrug the next day and say, “Yeah, it’s a thing.”

There is crime in Japan, and here’s the “Most Wanted” poster to prove it.

From my limited understanding, most crime is gang against gang as they vie for lucrative prostitution and gambling franchises.

While I’m posting photos of unpleasant things, I will share this one of ugly wires and an ugly building.  Tangles of wire and ugly buildings are everywhere.  It was hard to take a photo of something beautiful without wires getting in the way.  You will never see these wires or unsightly high rises in tourist guides.