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.
So, this morning I walked past the cultural icon that is Japan’s Kibuki Theatre in search of other delights housed in the 12 floor stationery lover’s magnet that is G-Itoya.
Two hours of happy browsing ensued before I emerged with an assortment of paper and pens, all of which is now on its way to Australia courtesy of Japan Post.
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.
As you might guess from the name, Hokusai inspired the series of prints by French artist Henri Riviere called Thirty-six Views of the Eiffel Tower.
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.
We were fortunate enough to arrive at this Buddhist temple just on 3 pm and be able to watch Goma, a fire ritual performed 5 times a day by monks of the Shingon sect. No photographs of the ritual are permitted. It involved taiko drums, fire and the chanting of Sutras. Very impressive.
Afterwards we had coffee and tea near the temple grounds where we watched the world go by.
A train ride out to Ochanomizu and a short walk leads to Ochanomizu Origami Kaikan, a 6 story centre specialising in high quality traditional Japanese paper. The current gallery exhibition features samurai hats. There are classes in paper craft going on all the time. The staff are happy for visitors to wander around, including into the paper making workshop where we watched paper being painted and hung.
All things origami and washi paper are available in the shop which we will visit again at the end of this trip. I was in heaven.
A rainy day is a perfect opportunity to visit any attraction that is warm and under cover. Tokyo’s National Museum holds many beautiful pieces of Japanese art, clothing and Samurai artefacts, making it well worth a visit.
Here are a few of the items I particularly liked, captured by the iPhone, because I neglected to bring a spare camera battery with us on today’s outing.
We flew into Narita airport yesterday evening after around 9 hours in the air.
Entry formalities went smoothly. Once we collected our pre-ordered pocket wifi device from the Post Office in Terminal 2, bought Suica cards for the subway, and purchased tickets for the Narita Express into Tokyo we were on our way into the city. It was raining as we emerged from the subway station in the Akasaka district for the directionally imperfect walk to our small but perfectly formed room, complete with pillow selection on your way up.
We dropped into a busy local restaurant well after 9pm and enjoyed some warm food and a most convivial atmosphere (smokers notwithstanding) where noise levels happily rose with every entry and exit of customers. (We have actually come back tonight from a second visit to Youyusyonin).
The rain set in for a good part of today. No surprise, then, that our first purchase this morning was two umbrellas. Today’s destinations were the National Museum of Tokyo, Ochisnomizu Origami Kaikan and Fukugawa Fudo-do, all of which rate their own posts which will follow in due course.
At Ueno Station we had lunch at a soba noodle bar where you order your meal at the vending machine outside the restaurant.
We spent a good deal of time in the subway system today. Even during the busiest rush hour crushes, everyone is polite and helpful. Single lines to the left going up escalators assist fellow travellers rushing for a train. We had unsolicited offers of assistance with directions and have been made to feel welcome in every cafe and restaurant we’ve visited. I think we’re going to like it here.
Tuesday 24 April.
Yes. It’s the start of another trip. We’ll be spending five weeks in Japan, eleven days in Mongolia and a couple of days in Beijing (as we head homewards) to see what’s changed since we were there in 1994. We’re topping and tailing the Japan chapter of this trip in the capital, Tokyo.
I’ve been hitting YouTube, language apps and books for the past few months so as to, hopefully, give us a head start on day-to-day communication and help with the recognition of traffic signs and the like.
As far as the blog goes, this time I’m taking my old iPad2 to which I’ve added a cheap and cheerful bluetooth keyboard. The Sony A6000 (loaded with some new apps to try) will be the camera of choice, with Snapseed as the editing tool. And I’ve packed a small sketch book and a few pencils and water brushes just in case. Time and fatigue levels allowing, an occasional haiku may appear.
See you tomorrow in Tokyo.
I have always loved big cities. You can get lost in them because of their size or you can get lost in them by being drawn into small pockets of the place that delight with amazing food choices or reveal stories of people who live or have lived in the place. You can wonder at the why of their establishment whether on historic river routes, strategic trade or defence sites or just by chance discoveries.
Taking photographs in cities can be tricky if you’re focusing on the decoration detail of a building or attempting to capture the large scale of a street scape. It is never dull.
Here is a selection of cityscapes (with additives via Grungetastic).
Salt Lake City