Gardens and Neighbourhoods

Tokyo's Metro continues to be a challenge. This morning I hopped on the Oedo line to go to Koishikawa Korakuen (or "Korakuen Gyoen"). I was on early enough for rush hour: that's the most intimate I've been with a group of strangers in a long time. New passengers get in facing outwards, get their hands on the door frame, and push themselves back into the car. I missed my station - I thought because I was struggling with the press of bodies, but it turned out to be because they didn't call the name of the station I was expecting. Happily, I caught it only a station later, switched directions, and on the return figured out that the "Korakuen" name is the station on the Marunouchi and Namboku lines which intersect the Oedo line there, but on the Oedo and Mita lines it's called "Kasuga." The Mita and Oedo lines are owned by the Toei company, the other two are owned by Tokyo Metro. Some stations are more obviously separate, with a 500m hike between (and you have to pay separately to ride the different lines), but it's not consistent there either: I can spot one station with three names, and one where five lines intersect but there's only one station name ...

photo: Korakuen Gyoen

A stream through manicured lawn and beautifully trimmed trees and bushes

Anyway, got to Korakuen Garden. 17.5 acres in downtown Tokyo, I spent about an hour and a half wondering its paths and admiring the scenery. From there I walked to the Iidabashi metro station and followed Lonely Planet's "A Stroll Through Kagurazaka." It's a nice area, formerly the home of Geisha, now home to regular residents and upscale restaurants. A bit more laid back than the core of Tokyo - I think that's the first time I've seen a vegetable store rather than a supermarket. Narrow streets and laneways. And at the end of the walk there was a Shinto shrine that was both interesting and a bit of a let-down: Lonely Planet went on about how unusual it was: it was rebuilt in 2010 to the design of a well known architect, and it's now a glass box. "Unusual," yes and no: it still looks like a fairly normal small Shinto shrine, but the walls have been replaced by glass. It probably met with some resistance, but to me it just doesn't look all that odd ...

I headed back to Shinjuku-gyoen (which was closed yesterday), made a quick stop for a sandwich at Subway. Shinjuku-gyoen is slightly larger than Korakuen: if my hectares-to-acres conversion is correct, it's 144 acres. They have a Japanese Garden that's not only bigger than Korakuen's, but I would say better as well. But with that much space ... they have massive grass space for lying around, a very modern-looking greenhouse, a large French rose garden, and an English garden (that last I didn't see).

photo: Shinjuku Gyoen

Looking out at Shinjuku-gyoen through the windows of a classical Japanese building

Part of my interest in Shinjuku-gyoen was because of the movie "Garden of Words" which I saw fairly recently. Anyone else seen it? Yes, no? I'll take the crickets to mean my taste in movies remains slightly more esoteric than most people's. Shinjuku-gyoen was the inspiration for the garden that the two main characters spend most of their time in. Although to be correct to the movie, I should have visited it on a rainy day as that's the only time the two characters meet. But the weather has been lovely for the last couple days: warm and breezy and feels great in the shade. I think I found the gazebo that's pictured in the movie: if not, it was a close enough facsimile, and the scenery around it was fantastic (this is in the Japanese Garden section). So I decided to have a seat and stay awhile. Unfortunately I was dissuaded by the mosquitoes, who haven't been a problem anywhere else.

My next stop was Naka-Meguro, another small neighbourhood within Tokyo. I started at the Kyū Asakura House. I went in part because a garden was mentioned: I'm not sure that the garden warrants a lot of attention of itself (not after the others I'd seen today), but when put in as the surroundings of a very lovely Japanese house from 1910 ... woo, that's a nice place. The house is classic Japanese, multiple tatami-matted rooms, sliding doors, glass walls facing that beautiful garden - walls that could be slid out of the way. And in one area, the house totally encloses one rectangle of the garden. And of course there's a narrow porch to sit on under the eves running right around the entire house.

The rest of Naka-Meguro was a nice walk, and felt a little like someone had transported some of the fashion outlets from Paris and then compressed them for use in Tokyo storefronts. But that doesn't give the right feel either: it's also kind of hipster, quirky, and definitely more laid back than Tokyo proper.

I had dinner outside the Naka-Meguro station at a chain called Yoshinoya, which strikes me as the McDonalds of Japan. Not through ubiquity - I think I've only seen one other - but it's super-cheap, super-fast, counter-top dining with chicken or fish on rice. I had chicken, and the medium sized bowl (which was very filling) cost me ¥450 - around $5CA. You don't get meals for that in Tokyo. I wouldn't rush to do it again, but it was edible and educational.

Then the long haul back to the hotel. Without realising it, I'd managed to end up at the far end of the line from the hotel. But only one line, no transfers, so it took about 45 minutes and I got to sit the whole way.

I have a flight to Seoul tomorrow. Planning to be done!