Tokyo Day 2

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Flag of Japan  , Kanto,
Saturday, July 3, 2010

Yesterday morning – our second full day in Tokyo – was very rainy, so we went to the Museum of Western Art (Tina's pick, for the Impressionists) and the Tokyo National Museum (my choice.) Both were excellent.  At the MWA I saw a bronze cast of Rodin's "the Thinker."  I parked myself in front of a mesmerizing painting called "Mater Dolorosa" by Carlo Dolci that blew me away.  Mater’s blue velvet cloak was so lush looking and the painting itself was so realistic that when I stared at it for awhile, I half expected her to turn her head and look at me. 

The TNM encompassed all of the Japanese art I wanted to see.  Ancient terra cotta figures, lacquer ware, masks, Kabuki/Noh costumes, Samurai swords and armor, Buddhas, etc.  The museum is huge, but not overwhelming due to a logical layout and clearly-labeled exhibits.  There is also a serene atmosphere to the whole place.  Comfy leather armchairs offered me a perfect place to relax and absorb the tranquil views of the gardens outside the windows.  Heaven!

Lacquerware with Mother of PearlDogu (Clay Figurine) 1000-400 B.C.Samurai Armor

Once the rain let up, we followed a wooded path through several huge, traditional wooden torii gates, past a gigantic display of donated sake barrels, to the Meiji Jingu Shrine (Shinto).  The shrine was named for Emperor Meiji, who is credited with transforming Japan from a feudal shogunate into its modern state as a world power. 


The Shrine’s style was more rustic and serene than that of the Sensoji Temple, with the muted-colored buildings forming a giant square with a courtyard in the middle.    I paid to drop a paper prayer into a box, and also read some of the thousands of wooden prayer plaques posted on the multi-faced board around a tree.  It struck me that everyone had requested the same things – health, happiness and maybe some wealth for themselves and their families.

Leaving the temple we pulled a complete 180, both literally and figuratively, as we headed to the Harajuku district.  The famously tacky Takeshita-dori street was pulsing with the energy of thousands of Japanese teenagers dressed up like it was Halloween in outlandish costumes like frilly pastel Little Bo Peep and French maid dresses.  The shops lining the street sold everything that crowd would want.  Unfortunately, we weren’t allowed to take pictures of any of the shop windows, but they were an explosion of pastel and bright colors, ruffled skirts and feather boas.  The street was perfumed with the delicious smells of crepes smothered in whipped cream, ice cream, fruit, chocolate and even cheesecake, which were sold in carts every few blocks.

Leaving the Harajuku district, we purposely visited Shinjuku Station, Tokyo’s busiest subway station, at rush hour, just to watch the madness.  Three to four million people pass through this place every day.  Professional, white-gloved “people pushers” mash the maximum amount of riders into subway cars during rush hour.  I guess Japanese riders are too polite to push you through the doors themselves.  Despite the crowds, public transportation is a quieter experience here because the use of cell phones and noisy headphones is strongly discouraged.  What’s more, the average Japanese person is so small and conscious of manners that your seatmate rarely touches you and I was never jostled once in a subway station. 

The grand finale of our night was Shibuya, reputed to be the Times Square of Tokyo for its crowds and flashing neon advertisements on the sides of buildings.  Basically, we found a good place to stand and watch the crowds down below on the streets.  All of the crosswalks flashed the walk sign at the same time and people would cross horizontally, vertically and diagonally all at once.

I’ve observed some interesting cultural differences here. 
- There are hard synthetic beans on one side of the pillows in our hotel.  For stability?  If you accidentally thump your head down on that side of the pillow it hurts! 
- Bowing is common, not just a stereotype, and I’ve found myself unconsciously dipping into a bow in return.  It’s exciting to fulfill one of my most important travel goals – to connect with people who live here in their own (body) language. 
- Rather than handing money directly to cashiers, stores have little plastic baskets for placing money and receiving change.  Maybe this is irrational, but it somehow seems more sanitary this way. 
- Sars masks?  I’ve seen a good number of people wearing paper masks over their nose and mouth. 
- Every bathroom I’ve visited so far, except one, has had Western-style toilets, rather than the squat-over-the-hole types I feared we’d encounter.  Some toilets I’ve found are actually more high-tech here than in the U.S.  They make flushing water noises when you sit down on them for audio privacy and have electric paper seats that change with each person. 
- Both men and women use pretty paper folding fans to stay cool.  They aren’t just souvenirs. 

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