& TOKYO/CELLPHONE (walking exploration of the city) 2016-01-29 --

Hungover. Rain swept in overnight. I dragged on my coat and and took the walk to Family Mart for a pack of cigarettes, a bottle of Pepsi Strong Zero, and mentaiko mayo onigiri. The neighborhood was quieter than usual, all the work sites shut down or the workers moved off the scaffolding and deeper inside. Instead of heading back home, I went north to Oku Station and took the Utsunomiya Line toward Ueno. Along the edges of the wide railway canyon between Nishi-Nippori and Ueno, the countless love hotels and pachinko towers. At Ueno, I ate a bowl of soba at a stall on the platform. I'd never noticed it before. The trains rattling along the dozens of lines going through Ueno made the counter vibrate and the walls creak. I went out of the Iriya Gate and walked out onto the elevated walkways over Showa Dori. Maybe Ueno was a better comparison for those railway slums I compared Sanya to yesterday.

Ueno was the final destination for trains from the north and looking past the grey towers, the area is riddled with mazelike alleys, including Ameyokocho and its crowded lanes and its shops selling hand fans and Kit-Kats and Mt. Fuji underwear, and Fujianese men selling bundles of dried noodles and counterfeit coins, and the holdout shops selling kamaboko and wristwatches, and all the tourists dragging plastic suitcases. Ueno Park is home to most of the homeless in the city-- or maybe it's Yoyogi? There are blocks of girl bars and hostess clubs and microbrothels and massage joints. It's a grim neighborhood, especially on a dark day at the end of January, when the tourists are mostly gone. I went south from the station and dropped off a few rolls of film to be developed.  

I wanted to take a different route home and rode the Yamanote Line. The Yamanote Line follows the same railway canyon as the Utsunomiya, stopping at Uguisudani, Nippori, Nishi-Nippori, but then angling around to hit Tabata, the last stop before the ring route takes its sharp left turn toward Komagome and Sugamo. Tabata is the closest Yamanote Line station to home and it looked like about a twenty minute walk. I exited the south gate and began to get lost.

I walked west, crossed the Yamanote Line. The rain had slowed. The neighborhood west of Tabata seemed abandoned. Most shop windows had their metal shutters pulled down. The occasional restaurant was shut, even when the hours on the sign told me they should be open. The few shops open were mostly selling padded jackets, quilts, orthopedic leather shoes. But toward Hongo Dori, whole blocks were being redeveloped, mid-rise apartment blocks being renovated, restaurants open and busy. At Hongo Dori, I crossed the elevated walkway to Kyu-Furukawa Gardens and walked for a while in the on the grounds, where a Meiji bureaucrat died of tuberculosis after a career that included negotiating the Treaty of Shimonoseki. The garden was empty. The rain began falling again and I left. I finally turned north and crossed over the Tohoku-Joetsu Shinkansen. Walking west along the railyard, the city felt even more abandoned. A few factories and parking lots were still in use but the buildings along the rail line were mostly dark. Near the crossover of the Tohoku Main Line and the Tohoku-Joetsu Shinkansen track, there was a crumbling danchi block, which must have once housed workers from the nearby factories. A heavy fence had been put up around it and the windows of the lower floors were boarded up. When I saw the signs for Sakaecho, I realized I'd gone too far west. I took the Toden Arakawa Line east and home.