The Gardens of Tokyo

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May 10th 2018
Published: May 10th 2018
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Issy gets a call from reception at the hotel to tell us that because we've made a complaint about the hotel on one of the well known booking sites, they are giving us a free session at the hotel's fitness centre. They tell her that the voucher will be delivered to our room in a few minutes. She sounds very excited, and tells me that she will be using the voucher to get a foot scrub. I tell her that this all sounds great, except that we haven't made any complaints on any hotel booking sites, and can't see why we would, as the service and facilities at the hotel have all been excellent. We start to worry that someone might be impersonating us. We wonder why they might do this, if we're the ones who end up getting the free foot scrub. I hope they're not doing it to lull us into a false sense of security, before they move on to stealing our credit cards and passports. We decide that we must be very vigilant.

Issy says that she has fallen in love with the toilet in our hotel bathroom. It has a seat warmer, and she says that whenever she starts to feel a bit cold she goes and sits on the toilet seat and this then warms her up very quickly. As well as a seat warmer, the toilet also has a complex panel that can control the temperature, strength and direction of the water it squirts at your nether regions.

It appears to have stopped raining, so we decide that this morning we will visit the Hamarikyu Gardens, which is a large public park to the east of Shibuya. We make the now familiar trek to Shibuya station. As we approach a corner near the station we can hear some men yelling. As we round the corner we see four security guards in full military inform standing in a line across the footpath. They are all waving red glow sticks, bowing repeatedly, smiling, and yelling some words in Japanese. As we get nearer we see that it is apparently their job to shepherd a truck as it backs across the footpath into an alleyway, and to make sure that no one gets run over. It seems that the bowing, smiling and yelling is intended as an apology to the few pedestrians that they have very briefly inconvenienced. We can't stop giggling. This appears to be yet another example of the extreme respect and politeness which seems to be fully ingrained in the culture here. If this was Melbourne, there would have been a battle of wills between the truck driver and the pedestrians to see who could barge across first, with lots of accompanying muttering, swearing and possible violence.

We arrive at the station near the Gardens and decide to get some breakfast at a coffee shop. Issy says she feels too colourfully dressed in her red parka. It seems that we have wandered deep into the heart of a business district. As we look around we see that we are the only couple in the cafe. Everyone else is either a business man or woman, sitting by themselves, dressed in a dark navy suit or dress, and focusing intently on their laptop. There is absolutely no conversation. Issy says she worries that they might all be robots.

As we look out the window we see that the rain has started yet again. The weather forecast said that there was a 30% chance of rain this morning, but we'd hoped that we might beat the odds. We don't particularly want to go outside, so we spend the next several minutes discussing what the weather bureau really means when it says that there is a 30% chance of rain this morning. Options discussed include a 30% chance of any rain at all, even a couple of drops, or a certainty of it raining 30% of the time. We conclude that we should probably spend less time discussing this, and more time sightseeing.

We decide to pass on the gardens for now and move onto the only indoor destination on today's itinerary, which is the war museum attached to the Yasukuni Shrine.

We've noticed that pedestrian crossings here have traffic lights, but no pedestrian buttons; you just have to wait patiently for the lights to turn green. As we wait at one crossing, I spy a button, and push it. Issy is quick to point out that this is intended for use only by blind people. It does seem to have a picture of a blind person next to it, but I'm not quite sure what that's intended to achieve, as presumably a blind person wouldn't be able to see the picture. The lights change, and it seems that pushing the button has generated a loud sound which makes us feel as if we've walked onto the set of a Star Wars movie during a fight scene. All the other pedestrians stare angrily at me. We're not quite sure what to do, so we decide that we'd better pretend that I'm blind. I hold Issy's arm and she guides me carefully across the road. The angry stares quickly turn to stares of pity, and we slink away before anyone has a chance to realise what's really going on.

We go into the museum. It is very large and covers all of Japan's military conflicts over the past 400 years or so. This includes World War II, which is referred to here as the Great East Asian War. We have read that this museum is regarded as being controversial, and we weren't quite sure why. It soon becomes apparent. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the museum paints a very favourable picture of Japanese involvement in all of these many conflicts. I'm not quite sure whether to feel slightly angry with the museum, or to start questioning what I've learned previously about all of this, and World War II in particular. I think history would suggest that I should probably be feeling slightly angry. For all of that, the museum is indeed very impressive. It includes displays of fighter planes, and other weaponry, including the one man mini submarines used by the Japanese in World War II. I think I remember reading that at least one of these made its way into Sydney Harbour at one point. We wonder how anyone could possibly have stayed sane having to lie flat for weeks at a time underwater in the tiny steel tube that is the submarine.

We come out of the museum to find that the rain has stopped and the sun has made an appearance for the first time since we arrived in Tokyo. We walk through the impressive gardens that surround the Shrine. The shrine itself is dedicated to the memory of those who died in the service of Japan between 1868 and 1954. Everyone who comes here seems to make an offering and a prayer, so we observe what they are doing so that we can follow suit. I'm a chivalrous man, so I must of course let Issy go first. It seems that you need to drop a coin into a box, bow twice, clap your hands twice, and then bow once more. I wait for her to finish and then take my turn. I feel intense performance anxiety. I think I’ve done well, but Issy then tells me that I forgot the last bow. I feel that the eyes of everyone here are now on me, so we sneak away quietly before I have a chance to cause myself further embarrassment.

We leave the Shrine precinct, and walk through more gardens and across a large moat into the Imperial Palace East Gardens. These are the grounds of the former Edo Castle's innermost defences, although none of the main buildings remain. The moats and walls are however still in tact, and are spectacular. The walls are made of two metre cubic blocks of stone, fitted perfectly together without any mortar or other jointing material. As seems to be the case with all gardens here, they are large, spectacular, and carefully manicured.

We're in need of food and find our way out of the Palace Gardens and into a curry house. We don't realise it's a curry house until after we've sat down, but by this time we‘re too embarrassed to leave. The meals come out bubbling hot, and accompanied by large full length bibs which are presumably intended to keep the bubbling hot curry from staining our clothes. The food is excellent.

The sun is still shining so we decide to make another attempt to visit the Hamarikyu Gardens. We change trains twice, and eventually emerge from the station nearest the Gardens. Google Maps then tells us that they are a twelve minute walk from the station, but goes onto suggest that maybe we should rethink our plans because they will close for the day in eight minutes. It seems we may be destined to never visit these Gardens.

We rest up back at the hotel and then head out again for dinner. We decide that if we eat Japanese food every night while we’re here we might get bored with it, so we decide to eat at a Spanish tapas restaurant. Like most of the other restaurants around here it is tiny. It only has one table and a handful of seats at a bar, and the owner is also the chef and the waiter. He is Japanese, but he tells us that he lived in Barcelona for ten years.

We finish eating and go for a wander through Shibuya. We go up to the Starbucks restaurant on the first floor overlooking Shibuya Crossing to get a better view. The whole area is crawling with people out for a night’s entertainment. We walk on and up some stairs into a cocktail bar. It is small and crammed with people. I’m pretty sure we’re the only people here who aren’t both Japanese and under 25. The cocktails are all named after movies. We’ve got no idea what’s in them, but we order a couple anyway to finish off the evening.

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