Ueno Park, Tokyo

The broad, tree-lined avenues of Tokyo’s first public park are alive with dappled shadows, visitors and street artists. A most popular spot in spring for its cherry blossoms, the sakura leaves are not yet gold on this autumnal day. However, Shinobazu Pond, already choked with desiccated lotus leaves and dark seed pods, reflects a pallid sky and the air chills the ears. The city’s usual roar (here muted to a faint purr) is punctuated by insistent crows.

Lotus Leaves Shinobazu Pond

This Western-styled, urban oasis forms a stage for museums, temples, a shrine, fountain, zoo and numerous other attractions. Set back into its dense shadows are the neat blue tarpaulins of its homeless guests. A black-suited man, his tie loosened, meditates on a low stone wall. Seniors who have traded the yellow hard-hats of primary school for the softer bucket-hats of fishermen mingle with tourists—their camera phones upraised like sceptres. And urban moms escape their apartments with toddlers in tow.

Clearly on a school trip to the capital, knock-kneed girls in pleated skirts and slouchy white socks together with boys not quite living up to their smart uniforms follow their grasshopper-coloured teachers up the steps of the museum.

Like them, I am reluctant. It’s crazy to trade sun-alive skies for antiquities and art, but.

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