Sated by the delectable delights of Tsukiji Market, the rest of my day was free for unplanned wandering. I was not sure if cherry blossoms were out yet, so I decided to visit a park and see. My park of choice was Ueno Park, and easily accessible park in central Tokyo.
Ueno Park was thronged with people, and for good reason: it was the beginning of cherry blossom season! The pale pink early blossoms had just started to show. While not the dazzling vibrant hues that are promised once the bloom is in full swing, it was still magical for me as I took a slow walk through the pink park.
There are tourist and couple activities to do, such as boat rides in the pond for 600-700 yen. There was also a short corridor of street food, such as yakisoba, fried potato sticks, and taiyaki. They could be pricey, like 400 yen fried chicken for a small cup. I would find out later that such stalls were commonplace near tourist attractions, and prices were quite consistent between them, and only a bit higher than what you would find in a restaurant.
I sat down at a bench to relax in front of the pond for a while. I happened to sit next to a Japanese old man. He klindly offered me a sweet and began speaking to me in Japanese. My resemblance to the locals was accidentally creating some interesting moments. I had to tell him I didn’t speak Japanese then got the idea of trying to hold a conversation with Google Translate on my phone. It was challenging, but we did manage to learn a bit about each other, such as how he had recovered from cancer two (or three) times, and was retired. When I told him I was intending to go to Ryogoku later in the day, he told me that he actually used to live there. It was nice exchanging words in with him, and probably the only time I had any extended conversation with the locals. Google Translate truly broke some barriers today.
Before Ryogoku, I decided to drop by Asakusa district. It was very crowded, and the streets of stalls catering exclusively to tourists turned me off the area. Although I did end up eating some kind of puff pastry with a filling for 150 yen. Sensoji Temple was in the park for those who were interested, but I wasn’t. However, I had heard of a renowned bakery near Sensoji Temple that sold melon pan, an iconic Japanese melon-shaped bread that has a light crust and a fluffy inside, and can be eaten with or without filling.
After a long walk, I had reached my destination: Kagetsudo Bakery. There was a short queue and a wait of about 10-15 minutes. When it was my turn, I got the melon pan with vanilla ice-cream filling, to get some cold creamy goodness inside my crisp and soft bread.
After that, I headed to Ryogoku to check out three museums in the area: the Sword Museum, the Tokyo-Edo Museum, and the Sumo Museum. But my best laid plans did not pan out: the Sword Museum was permanently closed, the Tokyo-Edo Museum was undergoing renovations (and should be open by the time you read this), and the Sumo ‘museum’ was a small room with little educational value (but thankfully, free to enter). I had hoped to eat chanko stew (a sumo wrestler’s traditional stew) in the area, but after the morning’s sushi breakfast and copious snacking, I was didn’t have an appetite for such a filling meal.
A few hours later into the evening, I decided to go for the yakitori at Yurakucho. I had learned from the previous night to be decisive about choosing a place to eat, because most yakitori places fill up completely by 7pm. This time, I went to the tourist-friendly Torizoku, with an English menu. I found out later that it was a franchise with branches all over Japan. It was still good yakitori, but there is a 300 yen cover charge and a service charge not included in the menu price. Cover charges occur at some of these bars, so beware. My final price was not very cheap, beyond what I had intended to spend. I’ll go for the dingier places with Japanese-only menus next time, maybe with a Japanese speaking friend if possible.