Into the Wild

Trip Start Jun 09, 2009
Trip End Jul 05, 2009

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Flag of Japan  , Kanto,
Thursday, June 25, 2009

Alright, it`s going to be hard to remember things about today without looking at the pictures, but I`ll try.  It was only ¥190 to use the JR to get to Ueno.  We made some poor jokes about the collision in DC we had seen days before on the international CNN.  The twenty minute ride passed quickly.  We were in the front car and could see out as the train was riding by each station, which was really fun.  The drivers are behind some plate glass window that you can look through.  It`s soundproof, but they were chattering noiselessly the whole time.  Their job isn`t complicated, it seems.  They just press the brake.  The one guy doesn`t do anything at all.  He just sits and watches.  My dream job?

When we got off the train, our day was pretty much decided for us.  The place worth visiting that was closest was the zoo and the weather was fair - long periods of cloudy skies gave us some reprieve from the hot sun.  Outside there were some Native American musicians and we took a video of them.  They were really good.  I also took a picture of a homeless man sleeping with a cat and I tried to take a picture of a fountain as it was spurting, but the fountain had second thoughts and decided to quell its waters almost immediately.  But back to the homeless man.  I thought that it was sort of a sweet, movie-esque moment.  The area is nice and there isn`t hardly any crime and so I really had nothing to fear.  The primary worry, which Sean and I both shared, was that he would wake up.  It was a situation that I would have had a hard enough time explaining in English in America.  I don`t know what I would have said if things had gone awry today (and for this reason, and others, Sean was not entirely pleased until later).

The zoo in Ueno, by the way, only costs about six dollars, which is incredible when you consider how much there is to see.  I tried to drag Sean over to the monkeys (they live on a mountain), but I mistook another location for theirs and we ended up briefly checking out the elephants.  It was a little sad.  They had a very small space to roam.  They were also hard to take pictures of, as you can see.  I believe we`re only uploading two.  We decided to go back to the beginning after that and work our way around in a more sensible order.  The first were some birds.  They were difficult to take pictures of, but we got about five million of the peacocks for those of you who can`t get enough of peacocks.  The one had his tail open and it was the first time we had ever seen a male peacock`s display.  It was really beautiful.  The unfortunate part was that he was actually displaying for another male.  I can only imagine that when he realized his mistakes hours later, he felt very foolish because he was really going at it.  We left that cage with the idea that we would return at the end to see if he was still doing what he was doing, but we got distracted, as I`ll explain later, and never came back.

Before we entered into the zoo, we saw that there was a sign that no giant panda was in Ueno.  But after we got inside, we noticed that there was some conflicting information around including, but not limited to an information board on giant pandas as though they used to be around.  Sean thinks that giant pandas are evolutionary failures and so we decided to take a picture of him expressing his true feelings by the sign.  Then we found out that the panda, named Ling Ling, had recently died.  We made some jokes about it, because we`re heartless, but it is sad.  They`re currently an endangered species, after all.

The red pandas, on the other hand, were alive and well and very adorable.  Their paws look so huge in comparison to their bodies.  It seemed as though all of the ones there were males and they could freely move from cage to cage (about four different cages were connected by metal `dog doors`).  We tried to take a couple of videos of them, but it didn`t work out.  When Sean took control of the camera, we finally got a usable one.  One of the little guys was sleeping, though he looks dead in the picture.  All in all, I think even Sean was surprised by their cuteness.

We went on to the monkeys next, who have their own mountain and were impressed with them.  They were grinding open nuts on the stones of their habitat.  After leaving briefly, we heard two monkeys arguing and rushed back to see.  The drama was nearly over when we got there, much to our disappointment.  No one was hurt, obviously, or we wouldn`t have been interested.  I think we were actually even a bit disappointed in ourselves for wanting to go back to see what was happening.  But I suppose it`s only human.

We got to take a gander a while at tapirs, some nocturnal guys (including bats and a small wild cat), what looked like giant guinea pigs, and others.  There were polar bears, but they looked really distressed.  Their habitat was sort of small and I could only imagine that the heat was oppressive.  We couldn`t feel any cool air coming from their display.  The one was pacing back and forth.  Sean thought he looked aggressive, but he just seemed uncomfortable.  He wasn`t snarling or anything, only pacing back and forth, back and forth in front of everyone.  Not too far from there were some other cages where there were animals like the sun bear.  I bring him up because he`s the only one I can remember seeing.  His body was small and brown and his head had a burst of orange all across his brow.  His skin was loose and wrinkly like a pug dog`s and at first we thought he was strange, but we shortly warmed up to him.  He was climbing a tree, which is something that I can`t really do and so I have a bit of respect for him.

I want to take a moment and mention the dhole, which is probably my favorite animal in the whole zoo.  I saw him last year, awake in all of his dhole-ish glory and walking around.  This year he was only sleeping, but he is still my number one.  There are two pictures of him.  In both he looks dead, but don`t be fooled.  We saw his ear twitch and he also had moved into the shade after we returned from looking at the gorillas, tigers, and lions, which I`ll talk about in a moment.  Check out his link.  I didn`t even know he existed until last year.

But the gorillas, tigers, and lions were pretty fun.  Everyone flocks to them because they are, for some reason, more fascinating than the other animals.  The gorillas were lounging about.  We both thought it was funny because they were given plastic water bottles and could be seen perched on rocks with lunch and drink in hand.  One was sprawled out on a rock and apparently thoroughly enjoying himself.  As part of the whole gorilla experience, you could see your arm breadth in relation to a gorilla`s and also how big your hands or feet were in comparison.  Sean and I found that our feet were pretty impressive, but our hands definitely weren`t.  We also found that our hands both look close to identical, except Sean`s are a bit hairier, as they should be.

The tiger was relatively easy to capture photos of, surprisingly.  Again, the habitats are, in some cases, rather small and so the animals are forced in closer to the windows.  The tiger did various cute cat things like rub its head against stuff, push its ears back, climb on things that needed climbing, and pace about proudly.  He proved harder to take a video of because he insisted on turning his back to me at just the right moment.  All in all, though, I give him four stars.  The lion probably would have received a similar rating, had we stuck around.  We just took a look and then left her.  The glass was crowded anyway.

We checked out some more monkeys after this.  In one case, they were all swinging simultaneously.  We have a video of that too.  And we looked at the owls, which I liked a lot.  The barn owls were all gathered and hiding in a log.  There was a snowy owl was missing an eye, which was sad.  And one owl, which might have been a great horned owl, stared intently at the ground from the time we arrived to the time we left and probably long into the night.  There were river otters that lived in a fake river system, which was
really fun, and we took a video of the one river otter in the stagnant
area ignorantly catching and eating already dead (and headless) fish. 
There was one in the ground area also snacking, though you can`t see it
in the pictures too well.

Ueno zoo is also part of a park and so we got to walk along a boardwalk and take picture of a giant lake at its center.  There were tons and tons of lilypads and, at the right angle, they seemed to stretch on forever.  Sean was very determined to get a picture of the birds on the islands in the water and so we spent a long while trying to find the right location to take the picture so that it didn`t look too distant.  At the edge of the lake, beyond the gates of the zoo, you could see a temple and the shrines that went with it.  And at its end, there were a few displays including turtles and lemurs.  The lemurs were fun because they were all like: "Hey, what`s up, take my picture."  They were so close, since they were jumping about and latching to the fence, that you could probably have touched their fingers with yours.

The next display, close by, housed amphibians and reptiles.  There were tons of tiny frogs, which I tried to take a picture of, but couldn`t, and there were also crocodiles and turtles and an iguana.  Sean accidentally disrupted the iguana with the camera flash, which we had been pretty careful not to do throughout our time at the zoo.  (We always try to not use flash because we figure it`s stressful enough for the animals already.)  And we fled.  As a side-note, we have heard a lot of men say かわいい!(`kawaii` or `cute`) on this trip and never so many as the day we spent in Ueno`s zoo.  It was just something we found amusing and so I figured it was worth mentioning, especially since Sean actually brought it up in the amphibian and reptile section.

On our trek across the boardwalk, we had caught a glimpse of people paddle-boating or cycle-boating nearby and so we sat down to deliberate if we were going to see the rest of the zoo or if we were going to go paddle-boating because the place was supposed to close at five-thirty.  We decided that the best option was paddle-boating and so we went back across the boardwalk and out through the exit.  We did some 'speed tourism,' as we called it, of the nearby temple and then went straight to the docks.  It was only after we were in the boat, I think, that we realized that Sean`s watch was an hour ahead and that we actually could have spent an hour more in the zoo.  It was good that we didn`t, though, because the camera`s battery was running low and we wouldn`t be able to record anything more we did from there on out.  We paddled around in a non-decorated paddle-boat for a half of an hour for about six dollars.  It may not seem all that great, but it was really fun.  We narrowly avoided disaster several times with other boats (or at least we imagined we did) and drifted on serenely for the remaining minutes taking pictures and videos.  On another side-note, you could rent a swan-headed paddleboat for two dollars more, but we thought this was nonsense because we`re cheap and not at all flashy.  We are interested in rowboating when we return to the Imperial Palace area and so it is doubtless that there will be more water-related adventures.  I like hyphenating things.

After this, we got lost, as we so often do.  The roads make no sense and so we went to hell and back before we got to the JR station again.  It was almost lucky that we didn`t stay longer because we would have probably been wandering until nightfall.  All-in-all, though, it was probably one of our best days.  We had a lot of fun and we`re looking forward to going to some more parks before we leave.  It seems strange and also a bit sad that we don`t even had two weeks left.

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