Tokyo Stories from Curious Outsiders

024 : Aneta Glinkowska in Ueno Park
Born 1977 in Poland, Aneta Glinkowska currently works as a video editor. She came to Japan on a spousal visa. Why Japan? A coincidence which she began to enjoy. She digs the following Tokyo bits: plenty of ramen, curry rice shops, and being able to ride her bike on the sidewalks and the road, depending on traffic. She, however, is a touch miffed by apples being just too damn expensive, people constantly exchanging business card, even after having had way too much to drink, and vending machines not heating the tea anymore in the summer. She loves her tea hot and unsweetened, even from the bottle or can. For more info on Aneta Glinkowska you should send an email.

image: Aneta Glinkowska

“The inhabitants of the blue, makeshift tents in the bushes.”

My Ueno memories revolve around the homeless living in the park. In particular, believe it or not, the grooming habits of the homeless. The Ueno homeless, in their homely blue tents with shoes neatly lined up at their entrances, remind me of the character from Imamura’s “Warm Water Under a Red Bridge.”[1] The eccentric character supports his blue tent with stacks of books he’s read. I also think of the group of homeless gourmets from the ramen western “Tampopo.”[2] These are homeless who can fix you a perfect omuraisu[3], hand you the best ramen recipe or direct you to a ramen shop which would get a Michelin Guide star, if there was a category for it.

Once, walking through Ueno to the National Museum, as I was about to enter the museum grounds, I spotted to my left two lines of men, 10 or 15 in all, waiting for something. There were a few blue crates and coolers standing around, as though the group was on a picnic. I realized that the men, quite neatly dressed, were the inhabitants of the blue, makeshift tents in the bushes. They were lined up for a free haircut given by two young women. The idea of a haircutting service for the homeless struck me as unique and, if nothing else, yet another
rare quirk of Tokyo.

A year later, I invited Eugene, a classmate from my Japanese lessons to Ueno Park. As we walked through the park, I told Eugene about the homeless men lined up for haircuts the year before. Mid-story, looking up, I was surprised to find men once again in line at the very same spot. But this time, instead of the bizarre sight of young women cutting hair, the homeless were waiting for their turn with older, male barbers dressed in white uniforms with red crosses on them. Strangely, there was something appropriate about these old men cutting the hair of the homeless.

If you ask an average Tokyo dweller—long or short term—about Ueno Park they will likely tell you of its many cultural institutions or advise you to visit it for exotic street performers, or perhaps a stroll during the hanami season. As much as I enjoy those myself, I’ll tell you, I saw a dozen men getting their haircuts in the middle of the park two years in a row and I keep going back for more of the surreal.

referenced works

  1. A 2001 movie, called in Japanese: Akai hashi no shita no nurui mizu, about a down-and-out businessman who travels to a seaside town, where he meets a woman with unusual sexual powers.
  2. Meaning "Dandelion", Tampopo is a 1985 Japanese comedy by director Juzo Itami, starring Tsutomu Yamazaki, Nobuko Miyamoto and Ken Watanabe. This is the quintessential ramen movie.
  3. Omurice: Rice Filled Omlet

location information

  • Name: Ueno Park
  • Time of story: afternoon
  • Latitude: 35.71711
  • Longitude: 139.774203
  • Map: Google Maps


  1. Eugene Hsu thinks: Great description Aneta, amazing experience both from the perspective of poverty amidst plenty as well as how strong the japanese communal spirit is in spite of these circumstances
  2. aneta thinks: thanks Doc. now, i’ve gotta do my annual pilgrimage to ueno soon. shall bring my video camera.

019She laughed at my effort and responded in English, ‘Long time, no seduction.’ — Qi Rari

018In my dreamy state, oblivious to signs and announcements I often boarded the wrong train.— Momus (aka Nick Currie)

017I was fifteen years old and it was one of those nights.— Yuko Enomoto

016That ear of corn just wanted to go home— Guttersnipe Das

015With his painstakingly coiffured mane blowing in the wind— Digits Wolfowitz

014Her voice, even across languages, betraying her worry.— Olly Denton

013I saw them drawing bamboo sticks from a silver rectangular box.— Daphné Haour

012A simulacrum of someone else's home, equal parts comfort and loss.— Adam Greenfield

011Jumbled Escheresque insanity where geo­graphy in any traditional sense ceases to exist.— Joseph Badtke-Berkow

010I could hardly make out anything apart from his glowing eyes...— Uleshka

009Shibuya was like a stroke.— Alice.d

008I cried for a while and wiped the dead bracken off my karate pants.— David Cady

007Both my tie and my disposition hang limp as I calculate the remaining distance to the station.— Chris Tobber

006I once read about a Chinese maiden whose feet were unbound by a cruel man …— Claire Tanaka

005The Bad Girl strutted off and I was left with a ham egg pie.— Guttersnipe Das

004I arrived expecting an irritated Japanese person to step out of the crowd and identify himself as Hideki.— Ashley Rawlings

003The woman at the ticket window seemed surprised to see another human being. I was the only visitor.— Andrew Douglas

002Flanked on either side by adult manga shops and the like, the smell of yakitori in the air.— Jean Snow

001For two weeks the day began with this morning walk, our shared routine.— Joseph Squier


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