In Tokyo, there is a lovely, lush public green named Ueno Park. It is full of beautifully sculpted trees; pines pruned to mimic bonsai motifs and ponds full of koi and carp and goldfish who come up to the surface and make sucking sounds that entreat tourists to feed them. They will eat anything; hot-dogs, crackers, pretzels, cigarette butts; you name it. The turtles also come over and mooch food as well. Ueno Park was established by an imperial land grant in the 1920’s by Emperor Taishō. The official name of the park is “Ueno Imperial Gift Park,” lest anyone forget the largess of the Emperor.
It is a huge park complete with shrines, museums, a concert hall and a lovely grotto. If you are homeless in Tokyo, you probably live here. Though I didn’t notice a huge homeless population, people assure me it exists there.
Every spring, when the cherry blossoms are in bloom, the park is a magical burst of pinks and reds and the Japanese travel from near and far to sit under the cherry blossoms and picnic and drink wine and listen to music. This is a centuries old celebration. My next-door neighbor, the fine Chicago photo-based artist, Doug Fogelson, went for the spring this year and told me how magical it was. Doug’s enthusiasm for this is part of why I went to Japan and I’ll be forever grateful to him for making me aware of this.
The carp are huge and beautiful and have as much personality as a fish can have, they have it. One is struck by the reverence the Japanese have for their parks. They are very quiet places; serene really, and not full of douche-bags throwing Frisbees to their dogs. Nor does anyone let their dog shit in the park. Or if they do, they probably toss it to the carp.
Flying back from Tokyo is sad; first because I’m sad to leave that place I am so fascinated by. Secondly, because the movies on the plane were Sandra Bullock movies, and my iPod ran out of juice an hour into the flight.
When I got back, my dog, Chooch, jumped all over me and was thrilled to see me. . .at first. About an hour later, he started giving me the shit-eye for being gone so long. Three pieces of salami fixed that. Once I left Tokyo, I started missing it. It is one of those places, like New Orleans, where square-pegs like me actually kind of fit in.