We woke up this morning to a rather bleak day, which kind of changed our plans. Originally I’d wanted to go to a museum and then stroll to Ginza because they block off one of the main streets to traffic on Sunday afternoons. Instead, we decided to visit a couple of museums and then see where the day took us.
Imperial Palace East Garden
We began our sightseeing by purchasing two umbrellas at the hotel gift shop. Everything we planned to do was within walking distance so we figured we could handle a little rain. Then we walked across the street to the Imperial Palace grounds. I was surprised there were so many people walking around because it really was raining hard.
Upon entering the gardens, you are given a white plastic "pass" which you must return as you exit, which is a tidbit I thought I’d include for anyone who ends up visiting some day.
We are very lucky. Cherry blossom season is begining a couple of weeks early this year and on this day we were seeing the very beginning of it. Even though they weren’t any where near full bloom, it was easy to see how absolutely magnificent it will be when there are more. We will probably return to this area when we get back from Kyoto just to see them. I absolutely love this photo:
Our first stop in this trio of sights was the Science Museum. Though I read that it was primarily for children, it also claimed to have fun, interactive exhibits that both Mick and I were interested in seeing.
We entered the museum and were amused by a vending machine featuring one of my favorite actors, Tommy Lee Jones, hawking a beverage called Boss:
All I could think of was Bill Murray saying, "For relaxing times, make it Suntory times…"
A word about the Science Museum–if given a second chance, I’d skip it. I could see that it would be a great place A) if you are a child, B) you understand both written and spoken Japanese, or C) you have even a slight bit of scientific knowledge and can figure out what the exhibits are meant to be. Since I fall into none of those categories, the museum was of interest only because it was a place where there were lots of typical Japanese families enjoying a day out. Frankly, that can only go so far.
Our next stop was a place of great interest to me: Yasukuni-jinja. I had read about it’s controversy–namely, that it’s account of Japan’s involvement in WWII is considered revisionist, or at least downplays Japan’s culpability. More on that later though. The path leading up to the shrine was full of stands selling all sorts of yummy treats–unfortunately the rain put a damper on things and many of them were closed. I could see how the place would be hopping in good weather though.
There were lots of visitors to the shrine, mostly Japanese. This is a holy place in Japan. It was completed in 1869 to enshrine the remains of two and a half million war dead–these souls are considered deities.
A common sight at shrines are little strips of paper with prayers for good fortune tied to trees and in various other places.
While we were at the shrine, an event was going on and a school marching band was there. I didn’t get to hear them play but I would’ve loved to, having been in marching band myself in high school.
One of the more controversial aspects of this shrine is that in 1979, a number of Class-A war criminals were surrepticiously enshrined here.
Yasukuni’s War Museum was fascinating, and luckily, most of the exhibits feature English translations. There was so much information there it was hard to absorb it all, but reading about it from the Japanese perspective was very interesting. I will not say whether I thought it was revisionist since I’d like to do more research, so I will just say that it was a good starting point for me. Frankly, I never understood why the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, and I still don’t entirely, but I intend to learn more.
There was a performance going on outside of the museum but we couldn’t tell what it was. Women dressed as geisha were on stage singing and dancing. I don’t know if the one below was part of the performance or not:
Unfortunately, the blossoms are minimal at this point but it was gorgeous just the same. We both want to come back here when we get back from Kyoto, and hopefully, there will be more blossoms. There were a lot of Japanese visitors here, getting a head start on the viewing.
The rain had stopped by now and we were starving. We found a random restaurant on the street where they unfortunately spoke not a word of English. Our pointing skills came in handy here, though not as handy as one might hope. I chose a noodle dish and Mick chose a shrimp dish, but when he ordered the waitress paused as if waiting for him to order more. When the food came, it turned out that Mick had just ordered a small appetizer. Altogether it was enough food however.
Ginza by Night
We decided to walk to Ginza, which was about a mile away or so. On the way, we stopped at Monsoon, a name which some of you might recognize. It is one of our all time favorite restaurants in Santa Monica, and it turns out there are several in Tokyo:
One of the waiters spoke English and we ordered sake, which was sorely needed at this point.
Afterward, we headed to the busy part of Ginza, which was a lot more fun and beautiful at night than it was in the early morning hours. We stopped in a couple of stores, including a department store which was as luxurious and expensive as one would expect in Ginza (which I’ve heard referred to as the Beverly Hills of Tokyo). Frankly, Ginza is a whole lot more exciting a place than Rodeo Drive.
What shall we do tomorrow?