Frolicking with animals at Ueno Zoo22 January, 2013 by Chad
Since it was his last day in Japan, we’ll finally be fulfilling Randy’s dream of visiting Ueno Zoo this morning. Ueno Zoo is the biggest of its kind in Tokyo and entry comes at the cost of only 600 yen (SGD$8.70). It’s also conveniently located smack in the middle of Ueno Park, it’s kind of like if Mandai Zoo were located in Bishan Park instead. It’s also one of the few zoo with giant pandas on display, which Randy was most looking forward to.
Before that though, Randy had to drop by Akihabara to get something for a friend back home so I headed over to Ueno first. Ueno has one of the nicest train terminals in Tokyo. There found Chisaki just outside of the train station. She had visited her school earlier in the morning but had the rest of the day free so would be joining us for the rest of the day.
We had some time to kill before Randy arrived, so we took a look at the multi-story toy and novelty shop at the entrance before walking around the streets at Ameyoko Market for a while. Randy had yet to satisfying his tempura don craving yet, so we spent the time waiting for him to also scout for a such a place.
Interestingly, we ran into a bunch of people filming some sort of tokusatsu in the middle of Ameyoko, just beside the Mister Donut outlet here. There were a large number of staff surrounding the film set, re-routing people and stopping them from taking any photographs.
Pretty sure it wasn’t Kamen Rider Wizard. The monster costumes were a lot more elaborate and grittier. Didn’t manage to get a close look but one actress here kind of looked like Rio. We ran into an assistant producer who looked really familiar though.
Randy arrived slightly over an hour later and we visited Tenya, a chain restaurant type near the entrance to the street. Tried their tempura udon, while Randy and Chisaki went with a tendon and soba set that was on special. I’ve had mixed experiences with such places, but food here was decent today. I suspect timing plays a role in the quality of food at such places but fortunately our lunch seemed to had been recently prepared. Prices were affordable, between 500-700 yen.
After lunch, it was time to head over to Ueno Park for the zoo. It was really only just across the road. The park itself is pretty big and contains a greater concentration of shrines and temples than just about anywhere else in Tokyo, it’s also a really popular spot for autumn colors and cherry blossom viewing. Needless to say, its a very popular spot among tourists and thanks to the zoo, local families too, especially during weekends.
We stopped by the Bentendo Temple along the way for a quick look. It’s particularly notable for being located in the center of the lake adjoining the zoo. Unlike my previous visits during Spring and Winter, the plants in the lake actually looked alive this time of the year.
Autumn colors were finally setting in in the rest of the park. Unfortunately it’s still a bit too early but still quite a nice sight. We had visited Japan a little too early once again this year. I always end up coming too early for seasons and return again at a later date, but at the same time the seasons seem to be pushed back further each year.
We found the zoo and purchased our tickets from the vending machine outside. It randomly dispenses tickets featuring one of the park’s animals. This would be the first time at the zoo for Randy, while Chisaki had an interesting trauma here during her previous visit.
Stopping at the entrance for a while, a young Japanese family asked if Chisaki could help them take a picture with the panda statue there. For some reason, she gets asked that a lot.
The zoo is pretty clear that the giant pandas are its highlight. There are a good many other panda statues around the area, and the giant panda enclosure is located right next to the entrance of the zoo. Such is their popularity that there’s always a queue to view the pandas. Or rather the entire viewing process is a queue itself and as a result, it can be difficult to get a close up look of the creatures.
For once the bears were awake and active. Both of them made their rounds of their respective enclosures. Everyone was busy snapping up photos. Our own photos today were courtesy of the 50mm. While I had some trouble early on compositing with it, was starting to enjoy it quite much. It takes a lot of weight off the heavy camera and the pictures appear a lot sharper and more vibrant, at least by Canon standards. It’s no wonder that people call it a standard.
In a stark contrast to our previous visit, amazingly, almost every animal we’ll come across today would be wide awake. Having lively animals adds a lot to one’s zoo experience, but there’s still is the matter of most enclosures only containing lone inhibitants.
We made the usual rounds of the zoo, while at the same time keeping our eyes open for the gorillas and the other bears which Randy was most excited for.
Perhaps it was feeding time which explained the levels of activity today.
We came across an enclosure for Japanese macaques. Randy commented that the ones here looked more similar to those in Kyoto, in comparison to Nagoya Monkey Park’s feral inhabitants. A zoo keeper, who’d look at home in EXILE brought a bunch of leafy branches to hook up to poles inside the enclosure. The monkey’s were quite well mannered and with the exception of one or two naughty ones, they waited for him to finish setting up the branches before lunching.
Casually made our way over to the second half of the zoo, which is separated from the first by a short walk and an overhead bridge. This is the side that is built around the pond at Bentendo Temple. There’s a mini aerial tramway that connects the two parts together, but is mostly just a novelty for children. Still, some adults manage to cram their way in.
The main highlight of this half is definitely the farm animals and petting zoo at the entrance of the zone. It was fast approaching public feeding hour where you could feed the goats and sheep there personally, so it was a good time to stop by.
Again, rather than sitting down basking in the afternoon sun (there was none), the goats and sheep were scurrying around for leaves. The chickens seemed to be mostly in hiding somewhere, though one guy managed to catch one.
I can never trust goats again.
— Supermerlion (@supermerlion) November 14, 2012
One of the most amusing experiences here was when we tailed a young goat that was steadfast in its attempts to scavenge fallen leaves on the ground. It attacked anyone who attempted to pat it, so all of us became victims to the goat. For its diminutive size it actually packed quite a punch. Thankfully, its horns had not fully formed yet.
When we were about to leave, a little kid also came by to try to pat the goat and was soon sent running away.
Chisaki ran around chasing sheep for a while since she wanted to hug one. After successfully doing so, a few other Japanese kids who were all padded up in their tiny jackets came to do the same. The sheep was pretty oblivious to its surroundings and very much more interested in eating. At some point, the sheep chanced upon the unfriendly goat that we had encountered earlier and he rammed into the poor sheep due to a dispute with some leaves.
While you’re free to touch the other farm animals, most of them tend to be a little anti-social, preferring to stick inside their enclosures. There was a young woman there camped at the alpaca stable but it didn’t come over. I’ve always wanted to visit a proper farm in Japan (hopefully with alpacas) but could never find the chance or right company to do so.
The feeding session came around and they started to give out bundles of fresh grass to the visitors. Unfortunately, it also started to rain at about the same time. It was moderate at first so the eager families didn’t let it stop them, but soon escalated to a full downpour, cancelling the feeding session. We waited a while beneath a shelter here for the rain to subside and it passed by quite quickly.
Back tracking a little, we went over to see the red panda, which hangs around the trees near the overhead bridge here. It’s one of the most adorable creatures at the zoo (at least in my opinion) and would probably make a great pet, were it not a threatened species of course. Though they are related to raccoon, the red pandas are sized and behave most similarly to cats.
The red panda wouldn’t keep still today, so the rest had a hard time taking photos. It almost seemed like it was making a conscious effort to avoid them.
The rest of the zoo was mostly the usual popular animals you’d expect from a proper zoo. The enclosures at the second half do seem better equipped though, if not the opposite extreme to the previous enclosures. The enclosures featuring small animals can get pretty crowded.
Maybe due to the earlier rain or feeding time, but the larger animals were nowhere to be seen as they’d been led into indoor holding areas this afternoon. Thankfully, the sheltered areas to view the animals were accessible. After a look around here and the nearby vivarium, the rest of the animals were eventually led back out to their enclosures.
We struggled between whether to get some souvenir plushes toys at a gift shop, but came out empty handed. The zoo seemed to had refreshed its panda plush design, such that some of them were actually quite nice
The sun had already started to set by the time we had finished with the zoo and returned to the entrance. There we walked into a street performer wrapping up a juggling routine. He had attracted a large crowd of watchers. At the end of it, the rest felt obliged into donating.
Randy was to only catch the 9PM flight back to Singapore so there was still a bit of time till then. Since it was nearby, we decided to give the Tokyo Sky Tree one more try.
The Sky Tree was indeed a lot bigger up close. There was also full shopping mall built around the bottom of the tower, and the tower base itself was split up into multiple parts. There were different queuing wings for public and tour groups and a shop below selling souvenir goods for the various television stations involved in the project.
Heading over to the public wing, a convention hall like area, we eventually found the queue up the tower but it was so massive that there was no clear indication as to how far it stretched or where it even ended. I headed to a nearby information counter to ask for an estimate, to which they gave an average waiting time of 3 hours.
We didn’t really have that amount of time to spare, so once more it looks like the Sky Tree would have to wait.
Instead, we took a look around the souvenir store at Sky Tree’s base and the shops around the adjacent mall. To cater to the crowds, there were quite a few dining options there. Beyond that, it was mostly more omiyage shops. The second floor of the mall housed a wide collection of Japanese snacks, much like you’d find in department store basements.
Randy debilitated between getting a few different desserts here, eventually settling for a jumbo sized cream puff, or “shuu cream” as it’s called in Japan.
Apart from the tower itself, the development also apparently included an aquarium and planetarium as part of the attractions here. Will need to take a look at those some other time too. The Sky Tree certainly hopes to one up the competition when it comes to date-like spots in Tokyo but it’ll be a while before the queues there start clearing up to reasonable levels though.
Caught an early dinner to kill time. We ended up returning to a Kua Aina outlet that had passed by at the entrance to the Solamichi mall. Randy ordered another of their avocado burgers, while I decided to give their sandwiches a try for a change. Chisaki went with a sandwich too despite protests that she really ought to had tried their burgers on her first visit.
The toasted B.L.T and avocado sandwich was decent, if not a little too heavy than what I’d enjoy for a sandwich. A pro tip, stick to the burgers. The price different between the two are pretty negligible and largely depends on what type of burger or sandwich you order. The sandwiches might be popular with the female customers though who might want the illusion of a healthier option.
In other news, Randy’s cream puff turned out to be a disappointment.
On the way out, the rest spotted a Studio Ghibli shop on the balcony of the building. After all the trouble of searching for such a shop in Akihabara, we’d just walk straight into one this evening. There was a large, possibly life sized Totoro plush peering creepily out of the entrance to the shop.
The shop carried an extensive range of Studio Ghibli branded products, namely from their classic faves like Totoro and Kiki’s Delivery Service (Majo no takkyubin), though there are also a number of articles from their more recent mainstream successes like Spirited Away.
Had been wanting to get this plush of Jiji (the cat from Kiki’s) in a metal cage, which had been seeing at various shop so far. Was going to grab one today but then got distracted by a more elaborate porcelain wind up music version of it, which I ended up getting instead. Wonder if it was a wise decision since I’m not sure where to put that now though, whereas you could pretty much throw the plush version anywhere and it wouldn’t matter.
After this, it was just a matter of returning to our apartment earlier than usual, where Randy picked up his luggage and made for the nearby T-CAT terminal, Haneda Airport, and then Singapore.