Tokyo National Museum in Ueno Park

[Trying out the whole inserting pictures thing. May even try the gallery options wordpress now has later.]

Today was warm and sunny. I walked over to the other major part of Taito today, Ueno which used to be the capital until Tokyo got much bigger. I ventured over to take a look at the museums and ended up spending all my time at just the Tokyo National Museum. Even with only 3 of the five buildings open, it still took about 5.5 hours to go through the two I did.

100 Meters to Awesome

First off, I’m sorry. Many of the exhibits I could have photographed, but I just didn’t really want to deal with accidentally making an international incident so I kept the camera away near exhibits.

The Main BuildingAh, but before I get too far ahead… There were soft serve ice cream trucks outside the museum. By the time I got there, I was pretty warm, and you know, they had interesting flavors. Vanilla, green tea, red bean (also called azuki, it’s actually really good they sweeten the beans quite a bit), kiwi (I think), mango, coffee and cream and a seasonal special… cherry blossom (sakura).

Go figure I didn’t even notice the cherry blossom flavor that was plastered all over the sides until I had decided to buy some, minutes after taking the picture. It seemed like a no-brainer to me and… it was really, really, good. There is a bit of the normal cherry flavor there but it is much lighter. If I can’t find more state side I’m going to be sad.

 Cherry Blossoms are TastyTry to imagine my other hand giving a thumbs up.

So, I missed PAX East over in Boston, even though I could have made it this year. Then I came to Japan, and looked at the Boston Metropolitan Art Museum’s collection of Japanese Masterpieces. That makes perfect sense.

The collection goes through about 1100 years worth of artwork, from the 700s to 1800s. For people who are artists or have studied art, this is amazing to follow in a nearly chronological process. The Buddhist work is the oldest the collection has, and almost always has the focus at the center with other objects or people placed around the buddhavista. This can be interesting as while a few didn’t bother, it seemed many early works attempted to accurately depict point prospective and nearly got it right.

Sadly, many of the exhibits would have probably been more interesting to see in Boston as they would likely have much more complete translations, here they presume people can read the scrolls. I can’t. The ones supposed to be humorous still were a bit, but I couldn’t help but think I was missing out.

As time went forward ink paintings, and specifically screen paintings became the most common work in the display. The style is interesting, at times the landscape is fairly basic, large vague but defining strokes, with people being better defined, and then out of nowhere, a specific part of their clothing will have the most intricate delicate details. At the height of decadence the screens were not just flourished with gold highlights, but primed with gold paint.

The art styles were beautiful, but pretty rigid within schools and time periods, however this wasn’t because the artists couldn’t do anything else, it was simply tradition. The best example of the varied skill is shown in a screen painting depicting a European king and his court, which at least to my untrained eye and short exposure to the work, perfectly emulated western painting style.

An important note, if you clicked the link and went through the list, the textiles and swords were actually the 5th part, not the 6th.

The gallery ended with a final set, all from a single artist. The introduction seemed like a fluff piece congratulating the collectors and I readied myself to not be all that impressed.

I couldn’t have been more wrong. Soga Shohaku’s work is amazing. The site describes him as an eccentric genius, though I can’t say his personal behavior, his artwork absolutely bucked the rigid trends seen in others’ work. While clearly the basics of his style were derived from tradition, his subjects may not have strayed too far from tradition, but the way they were depicted did.

Everything was stylized. Normally only landscapes would receive fast thick brushstrokes but Shohaku boldly applied the same to nature, the grass and trees normally so finely detailed were now shaped daubs of ink that almost reminded me of Bob Ross, if it weren’t so large and obviously symbolic rather than just allowing the brush to define the plant.

Humans were a bit more firmly defined, more patterns, the lines weren’t as soft and passionate, but their forms were deformed as well, fingers with exaggeratedly thin joints. Faces too were typically wider and mouths almost always depicted as open, with semi-ovular lines defining curves inside the mouth.

Oddly though, his birds were very similar to all the other work, very well defined, very detailed, immaculate pattern work on the feathers. They stands in contrast with the rest of his work, and even within their own paintings as everything else appears in one of his styles.

The last work, the crown of it is Dragon and the Clouds. This was a large screen painting comprised of three screens, however the middle (the entire body) is missing. Before it had been saved by the Boston collectors, it had already been removed from screens. Sadly its fate was to remain packed in a basement until a few years ago where restoration work started. It has been remounted, though not on folding screens, which means it is less likely to suffer further damage. The exhibition in Tokyo is actually the first time it has been viewable to the public in well over 100 years.

The work is immense, I swear it had to be 30 feet long and that’s while it was missing a section. Walking into that last room, it dominates the view, it is in such contrast to everything that had come before. Nothing else I had seen used so much black. Most screens leave the negative space as white, or even untouched. Nearly everything that wasn’t the dragon was a black cloud.

I want to see it again, though I can’t really justify spending the time and money again during this trip. I can’t wait for it to go to Boston, though it won’t be until late 2013 at the earliest.

Were I ever to have the room and money for it, I would love a full scale print if it were ever made available.

Seriously. I probably spent 20 minutes looking at that one. I kept wanting to go back.

In other news the hostel’s internet has been flaky (needs more IPs to be made available), and didn’t get better until people started going to sleep, it’s the start of Golden Week, so this is going to be exciting. Hopefully I can continue getting onto the internets without too much difficulty.

Picture dump in the morning… well, later morning. When I get up. How about that?

Shibuya, Harajuku, Meiji Shrine, and Shinjuku

Yesterday I finally took the subway. I actually met up with someone I had been emailing with, Aiko, to which I owe a debt of gratitude for putting up with me. Seems I picked a rather boring place to go at least in regards to having a guide.

We met up at the Hachikō exit, which is pretty famous. I wasn’t familiar with it, and you may not be either. For those too lazy to click the link, Futurama’s Jurassic Bark (Fry’s dog) is pretty much the same story.

Cue the welling of tears.

Shibuya is the first of my experiences in New Tokyo (Taito being a part of “Old Tokyo”) here is where crowds really begin to be what you imagine. Just solid people as far as you can see. It’s a shopping and fashion district, which is near Harajuku, where people tend to cosplay on Sundays.

The first thing I noticed exiting the Shibuya station was a stage, apparently famous habuki actors were to make an appearance. Immediately after that was that someone was screaming into a megaphone. And wasn’t stopping. After meeting up with Aiko, I asked, and it seems he was shouting about the earthquake and Fuchikoma, blaming the reactor leak (and maybe the earthquake?) on the government. It was pretty clear from context he was likely spinning conspiracies into it, not too different from home.

I of course took pictures of the intersection everyone takes pictures of.

I am nothing if not cliché.

We went to a tea shop, and I ended up picking up a set of Tokyo Green Tea which is green tea with bits of dried apple in it, having never seen such a blend before, I figured why not?

Also found a Lego Chef

Thanks to Aiko, I discovered that pre-paid cellphones were about the only way I could get just a month (no shock), it seemed there wouldn’t be data available, and it was $1.25 per minute of talking. Pretty much screwed no matter how I use a phone here. On the topic of phones, I’m not sure I’ve taken pictures of them, but phone booths are actually pretty common here, kind of weird considering how abundant cellphones are. Go figure. Also, the phones in the booths are bright green.

There was a new shopping center Aiko had been wanting to see, and it was popular enough they had stanchions and rope out for when the queue was too long. The first four floors were all stores, go figure, the 5th floor had a fairly large Starbucks and an outdoor “forest”. The sixth floor was given all to one restaurant called Bells which is an Australian chain. It was so popular that at noon, lunch was already cut off… and that didn’t end until 5PM, so we didn’t eat there.

Starbucks has menus!

We walked down to Harajuku, and Aiko warned me that it was actually pretty small. She wasn’t kidding. To the extent that Harajuku is a social thing, it’s really just one street. There are two other parts, but only one major section, and as crowded as the streets were in Shibuya, anyone could crowd surf the entire 3 or 4 blocks where it really is a big thing. Walking through takes quite some time, even if you never stop. I actually enjoyed the other parts of the street better as you could breathe, and easily take pictures.

Not that I didn’t get any pictures.

We walked back around the other side, and parted ways at the Harajuku Subway entrance, she was off to visit friends, not having an entire day to waste on dragging around someone who doesn’t even know where guidance would be good to have. …Or because she has a life and isn’t a tour guide.

One thing that I had been wondering for awhile was answered by Aiko, I’m sure they appear in some pictures, but the yellow lines in the sidewalk with raised sections are for the blind, so that they have a reliable target for their walking canes. All we do for them is give them the chirp/boop things on the crosswalks, and I guess guide dogs are bit more common in the USA.

I decided to walk back around and at this point indulged in what would be my only meal of the day, a crape with kiwi, whipped cream, and strawberry icecream which was quite nice as I was dumb and wore the whole western outfit. On the note of dressing up, it actually seemed for the majority of the time I was there, the ratio of people in something clearly a costume was higher among foreign visitors than locals, at least until later in the day. Around 14:00 it seemed like many more locals in costume were appearing on the streets headed towards Harajuku.

They play remixes of American pop music.

After that I headed over to the other side of Harajuku street where there was space to breathe, and still a bit of weirdness. It was darker, and filled mostly with clothing shops, which, makes sense. By the time I reached the end of the street, I needed to rest a bit, as I was rather warm, and my shoulders and back still hate me for taking the camera bag everywhere.

I grabbed a few pictures here, and at one point there seemed to be some sort of group in the street planning something, and then breaking. Sadly I had my Kindle in hand and camera was kind of packed, so I missed the moment. I should have followed them out of curiosity, but I was not quite ready to move yet.

I walked back to the entrance of the crazy part, but didn’t re-enter. I instead walked back to the subway station, thinking about heading elsewhere. I checked the Kindle again, and noticed that there was a shrine nearby like a sign had said, and it looked huge. It was the Shrine to Emperor Meiji. He was kind of a big deal, ushering in modernization and at least publicly constantly wishing for peace, regretting the apparent need for the war with the Russians. It’s especially a big deal right now as it’s the 100 year anniversary of his death.

Emperor Meiji moving the capital from Kyoto to Tokyo

It isn’t just a shrine on the other side of the JR (Japan Rail) Tracks, it’s a forest, from within which you can hardly tell it is just a few meters away from trains, were it not for the sounds. I also learned there are things here unmarked, that you just don’t take pictures of. Wish that was in the brochure. It’s okay, those pictures didn’t turn out well anyway. They really didn’t. Thankfully for the most part, it didn’t matter, and I was only asked to not take pictures, for which I apologized. No arrests yet.

Once I started heading that way I decided I was going to explore a bit of Shinjuku myself, as it seemed there was a large government building you could go to the top of, 230 some meters up, for free. I like free. As I headed towards the Northern exit of the forest I saw there was another area which kept many things of the Emperor and his consort, which are now national treasures. Sadly I got there just too late to actually go in, but I wouldn’t have seen the fields and lake had the times been posted on the sign pointing the way, so no big loss.

I then wondered my way from the Northern parts of Shibuya city (not to be confused with the district of the city with same name) on my way to Shinjuku. Thankfully the 230 meter giants, ShinJuku Park Towers and the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Center (aka Town Hall) made it pretty easy to find my way there though a transplant helped me find a shortcut through some residential streets, which were also prime for pictures.

An obviously aging house, but it actually looks like a house.

Eventually I made it to the giant Tokyo Metropolitan Government Center, took lots of pictures around it, and made the ascent to the 43rd floor. Here I did lots of trading between lenses getting both telephoto and wide shots of the skyline, and also of things below. The ability to get pretty close on a food garden was neat.

Here you could get all kinds of gifts and memorabilia related to Tokyo, or even just toys. Two of my favorites were a paper holder with Stitch (and I guess some other experiments) flying small aircraft around the Sky Tree (if it seems like I keep talking about that, it’s because it has kind of dominated my view here, being a reliable landmark you can see from almost anywhere) and one of the coolest puzzles I’ve ever seen. It’s a 4D puzzle map of major parts of Tokyo with two layers (1958 and modern) and date color coded buildings. It was ~7100 yen. The biggest disappointment was that it didn’t go far enough to have the Sky Tree on it.  Still, probably worth it.

Maybe next time Japan. Maybe next time.

After that it was getting dark, and I was exhausted. I took the subway back to a city nearby Asakusa and walked the 1km back home. However before departing I picked up a Pasmo (similar to Suica) card so I don’t have to fiddle with change for a few days when riding that. Hooray!

I arrived back and it appeared that the hostel was hosting some sort of live music crowd interaction thing open to the public. The drums were loud, it looked kind of interesting, but not really my thing, and I really just wanted to lie down and let the neproxin sodium kick in. I fell asleep earlier than I had intended, having only gone through some of the pictures, failing to get the gallery up from the day before, and not getting dinner. When you walk around for 9.5 hours with only a high calorie snack to eat, you get tired. Go figure.

I don’t remember if I mentioned it here or not, but I extended my stay in Tokyo to the Saturday the 5th, so I’ll be checking out at 7PM Pacific time Friday evening.

Not quite sure what I’m doing today, but now I have vague idea of how the subways work here, a card with about 1200 yen on it (long the longest trips cost about 320 yen, most are 200-260, anything less and you might as well walk). I already had breakfast today, so I’m doing better than yesterday so far, other than the fact I’m still at the hostel and it’s 13:30.

Picture dump in the post below, because it seems I don’t know how this all works. When you upload a bunch of pictures they don’t just become a group, they attach to that post as a group. Yeah. I need to do this better.

Dropbox Gallery Here

Rain and Choices

I was supposed to head off for more Tokyo exploration today with a roommate, however he decided that he would go back to Kyoto one last time before his JapanRail pass ran out. So, I was deciding to actually catch up on some internets (yesterday though low key was mostly working on the updates and just hanging out in Asakusa) and it started pouring down rain. I’ll have a few pictures of that later.

Still trying to decided where to go, as I imagine we’ll still hit the locations tomorrow, so I don’t want to really do that twice in a row. I was looking into the Tokyo Tower, which is like the Eiffel Tower, but 8 meters taller, more modern (1958), red, and probably about as expensive to go up. From what I can tell, going up the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Center North tower was a much better choice, it’s free, goes much higher, and supposedly has a better view, not that I had a great view due to weather, but ehhh, no real complaints on my part.

I still wouldn’t mind going near the tower in Minato (I guess it means port, which makes sense as it’s the port area), but in this rain I’m not sure I really want to be aiming the camera up if I can avoid it, I’m already wiping the lens (or at least the UV filter) enough.

Ginza is another place that sounds interesting at least socially, it may not be on the cutting edge of fashion, but it’s the place to be for expensive native and imported fashion. I’d likely be horribly under dressed in the suit I brought. Even had I my three-piece, it would likely be a bit of a fashion faux-pas.

Tokyo is so vast and every city and even many districts are so different from one another. It’s difficult to just pick a place, especially as I look at a map and see three others within walking distance that are interesting, but in different directions. Information and choice overload, and that’s ignoring the rest of the entire country.

I’ve still yet to visit the National Astronomical Observatory. Though it’s getting a bit late considering the walk I would have to take from the subway. Perhaps Wednesday.

Too much to see and experience. I think I won’t see Ginza today, already dressed in something not really fancy. Not really wanting to do this over again. I just need to pick a location and get on the appropriate subway.

Choices. Why aren’t you easier?

Minato it is.

Quick Update

Pictures are coming, it turned out that Tuesday ended up getting pretty nice. The rain stopped and I went down to the docks, found an Edo era garden with a cheap entry fee (most are 300-800 yen, this was 150) and I didn’t want to leave.

Yesterday and today however, the rain is not messing around. I went out to Akihabera “Electric Town” with a roommate (or former, as I had to change to the 5th floor due to my extension). It was… well, I’ll write about it. I got a few pictures but for the most part the camera was hiding, because it’s really raining.

The long coat is still drying. My hat needed cleaning and is somewhat damp even now. I’m not sure I want to get back outside the way it is. I don’t think I have anything that can survive hours in the rain again. Ginza would have been nice, but my suit would soak through. Less than ideal.

Oh, and the microfiber cloth? Soaked. That will teach me to have it in the outer pocket for convenience.

Tuesday: Rain, Minato-ku, and The Kyu-Shiba-rikyu Garden

Falling a bit behind on updates, I meant to get this up yesterday but ended up spending most of the morning chatting with a guy crashing here until his luggage was located. Being from Britain, he was ready to blame Air France. Fair enough.

As I’m going through the pictures though, I realize I kind of want it to be in order of what I took, and also that I’m feeling lazy, and don’t really want to rename all the pictures. So I won’t. I’m sorry. Not many creative names for them today.

Tuesday as you may have noticed by that morning’s post, I was concerned about the rain, however it thankfully let up and I went down to the port district city of Tokyo called Minato-ku. This is also where, the great tourist trap, the Tokyo Tower is.

I like this view better.

I initially headed towards the water, in the exact opposite direction from the tower. This would prove to be a very wise choice, for along my way I walked past a garden entrance that looked interesting. The Kyu-Shiba-rikyu Garden. It is the cheapest garden (which isn’t to say anything bad about the garden) I’ve seen that has a fee. The fee, even at only 150 yen keeps the rabble out. To the degree that it was pretty empty, and I was the only obviously foreign person there.

The map and some historic images of the garden.

To say the garden was beautiful would be a disservice to the garden. I honestly didn’t want to leave, but it does close, and I did want to see a bit more before the sun went down.

Looking at this makes me want to go back.

After I tore myself away from the garden, I headed towards the docks, ignoring the giant shrine that was back towards the tower. I figured I would have time, or maybe check it after dark, sadly this shrine closes unlike the one that my hostel neighbors.

The pier/waterfront was interesting. It appears to be a growing station intended for the monorail, while having a mall, and two hotels attached. I got a nice look at buildings across the water, and a few tour boats going around. It’s important to note, none of the images of the location itself can be used for commercial application as I didn’t go negotiate with the owners, and they did have signs pretty clearly placed.

Not too commercial anyway.

I wondered from the pier over to a significantly larger garden which I just missed the last call for. So I don’t really have pictures of that to show. However the park was about 750 meters long, and actually took me pretty close to Ginza. Along the way I took many pictures and if it seems like there are lots of flower pictures, it’s because there are lots of flowers to take pictures of. Lots. This city does not slack off when it comes to flowers.

Also they’re fun to take pictures of.

Along the way I ran into the Rioch building, which should at least amuse two people. I worked my way back around to the shrine and Tokyo Tower, passing a Panasonic Showroom, and edging ever so much closer to Ginza. It was clear I was on the edge, as the Lawson stores (a common convenience store) became Lawson Natural (With Bakery) as opposed to the only alternate I had known of, the Lawson 100 which is a 100 yen store. Also ubiquitous suits that everyone wears started to get significantly nicer.

Also the Porsche dealership.

I finally arrived at the Tokyo Tower, which meant I was also close to the shrine, and my subway station. Captured a few pictures of the tower, saw that the shrine was closed and started my way back to the subway. Along the way something caught my eye though. Something really bizarre. Something I couldn’t just walk away from.

That says exactly what you think it does.

I went across the street to look at the menu and get a picture, but a waitress spotted me and showed me the full details and the drink menu. I figured I would get another gin and “tonic” as, it’s not too expensive and hey a little booze is nice. Of course it turns out I was 9 minutes late for happy hour when all drinks are only 300 yen, which would be a deal even in Washington. Still, when they brought it over, it looked odd. It couldn’t be. I know the menu suggested they grew their own veggies, but… no. Is that a lime wedge?

Could this be a real Gin & Tonic?

Yes. Yes it was.

Sadly, it turns out the picture of the menu I did get wasn’t that great, you can only read the middle of it, still it’s not very Pike Place, so much as it is kind of generic “American” with fish and chips tossed in. Still the true G&T was appreciated, and I may return during happy hour for another when I’m in the area.

This then got me back to the subway, so I went back home, and finally got some evening shots of the local temple when it was lit and a statue I didn’t think I had grabbed before.

Picture dumps are below, you have to click the gallery link to get the dropbox link because I haven’t figured that one out yet, and I’m too lazy to duplicate it here. So… deal with it.

Oh hey, my hat and microfiber cloth feel dry, and it’s only sprinkling outside instead of raining. Small favors.

Thursday: A Rain Wasted Day

Well it would have been wasted, except that I had some delicious okonomiyaki. I am so making this when I get back. Seriously, I’m really full and I want more just looking at the pictures.

Wednesday’s post to come, probably when I get up in the morning. Tomorrow is my last full day in Tokyo, at least on this leg. Going to be weird leaving it, but I’m looking forward to seeing other parts of the country, which are vastly different.