Thursday, July 10, 2014

Still Totally Transfixed by Tokyo

Friday, July 4, 2014

Still Totally Transfixed by Tokyo

 Although our hotel is ideally located (right opposite Tokyo’s Main Station), it is tiny, its attached bathroom so minuscule that the two of us cannot stand inside at the same time. Still, with Llew showering in the morning and me at night, we managed somehow to get ourselves organized for an early-morning excursion to, of all places, the local Fish Market.

 Off to the Tshujiki Fish Market:

            Tokyo’s Fish Market is a huge tourist attraction for two reasons: the early morning tuna auctions that take place at 5. 30 are a most exciting spectacle—however, they involve arriving by 3. 30 am, taking a number and hoping to fall within the 120 places that are allotted to visitors. If you do not make the cut, you can still stay for the opening of the wholesale buying which begins at 9. 30 am. We left home at about 8. 30, arrived near the Fish Market to find large numbers of tourists heading in the same direction. Although too late for the auction, they were there for the second reason the venue is so popular: Sushi Brunch at the Fish Market based on the delicious fresh catch of that same morning. Needless to say, we found the place dirty and wished to get out as quickly as we could. Plus, Llew, who is not a fish eater, was not going to join me in eating sushi for brunch—so he whisked himself off for a saunter around the premises while I ate a solitary meal at a small place that was filled with locals eating bowls of rice with fresh sashimi (raw fish) topping them. I settled for the set sushi platter and have to say that it was supremely delicious—the fish was as soft as butter and deeply flavorful.

 Visit to the Meiji Jinju Shrine:

            Yes, it was time to visit yet another shrine and Meiji Jinju is the most important one in all Japan as it serves as the private shrine of the emperor and his family. We had pretty much mastered the art of using the subway system by this stage as the temple was far away. It was a drizzly day and we were grateful for our umbrellas. However, the temple is nothing to rave about—apart from its associations with the Meiji emperors who brought great prosperity to Japan in the Pre-World War I period (the memorials for the popular emperor and his consort are here), there is really nothing by way of architecture in this space and we were rather disappointed in having hiked up to this part of town.

            It was time to turn our sights on to something different—and we headed next to the very north of the city to the area known as Ueno.

 Exploring Ueno and Museum City:

            Ueno is kind of like Museum City in Tokyo—home of the most important museums from the Fine Arts one to the Museum of Natural History which is a child’s delight. The guide book said that if we had the time for just one, we should make it the Tokyo National Museum that contained a capsule of the history and culture of the country through the ages. And that was what we did. Again, we were stunned by the hordes of folks heading to the museums—and these were not tourists, mind you, but local Japanese folk who are clearly deeply culture-conscious and patronize such institutions on a regular basis.

 A Visit to Tokyo National Museum:

            Had we the time to explore Tokyo National Museum at our leisure, no doubt we’d have enjoyed it more. As it turned out, we used our guide books to pick out the highlights and ended up spending about two hours reviewing Japan’s classical contribution to the world. And so we traipsed from one gallery to the next, starting on the top floor and making our way down. We saw ancient sculpture (a great deal of Buddhas and Bodhisatavas) such as the ones we had seen at Nara and Uji and then moved on to the galleries that showcase the county’s artistic creations in the form of ceramics, metalwork, lacquerware, jade carvings, etc. Finally, we ended our visit with a look at the treasures of Horyu-Ji Temple which are located in a special modern building.

            Now having been to Horyu-Ji Temple ourselves, only a few days previously, it was of special interest to us to see this marvelous collections of Buddha statues as well as a large number of archeological items found on this site—that go back about 1000 years. Again, by this stage, we were seriously afflicted by tourist-fatigue and decided to sit somewhere, away from Ueno and its buzz, so as to rest our feet.

 Viewing Tokyo From A Lofty Vantage Point:

            And, so we rode the subway once again to the commercial heart of the city in order to tick off the next item on our To-Do List for the day: a visit to the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building which is actually the seat of national administration.

            Built by Japan’s renowned architect Tange Kenzo (who also designed the Cenotaph at the Peace Memorial Park in Hiroshima), this building is composed of twin towers that sit on a lofty base. They rise far above the city of Tokyo providing stunning views—on a clear day, one can actually see Mount Fuji from the observation deck on the 44th floor. Of course, I was keen to see this building as an example of the kind of contemporary futuristic architecture that one now finds in many modern world cities (such as Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Shanghai), but what was more, was that one could gain grand views of the city for free!

            Arriving there just before dusk on a very cloudy day did not do much for the views we hoped to receive; but it did give us a very graphic idea of the mushrooming of this urban metropolis and of its essential design aesthetic. Clearly, the kind of skyscrapers going up in these concrete jungles are not just unappealing boxes. As architects vie with each other to produce eye-popping buildings, new skylines are emerging that are also artistically appealing—and that is what we noticed about Tokyo from the heights of hundreds of feet above the ground to which we were whisked in a high-speed elevator. It felt a little bit like the visits we had made to the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York, many years ago or visiting the Burj Khalifa in Abu Dhabi, the world’s tallest building.

 Back to Takashimaya for Some Shopping:

            With just hours to go before our departure from Tokyo, I felt the need to return to Takashimaya (we had visited and shopped at its Kyoto branch earlier in the week), the famous department store, to pick up a few more gifts. This gave us the opportunity to see East and West Shinjuki which is the heart of a busy commercial center. Crowds of folks were picking their way on public transport to get home at the end of the day and we were swept along in the sheer frenzy of their energy.  We soon found the store and picked up a few more gifts—mainly by way of silk scarves and bags—and then spent some time in its awesome food department. Once again we were dazzled by the unique wrapping and display skills of the Japanese and were tempted by a number of samplers generously handed out to us: shumai dumplings, rice crackers, frozen mango and melon treats, little jellies, etc. It was a nice introduction to the kind of items Japanese folks buy as gifts.

 Back to our Hotel for a Rest—then the Tokyo Tower:

            By this time, we were exhausted and a rest was urgently called for. We made our way back to our hotel and rested for a bit, then showered and set out on yet another mission: a Visit to the famous Tokyo Tower which is an exact (if slightly shorter) replica of Paris’ Eiffel Tower. Lit up brilliantly at night, this edifice towers above the city and can be spied on the subway routes as they whisk people about the city.

            We quickly found our way there as I was keen to get some pictures. As night had fallen over the city, we were fortunate enough to find the tower in all its illuminated splendor—and it was quite wonderful indeed. We reached there at 9. 45 and since the tower was closed to visitors at 10. 00 pm, all we managed to do was enter the building to get an idea of the lighting up close and personal. But it was certainly worth the late-evening excursion.

What a lovely walk it was, on our last night in Japan, breathing in the cool clear night air, watching the city’s youngsters have a great time at local eateries and amusement arcades and passing up an atmospheric Buddhist temple whose roof lines contrasted strangely with the modern metallic lines of the Tokyo Tower! We loved the city, were delighted with its helpful, polite, clean and organized people and could easily see ourselves happily living in this part of the world.

            Needless to say, we were deeply fatigued by the time we crawled into bed at about 11.00 pm. With our packing done, we set alarms for our departure from Japan on the morrow, and our arrival at our next destination—Shanghai in China.  

Until then, sayonara! 

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