I hope you like birds

Perhaps it’s just my country upbringing, but I’ve found myself drawn to Tokyo’s parks more than anything else. Like London, these are dotted about all over the place, and most contain temples or other such extravagance.

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The first park I visited was technically a (rock) garden, at Kiyosume. This had rather specific attraction for me personally, as it contains a monument to the famous haiku poet Matsuo Bashō. Not to be put off my a spot of rain (I certainly haven’t left my roots behind just yet) I began the perilous journey halfway across town. Naturally I didn’t bank on the presence or necessity of Shinjuku Station, where those who get separated from the group often starve to death whilst wandering its labyrinthine passages. Some say that at night, when the moon is full, one can still hear the footsteps of lost souls in the tunnels below, ever searching for the light of day in a world of electric lighting and train noises. But I digress…

A very old stone with almost unreadably calligraphic calligraphy

A very old stone with almost unreadably calligraphic calligraphy

Back in the world of the living, it was still raining. Far from being a disadvantage, I felt that it actually made the garden even more tranquil. The gentle splashes on the lake and dampening of the air was just enough to drown out the sound of the surrounding city. The memorial itself, bearing the immortal Old Pond… haiku, is pleasantly tucked away in a separate area, with conveniently placed (not to mention covered) benches upon which one can channel literary inspiration in glorious peace.

Ueno Park I actually visited twice, the first time on a Friday afternoon and with the frankly ridiculous idea that I would leave the camera and the notebook at home and soak up the sights on a more personal level. What a mistake that was. After the sights I saw, I immediately regretted the decision, but leaped into the Tokyo National Museum (Japanese design but British architect) in order to distract myself. The next day I used a ukiyo-e exhibition in nearby Ryogoku to bring myself back into the vicinity. Indeed, I probably would have visited anyway, as the medium has long held my interest. I also nearly had the most Japanese experience yet when I almost ate lunch sitting next to some off-duty sumo wrestlers. As it happened, I accidentally ordered my food to take away, and was naturally too polite to say anything when a (admittedly delicious) hot bento box was thrust gently into my hands. Perhaps next time.

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What I saw at Ueno the first time was actually multiplied when I returned today. In a word; sparrows. A lot of sparrows. Perhaps more importantly, in this quiet alcove next to the main temple, overlooking the reeds, these birds were perfectly happy to eat out of any proffered hand, so long as it contained some cake (and not bread, as I found out to my grave disappointment at having effectively wasted a precious slice of cheese on toast). The photo below records the hand of your intrepid correspondent with some donations from a kindly if rather gruff old man who appears to have started the whole tradition. It’s one of the few times when I’ve felt genuinely spoilt for choice in photographic terms. If anyone ever turns up in Tokyo and has a warm sunny Saturday to spend, this, as far as my experience alone can advise, is the way to spend it.

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