Tokyo Excursion No. 3

15 06 2009

We ventured into Tokyo for a third time (Benno’s 4th time) on Sunday. Since we had already visited parts of Shinjuku, Harajuku, Akihabara and Meguro we decided to focus on Tokyo central, Ginza, Shibuya and Asakusa.

We caught the express bus from Kisarazu to Tokyo Station. It only takes about 55 minutes, the stop is about a 4 minute walk from our house, it’s comfortable and is only Y1500.

I still get totally frustrated with Tokyo Station – it’s so huge and there are so many shops and exits that it is possible to waste hours being lost underground. It gets really frustrating trying to navigate around with no sense of direction. So, after walking several kilometers underground to pass from the south to the north side of the station we made it out into daylight!

We passed through the Wadakura Square garden where a couple was having wedding photos taken with the backdrop of fountains. Then we walked into the Imperial Palace Outer Garden. There was a marathon being held at the far end, walking tour groups everywhere, and guards stood at each gate to make sure no one gained access to the Palace itself, which is out of bounds. The Imperial Palace is surrounded by a moat and is built behind trees on a steep hill. Only some of it remains due to fires and war bombings anyway.

We walked up north to the section of the Imperial Palace grounds that is open to the public – the Imperial Palace East Gardens. Passing through Ote-mon gate we crossed over the Kikyo-bori moat and saw koi and turtles in the water. The large gates had massive hinges and the wooden doors were about 50cm thick. It must be such an effort to open and close the gates.

We went into the Museum of the Imperial Collections and saw some floral artwork on canvas, vases, paper screens and tea jars. Then we wandered through the complex and past all of the samurai guard-houses. One of the guard-houses, the Hyakunin-bansho (literally, the 100 people guard house) contained up to 100 samurai living there, protecting the Imperial Palace from attack. Other bansho were smaller, but were stationed with more advanced and skilled samuari. It’s amazing that these wooden building survived when the main tower and castle were destroyed by fire.

We sat down on the manicured lawns called Honmaru Oshibafu and had some morning tea then checked out the bamboo grove, the main tower ruins and went out through the Kitahanebashi-mon gate, returning our entry token.

We walked through Kitanomaru-koen, past the lake, explored the dry waterfall in the forest and went up to the Nihon Budokan. Normally a centre for martial arts, today it was host to the Japan National Ballroom Dancing competition.

Continuing north past the hordes of people flocking to watch the ballroom dancing we entered Yasukuni-jinja. It had the largest torii I have ever seen and was celebrating its 140th anniversary. It is a controversial shrine as it honours the war dead (including Japanese war criminals) from Japanese wars. It often makes the Australian news when the Prime Minister visits the shrine on the anniversary of Japan’s WW2 defeat, much to the anger of Asian neighbours who suffered at the hands of Japanese armies.

At this time there was a scout gathering (Be Prepared) being held in the temple complex with stalls and sausage sizzles. We looked inside the Yushukan, a war memorial museum, where they had numerous canons, a fighter plane and a train engine used in the Thai-Burma railway (also known as the Death Railway) on display. This seemed a little insensitive – although part of Japanese war crime history – to celebrate a railway line built by Japan in WW2 to further its invasion using forced labour (including Asian and Australian POWs). They had the entries from a kids’ drawing competition (that featured the train) pinned on the wall.

We made our way past the scouts, sat in a garden watching koi in a frenzy swimming rapidly around the pond, and ate one layer of our lunch, sharing some tofu with a pregnant shrine cat. Then we got on the subway with a Open Day Ticket (Y710 for unlimited daily travel on all Tokyo Metro subway lines- we ended up doing more that Y1500 worth of subway travel so the ticket was well worthwhile).

We caught the Tozai line to Nihombashi, transfering to the Ginza line and getting off at Ginza. The stations can stretch for miles underground and have exits quite far away from the station itself. In fact, there can be exits that lead straight into popular department stores several blocks away. So we walked all the way under the city to the Sony Building, exiting on the 2nd floor in the middle of the building. We looked at the gadgets (some fancy headphones that clip on the outside of your ear, a round music player that moves/dances to the beat of the music to express your style) then caught the Hibuya line to Roppongi. We walked past the Roppogi Hills Mori Tower to Spice Home, an indian store that sold bulk cashews, red lentils, chickpeas and curry powder. Now we have 1kg supplies, rather than 50g packets of food. There was a noticeable increase in the number of gaijin (foreigners) in Roppongi, whether Iranian, Indian or white Westerners.

From Roppongi we doubled back to Ginza before transfering to the Ginza line to Shibuya. We met Yuki and his fiancee at Tower Records, the largest music store on Earth (maybe). They had 8 floors of music including a very well stocked English music selection. Benno bought a Perfume album and Yuki pointed out the good Japanese bands such as Greeen, Ellengarden and Exile. After comparing music tastes we looked at the amazing display of Japanese souvenirs, games, dolls, party supplies and electronics at Tokyu Hands, a large department store. We had dinner together at Vegan Healing Cafe – simple but nice but the best thing was the PETA ‘Fur is Dead’ car parked outside the shop.

We saw the Hachiko Statue of a dog who would met his master, a professor, at the Shibuya station everyday after work, including for 11 years after the professor died. The story has now been made into a movie called Hachi.

We parted with Yuki and caught the Ginza line to Asakusa where we walked through the rain to Senso-ji temple, the oldest temple in Tokyo. We were looking at a statue of a man with dragons when a Japanese business man came up to us and started talking English. He was an Engineer in Tokyo and told us in great detail about the history of the statue, the temple and the Japanese language. He was very friendly and obviously wanted to practice his English.

From Asakusa we caught the Ginza line back to Ginza and looked at the buildings lit up at night. Then we took the Marunochi line one stop to Tokyo, walked through the confusing, sprawling train station again and to the express bus which took us back home to Kisarazu by 11.15pm.

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