Tuesday, November 23, 2004

Ueno. Where? Ueno.

Now that my concern over jamming your mailbox full of my ramblings are over I will try and pass on more of my day to day activities. Of course now you don’t need to worry about pressing delete on the email you can just not look at this site. Easy eh?


About a week ago I found myself slightly hung-over thanks to fellow NOVA teachers Adam, Peter and Chris who flat together (they organised a party, it was very seemly until Raoul turned up, but that’s a whole other story). Being hung-over in Tokyo doesn’t allow many options which don’t involve huge numbers of people and/or expense. But I heard of a place called Ueno Park. Great I though I would love to sit on the grass in the sunshine sipping my mineral water and watch the world go by.


However, Ueno Park is a very large ‘park’ which houses the National Museum (Japan’s Te Papa), the a Science Museum, a Western Art Gallery and a Zoo! Not bad for walking distance to my place. So off I set….


Initially I was surprised by the size of the ‘park’ the ‘  ’ refers to lack of similarity between a New Zealand park and what I encountered in central Tokyo. Back in NZ a park is usually a large green thing, usually with lots of trees, maybe a toilet block and possibly some rugby posts or a see-saw. In Japan they tend to be heavily concreted with a focus on trees rather than grass. There is (in the central Tokyo Parks anyway) a real concentration of Shrines and Temples, which make these places very popular at New Years.


After orienting myself (no pun intended) I made my way in a roughly anti-clockwise way around the Park. I decided that I would not attempt to focus on the Museum or Art Gallery in the umm…slightly tired state that I was in and it was just before pay day so my wallet was looking rather grim. I discovered some free entertainment in the form of the joke telling, juggling, contortionist magician. (Who said that men cant multi-task?) Of course the jokes were hard to pick up being in a different language and all, or maybe the Elvis Costello still ringing in my ears didn’t help either, but he was pretty amazing for a street performer. It was sad when my camera flash caused him to lose balance…again another story…


After a while my attention was grabbed by a very large queue of people near the road by the National Museum. I though to my self oooh goody time for some free stuff. But upon my arrival I though that the queue  members were dressed rather shabbily. Even though I fit in with their style of clothing I though it better to investigate further. I then discovered how the homeless survive in the Ueno area of Tokyo. The local Church groups go to the park everyday and distribute food to the homeless in the form of soup, a piece of fruit and something hot to drink. I would estimate that there was probably at least 1500 people taking part in this free service. The homeless were also treated to a complimentary haircut.


On a serious note it was rather sad to see such a concentration of people being helped, not by the National Government or the City Government but by a volunteer group. The homeless were also surprisingly sad, yet dignified. Many of them wore suits, which had obviously been thrown out by  the better off.  I would guess that most were suffering from some kind of mental health disorder. I felt bad taking photos of these people but I tried to be discreet and told myself that raising awareness of their plight was tolerable to my conscience.


I found it dichotomous that right next to the beauty of the park and the majesty of the National Museum and related cultural sites that such a concentration of destitute people call the same place ‘home’.  It has been said by many other tourists before but Japan is truly a land of contradiction.


OK the night drags on and I am hoping to go hiking  tomorrow (weather permitting) and I will update you of this as and when I can.