A sea of waterlilies rising out of Shinobazu Pond in Ueno, Tokyo, at night © 2011 Jordan Harper. All rights reserved.

The waterlily forest of Ueno

Day 3 — 31 July 2010

After our mammoth bender the night before and given the short days (one thing that really surprised me was how early it gets dark during the Japanese summer), we only really saw about four hours of daylight on our third day in Tokyo and we didn’t move far. Most of the day was spent exploring Ueno park and it’s environs — a whole host of museums, a baseball ground, a concert hall, and behind the park a large cemetery — however moving wasn’t something done with any haste, thanks in part to our hangovers but almost as much to do with the impossibly stifling heat.

I’ve been to the Sahara Desert, I’ve spent longer than strictly sensible in a sauna, but I’ve never experienced heat like that day in Ueno. You couldn’t move with any urgency without starting to feel uncomfortable, so we ambled around the extremely busy park (lots of museums + a Saturday afternoon = an unsurprisingly large number of visitors) and tried to be interested in the goings-on.

I was quite keen to visit the Yanaka Cemetery, just north of Ueno park, and we did walk all the way around the national museum to get there. Yanaka Reien has an entire section dedicated to the Tokugawa clan — a large and powerful daimyo family who ruled Japan one way or another from 1603 to 1868 — that is unfortunately shut-off to the public, so peering over the wall was the best I got.

As the sun set we snapped out of our hangovers and — with this being our last night in Tokyo (for now) — enjoyed the beautiful lanterns and street vendors that filled the south-end of the park around Shinobazu Pond. I guess we spent two hours or more strolling around as I became utterly enchanted by the forest of waterlilies that seemed to come alive in the dark. Straining for whatever light they could find they presented their giant leaves towards the office buildings and advertising boards that surrounded the park: an eerie army of Triffids, biding their time.

It was a shame we missed out of a full day of exploration, but in all honesty the heat made it difficult (for me at least) to enjoy the daytime, and the abiding memories I have of our first few days in Japan are all centred around the wonderful, mysterious Shinobazu Pond.

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