With wood block prints to
start our day we wonder what
else will come our way?
After the exhaustion of the last two days we decided on a quietly cultured vacation day. But before we start in on that let’s just share some of the Joys of Japan.
- Jazz is alive and well and is the music of choice in most shops, restaurants, coffee shops and bars. It’s usually easy grooving West Coast style jazz and it’s so much less intrusive than relentless pop.
- Manners in the main are what we miss in the UK. They are not all perfect – nobody offered us oldies a seat on the metro but in general people are friendly, helpful and polite.
- Heated loo seats – Dee was so delighted with her first experience of the high tech loo off the hotel lobby, she insisted I go check it out. This one was brilliant and we’ve now found many others are accompanied by control panels fit for the SS Enterprise that will pre-sterilize the seat, add pleasant odours and wash various parts of your lower body on request – but the best is sitting down on a warm seat.
We have some framed reproductions of Hokusai’s 36 views of Mount Fuji in our hall at home and are both fans of these delicate, funny and sometimes outrageous wood block prints known as ukiyo-e which were produced as popular art from the mid seventeenth to the early twentieth century. There’s a museum devoted to them in Harajuku which we visited where there was a fascinating exhibition of prints depicting women’s fashions, hair and make-up styles. Who knew the green lower lip was so desirable! There was also a great display which showed the process of making Hokusai’s The Wave an image I guess most people are familiar with. As we left there was a spattering of rain and our eyes were drawn to a line of brightly-hued umbrellas.These were office workers queuing at Harajuku’s trendiest popcorn store to buy popcorn for their lunch! We passed on the opportunity – few things are worth waiting that long for. So we then walked over to the Meiji Park through a little drizzle to the Meiji Shrine in which the immortal souls of Emperor Meiji and Empress Shoken are preserved in Shinto honour. They were largely responsible for making Japan a modern nation in touch with the rest of the world. It’s such a place of pilgrimage that it was rebuilt from funds raised by public subscription after the war which destroyed it. The Japan Sake Manufacturers also donate these huge barrels of sake each year as a mark of respect. It’s a place of quiet, serious contemplation in the busy city and is clearly valued by many as a place to spend time in, not just somewhere to tick off on the “Let’s do Tokyo Tour”
We had been pretty pleased with ourselves for mastering the Metro to get to the museum but our next trip after a quick lunch involved working out the best route right across the city. We had to find the right entrance to the line we needed and then change midway. The subway is easy to use and a great way of getting quickly around the huge metropolis that is Tokyo. We ended up in Asakusa where I thought I might have bought my etchings but as it transpired no likely shops were spied and the search goes on. However Asakusa has an amazing shopping thoroughfare leading to the Kannon Temple, as it was called in 1981 when I visited but now known as the Senso-ji. Buddhist rather than Shinto the visitors are more expressive with cleansing and incense wafting rituals to be performed before approaching the temple. We captured a few of them…
… and Dee captured Mike still seeking Murakami.
We again attracted the attention and advice of an elderly gent entirely self-taught and fluent in English – from self-help books and listening to the BBC World Service – note to the new regime at Broadcasting House! He was sorry the cherry blossom had been so early this year but thought we might catch some near Mount Fuji tomorrow and told us about the different varieties with their varying shades from almost white to deepest pink. We then strolled around some artisan jewellers, ceramicists – no stand yet Mike but we’re looking – and fabulous fan and fabric stores before getting the subway to the heart of Tokyo shopping – Ginza. Mitsukoshi department store had a marvellous roof garden on the ninth floor overlooking the street where we enjoyed a green plum and, separately, black sesame icecream. We’ve all seen the pictures of Ginza crossing but it is really incredible to see the sheer number of people late into the evening who descend onto and beneath this world-famous street. Again in the interests of finding Murakami’s Japan we had to visit the subterranean bars that lead from Ginza to Shinbashi where so many people and some of his characters seem to finish off their working day. Ours ended with a visit to – oh come off it! – a tapas bar just off the Ginza with Basque pintxos and Rioja. Then the subway back to the hotel to write. Oh and we ordered and printed out our baseball ticket for next moth in the local convenience store on the way- what a service!
An early night is needed as we have a six a m alarm set to be the first to buy the new Murakami tomorrow.