LIKE A JAPANESE, UNDER THE CHERRY BLOSSOM TREES
It’s 5:30 am and my mobile phone just woke me up. Yeah, I know: I am enjoying a trip in Japan, why would I get up so early? Moreover, I almost wake up the whole dorm while I was looking for my phone in the semi-darkness… A quick glance at today’s weather: sunny day, clear sky, which doesn’t seem to be the case for the following days. Well, I’ll try once again to enjoy every single minute of sunshine while I can! Besides, the sun is already up, but it must be said that sunset in spring time is around 5-6pm, and sunrise at around 4-5am. Thus, early birds like me clearly have an advantage for morning visits!
I put aside the curtains of my bed and give an ear. Phew, it seems I haven’t awakened anybody, at least not in my bed neighbor whose snores can be heard easily. I quickly put on my clothes prepared the day before, put some order around my futon bed and climb down the wooden ladder that separates me from the floor. With my bag and all the necessary content for the day, I left the hostel on tiptoe, getting my shoes on the way out (in Japan, no shoes inside!). Just before leaving, I let my gaze wander over the garden of the hostel, a place I particularly like. All I can hear around are a few bird noises and light sounds far away. It is hard to believe that I am right in the center of a megalopolis of 30 million people… Yes, it’s still early, but you can be sure that Tokyo has awoken earlier than I did!
I cross the backgate of the hostel and head to Hibiya subway station, less than 50 meters away. On the way, I see one or two cyclists and as much pedestrians, but when I enter the subway station, I face a few dozains locals waiting patiently on the platform. I’d like to remind you that it is not even 6am! Anyway, the subway arrives, and I find without difficulty a place to sit for the next 3 minutes, just the time to get to Ueno Station. It is one of the main railway junctions of the city, including the Skyliner terminus arriving from Narita Airport I took when I arrived the other day. At the foot of the station are also the pedestrian street of Ameyoko, open-air bazaar where you can find everything, from food to T-shirts at sold off prices. I will spend an evening there with Japanese friends just before I’ll go back to Switzerland.
There is already quite a lot a people around here, so just try to imagine what it must be during rush hour! I take the nearest exit to the park and go slowly there, seeing here and there a few businessmen, dustmen who have just finished their job and even some motivated sportmen beginning their jogging. Such a motivation, you guys have my respect! Especially when the air is a bit cool, like today. Two or three series of steps and here I am at the south entrance of Ueno Park!
Opened in 1973, it was donated in 1924 by Emperor Taisho to the municipality of Tokyo, hence the name “Ueno-Onshi Koen” or “Ueno Park, Imperial Gift”. It houses several museums among the main ones in Japan, as well as temples and shrines, a zoo, and especially a large amount of magnificent cherry trees. These are the main reason for this early visit. At the foot of these trees, locals reunite during the cherry blossom season (best time to visit Japan) during which they drink, speak, laugh, eat and sing for the traditional spring celebrations (hanami). This area was among the first places we visited during our trip in 2010 and I have to say that I remember it quite well, although the cherry blossoms season was long passed at that time!
Before venturing further into the park, I would like to have some hot coffee to wake up and also warm up my hands a little. So I get closer of one of those famous japanese vending machines. Those who have traveled to Japan, like me, know: these machines are literally everywhere! At every street corner, in every metro or train station, on all floors of shopping centers, in public buildings, etc. In short, it is impossible to walk more than a minute without seeing at least one, but more often a few of them aligned.
They are very compact and can be installed almost anywhere, and even in some places downright eccentric. But we are in Japan, so not much to fear in terms of vandalism. Imagine how long will such a vending machine stay functional in Europe… A few hours at most, right? During my two trips in Japan, I never had the opportunity to see one of these machines in poor condition or even bearing the slightest tag or scratch.
The Tokyo Metropolitan Government is currently gradually renewing all vending machines to the new generation. No more buttons and lights: say hello to touch screen panels and contactless payment. Not to mention the biggest revolution: integrated facial recognition camera that scans your appearance, determines your sex, age and type of person (businessman, young casual, sportsman, foreign tourist, etc.) and suggests you different beverages based of the results. A businessman for instance will be offered coffee or an energy drink, while a girl will have probably get a calorie-free juice. For now, such machines can be only found in largest stations of the capital city, but the company in charge of them, Acure, want to make this new technology available to all everywhere in a few years.