Saturday, September 18, 2010

8 Days in Japan Day 7: Little Bit of Column A, Little Bit of Column B...

It's my last full day in Japan, so it's gonna be kinda random as I run around a bit.

Gonna start off the day kicking back to Ueno Park for the Tokyo National Museum which I'm told is high on the list of places to see here. The museum itself is a large complex spread across multiple buildings on the north side of the park - though one is closed for renovations; a euphemism for earthquake proofing around here - and there's a good bit to see here. Starting with the main building, you come across displays on Buddhism, traditional Japanese Arts, and crafting; primarily of the sword, armour smithing, and pottery areas in the later case.

I move on from there to the Hyoeikan building which is home to small galleries of relics from other Asian countries as well as Egypt and the Middle East.

My next stop is The Gallery of Horyuji Treasures where I find a building that could give Toronto lessons in how to do interesting, or at least tranquil, modern architecture. Stop for Brunch here at a fancy sit down restaurant and point order a beef and rice dish that, when it arrives, is probably best described as tasting like Chef Boyardee... only with actual meat and mushrooms in it... oh, and with rice and 3 green pea pods. The gallery itself is home to an archive of relics from the Horyuji Temple, many of which date back 1200-1300 years.

I'll finish up here at the Heseikan gallery where I grab an ice cream from a vending machine and wander through the ancient Japanese relics. Normally there would be a special exhibition here as well, but the museum is currently between hosting events.

Checking my guide, I find a place to get some high point pictures of the city and head off to Shinjuku since that's on the way to Harajuku where I planned to do some shopping later anyways.

About 30 minutes later I find myself at the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Buildings where I'm able to take an elevator the the observatory on the 45th floor of one and grab some pictures of the area.

On a "clear" day it's supposedly possible to see Mt Fuji from here but the summer haze that hovers over most large cities these days whites out the horizon and makes seeing anything in the distance impossible. I considered going out there to do the climb; unfortunately I'd arrived out of season though. Moving on, I get some gift shopping done here; finding a toy Nozomi train for my nephew at one of the large department stores near the train station.

That done, I head off to Harajuku to finish off the rest of my shopping list and find an area quite clearly in transition.

I start off by hitting Takeshita Dori which is full of small shops and brand locations where all the teenagers and young adults - primarily girls - like to hit for the current trends to try and find something neat for my niece. Wandering a bit, I finally come across a bag for her and pick it up. Where you start to get the feeling that things are changing is as you head down the street and get closer to the main cross street back to Omotesando Boulevard. Here, new construction is underway on the street and areas are being cleared for modern buildings as what's happening over there begins migrating it's way here. What's happening there? The big brands, as usual, want to be where the kids are and the entire boulevard is covered in buildings and storefronts that look almost brand new and are slowly turning it into new-Ginza. It wouldn't shock me if I were to return in 10-20 years and, baring economic collapse, find the "cool kids" are somewhere else and this is where the "old folks" are shopping for high end goods.

Wandering the Boulevard I find two things of interest. First, the Oriental Bazaar; a long established home to antiques and crafted japanese goods where I grab a wood carved/hand painted doll for my Grandmother who's into collecting such things. Second place is Omotesando Hills; a boutique mall whose design I wonder just how far would fly here because, instead of distinct levels, the entire interior is built around a central atrium and one long open ended uphill ramp you walk around the edges of to proceed upwards. While there are escalators to take you between landings at one end, part of me wonders just how many people here would whine about how getting around the place was too much work because doing so essentially involves climbing up and down a hill.

The day is coming to an end, so I hop the train back to Tokyo station and purchase my Train Ticket to Narita for tomorrow and begin looking for dinner. It's here where I get a reminder of how not being able to read the language can have it's downside. Seeing what looks like a roast beef dish on the menu at a steak place, I'm about to head into the restaurant when I spot the English menu and find out what caught my eye was beef tongue; which was not really on my short list of things to try...

Instead I move down a place and grab some Tonkatsu - a traditional breaded pork dish - which is really good and I'd recommend to anyone (even if you're half awake and pour green tea on it instead of the sauce).

That done, I hop the train back to my Hotel, pack up for tomorrow, and call it a night.

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