The Edo-Tokyo Museum

The Edo-Tokyo Museum in the Ryogoku district of Tokyo is a museum that details the history and culture of Tokyo during the Edo period.  The museum is in a multi-level building with a very interesting structure.  The main entrance is up that red escalator on the left.

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One of the first things you see after entering the museum is a life-sized replica of the Nihonbashi, the bridge which has crossed the Nihonbashi river since the 17th century.  The first wooden bridge was constructed in 1603.  The Nihonbashi was rebuilt with stone and a steel frame in 1911.

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Looking over the rail of the bridge, you can see a life-sized replica of an old Newspaper office.  You can get on the seat of the penny farthing, the bike with a giant front wheel.  It doesn’t go anywhere, however, which was very disappointing.

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On the far side of the bridge is an area with models of castles and other buidings from the Edo period.

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I didn’t take very good notes as to what the models represented, but they’re incredibly detailed.  They reminded me a lot of Miniatur Wunderland in Hamburg.

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Look, a tiny palace!

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The detail on these buildings and courtyards is extraordinary.

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This demonstration involves lifting heavy buckets on a pole.  However, the metal guides prevent you from lifting them too far, which makes it even more awkward.  I tried this, and it made a terrible noise when I extended the ropes too far.

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Boats! Boats! Boats!

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I deeply regret not taking the time to photograph the placards that explain what these items are.  It’s been four months already since I left Japan, and the best I can come up with now is, “ooh, tiny Japanese people!”

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Royalty may get a comfortable seat, but I can’t help but think the whole contraption would be faster if it were a little bit less ornate.

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Some sections of the museum covered more recent times.  I thought the Subaru 360 was kind of neat.

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The 2-door rear-engine 360 was Subaru’s first production automobile.  It was manufactured from 1958 to 1971.

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The next two pictures are a scale model of a type of hot air balloon bomb that was sent out by Japan during World War II.  The Fire Balloon (fūsen bakudan) was a hydrogen balloon with a variety of bombs and incendiary devices attached.  Used in conjunction with the Pacific jet stream, the Fire Balloon was the first device to have intercontinental range.

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Between 1944 and 1945, the Japanese Navy launched over 9,000 fire balloons toward North America.  About three hundred were confirmed to have reached the United States and Canada, but most of them caused little or no damage.  Six people (five children and a woman) became the only deaths due to enemy action to occur on mainland America during World War II.  One of the Fire Balloons landed near Bly, Oregon, and one of the children triggered the bomb.   The site where this happened is marked by a stone munment in the Mitchell Recreation Area in the Fremont-Winema National Forest.  The Canadian War Museum, in Ottawa, Ontario, has a full, intact balloon on display.

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This is a Model T used as a taxi in old Tokyo.

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This is a replica of  the Ryōunkaku, Japan’s first western-style skyscraper. It stood in the Asakusa district of Tokyo from 1890 until the Great Kanto earthquake of 1923.  The earthquake destroyed the upper floors, and the tower was so severely damaged that it had to be demolished.

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This sign shows how the tower looked after the earthquake, and details the subsequent demolition of the tower.

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The Boodo Khan is one of Sony’s earliest audio systems.  The Boodo Khan name was also applied to early Walkman models, but this is a component system for home audio.  Collectors and audiophiles still rave about the audio quality on these boxes.

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This is a very pretty phone booth.  I think it looks a little bit like a lighthouse.

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Have you ever been to the Edo-Tokyo Museum?

Akihabara and a Cat Cafe

Meanwhile, back in Japan…  Akihabara’s Electric City is an amazing place.  It is home to thousands of shops selling electronic gadgets, video games, anime and manga stuff, and more.

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When I first day in Tokyo, I went along with my colleague to Akihabara because he went there for souvenir shopping- there are tax and duty free shops near the main rail station for the area that are full of nifty things to bring home at reasonable prices.

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If you’re not sure that you’re in Akihabara, just look around.  Even the soda vending machines are decked out in Otaku themes.

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This vehicle was playing Japanese pop music very loudly as it passed by on the main street.  This is very typically Akihabara.

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One of the reasons that we went to Akihabara on that first day was that I had expressed curiosity about the local version of Denny’s.

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Based on the menu, I would say that Japanese Denny’s is Denny’s in name only.  However, their french toast was deliciously superior to anything I’ve had in the States.  Your mileage may vary.

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Another great thing that I enjoyed in Akihabara is a cat cafe called Neko Jalala.  The cafe is a short walk from the main Akihabara rail station, and it’s pretty easy to spot despite the nondescript brown wooden sliding door.

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Once you step inside the first door, you remove your shoes and put them in a cubby.  Next, you pay an entrance fee.  I paid for thirty minutes inside.  This little fuzzball was my favorite of the cats inside.

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There were about fifteen cats inside.  A binder was presented to me which detailed the names, ages, and personalities of each of the felines, along with a few photographs for easy identification.

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I also paid a small fee for a cup of cat treats.  This gentleman has a cup of treats in his hand, hence all the attention.

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As you can see, the cats all come out for treats.  They are most insistent.

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This kitty was one of two that spent time using me as a feeder.

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The other one was all stripey!  Since this is also an actual cafe, you can have a tasty cold beverage while you’re inside.  I selected apple juice, but their coffee drinks also looked delicious.

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During my afternoon visit, many of the cats were sleeping or just sitting around attentively.  Very few were active.

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The sleeping hideaways were tucked in every nook and cranny.

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This cat is the only one that seemed to be in a playful mood.

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The little plush cat-car is fantastic.

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This grumpy looking fellow was napping while I was in the cafe.

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Skritch skritch skritch!

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This tiny little girl was the sweetest cat.

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Just before I left, she deigned to allow me to pet her a tiny bit.

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Have you ever been to Akihabara?  Have you ever visited a Cat Cafe?

Sanja Matsuri at Senso-ji

On the 16th of May, the first full Saturday after my arrival to Japan, I traveled to Asakusa to see the famed temple Senso-ji.    Founded in the year 645, Senso-ji is Tokyo’s oldest Buddhist temple.  I arrived to Asakusa expecting to find a serene place for contemplation, and stumbled right into the middle of Sanja Matsuri, one of Tokyo’s biggest festivals.   I noticed right away that the streets were blocked off to vehicles, but I didn’t know yet that this was unusual.

I was following the little map robot on my phone, and it told me to walk down this street.  I only got about ten paces in before I turned back to go a less crowded way.   What I didn’t know until later was that this covered walkway is the Nakamise arcade, a popular covered breezeway full of shops and restaurants.

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Every street I walked down while in Asakusa was lined in lanterns for the festival.  At this point in the day, I still had no idea what was going on.  Also, I really like this woman’s shark shaped backpack.

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As I got closer to the temple, I encountered thicker and thicker crowds.   Of course in a crowd this large, it’s completely appropriate to spot Waldo.

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After some walking, I caught my first glimpse of the temple.

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I walked in through Kaminarimon or “Thunder Gate,” and found myself facing statues of Raijin (god of thunder) and Fujin (god of wind).  It is not at all clear to me which is which.   You can see Tokyo Skytree behind the statues here, and I could easily have seen Senso-ji from Skytree, if I had been there on a clear day.

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This is the point at which I realized that this might not be normal tourism.   I still didn’t know that it was a major festival, however.

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I walked up as close as I could, even making it to the stairs beneath the enormous paper lantern in this photo.

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Here’s a closer shot of the paper lantern.

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However, the inside of the temple was fenced off with this mesh.  I could look, but I could not enter.  There are several Buddhists inside conducting a ritual, but I don’t know more than that.

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Moving away from the main temple gates, I walked around to the side, where stalls selling merchandse and traditional food rested beneath more paper lanterns.

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Walking back down toward Thunder Gate, I noticed another incense burner.  I like the smell of these things, but it was very warm.

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When I walked back toward the train station, I found the main street to be significantly more crowded than when I first arrived.  This is one of the biggest parts of Sanja Matsuri!

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The giant metal and wood construct being held up here is called a Mikoshi.   The Mikoshi pictured here is one of three which are built to act as miniature and portable versions of Asakusa Shrine.  They contain representations of Kami, the spirits, gods and deities of Japan’s Shinto religion.

The Mikoshi are tremendously heavy, and they are carried on four long poles lashed together with ropes by a Mikoshi team of about 40 people.  The Mikoshi team has a uniform, with a Happi coat and Tabi boots.  The team bounces it up and down, as a show of strength and teamwork.

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Mikoshi are usually carried around the neighborhood so that the Kami inside can see the neighborhood. It’s considered good luck for the area. Afterwards, the Mikoshi is brought back to the shrine.

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I watched the Mikoshi for a while, then I grabbed a burger before I headed back to Kanda.  Several of my colleagues who had previously visited Tokyo mentioned that they really enjoyed Mos Burger.  It wasn’t bad, but it definitely wasn’t the best burger I had while I was in Japan.

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Have you ever seen Sanja Matsuri?  Have you ever seen a Mikoshi being carried? Have you ever eaten at Mos Burger?

Zojo-ji and the East Imperial Garden

On the day that I visited Tokyo Tower, I also took a short walk from there to visit Zojo-ji.

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This Buddhist temple, founded in 1393, is the main temple of the Chinzei branch of Jōdo-shū Buddhism.

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The proximity of Tokyo Tower makes for from pretty amazing views.

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This stairwell is actually on a path just outside of the main gate.

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This is the same building pictured earlier, the main hall of the temple.

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Off to one side of the courtyard is what’s called an “Unborn Children Garden.”

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These rows of statues represent the unborn children of Japan, including miscarried, aborted, and stillborn children.

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Parents often choose a statue in the garden to decorate with clothing or toys.  They often leave a small gift for Jizō, the guardian of unborn children to ensure that they are brought to the afterlife.

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Incense was burning in the courtyard.  It smelled very nice.

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There were nice statues around the courtyard as well.

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Near the exit, ice cream was on sale. It was warm, but not quite warm enough to try the green flavor.

 

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One of my favorite things about Japan was how often you found the older structures nestled among newer construction.  Once you walk through that  gate, the dial is set  back to city.

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Speaking of old things, I took some time to look at the East Garden of the Imperial Palace.  You can tell it’s a palace because there’s a moat!  This is the Seimon Ishibashi bridge, approaching the main gate.

 

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The hard plastic entry token was printed in Japanese on one side and English on the other-  I had to turn it back in when I left.  I suspect that’s how they control crowd volume.

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The East Garden houses the administrative buildings for the palace, and it also includes some older historical buildings from the Edo period.

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Also, there’s fish statues.

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This was a guard house of some sort.  Regrettably, I have misplaced my notes about this structure.

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This was living quarters for samurai, if I remember correctly.

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The East Garden is vast and winding, and quite pretty.

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This isn’t far from the heart of the Otemachi financial district, but you’d never know it.

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This stone is similar to one which marks the place where the 47 Ronin story began.

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I only saw a tiny fraction of the full Imperial Gardens, and my memory of what the buildings mean is terribly flawed.  If I find my notes from that day, I will come back later to update this post with more accurate detail.

Have you ever been to the Imperial Palace Gardens?

Rail Travel And A Giant Gundam!

Two of my favorite things about Japan are amazing rail travel and giant robots.    Naturally, I went out of my way to see both.

This is the Marunouchi entrance of Tokyo Station, the main intercity rail terminal in Tokyo.

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This structure is just the tip of the iceberg, though.  Tokyo Station is the busiest rail station in Japan, serving over 3,000 trains per day.  The station sprawls out beneath the surface, servicing local metro, local train, and Shinkansen (high speed rail) trains.

Interestingly, Tokyo Station has “sister station” agreements with Amsterdam Centraal railway station in the Netherlands, Grand Central Station in New York, and Hsinchu Station in Taiwan. (Well, I think it’s interesting.  Your mileage may vary.)

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When approaching Tokyo Station on the subway lines, it’s not unusual to see Nozomi 700 trains, high speed rail on its way into or out of the city.

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The Shinkansen have a maximum operating speed of 200 miles per hour, so the best way to get a clear picture of one is to wait for them to stop.

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The 700 series Shinkansen are easily recognized by their flat “duck bill” nose and that fast zooming noise you here any time one passes by very, very fast..

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The signs on the cars alternate between Japanese and English, but it’s still a good idea to figure out where your wagon stops before the train arrives.  The trains move in and out of stations very, very quickly and all seats are assigned except for the last two or three wagons.

Here is a cautionary tale for Shinkansen use:  When I was returning to Tokyo from Kyoto,  I boarded the Shinkansen at my platform four minutes before my train was scheduled to depart.   It left the station a moment after I took my seat, and two minutes later, the train for which I actually had a ticket arrived.   I realized that I was on the wrong train a short while later, and I thought I would be fine.  However, a helpful fellow train passenger explained to me that this was a local train.  Although it was still a Nozomi, it was stopping at far more places.  This train would still get me back to Tokyo, but it would get me there several hours later.  Luckily, I was able to switch trains in Nagoya to another Express Nozomi that was bound for Tokyo.  The trains in Japan are so amazing that even with the transfer in Nagoya, I arrived in Tokyo less than an hour past my original scheduled arrival.  True story.

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Here’s a photograph of people waiting for the train to pass, because I thought it was a neat picture.

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You might be wondering why I mentioned giant robots in the first sentence of this post.    I mentioned giant robots because there’s a 1:1 scale Gundam statue in front of Diver City Tokyo in Odaiba-  that’s actual size.

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At certain times of the day, the Gundam is lit up, with steam bellowing from its chest.  The Gundam is affiliated with Gundam Front Tokyo, a fun experience for any Gundam enthusiast.

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Diver City Tokyo is basically a multi-level shopping mall, which makes this a fascinating place to find a giant Gundam statue.  Inside Diver City, I found a Krispy Kreme!

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This picture is really just to show you scale.  You can see the people right on the other side of the Gundam’s giant right foot.

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Have you ever been on a Shinkansen?  What’s your opinion of giant Gundam suits?