Sunday, 16 January 2011

Louise & Rob: Day Three

We wake up super early again – a combination of jet lag and excitement, we’re going to Ueno Zoo today! This is one of the things we planned immediately when we decided to go to Tokyo, so we’re really looking forward to it, particularly because this will be the first time either of us have ever seen a panda. Louise starts the morning by squeezing herself into the short, but deep bathtub, and enjoy the feeling of being in a bath up to her ears, followed by flakey croissants from the konbini, washed down with matcha (a type of powdered green tea).

We try and find Shinjuku train station for the first time, and end up getting lost. Soon enough though, after following the huge train tracks (they must lead to a station eventually, right?) we happen across Shinjuku Station. How something this vast could have possibly escaped our attention is beyond us! Our first experience of Japanese rail travel is ultimately very positive, however the process was a confusing one to the uninitiated – ie. us! First, we must find our destination on a huge-giant complicated map.

 Photo from: Alien2Nrs

Then we find the corresponding fare, and insert this into an automated machine, which spits out two tickets. But what to do with them? We study the locals and see the turnstiles snatch the ticket from your hand, let you through, and zip the stamped ticket out the other end in under a second – everything here is as fast as it could be.

We then take our places on the platform (once we find it), which has clever markings on signifying where the doors will be once the train arrives. This means people get the chance to queue. And the Japanese are far better than us Brits at queuing – and that’s the one thing we’re known as being good at!

We arrive in Ueno and stroll through the park, enjoying the cooler weather and haughty looking cats weaving through our legs. The zoo is quite a walk away, so we have plenty of opportunity to view Japan at a slow, relaxed pace, which is great.

Upon arriving, we see a sign that tells us some very sad news – the zoo’s giant panda, Ling Ling, had died earlier that year. This is a shock to us, and while we’re sad we resolve not to let this ruin our day since we won’t have the chance to come back here for a long time.

Once we get a map of the zoo we see that there are still plenty of exciting animals to see. Louise is particularly excited about the Fennec fox and polar bears, and Rob can’t wait to see the gorillas and bears (his hairy cousins).

We’re really hungry so after gawping at a few monkeys and deer, and negotiating a few troops of schoolchildren, we head for the cafe. Armed with three different phrasebooks, Rob resolves to give the language a proper whirl this time. After establishing the fish and mushroom content of most of the menu items, we opt for chow mein noodle-stuffed omelettes, which are absolutely delicious, and we go back for shaved ice for dessert – partly because it looked really nice and is something Louise had always wanted to try, and partly because Rob wasn’t done experimenting with his Japanese!

After lunch, we take the monorail and head over to see some penguins, who were very diplomatically sharing their open enclosure with a visiting heron-style bird. It was probably amusing to see us more fascinated by this local creature than the actual exhibits.

We then wander off to look at a peculiar statue which, to our amazement, suddenly moves. That’s no statue, it’s a shoebill! We spend a while debating how often people must laugh at his face, and how sorry we feel for him, before deciding he’s handsome in an ugly kind of way. We are then distracted by okapis, which are among Louise’s favourite animals of all-time (half zebra, half giraffe – what’s not to love?). Next up is the vivarium, where we’re fooled for the second time of the day by an animal masquerading as an inanimate object. This time it’s the giant salamanders. Giant being the operative word – these things are huge, and appear to be made out of boulders. Here we also see arowana (our first view of these beautiful fish outside of Animal Crossing), alligators and Galapagos tortoise.

We see giraffes and rhinos on our way to the hippos – pygmy and regular. The crowds are enamoured with the normal hippos, and the poor pygmy is almost ignored even though he’s doing his best.

We start to get a little worried when we can’t find the Fennec foxes, despite following the map, before realising that they live in the small animal house which we’re standing right next to. Sadly this means no photography as they’re nocturnal, but that’s okay as we still get a really good look. Louise is amazed to find that Fennec foxes are even cuter in real life than she’d ever imagined. We’re also amazed by very bouncy kangaroo mice, a spindly-legged mouse deer and a very pink armadillo.

We take a stroll back to the East Garden to see the bears and big cats. We walk back by way of the giant anteater enclosure and we’re really amused to see the animal in a tree taking the biggest wee we have ever seen. Louise is giggling louder than the children watching.

We head for bear hill by way of the sealions and polar bears (which are bizarrely not part of bear hill). We spend a long time watching the polar bears (which Louise thinks look like puppies when they are wet) and trying to snap a good picture of them, as it’s rare to get polar bears in zoos back home. We’re pleased to see they aren’t exhibiting the same unhappy headbob as is common with captive bears.

We spend a while wandering around bear hill, before moving on to view the lions and tigers, and finally onto the gorillas, we find them particularly amusing as they adopt such human-like mannerisms. We end our day with a walk along the sun dappled woodland walk and buying Japanese sweets and panda-themed goodies from Little Trunk, the gift shop.

We catch the train back to Shinjuku, just as it begins to rain. We find the Japanese attitude to rain quite amusing, covering heads with newspapers, laptop bags, anything to hand really to keep them dry. Being British and from the North we’re fairly used to wet weather, so enjoy our walk back to the hotel, where we spend the evening with vending machine beers, crisps and more Pocky, and watch Japanese soap operas, with plenty of overwrought acting.


loved it!! Have to visit tokyo now!! do follow me at

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