Japan – Tokyo


We spent a day exploring Tokyo. There was so much to see, we could have spent a week. Still, in one short day, I think we saw many highlights! Our first stop was at the Senso-ji Temple. It is also known as Asakusa Kannon. It is Tokyo’s most sacred and spectacular temple. Having read that in the guide book, I was really excited to see it! The temple has an amazing history. A shrine was built to Kannon, in 628 AD, by the master of two fisherman who supposedly fished a small gold statue of Kannon out of the Sumida River. Kannon is the Buddhist goddess of mercy. In 645 AD, Shokai, a holy man built a temple in honor of Kannon. The temple grew in size, fame and wealth. It survived the 1923 earthquake, but not the bombs of World War II. Due to this, most of the main buildings are relatively new. They are done in the edo-era layout. The temple was rebuilt in 1958 and has a roof of 70,000 bronze tiles.

The grounds around the temple are impressive! The Kaminarimon Gates (Thunder Gate) that greet you as you approach has a large, red, Japanese lantern with two very large guardian statues on each side.

I was surprised to see all the souvenir stalls along Nakamise-dori, the street leading up to the Temple. We tried “ningyoyaki” a popular Japanese sweet. They were demonstrating how they were made. There are small, cast iron molds over a burner. A pancake-like batter is poured into the mold and then a sweet bean paste is put in the center and it is topped with another “pancake”. It was very good, but a tad to sweet for me….nothing is ever to sweet for David!

So, you might be wondering, if this is the most spectacular and sacred temple in Tokyo, why I don’t have a picture. Well, that is because the whole temple was behind scaffolding and tarps for renovation! I must tell you that most of Japan, on this trip, was one huge renovation project! Honestly, it seemed, that every major sight we wanted to visit was under renovation and behind scaffolding and tarps. This was the case at Ueno Park. The Tosho-gu shrine was under scaffolding. The Tokyo train station, an impressive building was behind tarps, as well.

So, not being able to enter the temple, we wandered around the grounds. I got my horoscope. You pay about a $1.00 or 100 yen and fish a stick out of a jar. Then, you match the writing on the stick with the writing on one of the several drawers in front of you. That holds your horoscope. Mine read, “You have a desire to be superior to all others (!) and to build your dignity and identity. A satisfactory income (thank you, David!), riding coach and a horse, are seen in front within your control…what does that mean? If you are a strong warrior, you can catch and control the whole country by just one arrow. Become well known to all countries (I am working on this), getting much income, thus all your relatives can be prosperous. Just like your way ahead is full of the green grass and orchid flowers (not certain what that signifies). Your request will be granted. The patient will get well (I did request this!), The lost article will be found, but late. Building a new house and removal are both well. It is good to start a trip. Marriage and employment are both well.” Not a bad horoscope, if you believe in these things. Personally, I take them with a grain of salt.

From Senso-ji Temple, we wandered along a side street. We passed a street vendor with a unique cart. There were others around him taking pictures. He then offered to let us try to pick-up the cart. Oh my gosh, I thought I was in relatively good shape, but I couldn’t budge the thing! He made it look effortless as he picked it up and walked away. Carrying that around all day would definitely get you into shape! David was smart, he didn’t even try!

We passed a theater that had the outside wall just covered with beautiful bouquets. They were placed there by fans wishing the actor well on his performance. As you can see by the poster, it is a male acting in a female role. Not that unusual for Japan. Kabuki, a traditional theater, is performed by all male actors who specialize in female roles. I am not certain if this was a Kabuki performance or not.

We made our way over to Ueno Park, originally a spot for the Kanei-ji temple to ward off evil spirits, it was designated a public park in 1873. It is beautiful respite from the hussel and bussel of the streets of Tokyo. The walkways are lined with cherry trees that must be an amazing sight during April when they are all in blossom. There are a couple of temples and shrines in the park. As well as Shinobazu Pond, the National Museum of Western art, National Science Museum, National Museum, Metropolitan Art museum and a zoo. We didn’t even make a dent walking around the park!

An interesting monument that we visited was the Hiroshima-Nagasaki Peace Flame. It was tucked in a corner and I am so glad that I noticed it.

On August 6, 1945 the US dropped the world’s first atomic bomob on Hiroshima and on August 9, another atomic bomb was dropped on Nagasaki. A young man, Tatsuo Yamamoto, went to Hiroshima in search of his uncle and found a flame from the atomic bomb, burning in the ruins of his uncle’s home. In memory of his uncle, Yamamoto, took the flame back to his home of Hoshino-mura. Initially, the flame was symbolic of his uncle and his resentment for the destruction it caused. However, as time went on, the flame came to represent a symbol for his desire for the abolition of nuclear weapons and for peace. On August 6, 1968 the flame was transferred to a monument in Hoshino-mura.

In 1988, a flame was taken from the torch and was merged with another flame lit by the friction of broken roofing tiles of Nagasaki. This flame, along with 30 million signatures that were collected in support of the “Appeal from Hiroshima and Nagasaki”, was carried to the Third Special Session of the UN General Assembly for Disarmament in New York City.

In April 1989, an “Association for the Flame of Hiroshima and Nagasaki Lit at Ueno Toshogu” was founded to support an idea of a peace memorial in Ueno Park. Tens of thousands of people took part in the fundraising for over one year. The construction of the monument was completed on July 21, 1990.

August 6, 1990, in commemoration of the 45th year of the A-Bomb tragedies, a flame of Hiroshima was taken from the Hoshino-mura monument and a flame of Nagasaki, generated by the friction of Nagasaki roofing tiles, was added to the monument. This A-bomb flame is kept burning, as a reminder and hope for the abolishment of nuclear weapons. Of all that we saw in the park, this is the thing I remember the most.
What appears to be scarfs hanging from the monument are actually oragami, paper cranes strung together. The cranes represent peace in Japan. 1,000 cranes is the ultimate wish for peace.
Right around the corner from the park was the Ameyoko Market. The guide book claims it is one of the greatest bazaars in Asia. It certainly has a rich history! During the Edo period (1600-1868) it was the place to go to buy “ame” (candy). After WW II, black market items, such as cigarettes, nylons and liquor were sold here. Due to this, “ame” acquired a second meaning…the abreviation for American (yoko means alley).
div>The tiny shops are clustered under elevated train tracks. Today, you can find just about anything here for a great bargain, especially on foreign brands. Michiko kept commenting about the great prices for the food items.

I chose this picture of David and me eating an apple to share a story with you. While we were gone, Michiko was eating an apple in her home like we are eating this one. Her son, Takuma, saw her and incredulously asked her “What are you doing?” She said, “I am eating an apple.” Then he said, “But why are you eating it like that?” Evidently, they don’t eat apples, pears or other like fruit the “western” way. They peel it and cut it up before eating it! Michiko had seen apples eaten the “western” way during her time in England, but her children never had.

From the park and market area, we hopped in a taxi to go to the Imperial Palace. We didn’t spend much time here. There is a park around the palace, but the palace grounds are closed to the public. The first castle started being built here in 1590 by Ieyasu, the first Tokugawa period shogun. His successor made it into the world’s largest castle. All that remains of it today is the moat and some walls.

Today, the emperor and imperial family live in the palace that was rebuilt after the previous one was bombed in WW II. It is opened to the public at New Years and on December 23, the emperor’s birthday.

Our final stop was the Shibuya area. Mom had told me about a story she heard on the news of a statue of a dog, Hachiko, at the Shibuya train station and I wanted to see it. It is such a sad story, but so represents the unconditional love that dogs have for us.

Each night, Hachiko would meet his master at the train station as he returned home from work. Then, his master died. However, for 11 years after the death of his master, Hachiko would go to the train station to wait for his master. I tell you, as I write this, I am emotional. The locals built a statue in the dog’s honor.

In Tokyo, I saw a movie poster with Richard Gere promoting the movie Hachiko. I just googled it and it has been recently released in Japan. There is no scheduled release date set for the US, yet.

The Shibuya area isn’t only known for the statue. It turns out that it is a popular place for the young people to hang out. There are lots of trendy boutiques, record and upscale department stores. There were tons of young people the day we were there!

From the Shibuya area we walked a short distance to Omotesando area which is the high end shopping district. There were stores from well known designers like Ralph Loren, Gucci, Luis Vuitton. It is sometimes referred to as Tokyo’s Champ-Elysees. We went into only one store – it was lovely, full of Japanese items, such as tea sets, kimonos, dishes, etc. I could have easily spent some major money in there, but since it was the beginning of the trip, I waited.

The day ended by getting the train back to Yokohoma and picking up Natsumi and Takuma at Michiko’s in-laws. It was a wonderful, long day. My little pedometer showed that we walked 10.5 miles, 22, 100 steps!

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