Thursday, July 27, 2006

Vacation Plans

Well kids, I did it. I dropped some of my hard-earned ducats (since I am typing this at work I would like you all to savor the irony of the “hard-earned ducats” phrase for a moment) on my plane tickets for the first two stops on my Fall/Winter 2006 world tour. At this point I am sure some one out there is thinking, “What in the name of all that is holy is James talking about?” Nothing really, I just like to make things sound much more epic than they really are, although I have to admit the thought of the Funky Wood Jam World Tour 2006 t-shirt makes me mighty happy. Basically at the end of September I am taking some time off and heading west to the Far East to drop some large white drunkenness on Tokyo and Seoul.

I FINALLY get to go to Japan!

I just want to say that again.

I FINALLY get to go to Japan!

I will delve into my life as a Japan-o-phile in a later post, what I really want to deal with here is what the heck am I going to do with two days in Tokyo? I arrive at 2:20pm on Saturday and I am not departing until 6:10pm on Monday. My Saturday night is already taken up, as long as Nobuyuki can get tickets, with the Hanshin Tigers versus the Yomiuri Giants game in the Tokyo Dome. This leaves me with Sunday, Sunday night, and Monday until around 2 in the afternoon. Right now my main resource has been the Lonely Planet Tokyo City Guide. From that alone I have amassed a list of things to do which is far too much to accomplish in the time I have alotted. Here is the list I am currently working off of (and this is in no particular order):

1. Sengaku-ji Temple
This is a place I am definitely going to see as it is the temple where the 47 Ronin are buried. Sometimes referred to as the national epic of Japan, the story of the 47 Ronin resonates deeply with many of the Japanese and is a story I have been fascinated by since I learned about it many years ago. The 47 Ronin were samurai in service to Lord Asano of the Ako province. Lord Asano was baited into attacking Kira, a highly placed official in the shogunate, in Edo Castle. Although the only wound Asano managed to inflict was a cut on Kira’s cheek, he was ordered to commit seppuku (ritual suicide) the same day for even drawing a weapon in the castle. All of his lands and goods were confiscated, his family was ruined, and all of his retainers were declared masterless, or ronin. Forty-seven of his former retainers banded together and plotted the killing of Kira in order to restore their master’s honor, even though the Shogunate had declared revenge to be forbidden in this case. For around a year the 47 gave up their places of honor as samurai and took jobs as tradesmen and monks, and their leader, Oishi Kuranosuke Yoshio, became a drunk who eventually divorced his wife. All until the night of December 14th when they gathered together and assaulted Kira’s house. They eventually captured Kira and in deference to Kira’s position, Oishi knelt before him and offered up the dagger which Lord Asano had used to commit seppuku to Kira for the same purpose. Kira was so terrified and craven that he would not take his own life, at which point Oishi had some of his compatriots hold Kira down and he proceeded to cut of Kira’s head with the dagger. They ronin then took Kira’s head to Sengaku-ji, washed it, and placed both it and the dagger before Lord Asano’s tomb. They then turned themselves in enmasse to the Shogun who allowed 46 of them to commit seppuku rather than having them executed as criminals. They were then interred at Sengaku-ji with their lord. While some are willing to debate on whether the actions of the 47 Ronin were actually in line with the code of Bushido, they’re story has always fascinated me and, to me, stands as a perfect example of how the samurai would serve his lord.

2. Japanese Sword Museum
I like swords, particularly Japanese swords as they display a level of craftsmanship and artistry rarely shown in European swords. This place has 6000+ of them, however they are closed on Monday, so this is very iffy.

3. Ghibli Museum
For those of you who don’t know Studio Ghibli is the animation studio founded by Hayao Miyazaki, among others, and is responsible for films such as My Neighbor Totoro (my favorite Ghibli film), Spirited Away, Princess Mononoke, and Howl’s Moving Castle. Miyazaki is one of my favorite anime directors (Mamoru Oshii is pretty high up there as well) and I would love to hit this museum however you have to make reservations and from looking at the website, which is only in Japanese, it really looks like this is more of a kid-themed place. I am really on the fence on this one. I wish they did not require advance planning so I could just go if the mood takes me. Oh yeah, and I was a Miyazaki fan before it was cool you trendy gits.

4. Senso-ji
This temple enshrines a golden statue of Kannon, which is the Japanese name for Kuan Yin the bodhisattva of compassion, which was reputedly fished out of Sumida-gawa by two fishermen in 628 AD. My guidebook describes the main gate, Kaminarimon or Thunder Gate, as majestic and says that the gate houses Fujin, the god of the wind, and Raijin, the god of thunder. Since this is open 24/7 and there is no cost to get in I am thinking this might have to be done. Besides, there are gods in them thar gates!

5. Higashi-gyoen
This is the only part of the Imperial Palace grounds which are open to the public. The Imperial Palace was built on the grounds of Edo-jo, or Edo Castle, which became the seat of the Tokugawa Shogunate in 1590. From what I can gather the only thing left of Edo-jo is the foundation mound and some of the walls and moats, so sadly this will not fulfill my need to see a Japanese castle. This park is free to the public however, which is always a good thing.

6. Meiji-jingu
This is the shrine built, originally in 1920 and then rebuilt after WWII, to honor Emperor Meiji and Empress Shoken. From everything I can tell this is a very impressive shrine and will definitely make the list of Sunday destinations, if for no other reason than it is near Harajuku and is lousy with cosplay-zoku and the eponymous Harajuku girls brought to our attention by Gwen Stefani. I think this is definitely on the list.

7. Tokyo Kokuritsu Hakubutsokan
This is the national museum of art and it contains the largest collection of Japanese art in the world. Initially I poo-poo’d the idea of going here, however after thinking about it a bit more this might make a very good place to go in place of the Japanese Sword Museum. The main hall is devoted to Japanese art, containing sculptures as old as 538 AD. The two additional halls are dedicated to a collection of antiquities from other regions (they call it the Gallery of East Asian Antiquities, however seeing as how they stuck and Egyptian mummy and some other stuff in there this strikes me as somewhat of a misnomer) and then a collection of really ancient stuff from Japan. I really wish this place was open on Monday. The more and more I think about it Sunday may have to be an even split between this and the Meiji-jingu.

8. Yasukani-jinja and Yasukuni Yushukan Museum
This is a rather controversial shrine whose name transliterates to Peaceful Nation Shrine, is dedicated to the Japanese sailors, soldiers, and pilots who have given their lives in service to their nation. Since recent history has Japan playing the part of the aggressor far more often than they have been attacked, some perceive this shrine as being a temple to aggression. I am not sure where I stand on this issue, however from the descriptions I have read the shrine sounds interesting (some of the torii there are made from steel and bronze rather than wood) and there is the museum which is on the grounds and I am a sucker for war museums, particularly ones where I get to see things I otherwise would not be able to see. Most notable, to my mind, in the museum’s collection is their replica of an Ohka, a suicide rocket developed by the Japanese late in WWII, and a restored A6M5 Type 0 Model 52 Zero fighter from WWII.

9. Hama Rikyu Onshi-Teien
This is the garden of one of the shogunal palaces which extended into the area. The guidebook states that the garden is one of Tokyo’s finest, and as I have a taste for the Japanese garden, this might be worth checking out.

10. Akihabara-cho
Once the home to billions and billions of electronics Akihabara has been turned into an a mecca for anime fans. If I end up doing this it will definitely be on Monday. I am somewhat embarrassed to admit that I want to check out the maid and cosplay cafes.

Then there is the Tokugawa Shogun Cemetery which I noticed on one of the maps however I cannot seem to find any good information about it. This sounds like an interesting place to check out and as it is by Ueno Park, it may be very accessible for my plans. There is also the National Museum of Japanese History. I stumbled across this on my few internet searches and I am not 100% sure where it actually is. I really think the Tokyo Kokuritsu Hakubutsokan is a better option.

So there it is, my first list of things I might want to do in Tokyo. Any thoughts or suggestions?

Tags: Travel, Japan


Diana said...

I'm so jealous, it sounds like a nice list of stuff to choose from. I won't suggest anything, but to have lots of fun and bring me back crap.

shannenigans said...

What are you going to do for 2 days in Tokyo?!

Yer gonna stomp through the streets wearing a Godzilla mask, towering over the natives, yelling "Rawr!!!" Extra style points if you can make sparks shoot from yer mouth.