Tokyo is a metropolis, an urban jungle. Everybody knows that. As a giant city, Tokyo consists of many large districts. Among them, Ueno has history as Tokyo old downtown or shitamachi. Despite being describe by many as a shabby, less glitzy part of Tokyo, because of its not so up-dated architectures and sheer numbers of homeless people, I will always love Ueno for several reasons.
First, it is the first district in Tokyo I stepped my feet on almost three years ago. Ueno Station is a hub between Narita International Airport and the rest of Tokyo. Tired of sleepless long flight, of dragging broken luggage, and maybe of foreign atmosphere that suddenly engulfed us, me and my husband decided to take a rest in Ueno instead of going straight to our final destination in Tochigi Prefecture. At that time, we were quite taken aback of what we saw of Ueno, it was not what we expected Tokyo would be, too humble to be Tokyo. But a night in Ueno was well spent as a buffer between our country and a whole new country.
Second, Ueno has almost everything we need to cure our homesickness. One thing we crave for in Japan is Indonesian food, especially Padang food, our homeland cuisine. Ameyoko Street across Ueno Station is particularly famous among Asian tourists and immigrants for its open market shops selling varieties of ethnics foods and spices. As a melting pot of people from different origins, Ueno merchants in this street have distinct characteristics. They are usually warm and friendly, speak loudly, and very generous. Having difficulties finding Indonesian food shop for the first time, a Korean man left his shop to show us how to get there. We were ecstatic to find fresh red chili, green chili, petai, tempe, halal meat, coconut powder and various Indonesian herbs at the basement of Ameyoko Central Market building. Thanks to Ueno, living in Japan becoming more bearable for my picky-eater hubby.
Third, Ueno has a large and free public park next to the station. Sometimes after a crazy-bimonthly grocery shopping session in Ameyoko Street, we would put our shopping bags in a coin locker and off to Ueno Park just to enjoy a walk or a nice sunset view from Shinobazu pond. In some other time, when we arrive quite early in the day, we would go to the park first before grocery shopping. It is a nice place for people viewing where many languages are spoken around you. When spring comes, hanami or cherry blossom viewing in this park is like nowhere else, mostly because of more of these international crowds coming from four corners of the world.
To sum up, the humility of Ueno’s atmosphere and diversity of its people makes me feel less foreign in this country.