So, I set out to find more places that should have cherry trees in bloom. According to promotional literature, the Sumida Park area near Asakusa was supposed to have a bunch of famous trees planted by one of the shoguns a long time ago, so I decided to set off for there. Fortunately it was a relatively straight shot from my hotel, so at the end of the Asakusa Line, I came out into Asakusa proper, which is just across the Sumidagawa River from the newest “big thing”, Tokyo Sky Tree. Sky Tree is the tallest structure in Japan, and is one of the tallest structures in the world (tallest non-office tower, I think). I plan to go there on this trip, and take pictures from the observation decks, over 1000 feet up. I will find out if alcohol defeats acrophobia, or, how much sake will it take to get me to stand on the “glass floor”.
I soon discovered from the map that Sumida Park actually sits on both sides of the Sumidagawa, so I crossed over one bridge to the east shore, and took in the views from that side. The part on that side had one wide “park” area, which was wide open, but the main part is a narrow strip right along the river, where people gathered in groups for “hanami”, or “cherry blossom watching.” This is basically an excuse for companies to let their employees gather in groups to drink, eat, drink, socialize, drink, and build camaraderie with their fellow workers, while sitting on tarps (traditionally blue) under the cherry trees. And drink. Other groups are made up of old friends, college students (drinking age is 20), and families.
That day there were also continuing “matsuri” or festivals along the banks, where you could buy grilled chicken on a stick, or various other kinds of snack foods, along with beer. I forgot to mention that the headquarters of Asahi Beer Ltd. is right there near the Sumida Park, so they were kind enough to provide lots of beer for sale. Near one of the booths I struck up a conversation with two of the people standing around, a man and his wife. I say “struck up a conversation” but I really mean “exercised my minimal Japanese while actually understanding and being understood about 30% of the time”. It was fun, and we three had a good time for a few minutes, while I rested for a bit before moving on.
I crossed the “Sumida Friendship Bridge” and continued on back down the Park towards Asakusa. I got to see some of the tour boats and “dinner boats” that cruise up and down the Sumidagawa, which are very interesting and which go back a couple hundred years into Tokyo history (not the current boats, obviously, but the idea of them). Once I got back to the Asakusa area, I stopped to eat a huge bowl of soba noodles and a “katsudon”, which is a bowl of rice topped with a fried, breaded pork cutlet. The noodles came in a huge bowl at least 8 inches across and 3 deep, with miso broth. The katsudon was almost as big, so between them the meal was probably about 2 pounds of food, all for 720¥, which is about $7. The secret to saving money in Japan is to eat where the locals eat, not where the tourists eat! There were no tourists there, just middle-aged locals who came in for a quick meal.
After eating I walked further down to the Sensoji Temple area of Asakusa, but that’s going to be the next blog post.
Have some cherry blossom pictures for now! Enjoy!