Saturday, 22 September 2007

Tokyo, second impressions

Ginza - very quiet.
I've arrived on a holiday weekend (Autumn Equinox, I think), evidenced last night by some sort of public gathering in Hibiya Park opposite the hotel. This morning, I discovered that it's a 'Bierfest' and I expect it to be running on Saturday as well, but I probably won't check it out.

Very hot and humid on Saturday - unseasonal, they say, but it suits me. After a very decent American Breakfast in the hotel, I took a short walk East. Main railway lines cut through the city North- South on viaducts and I saw a variety of local trains and Shinkansen as I made my way to Ginza. Being Saturday morning, it was surprisingly quiet. Then back to the hotel to meet my guide for the day, a charming Japenese girl called Maiko. We set off on foot North to look at the entrance to the Imperial Palace, set behind a moat in wooded parkland. For the rest of the day we criss-crossed the city on foot and using local trains and various subway lines. Unusually, we came across a subway test train, equipped with multi-channel recorders attended by their young engineers, who looked surprised to be photographed by a foreigner! The one coach had been loaded with huge plastic tanks filled with water, presumably to simulate "crush loading".

We visited the Senso-ji Bhuddist temple in Asakusa in the North of the city. The approach is via a huge covered market selling trinkets, keepsakes and food. This is a joyous and noisy place. Well over 90% of Japanese claim to be Bhuddist, but well over 90% also claim to follow Shinto - most people follow an informal amalgam of both practices. Only around 1% of the population are Christian.

Next, we went to the Meiji Jingu Shinto shrine. It dates only from 1920 and, following the Animist principles of Shinto, is at the centre of peaceful woodland. Although there were lots of people there, it was considerably quieter than Senso-ji. We were lucky to see two young children, in ceremonial dress, being taken by their parents for one of the Shinto rituals that are more usually carried out in November. Near the main shrine, we found three couples attending marriage ceremonies having their wedding photographs taken by some very professional photographers. Whilst the grooms were fairly simply dressed, each bride displayed a different style of very elaborate (and very expensive) wedding dress.

Outside the shrine, we took a light lunch at a very pleasant Italian restaurant and in the streets we found lots of young people in various modern dress styles starting to enjoy the holiday. By subway again, we went to the Tokyo Metropolitan Government building. This is a modern skyscraper with North and South towers, with observatories open to the public (free) on the 45th floors of each tower. Visibility was prety good today.

Finally, we visited the Edo Tokyo Museum, housed in a improbable-looking modern building on stilts next to the Sumo Arena where the championships are just finishing. Inside there's a fascinating collection of artefacts, models and reconstructions detailing the history of Tokyo. This was a fascinating and enlightening tour. By now, it was already dark so Maiko and I returned to my hotel on a series of subway and local trains for a snack before we said goodbye.

Click for pictures of Tokyo

Click for my railway pictures in Japan