Having the dorm to myself again I did a little yoga, drank some crap coffee and ate my weetabix mush before heading off to the Edo-Tokyo Museum. An easy twelves stops away from the JR station by my hostel I was 30 minutes later, there, staring up at this huge apocalyptic style building. I suppose any gigantic, grey and black buildings look apocalyptic to me.
Paid ¥600/£4/U$5.50 and took a pretty cool and long escalator up three floors to the entrance. Much more impressive than Hong Kong’s ‘longest escalator in the world’ (a series of short escalators – super handy, but pretty disappointing in terms of a thing to see, or go on. My parents dragged me there on opening day, aged around 12. It broke down.)
Anyway – the museum. You can have your own private guide. I felt this seemed a bit too generous so tried to latch on to someone else’s tour, but their guide enthusiastically smiled and told me ‘yes, yes, free tour, go over there’ and so I was paired with a new guide! After a few minutes I thought perhaps I’d made the wrong decision; I couldn’t walk around in my time, what if she missed things I was interested in, blah blah – but those thoughts were quickly quashed as my wonderful, friendly guide showed me round the exhibits, pointing out things I would have missed, such as these two models of the Samurai residence and the Common people’s street scene being the same scale! Yes, the same scale.
And… answering all my other questions with enthusiasm and generally also having a laugh. When I showed her the romance car picture she couldn’t stop laughing and explained it wasn’t a couples only or dating car, but was a slightly higher priced one with reserved seats!
The museum takes you through Tokyo during the Edo period (1603 – 1868), and then the modernisation of the city, until present day. Its main focus however is on the first; the time of the Shoguns and the Tokugawa family clan rule. At this time Kyoto, in the west was the official capital of Japan. She explained better than I would have picked up from the info boards (they seemed very informative – just easier for me to retain knowledge through questioning and conversation) the hierarchies and how the various populations lived, existed & survived.
Life-sized exhibits showed daily life, in what I was told were very simple and peaceful times. The country was free from civil war, and from meat; only seafood was consumed until the Western influence arrived. Japan was almost entirely isolationist aside from trade with the Dutch and China. And even then, merchants could only trade from one small island in the south.
Though the Samurais lived outside of Edo (now Tokyo,) they each were required to own a residence there and these took up most of the actual land space (see the two models above!) Every… once in a while (I didn’t catch the frequency) they were required to travel in one of these Sedan Chairs (I’m sure they had a different name) to pay their respects to the Shogun. Some say this was done because it cost so much it limited funds for any revolt. Who knows.
In 1853 huge cannon bearing ships arrived from the United States, ready to force open trade with Japan. With inferior military strength they had no choice but to open their borders and the Meiji Restoration period began, leading to enormous changes in Japan’s political and social structure, bringing back Imperial Leadership and modernizing the country industrially. Opinions were divided, some wanting to fight against the West and others keen for change. The museum showed clearly how quickly and drastically these changes happened. Dress was no longer just the traditional kimono, with men opting for a bowl hairstyle over sporting the top knot haircut and there was also a strange emergence of buildings in a Euro-Japanese style, I wasn’t sure what I made of them, but they were definitely interesting. Due to earthquakes and wars the original buildings have not survived, but there were lots of replica models in the museum. Japan already had a good water and sewage system in place but electricity, newer modes of transport and ballroom dancing became commonplace.
There was a lot of information about the arts, including, a large replica of a traditional Kabuki Theatre. I love Japanese block printing and there was a small section on that, and how it influenced famous Western artists such as Van Gogh.
My guide (yes, I cannot remember her name) explained to me a little more about the Japanese language and the similarities and differences between it and the Chinese language and characters; China having a large influence on them. I saw gigantic sushi (as they were originally intended, as street food), lifted things… as I do.
I understood her amusement (bemusement perhaps) at wondering why a balloon bomb, of the 9000 made only 300 were dropped, totalling 6 casualties, in Oregon, USA, took up more exhibit space than the ‘annihilation of Tokyo’
Happy & hungry I made my way to Tokyo station to seek out T’s Tantan vegan ramen restaurant. It’s located inside the station, and after 20 mins of aimlessly walking around I looked for the most hip & English menued looking cafe to ask for directions. They showed me straight away where to go! I was overwhelmed with choice and so just asked the waitress what to eat. And it was delicious.
Originally I wanted to head over to Shibuya to visit the Hatchi the dog statue and Nerds record store, but I needed some outdoor chill time before the show that night. So I got of at Sendagaya Station, and made my way to Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden.
I paid ¥200 entry and wandered through the very dry, but beautiful Shinjuku Gardens.
Laying on the straw-grass I shut my eyes for a bit before closing time, making my way to the exit whilst ‘Auld Lang Syne’ was being played over the loudspeakers. This got me a little teary, reminding me of someone very dear to me I lost a few years ago. Her memory and the sadness still so raw, and I hope it forever will be.
I headed back to the hotel for a quick change before some pre-show French Toast. I’d seen a girl sat next to me eating it the day before and I knew I needed it. As I walked in I thought that the bands I was going to see were sat at the main table. Feeling super shy I looked at the floor, shuffled past, grabbed a seat and then spent the next couple of minutes trying to work out if it was definitely them through the window’s reflection. When they started talking sXe and guitar pedals my mini investigation was case closed, 100% them. I really wanted to say Hi and how much I was looking forward to some hardcore, flying over from Hong Kong for it.. but, the whole awkward solo female traveller got the better of me.
The show was incredible. The venue was really intimate and everyone went off. There were three amazing local bands; Inside, Loyal To The Grave and Numb, followed by Sect and Earth Crisis. (I took almost no photos, and as you can see, the ones I did are pretty shit.)
After the first set and getting my neck smashed by a flailing arm, and my necklace ripped off (found my pendant thankfully, heirloom!) I spent the rest of the show on the stairs with an awesome view of the bands and the pit. I was in my happy happy place. Of course, it being hardcore, a friend of a friend came up to say hello. Ahh this scene!! Despite the dancing being super aggressive, and very impressive (one guy was definitely a ninja, 100%) the vibe was so friendly and when I looked around most of the time the audience was smiling. The frontman of Numb was hysterical. I had no idea what he was saying but everyone was captivated, laughing at everything he said, and I couldn’t help but get caught up giggling away myself.
Utterly wiped from another amazing day I walked home quickly in the rain and snuggled up with a chocolate bar and soy milk in my bunk bed before passing out.
My final morning was lazy. I felt a little tired & fragile from such an active few days so headed to a couple of local shrines for that Magic Torii Shinto Power Up and a walk before heading to the airport.
I passed the vegan place on the way back and saw the bands in there again. I thought I’d like to say how great the show was but felt too self conscious & stupid and walked on… But then I told myself to stop being so dumb, just pop your head in, say thanks, and grab an ice cream for the walk home. So I headed back.. pushed the door open with WAY too much force, scaring the one person sat there eating a burger; they’d gone. So, I walked out, and then remembered I wanted my ice cream.. and went back. Ha ha. Smooth Weeze. At least I’d tried.. and happily walked back with my chocolate brownie ice cream, and a sense of not being so pathetic!
So, Japan. Third time you’ve totally blown away all my expectations with your friendliness, craziness, amazing food and huge sense of fun!! And then.. the buildings, the alleyways, the history & the culture always fascinating. And the Torii’s and their Shrines; the peace they bring me. Even the little ones on busy roads, squashed in between houses, such contentment.
A huge shout out to Lini, Immy, Naomi & Lisa for the enthusiasm & recommendations. And to Ali & May; you know why.