Action in Ueno Park (Tokyo, Part 1）
I sit uncomfortably upon a cold hard concrete step, flanked to my left by a young family. The two young sons slurp feverishly at orange ice-sticks as their mother waits patiently armed with a KFC refresher towel. To my right, a young couple, possibly in their late 20’s huddle together, not in warmth but affection. The late September sun struggles to generate sufficient warmth as the early evening chill closes in. I sit in silence, pensively observing the antics and actions of thousands enjoying Tokyo’s most active park, Ueno Park.
My chosen location is a prime vantage point, adjacent the large fountain at the park’s main junction. Tomorrow is the Autumnal Equinox public holiday, so today citizens of Tokyo and tourists flock to the park en masse. Unsure of my seating position and with a sore back imminent, I stand and reposition myself upon the metal railing. Now basking in the sun’s rays, I take my pad and pen in readiness for a possible literary onslaught. Following a momentary mental block I decide to allow my senses to write for me.
Shoes and the feet in them
My sunglass-covered eyes quickly inspect the surroundings and park-goers. My first discovery is the concrete and the shoes walking across it. Footwear of various sizes, styles and colors are worn by people of various races, heights and frames. The wearers of those shoes include many families, several generations in certain instances. I see parents pushing prams, siblings chasing each other, grandparents carrying tired babies, among others. Children’s faces sparkle with happiness and excitement as they comprehend and chart new surroundings. They run after butterflies, pigeons and even Ueno Park’s stray cats.
I hear the laughter and squeals of older children playing in a small playground while parents stand at arms-length, cautiously watching over proceedings. That instantly forges images of my childhood spent playing in numerous parks throughout Melbourne. I recall the fun, the mishaps, the fights, the bumps and bruises I shared with my four sisters. Australian children are so lucky to be graced with endless personal space and greenery.
Suddenly, the sweet strumming of a guitar forces my attention back to the junction. Next to me, a young man cuts his favorite tune, his fingers voraciously attacking the six strings. Unperturbed, even spurred on by this melodic noise, I continue to focus. Then, turning to examine the surroundings behind me, I observe hiding in the distance the Tokyo National Museum. A majestic building, it stands proudly behind two large elk, like a child behind its mother’s legs. People enter frequently, just like at a Tokyo subway station.
About-facing, my focus returns to the junction, my eyes once more spanning its width. My eyes locate a sign post, a stop and think point for tourists and locals alike. Many paths lead through the park to shrines, museums and other various attractions. Such varied entertainment options bring people of all persuasions; from art lovers, to families bringing their children to the farmyard exhibit at Ueno Zoo. From science buffs visiting the National Museum of Nature and Science, to foreigners hoping to experience the architectural beauty and simplicity of a historic Shinto shrine first hand.
Sitting peacefully, another sense springs into action. As the sun fades behind the tall trees, the sky remains blue and clear. I move again to find the sun’s warmth, instantly lessening my goose bumps (pimples). The wind rustles the trees’ leaves. Although I’m unsure of their genus or species, I know the park will soon unleash a new beauty. The autumn leaves will redden and then fall to their final resting place.
A Red Cross bus parks just a stones throw away. A steady flow of people seeking information from volunteers move to and from the bus. I attempt to decipher the adjacent signage with my poor Japanese reading skills. It reads, or I think it reads, “Please donate blood (400 ml) today”. Many step inside to provide an invaluable community service. I guess you never know when you may need it. The donors re-emerge pale-faced but with a sense of self-satisfaction. I consider volunteering but decide against it. Another day perhaps.
Do all parks have pigeons?
Third, isly, the birds. Hundreds of pigeons, feed frantically on popcorn and breadcrumbs. I hear high-pitched screams of children thoroughly enjoying the birds, some even attempt to trap them, but to no avail. I recall Trafalgar Square in London, Piazza San Marco in Venice, other examples of bird-feeding extravaganzas. I watch the children closely. For most, fear does not exist even if the birds climb atop their heads or shoulders. Conversely, the pigeons frighten many adults and elderly as they go about gathering their daily feast.
Now standing on my half-asleep legs, I stretch and then walk toward the National Museum. Looking back on the junction I feel the peace and tranquility today’s visitors must also feel. They are escaping the concrete jungle that is Tokyo and relaxing in the sunshine outdoors. Before returning to my original seat I stroll across to the baseball diamond where a graying gentleman, perhaps their coach, leads fielding drills. The children’s enthusiasm is astounding as many seem no older than five or six. They practice repeatedly, knowing that their favoite big-league player did the same 25 or 30 years ago.
Two more things become clear. First, the number of people riding bikes or running is refreshing. I am glad that the exercise regime has reached Japan. I know such culture exists in Australia, however, not enough people these days are active in my opinion. The average Japanese body appears to be healthier than those at home are.
Secondly, a man with a battery-operated replica motorbike fascinates passers-by. Fiddling with the remote control, he maneuvers the toy between the swelling audiences. In a land of technology it is funny to watch people viewing so intensively a product that was so popular in the 80’s. Obviously many have forgotten how much fun they can be or they may not have seen one operated in the flesh. After all Japan, especially Tokyo, isn’t really blessed with a huge amount of space to enjoy that kind of product.
I can’t help but notice an unashamed feeling of togetherness. Some couples are walking hand in hand or with arms locked, others are snuggling together on a park bench. I see fathers, mothers and grandparents carrying children exhausted from the day’s events. This all somewhat surprises me; it is the first time I’ve witnessed such displays of public affection in Japan.
I remember visits in other countries and cities. Italy immediately springs to mind when thinking of public affection. Rome, Florence and Venice are such romantic cities in their own rights. There we see physical contact and outpourings of affection from all age groups, sometimes a little too saucy. I appreciate this other side of Japan, not for a second thinking that Japanese lack tenderness toward each other.
Unfortunately the fading sun and hunger pains from deep within my stomach cut short this visit. On a final loop of the junction, I see thousands making for the nearest train station. JR Ueno Station is just a few stone throws away from the park. I notice the amazing collection of Tokyo’s sublime fashion culture. People show off their wares; high heeled walkers with short skirts, ageing men in their Sunday best, children draped from head to toe in designer labels, this month’s newest fashions amid those of last month, season, year or even decade. However, Tokyo’s fashion is another tale in itself…