July 19, 2008

Day One: Ueno Park/AmeYoko Shopping Street

We got into Tokyo mid-morning last Friday for a last hoo-ra before Matt left for a looooooooooooong trip. After checking in, we had only a few hours before our dinner plans so we decided to knock out Ueno Park, basically the area of Japan with a cluster of museums. Our afternoon began here, at the National Museum of Western Art. There were a few Rodin sculptures in the courtyard, and a few lesser-known pieces by some Impressionists inside. We couldn've easily skipped this museum. The only notables were a few Monet's. It's fun just to stroll around the park. It's pretty big and has lots of sights for adults and kids.

The two photos above are of a Toshogu Shrine in Ueno Park. It featured a gazillion bronze and stone lanterns (including the third largest one in Japan nick-named "Monster Lantern," donated by warlords or something like that. There's a nice peace monument here with a flame that was carried from either Nagasaki or Hiroshima plus lots of moss covered, crumbling structures.

This famous street started up as a blackmarket American goods area after WWII. That's the JR train line that runs above. Ueno station is nearby. It's spread out considerably since the 50's but you can see still remnants of its past. The name Ameyoko comes from "ame" for sweets and "yoko" for alley. There are still shops that sell all sorts of traditional Japanese treats but there are a lot of cheap clothing and fish markets here too. This is a great place to stock up on omiyage, or souvenirs to bring back to your colleagues and friends.

Day Two:
Tsukiji Fish Market
Tsukiji Fish Market was pretty dead when we arrived. It was upper eighties, extremely humid and I instantly regretted making the trek across Tokyo to get here. Stepping over fish blood and guts and dodging the occasional mini-truck hauling sealife carcuses, we breezed through and found ourselves by a demonstration of close to one thousand people. Apprently, there is talk of moving the market location which they oppose. Above is a traditional curtain advertising what the shop inside has for sale. And holy crap! Check out the size of those muscles!!!! Being total idiots, we stuffed ourselves with lunch before we got to Tsukiji, so we couldn't take advantage of the fresh restaurants steps from the market. I'm a foodie, but I think this place is for hard-core tourists...

Senkakuji Temple
The above picture was the most powerful thing I saw at the temple. This temple is so full of history but it's very modest, sorta modestly located in a neighborhood area near Shinagawa station that you could easily walk past it. But the story of "the 47 Ronin" whom are buried here is what draws people to visit. Every morning, incense is put at each gravesite and visitors do the same all day, every day. Here's a link to a short version of the story and I recommend you read it if you aren't familiar. Above is the well (covered with a metal net) in which the loyal Ronin washed Kira's head before presenting it on their master's grave. This gentleman has a great page with lots of photos including the festival on the same day that the Ronin avenged their master's death, December 14. Enough with the history, it's time for beer!!!

Ebisu Garden Place & Beer Museum
This place is pretty cool. Named after a quality beer made by Sapporo, the Ebisu Garden Place is a open-air mall-type structure with a few restaruants, shops, Sapporo Beer Headquarters and a Beer Museum. In the museum, you can see some cool vintage labels and retro factory fixtures, (seafoam green anyone?) and sample Sapporo beers for inexpensive prices.
Vintage ads were on display from 1910-2008. Of course I bought a print! I can't to frame our 1920's era ad of three women in kimonos clinking glasses of beer!
They had some vintage signs from when the Beer Museum was a beer factory. Also, there were some great Occupation photos of a beer hall where service members were sitting around drinking beer, probably right near this sign! Unfortunately, the cool retro photos were in a "no photography zone," so I didn't snap 'em.

Now, back the air conditioned hotel please.....

Tokyo, Japan

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