Our hotel room is on the 30th floor, and the view out to the south over Tokyo is spectacular. What is also obvious from the view is that it's still raining, and it doesn't look overly warm either. We set off towards Shibuya station. We were right about the temperature; I think it might be warmer back in Melbourne right now. It feels like everyone in Tokyo except us has an umbrella, which makes negotiating crowded footpaths a bit challenging. We also see lots of people wearing face masks. We assume they're not all surgeons on their way to a day of heart transplants, so we're not sure whether they're wearing them because they're sick or because they don't want to get sick. I hope it's not the former, because if it is, a significant proportion of the population here is sick.
We walk across the famous Shibuya Crossing, which is right outside the station, and is rumoured to be the busiest pedestrian crossing on the planet. It's past peak hour and it's still very busy. I think you'd need some good evasive skills to cross here at peak hour, and the chances of getting stabbed in the eye with
an umbrella would be very high if it was peak hour and raining.
We get on a train and off again, and walk through a large park towards the Meiji Jingu Shrine. The park is a thick forest and it's a bit hard to believe that we're in the middle of the world's largest city.
We read a bit about Japanese history. Japan was ruled by military dictators, or shoguns, from the late twelfth century. The Tokugawa shogunate took over in 1603. This marked the start of the Edo period, which was characterised by a policy of isolation from the rest of the world, and enjoyment of culture and the arts. The shogun ran the country from Edo, which is now Tokyo. American Admiral Matthew Perry upset all of this when he turned up in Tokyo Bay in the mid-1800s in an attempt to end the isolation. This eventually led to the end of the shogunate, and the reinstallation of an emperor, Emperor Meiji, in 1863. This marked the start of the so-called Meiji Period. The Meiji Jingu Shrine is dedicated to Emperor Meiji who died in 1912, and was notable for taking Japan out of isolation into
becoming an imperial world power. We pass a memorial which comprises lots of barrels of sake on one side of the path, and an equal number of barrels of French wine on the other side. This is meant to symbolise Japan's emergence from its isolation. The shrine itself is massive and very impressive.
We walk back through the forest and along the main street through Harajuku, which is lined with large department stores.
There seems to be a bit of an obsession with uniforms here. We see lots of school girls wearing sailor suits. It seems that whilst wearing a sailor suit might be compulsory, you can apparently wear whatever type or colour of footwear takes your fancy. There are lots of security guards everywhere, and they are all wearing military type uniforms and hats. Quite a few of them are also wearing surgical face masks, and we begin to wonder if these might actually be part of the uniform. Rather than wandering around looking for troublemakers, most of them seem to spend most of their time standing very still with their hands behind their backs. I wonder if they do this to lull troublemakers into a false
Issy being silly
Apparently you can do what you like, as long as it’s in the daytime
sense of security. It has the opposite effect on us; we think that they look even more menacing standing still. The attendants on the train platforms wear military style uniforms and face masks as well. Their face masks are seemingly specially designed so that they don't muffle the announcements they make through their microphones. I think that the world's face mask industry must be based here in Tokyo.
Next stops the Nezu Museum. We're hungry so we queue up for a seat at the museum's cafe. Everyone here is unbelievably polite and respectful. There are four seats at the head of the queue for the cafe, and we are fifth and sixth in line. Some very elderly women in traditional dress stand in the queue behind us, and when two of the seats come free we motion to a couple of them to sit down. They in turn motion to us to sit down. This repeats itself several times over, with lots of bowing and insistent gesturing from the elderly ladies. They're clearly not going to back down, so to avoid any risk of upsetting the natural world order we reluctantly take our seats.
We finish lunch and
wander through the large and very pretty museum gardens, which include some shrines, statues and a large pond. The museum itself is on two levels and is dedicated to Japanese and East Asian Art. It includes paintings, ceramics and some Chinese bronze pieces from the Shang and Zhou dynasties which ruled from around 1500 BC. Some of the older and more fragile pieces are housed in cases made of thick plate glass with lots of alarms, but are then held down by thin fishing line wrapped around a couple of pins stuck into a cloth base. You'd think that if thieves could get through the plate glass and past all the alarms, they wouldn't have too much trouble negotiating a bit of fishing line. We joke that maybe this is there to stop the pieces smashing against the glass during an earthquake, but then quickly realise that this is probably exactly why it's there.
We walk on to the Mori Tower in the Roppongi Hills complex, where we've read we can get great views from the observation deck on the 54th floor. The rain has eased to a steady drizzle, but it seems that the observation deck is closed today because the visibility is considered to be too poor. If we were back in Australia I think that they would still have happily taken our money and then said "bad luck mate, didn’t you bother to look up" if we'd dared to complain later about the lack of a view.
We catch the train back to Shibuya. The train is packed, but everyone sits or stands in almost complete silence. We begin to wonder if you're allowed to talk on the train, and what they might do to you if you did venture to strike up a conversation with the person next to you. We don't see anyone eating or drinking on any of the trains either, or even in the street for that matter. We start to wonder whether that's against the law as well. We then remember that we munched on some sandwiches while we were in the forest near the Meiji Jingu Shrine earlier in the day. We hope that someone hasn't caught us on CCTV and we then get arrested when we try to leave the country.
We head out for dinner. We realise that we haven’t eaten any Japanese food since we’ve been here and decide that we must do something about this tonight. The area around the hotel is wall to wall restaurants. Most of them are tiny, and comprise a few small tables crammed together with no room to swing a cat in between them. We wonder how the waiters go trying to move around between the tables, and how often patrons get bowls of miso soup tipped on them. We wonder if maybe that’s why everyone eats so much sushi. We pick one of the tiny restaurants. The menu includes horse tempura. We order sashimi and mixed tempura, and hope that the latter doesn’t include the remains of some poor nag who’d rather be running in the Melbourne Cup than being munched on in a tiny restaurant in the backstreets of Tokyo. Issy decides to be adventurous and orders a cocktail. She’s got no idea what’s in it, but the menu says that the ingredients are "straight from the farm". This could mean almost anything. It clearly has a lot of alcohol in it and I’m not sure she’s too concerned about any of the other ingredients.
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