I can’t leave Japan tomorrow without pulling together some of the visual highlights of the past five weeks. There is so much more to see and experience here, I hope we can return sometime soon.
It’s our last full day in Tokyo. The pace is definitely slowing and the focus shifting to thoughts of our next destination. This morning, we rode the subway to Shinjuku, a major commercial and government centre of Tokyo, and also home to the 2020 Summer Olympics stadium (under construction).
Just over a week since the artist died, we visited Robert Indiana’s LOVE sculpture, one of several located in both Asia and the USA.
Then for a wider view of Tokyo, it was up the 45 floors to the South Observatory of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government offices.
Tokyo will be one amazing Olympic venue to showcase the new and old Japan.
For the past month, we have been accompanied on this trip by a pocket-wifi device. We posted it back to the supplier last night and are now reliant on paper maps, city signs and helpful subway staff to help us navigate Tokyo in our last couple of days here.
First stop today was Hama-rikyu Gardens, once the site of a shogunal palace.
Next was Tsukiji Market where hours after the early morning tuna auctions we lined up for a sushi feast before hearing to the Outer Market to check out the action.
Over to Akihibara to find ourselves way outside the age profile in Electric City on a Saturday afternoon.
For a change of pace, the JR rail line took us to Nippori to wander around Yanaka Ginza, one of the old shitamachi districts of Tokyo where pre-World War Two streetscapes still exist, having been left unscathed by bombs. The city’s lower classes lived in this district of alleyways, flowerpots and stray cats, although it’s fair to say that gentrification has taken place in recent years.
Under the Wave off Kanagawa (or The Great Wave) is one of the most popular images ever to emerge from Japan.
This woodblock print by the prolific artist Katsushika Hokusai (1760-1849) was just one in the series Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji.
The Sumida Hokusai Museum opened in late 2016. The current exhibition, Hokusai’s Water Wonderland, focuses on his waves and waterfalls, and how the imported pigment, Prussian Blue, featured greatly in the series.
Hokusai worked in many forms during his long life and was also responsible for small manga-like how-to-draw manuals, some of which are available free of copyright on Open Culture.
As you can see, they are still very useful to those learning drawing, even if you don’t read Japanese.
Hokusai and other “artists of the floating world” (ukiyo-e) greatly influenced the French impressionists and Japonisme became quite the fashion in the latter part of the nineteenth century.
The museum is well worth a visit as much for the building itself, designed by the architect Kazuyo Sejima.
By any measure, Tokyo is up there as one of the most populated cities in the world. There is no better proof of that than Shibuya Crossing in the early evening.
A few vantage points from above are available to capture the spectacle, one of which for us required the purchase of an Uzu Iced Green Tea from a particularly ubiquitous American coffee company.
Other evidence of this big city’s population is travelling on the subway at around 8.30 pm when commuters are heading home from work and after-work activities. As a train arrived at our transfer station, the faces of commuters were all but pressed against the door windows. The etiquette of boarding a train is well executed as potential passengers stand to each side of the door to release and ultimately replace those who have been nestled together in each carriage.
What a view to wake up to on a Sunday morning in Matsumoto. And what a thrill to discover another Yayoi Kusama exhibition on our travels. This one was especially good as it showcased her work from the age of ten, back in 1939, to now. Photography was limited to a few specific pieces and areas, so I can’t show you some of the impressive mirror works or the beautiful pencil sketches she produced as a teenager. Matsumoto is the artist’s home town, so the gallery has gone all out with this exhibition, All About my Love.
A little way out of the city centre is the Japan Ukiyo-e Museum, dedicated to the work of famous wood block print artists. It is a relatively small museum with originals and reproductions of famous prints.
We watched a video of the wood block carving and printing process which served to demonstrate how intricate and difficult it is to produce these masterpieces. We had our own chance to make a couple of prints via the use of stamps overlaid on each other.
Then it was on the road again to see the majestic mountain portrayed in these mini-prints.
Armed with a 500 yen day bus pass, we started off in Kenroku-en Garden, one of the most famous gardens in Japan.
Kenrokuen means “Garden of the Six Sublimities”, a term taken from ancient Chinese literature to describe the six essential features of a perfect garden. To create a sublime garden, the gardener must incorporate spaciousness and seclusion; artifice and antiquity; and waterways and broad views.
Some of the features include:
Gangkou bashi, The Flying Geese Bridge.
The word gangkou means “flying in the formation of geese”. Eleven Tomuro stones (local red andesite) are placed across the water just so, as stepping stones.
The care of trees
There is evidence everywhere of the care that Japanese arborist take to protect the longevity of trees.
In winter, the technique called Yuki Tsurugi uses bamboo poles and ropes to protect trees and shrubs from heavy snowfalls.
The Kotojitoro Lantern
We participated in a communal tea ceremony at Shiguretei Tea House inside a tatami alcove before a last view of the irises and Kasumigaike Pond.
Kawazama Castle and its neighbouring Gyokusen inmaru Garden are just across the road from Kenroku-en Garden.
After lunch it was time for a little reflection at a museum dedicated to the Buddhist philosopher, D T Suzuki.
Much of the afternoon was spent in the Higachi Chaya district the home of historic tea houses and entertainment venues and geisha.
Kanazawa is a sleek and modern city, with an impressive new railway station, built to accommodate the arrival of a Shinkansen service.
We ended the day nearby the station in a sushi station complete with tablet ordering and bullet train delivery, where the pile of plates were scanned to produce the bill at the end of the meal.
In no particular order, out and about today in Kyoto
Meeting a retired English semantics professor at Gion-Shijo railway station. He bailed us up in the nicest possible way.
Hirose Coffee Shop in Arishiyama. Another sweet little cafe with Audrey Hepburn references and a charming host.
In the gardens surrounding the Kyoto Imperial Palace.
A wander through the long covered laneway that is Nishiki Market was a feast for the eyes and the tastebuds.
Wood-ear mushroom and cod cake sticks, roe-filled grilled squid, chestnut mochi and custard filled hedgehog pastries were our chosen treats.
The following photographs feature fresh wasabi, Yuzu Bettara (pickled Japanese radish with Yuzu and chilli dressing), sea urchins, super-sized oysters, quail egg-filled tiny octopus and the cleanest of apples.
Arishiyama is also the home of the UNESCO World Heritage temple, Tenryu-ji. This place was the site of the first Japanese Zen temple (in the 9th century) and in its current form continues as a temple of the Rinzai Zen sect of Japanese Buddhism.
The 14th century designed Zen garden is, like the temple, set among the backdrop of the surrounding mountains. The designer was Muso Soseki and his approach of incorporating the external environs of the garden is called shakkei, which means borrowed landscape.
Muso Soseki (1275-1351) was hugely influential in establishing Zen Buddhism in Japan. As well as being a Zen Master and garden designer, he was a poet, teacher and calligrapher.
This poem (translated by American poet, W S Merwin and Soiku Shigematsu) appears in This Same Sky: A Collection of Poems from Around the World, curated by the wonderful Naomi Shihab Nye.
The phenomenon of manhoru mania emerged from the 1980s when decorating boring old manhole covers became so popular that now, over 90% of Japan’s manhole covers are art at your feet.
on the path you take
look down occasionally
art is everywhere
It was the stories of the children and their distraught parents that hit hard and moved you to tears.
Sadako Sasaki famously folded over 1300 paper cranes in the hope that by completing 1000 of them, she would have her wish met be cured of the leukaemia caused by the atomic bomb. These are some of the tiny cranes she made from medicine wrappings and other paper scraps. She died eight months after her diagnosis.
This is the tricycle that belonged to a little boy who was about to turn four. His father buried the child and the tricycle together.
No more Hiroshimas.