Skip to content

August 7, 2016 Yoyogi Park, Takeshita-Dori, Togo shrine

image
What better way to start off a toasty Sunday with a stroll through Yoyogi Park? Loved the shady expanses, water fountains, benches, rest rooms…
image
…and the dog run.
image
image
More Japan weird. These guys have been dressing like something out of Grease and dancing at the park entrance for years.  We waited a while for them to do their thing, but they were on a different schedule.
image
Taping up some well-worn brogans.
image
Our real reason to be here was to stroll down Takeshita-Dori, a magnet for the hip and cool youth.  If it looks crowded, it is. And it’s hot.
image
A live video feed at the top of the street. We’re over to the right somewhere.
image
Many were the consumer goods.

image

image

image

image

image

image
And so onward to Omotesando…
image
…where we came upon the Togo shrine, dedicated to Admiral Heihachiro Togo, who in 1905 destroyed the Russian Baltic Fleet in the Russo-Japanese War. He was the first Asian to conquer a western adversary, for which he is revered in Japan to this day.
image
Couldn’t resist this.

Advertisements

August 6, 2016 Akihabara, Ochanomizu

image

Today we went to Akibahara, the consumer electronics center of Tokyo.

image
The place is nuts. As someone else said, when he heard that Tokyo Disneyland was planning construction, “What for? Tokyo is already Disneyland.” Amen.

image
Otherwise, knock yourself out.
image

image

image
Besides consumer electronics, there’s a section for makers – tools, meters, components, cable, micro soldering irons, etc.
image

image

image
We wrapped up our Akihabara visit with a stop at the notoriously huge  Yodobashi Camera store. Eight floors (nine if you count the admin offices) chock full of computers, smart phones, games, appliances, plus books, clothes, a giant food court, and more. Like a department store with the first five floors devoted to stuff you plug in or charge up.
image
No, except for the little critter above, I didn’t take photos inside the store. Some places it’s allowed, some not, and I’ll pass on the hassle.
image
After Akihabara, we moved on to Ochanomizu, which I had read was a musical instrument district. Perhaps ‘district’ is a little grand for a short street in a quiet, pretty section of the city, but the street is indeed crammed with instruments, mostly of the guitar variety. Herewith, a few pics…
image

image

image
Yeah, a CD player. NFS.
image
Dream on, pickers.

August 5, 2016 Imperial Hotel, Beer Lion, Cold Tea

image

Today we went to the Imperial Hotel, just to see it, and to see how much of Frank Lloyd Wright is still around.
image

A model of Wright’s building in the mezzanine.  It’s famous for surviving the 1923 earthquake, but eventually the years took their toll and it was demolished in 1968. As much as possible of the structure was saved and it was recreated in Nagoya.

image

A clock in the mezzanine.

image image image image

Some Wright design motifs around the hotel.

image

image

We happened to notice that the hotel’s Old Bar was opening in a few minutes, and we decided to have drinks there as, you know, a tribute to Mr. Wright. Although the cocktails were rather pricey, about halfway through my Bourbon Lemon Squash it occurred to me that perhaps we could just sit there, run up our biggest personal bar tab ever and slosh our way deliriously back to our Ikebukuro digs.

image

Comparatively cooler heads prevailed, tho, and we left to take lunch at the nearby Beer Lion, built in the 1930s and still wildly popular.

image

Check this out for more background:

https://ginza.kokosil.net/en/place/00001c0000000000000200000016adc7

 

image

After lunch Peggy had a tea ceremony scheduled at the Mitsukoshi department store in the Ginza. During the ceremony I meandered through the 7th floor, where I found a promotion for, well, Snoopy. I’ve gotten used to odd and amazing things in Japan, but the leap from comic strip to  gargantuan commercial behemoth mystifies.

image

I caught up with Peggy at the end of the tea ceremony, which was performed with cold tea.

August 4 – Meiji Jingu, Omotesando, Shibuya

image
Harajuku station.
image
The gate to Meiji Jingu shrine. The shrine is in honor of Emperor Meiji, who oversaw the transformation of Japan from a feudal society into the beginnings of modern Japan.
image
image
The shrine and the gate to the shrine site, which is under restoration but covered by a very good image of same.
image
From the shrine we begin our walk down Omotesando-dori, the street that connects Harajuku to Omotesando. It is lined with many expensive shops, and occupied with lots of people. The weather is hot.
imageThe entrance to Omotosando Hills shopping complex. This looks better as a movie, with the mirrors surrounding the escalator reflecting the journey of its inhabitants.
imageimageimage
A Lucite(?) piano at the Kawai store, which sells pianos, sheet music, and lots of musiciana.
image
Coach luggage’s theme of the moment is Mickey.
imageimageimage
Aoyama-dori, Omotesando’s main street, crosses Omotesando-dori, and here we paused for refreshment. Kirin Beer has set up an open-air watering hole for the summer, where tourists and workers can stop for a brew and some Japanese pub grub. Now we’re off to Shibuya.
imageimage
Before and After at the famous Shibuya Crossing. Amazing, and again much better as a movie. Read about it here:

http://content.time.com/time/travel/cityguide/article/0,31489,1897812_1897772_1897742,00.html

image
Tower Records, long gone from the rest of the world, is alive and well in Japan, with 85 locations at last count. I thought I had died and gone to heaven.
image
You know them, right?
image
Girls standing in line to get boy-band Madtown’s latest CD autographed.
image
Girl bands on display too. Nite nite.

Tokyo 2016

Wednesday, August 3
The view outside our dining-area window, looking east. Tokyo’s enormous sprawl can only be comprehended through direct experience, and nothing we have seen in America or Europe is remotely comparable, yet throughout the city there are parks and gardens devoted to nature and a respite from the incessant gray of its urban superstructure, and this is repeated in the tiny backyards of every urban neighborhood.We decided to start our first day in Tokyo at Asakusa’s Sensoji temple, the oldest in Tokyo. I might add that August, with its 90+ daily temperatures, is perhaps not the most accommodating time to visit, but that didn’t deter us or the thousands of our fellow tourists.

Almost as famous as the temple is the Kaminarimon Gate with its giant lantern.

Looking back to the gate from the temple.

The temple with its enormous incense burner.After seeing the temple, we walked over to the Sumida River for a view of the Sky Tree, at 634 meters the world’s tallest freestanding broadcasting tower. Maybe we’ll get up there later in our trip.The Sumida River, flowing south into Tokyo Bay.The day ends, and before we head back to our apaato, we touch base on the Ginza, including a stop at the Sony Building, where as-yet-to-be-released are available for hands-on experience.

Osaka

IMG_7914

Okay, more on this guy later.

IMG_8727

The Osaka train station. Really big.

First thing we did when we got to Osaka was turn around and go back to Kobe to scout out sake distilleries. This turned out to be a bust because we would have had to book a week in advance, and the tours are only on certain days.

We did get to the Sake Museum, and it was worth seeing. There was a movie about the sake brewing process, which was quite complicated, and an on-site replica of a typical sake distillery.

IMG_7902

New sake barrels

IMG_7900

IMG_7901

Admission was free, and we took our time with the exhibits. True to the apparently universal museum model, we exited through the store, and sampled several of the brands on display, but didn’t buy any, concerned, I suppose, about lugging a bottle of booze around the country.

Peggy wanted to buy a traditional woodblock print, and we were told the shop was near Kiddieland, which is a store devoted entirely to plush toys, barettes, anime heroes, etc. We both were so knocked out that we took way more pix than we knew, including the bad boy up at the top of this post.

IMG_7921

IMG_7922

Tower Records, sad to say, is no more in the U.S.A, but it’s alive and well in Japan. There’s a fascinating (to me) documentary, All Things Must Pass, about the rise and fall of the store, and how a Japanese company bought the rights to the name. There are 85 stores in Japan. I bought a jazz CD and a T-shirt here.

IMG_7909

There is surely more to Osaka than we saw, but it doesn’t seem to have the kind of tourist-friendly attractions that we found elsewhere. So off we go…

IMG_7929

On the road to Kanazawa.

Okayama, Naoshima, Korakuen

Okayama. Heard of it? Me neither, but it’s the jumping-off point for Naoshima, the Art Island; and the home of Korakuen, one of Japan’s three most beautiful gardens.

   
We stay at the Hotel Maira, a short walk from Okayama Station. It overlooks a canal running down through the city, a tributary of the Asahi River, that wraps around the west side of Korakuen, about which more later. The tree-lined canal acts as an urban park that reminded us of Amsterdam.

 
Our little room was clean and modern and comfortable. We’d happily recommend it to anyone traveling there.

After kicking back for a few we went out to see the neighborhood.

   
 
Okayama Castle and Korakuen at night.

We read about a chicken-and-noodles restaurant, Tori Soba, that sounded interesting, but I couldn’t locate it, even with my newly hard-earned Japanese skills. Peggy kept saying, “Why don’t you just ask someone?” Women.

So we kept passing this little joint where people were cooking their meals on charcoal braziers, and there was all this great-smelling smoke coming out the door, and we were starving…

   
 I might note that once one gets out of the big cities and away from traditional tourist venues such as hotels, finding an English speaker is not a sure bet. And indeed, such was the case. After a few awkward moments and a lot of menu-item-pointing, we settled on chicken and vegetables, which were delivered  along with individual braziers.

I won’t dwell on my pathetic chopstick technique, which prompted a waiter, God bless him, to deliver a pair of tongs to my plate, or the peculiar propensity of raw chicken to cling like glue to a hot grill. Eventually, with patience and lots of Asahi Super Dry beer, we had one of our better meals in Japan. We might even try it again, at home, in private.

 
The canal at night.

Tuesday, September 29

Today we arose early and hit the road for Naoshima.

  
Out of the city.

A train took us to the seaside town of Uno, where we boarded the ferry for Naoshima.

   
   

 Islands on the Seto Inland Sea.

  Peggy inside one of Yayoi Kusama’s two pumpkins on the island.

The four art sites are spread around the island, and free shuttle buses take people from one place to another. It’s possible to walk, though, and after seeing the Chi Chu museum, we did.

Here’s a good source of information, along with pictures of the art on display. Which is good, since photography inside the museums is forbidden:

http://www.benesse-artsite.jp/en/naoshima/
After buying our tickets to Chi Chu, we trekked up the road to the museum, stopping along the way to see a water lily garden modeled on Monet’s. (A room in the museum is dedicated to five of his water lily paintings, the only nod to an older-generation European artist we saw on the island.)

   
    

 

The  Chi ChuMuseum is dug into a hillside in such a manner that the rooms can be lit by sunlight from holes cut into the hilltop a few feet above.  That’s neat. What’s not so neat is having to tell instead of show. Here’s a list of what we saw:

Claude Monet – five water lily paintings

James Turrell -Afrum, pale blue,  Open field, Open sky

Walter de Maria – Seen, Unseen  Known, unknown

You can get some semblance of these, I hope, from the link above. I’d like to mention the de Maria piece – you see the picture, a big stone ball in a room with stair steps, and you may think Interesting, but it’s another thing to be in that room.

James Turrell I’ve kinda followed ever since I read about Roden Crater, his as-yet-unfinished earthmoving transformation of a meteor crater in the Arizona desert.  A lot of his work involves creating environments to see sunlight in a new way. Please look him up. We had seen the Afrum and Open Field pieces at LACMA,but Open Sky was new. There’s bench seating in a square room with a large square hole cut into the ceiling, but the hole is cut with a bevel so that you see the sky as a ceiling, and you are surprised when a bird flies across.

After Chichu, which is at the top of the mound of Naoshima, we decided to walk down to the next site, the Lee Ufang Museum.

  

A wall of ferns along the road.

  
Down the road a  bit, we came to the Lee Ufan Museum. Designed, like many other buildings on the island, by the Pritzker-prize-winning architect Tadao Ando, it’s almost all concrete, but a perfect setting for Mr. Ufan’s work. We were impressed by that work, but felt that what little was exhibited might have merited a somewhat more modest ticket price. Thus have I spoken.

  
A courtyard piece.  

  
 
Ocean shots from the Ufan Museum and the road leading to the Benesse House Museum. Turns out that the two boats above were actually part of a corresponding installation in the Benesse House by Jennifer Bartlett.
  
Our last stop on the island was the Benesse House Museum. This was more like a conventional art museum, with paintings and sculpture by Hockney, Johns, Frank Stella, several installations, and a colorful neon piece by Richard Prince.

  
Then it was back on the ferry, back on the train, back to Okayama and call it a day.

Wednesday, September 30

   
Today we checked out of Hotel Maira, leaving our bags in the luggage room while we went to see Korakuen Park.
 
Okayama Castle, at the south end of the park. We entered from here.

  
  
 
The charm of Korakuen is immediate. Above, an overview, looking north.

   
 
The garden has an Honest-to-God rice paddy…

   
…and a miniature tea plantation.
 
The castle overlooks a teahouse on the park lake, one of several Chinese influences on the garden.

  
  
A waterwheel, and an old guesthouse in the park.

At this point we left the park, in search of lunch.

   
With the help of a hotel employee, we finally found the elusive Tori Soba. Glad we did.
  
Japanese graffiti.
 
Now, off to catch the train to Osaka…