Journey in Japan Part 59: A Wild Frog Chase

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Today I decide to take my bicycle and head to the nearby Arakawa Park, a place I haven’t previously visited. This park seems to have somehow half escaped the losing of its leaves. One side of the park is skeletally bare, the other side, flourishing with nature.

I park my bicycle and take a seat on a bench to read my book; Murakami’s ‘Super-Frog Saves Tokyo’. After consuming the book from start to finish, I take a little wander around the park. I see a sign saying, “Do not feed the cats or pigeons.” Odd. I have seen multiple signs about feeding pigeons; they often have amusing text coming from speech bubbles, such as, “Don’t feed me, I can get my own foods.” This is the first time I’ve seen a sign about not feeding felines though. With perfect timing, a cat appears from nowhere and takes a seat directly in front of the sign.

The ginger cat decides to follow me around the park, meowing at me for food. Cats of this colour seem to have a habit of following me around. I wander amongst the threadbare trees, and to a stone gazebo. Beneath the shelter the homeless roam. About ten in total, walking around seemingly without purpose, and wearing threadbare clothing to match the trees. They look to me like characters in the starting area of an online role-playing game. Lost, confused, and not knowing where they’re supposed to go. It strikes me that these people, like the poor cat, actually don’t have anywhere to go.

I leave the park, and stop off at a nearby shrine, only to be chased away by two massive guard dogs on leashes. Clearly, this shrine doesn’t welcome tourists. A little further up the road, I realise that as this day becomes more about animals, that a better choice of reading material today would have been Agatha Christie’s ‘Cat Among the Pigeons’, because, for a second time in an hour, that’s exactly what I see.

Leaving the stray cats behind, I cycle toward Nippori. One of my favourite things to do to keep me occupied in Tokyo, is cycling on warm days, and exploring new areas. Without any real destination, I often cycle along and discover random things that interest me. Today, the low winter sun provides the heat, and the opportunity to explore is seized.

I cycle through Fabric Town, passing a couple of interesting shops along the way. Highlights are a leather shop called, ‘Touch of Fleather’, a shoe shop called, ‘And Shoes’, and a textile store simply called, ‘Tomato’. After I arrive at Nippori Station, I carry my bicycle up some steps and over the tracks. On the other side of the tracks, I am greeted by another bird, in the form of a giant stone owl.

The owl describes itself as a ‘Memorial Monument for Takamura Kotaro’, a famous Japanese poet and sculptor. Why they chose to honour his life with a statue of an owl is beyond me, but it looks nice, so I thought I would include it. The owl sits on Suwadai Street. A strange street that is at an elevation higher than the skyscrapers beyond. The street also boasts fifteen different temples and shrines.

I check the GPS on my camera to make sure that I’m still in Tokyo. Up here, even though I am just twenty minutes from my house, it feels like I am in the middle of the countryside. The nature in this area is simply stunning. I see a few signs with directions to a viewing point. On a clear day I can witness the spectacle of a Mount Fuji sunset; when the sun and the mountain share the horizon. Unfortunately, I can’t see Mount Fuji; the story of my life. I do get to witness the setting sun over a distant Tokyo skyline.

I cycle away from the temples, shrines, and stunning views; and into Yanaka. The area is still uphill and features many old houses surrounded by leafless trees. I end up at a small market along some narrow street; Yanaka Ginza Street. The market is conveniently downhill, so the opportunity to cruise along window shopping, controlling the flow of bicycle wheels with intermittent breaking, is an enjoyment in itself. I narrowly miss shoppers as a steer between the crowds of people; presumably here to buy rubbish they don’t need to impress people that they don’t care about. As I try to remember a quote from Palahniuk’s ‘Fight Club’, I get distracted and almost crash into a woman carrying a baby. Naturally, the baby starts screaming in fits of hysteria, so naturally, I cycle away as fast as I can.

I continue cycling until I arrive at another new place, Nezu. The streets here are beautifully decorated with old lampposts and Christmas lanterns.

Apart from a full size train carriage parked randomly on the footpath, there is nothing else to really see in Nezu, so I head back toward familiarity. Outside Ueno Park, I study the map looking desperately for something of interest. Four museums, but all presumably closed today; that’s how these things usually go. Then, something on the sign catches my eye. Perhaps it was because I read about a character called, ‘Frog’ today, or perhaps some other intuition took over, but the moment I saw a tiny little dot on the huge map of Ueno Park below a caption saying, ‘Fountain of Frog’, I knew that this would be my final destination today.

I search the park, passing dying crops and concrete views. After thirty minutes, the sun has completely set, and the weather has turned cold. Fierce winds chill the air, but aren’t strong enough to dissuade my search. I cycle around the park, each time I see a map, I stop to double check the location of the fountain. I often find that the fountain has changed location from one map to the next, and on other maps, it has disappeared completely. Not one to give up on a personal challenge, I continue my search for the elusive Fountain of Frog. Eventually, after forty-five minutes of cycling around Ueno Park, I find what I’ve been looking for.

As it transpires, Fountain of Frog is literally just that; a small statue of a frog spitting water into an even smaller fountain. I head home, head full of disenchantment.

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