Journey in Japan Part 44: The Golden Reptile

Journey in Japan Part 44: The Golden Reptile

Today I head to the nearby Minowa Station and take the Hibiya Line. At Kayabacho Station a man runs out of the train as the doors close, trapping his foot, he falls over smashing his face on the platform, the doors re-open, he gets up and walks away calmly, as if it didn’t happen. The train is also full of screaming babies, which is endlessly annoying. I much prefer the calmness of the Ginza Line. I remain on the noisy train for as long as I can stand; which happens to be twelve stops later, at Hibiya.

The area of Hibiya seems to be named after a train line, so I am hopeful that I will find something to do here. In the station, the yellow area information map throws out a world of endless possibilities. I can visit the Passport Center, the Imperial Hospital, or even the Diet Building. I decide instead to check out Hibiya Park. At the entrance to the park a group of marathon runners rush past me. In the distance the sound of megaphones. In the park, a festival.

Today is the 21st Railway Festival. On the main stage a big yellow mascot shaped like the front of a train dances around. Market stalls offer train based information and souvenirs. Adults are queueing up to have their photograph taken with various pictures of trains through the ages.

There is a crowd of people silently taking photographs, so I head over to investigate. A man is holding a sign which says, “On Air.” A full film crew are here, recording for a channel called, Ch.546. They are filming a segment about the railway festival; what appears to be a Japanese idol is showing a keen enthusiasm for trains.

People pour from packed stalls, children look excited, families have picnics. Despite this being a railway festival, the only physical trains here appear to be on a miniature track featuring Thomas and Percy from Thomas the Tank Engine; the sort of trains children pay an overpriced fee to ride.

Further into the festival, there are over one-thousand people queueing for some live music event. I continue my stroll of the park, which is in fact a lovely park with nice fountains, ponds, and gardens. Eventually I get bored and leave, so I walk to Ginza, then enjoy the familiar tranquility of the Tokyo Metro Ginza Line, and eventually arrive at Ueno Station.

Today is the 31st Kappabashi Kitchen Festival. I set off from Ueno toward Asakusa, walking the length of Kappabashi Kitchen Town. The place is crowded; too many cooks.

This area is where all of the kitchen shops in Japan are grouped together. Most kitchen products in Japan are bought from stores here. The festival is a way for the shopkeepers to sell off their summer goods cheaply, and replace them with their winter stock. Prices have been slashed, and a stampede of shoppers rushing to buy bowls, knives, pans, and shop signage, almost too much to contend with. The scent of delicious looking food wafts from the various small stands.

I swim through the crowds until I see a group of people taking photographs of a statue; a golden Kappa.

The Kappa has become the official mascot of Kappabashi Street, but the reason isn’t obvious. One story says that the word Kappa means ‘raincoat’ in Japanese, and many merchants used to hang their wet raincoats out to dry on the nearby bridge; another story is that a merchant named Kappaya had built a canal nearby that helped to manage floodwater, and therefore his name was used as the name of the street, to honour his efforts. However, these two stories have become lost with time, and now the street just uses the homophonically named Kappa. History replaced by a mythical frog lizard.

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From England, Luke is a writer and editor living on the edge of Tokyo. He enjoys finding the strange and wonderful amongst the seemingly mundane moments of everyday life and travel, and writing about them.

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