Journey Through Japan

Day 09, 09JAN2017

Tokyo Tourists!

What a Day! Wow.

Our senses are in overdrive after today’s events.

For starters, Josh and I bought a 1000 yen combined subway and metro line pass card. This card, coupled with our JR Pass enabled us to use any mode of train transportation in Tokyo today and saved us each well over $50 in travel costs.

We made our way one station over from our apartment to Senso-Ji Temple. This imposing brilliant red temple and its massive complex spans several blocks and if it hadn’t been raining we most certainly could have spent the entire day there. We disembarked from our train and grabbed a cheap breakfast (seriously cheap! 200 yen for a pizza toast, yogurt and salad!?) and then moved our way through the throngs of people both touring and paying proper homage to the Temple’s center.

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200 Yen Breakfast: Pizza Toast, Yogurt w/ honey and Salad

The first stop was the front gate entrance to the Temple which is imposing in and of itself with a huge lantern hanging in the center. Once you pass through you enter into a long colonnade jam packed with shops selling an assortment of knick-knacks, offerings, hot drinks, touristy souvenirs, and all sorts of foods.

You eventually make your way to the actual Temple. At this point you’re greeted by yet another gate painted in a deep red.

Once you pass through you find your way to a series of wooden shelves and drawers. If you close your eyes you’d wonder what was happening because as soon as you pass through the gate you’re greeted by the sound of jingling. You may think it’s a bunch of bells, but the noise isn’t quite right. Instead of bells it’s metal cylinders containing dozens of bamboo pegs. Attendees shake these cylinders until a bamboo stick falls out of the small hole cut in the top. You then take this bamboo stick and match the number painted on the top to one of the wooden drawers. When you find your drawer you remove the thin sheet of paper to reveal your fortune.

There are great fortunes and then there are very unfortunate fortunes. The rules stipulate that if you receive a bad fortune you are allowed to tie the paper fortune to one of the several wire rungs around the temple complex and so long as you contemplate the warnings and remain humble throughout the day you should be good.

Josh received a good fortune. I, however, did not. Interestingly Josh’s fortune stated “now is a good time to take a trip” whereas my fortune warned “now is not a good time to travel.” Noting the disparity in these fortunes I tied mine to the rungs and immediately set out to be as humble and kind as possible today.

After the fortunes you meander through the complex to a pit where incense is burning. Several attendees were basking in the smoke from the incense – rubbing the smoke into your clothes and skin brings good health. We then walked up the stairs and into the Temple itself. Inside were large golden statues and behind a screen people stood beneath said statues and prayed. Josh and I opted to stay outside the screen and instead did as many Japanese were doing: tossed a coin into a well and bowed.

Before returning to the subway station Josh and I pulled ourselves out of the rain and crammed into a corner stall where a happy older lady sold us steamed pork buns.

Our next stop today was the National War Museum which is a part of the Yushu-Kan Shrine complex. The Shrine itself is a monument to all Japanese military members who died in battle. Seeing this form of reverence for those who’ve given their lives in sacrifice to their Nation was significant. Each year the names of those who have died are recorded in beautiful calligraphy and maintained somewhere on the premise. A ceremony is also conducted, although, I admit, the details of which were lost in translation.

Before entering the Shrine Complex Josh and I washed ourselves in the ritualistic way (as depicted in drawn photos – definitely trying to be as respectful as possible!). You walk to a large vat of water and with the ladle in your right hand first pour water in your left hand then drink from this hand, rinse your mouth, and then finally move the ladle to your left hand and rinse your right hand.

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When we entered the complex two gentlemen on a large dark-wood stage were performing a stylized dance with swords. We watched this act for a short while before entering the actual museum.

The museum was a two-story complex packed with great visual diagrams and artifacts. The story begins with the history of warfare at the beginning of Japan and quickly progresses through the unification of the islands and samurai. The remaining majority of the museum is dedicated to the Meiji Restoration Period – post 1860s and hence post interaction with the Western World.

Wars, military development and colonial battles are covered in chronological order. Not all elements or segments had English translations and so Josh and I didn’t quite understand everything, but the jist was clear. Japanese military modernization began during the Meiji period, consultants were sent to Europe and the Americas to observe our militaries and then these practices were adopted in the Meiji period. Japan was a significant Imperial Power in the 1800s, akin to Europe at the time, and they had several colonies throughout the Pacific and Asia. Their military success ensured, essentially, Imperial success and the military class was looked upon with great pride.

The museum does, in my opinion, a great service to the Japanese military. However there are a few nuances both Josh and I found obscure. For instance, Japan’s colonization of China between the two World Wars is certainly covered in depth, nearly three rooms alone were devoted to explaining Japan’s military prowess during this time. However, as many of you may know, Japan committed quite a few, what would be considered atrocities, during this time – namely, in Nanking. Taking this incident for example, the museum had a six-lined paragraph wherein they explained the Chinese up risers caused undue stress during this incident and once the Chinese surrendered, the Chinese were “prosecuted harshly.” There’s a possibility “murdered” was lost in translation, but something tells me this was intentionally translated as such.

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The Yushu-Kan Shrine, Ready for the New Year – the year of the Rooster

After the museum, Josh and I caught the subway yet again for Harajuku. This was where the traditional and serene portion of our day ended, and sensory overload commenced. Harajuku, made famous perhaps by Gwen Stefani’s song “Harajuku Girls” is specifically centered along Takeshita-Dori Street. This street is laden with “cutesy” stores, sweet shops selling pastries, ice cream and an absurd amount of crepes. This street is also filled with shops where the cos-play or Harajuku teens buy outlandish and specific outfits. The fashion on this street is crazy and very diverse.

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Josh and I stopped into a Cat Café, which is exactly as it sounds: a café with cats. We checked into the place and were provided pink and white cat ears to wear. The café was stylized after Alice in Wonderland with “Mad Hatter’s Library,” the “Queen of Heart’s Rose Garden,” and Cheshire Cat’s Forest. The cats here were actually all kittens and I’m guessing of the micro-kitten sort. Each kitten was absolutely adorable, and the café sold cat treats (lollipops) made of frozen pureed fish, so naturally all the kittens wanted to cuddle with you if it meant they could eat the treats. We spent a good thirty minutes in this mecca for cute strangeness and then wandered back to the train station.

Getting off in Shinjuku Josh and I attended quite possibly the most bizarre act on earth: the Robot Restaurant.

I am still reeling from the hyper-sensory experience this cabaret-like show induced. At first you enter a storefront ablaze with lights rivaling Vegas casinos. You then enter a waiting room full of gold and gem stones with EDM punching through the stereos. Once the call to seats is made you travel down what felt like an endless flight of stairs to the underground stage.

Once seated you can view a never-ending series of CGI TV shows. Unfortunately the CGI is circa Windows 95, but the oddness of the screensaver-like shows is entertaining nonetheless. Think of tie-died turtles with wings flying underwater past schools of leopard printed fish and sharks. It was strange.

The show begins with a parade of colorful characters, dancers, musicians, all weaving their way through robots – everything takes place right in front of you on a central stage. Its hard to explain what happened in the show, or what the show was even about. In a quick synopsis I believe we were first greeted by the inhabitants of a forest and underwater world living in harmony.

In the second scene robots arrive from outer space to upset these creatures. The third scene involves pyrotechnics and all sorts of battle scenes between the two sides.

There’s a dance number in the dark with men covered in lights dancing to Michael Jackson songs (not sure how that fit into the show).

Then the final scene where the creatures come out, successful from their battles with the robots, dancing a la Carnival in Brazil. Weird.

After the Robot Restaurant we traveled back to Harajuku via subway. We made a pit stop at the Tokyo Station and tried a Hokkaido pastry stuffed with cream.

Once in Harajuku we also shared a chocolate-banana-custard crepe and grabbed dinner.

We chose a food court in one of the several cutesy malls for dinner – and boy did it not disappoint. It just so happened that a J-Pop Boyband, Rush300, were performing at the food court. The boys, their hair died in various shades of orange and brown, danced and sung to a crowd of cooing and overexcited teen girls who knew all the words to their songs and danced along with their glow sticks. It was entertainment overload.

Needless to say our day today was exciting and full of unexpected experiences. We retired to our AirBnB and attempted to calm down from the high of sensory overload and go to bed… tomorrow is Disney Sea!

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