Sunday, 18 May 2008

Tokyo Itinerary

Day 1: Tradition

After catching up with sleep, I began to explore Tokyo in the afternoon. The "theme" for the day is tradition and where else is more appropriate to start than the Sensoji Temple in Asakusa, built in the 7th century.

Kaminarimon (Thunder Gate), the outer gate of the Sensoji Temple.

Unknowingly, I visited the temple on a day when a huge celebration was going on. 17 May 08 was the last day of the Sanja Matsuri (celebration for the founding of the temple) which lasted for 3 days. There were many "portable shrines" (miniature shrines built with wood) or "mikoshi" paraded during the day and the temple was packed full with people. I only just came to realise that this is one of the 3 most important festivals in Tokyo.

One of the proceeding participating in the festival

Nakamise Shopping Street just in front of Sensoji Temple is good for picking up some souvenirs. It's all about tradition.

Leaving Asakusa, I took the subway to Ginza and headed for the Kabuki Theatre.

Kabuki is a form of Japanese theatre which combines singing and dancing, a little bit like Chinese opera. However, the emphasis of Kabuki is really on the make-up, costumes and the gracious movements of the actors versus a lot of singing and music in a traditional Chinese opera. Most of the Kabuki performers are male.

If you are not sure if Kabuki is for you, just do the same as me. Buy ticket for 1 Act (cost 900 Yen), which is approximately 1 hour. Such tickets cannot be reserved in advance and is only on sale half an hour before the show starts. You have to queue for some time to get the ticket and might also need to stand after the seats are filled up. Despite the hardship, it is a good experience worthy of the efforts.

Day 2: Pilgrimage

Pay pilgrimage to the spirit of well respected Meiji Emperor at Meiji Shrine. The Meiji era (meaning Enlightened Rule) between late 19th to early 20th century was a period when Japan went through modernisation.

Under the rule of the Meiji Emperor, a policy of "Japanese Spirits and Western Knowledge" was adopted. This is so appropriately depicted by the arrangement of the wine barrels near the entrance of the shrine.

East meet West, literally. On the left, traditional sakae wine containers. On the right, wooden barrels of French wines.

Some praying ceremony going on. Participants are all in traditional costumes, bowing as they pray.

Must do in the shrine, write down your wish and pray for it to come true... I did so too.

Just opposite the Meiji Shrine is Yoyogi Olympic Stadium. It's glorious days were in 1964 when the Olympics was held in Japan. This was designed by highly acclaimed Japanese architect, Kenzo Tange (who also designed NTU's main campus).

Pay pilgrimage to the late architect, Kenzo Tange. Amazing structure, the concept is somewhat similar to building a camping tent.

The highlight of the day is definitely my visit to the John Lennon Museum.

As the museum is slightly outside Tokyo city, I took the JR line and travelled almost 50 mins before reaching Saitama Shintoshin, where the museum is located.

I cannot describe how I feel, but looking at the old videos can literally bring people to tears. After this visit, I don't just love him for his music and the messages of peace and love that he tried to inculcate but also for his courage to be different from the rest of the world and determination to stand by what he believed.

Calling all Beatles and John Lennon fans: You have to visit this place one time... it's all Déjà Vu, you know?

Listen to the sound of the world turning;
Send a smell to the moon....

And many other interesting messages inside the John Lennon Museum. I will never forget him and never forget this place.

So far, the day has went well with greatness and the respectable. Next, I visited Kabuki-Cho in Shinjuku, the famous red light district in Tokyo.

The name "Kabuki Cho" came about as there were plans to build a Kabuki Theatre there which eventually did not materialise. Instead, restaurants, pubs, pachinko shops, love hotels, sleazy DVD/CD shops, etc can be found. It is an interesting sight as people seem so indifferent to all these.

Instead of calling this a "pilgrimage", let's just say I give it to the Japanese completely for being so explicit in this respect. I have to see it for myself to be convinced.

Travel Q&A: Never use the words "Shrine" and "Temple" loosely when speaking to a Japanese or you will be corrected immediately. "Shrine" refers to a place where holy spirits are honoured, for example, spirits of dead people, mountain, lake, snake, etc. In "Temples" the Buddha can usually be found.

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