When I knew that I was going to visit Tokyo, I was very excited to visit the controversial Yasukuni shrine. I was quite curious to find out how the shrine looks like. Unlike other temples in Japan, the Yasukuni shrine had a very solemn and respectful atmosphere. I didn’t see old people sitting around, relaxing in the temple premise and I certainly didn’t spot any tourists taking selfies there. The shrine was built to honour the dead soldiers who fought for the Emperor during the Boshin War in 1869. Years later, the shrine has gained much controversy because it enshrined convicted war criminals in the second World War. Later on, I heard from Yuki that the Yasukuni Shrine has a rather extremist museum in its premises – so extremist that it made her feel very uncomfortable during her visit. I am quite glad that I didn’t visit the museum. I don’t want to dislike Japanese people because of what a very small fraction thinks.
After making a quick visit to the Yasukuni shrine, Chizuru and I went to the gardens of the Imperial Palace where the Emperor of Japan lives today. We walked past Buduokan where many concerts in Tokyo are held. I have seen how Buduokan looks like inside several times on TV but I have never seen how it looks like from the outside. I imagine it will look more modern actually. There was a KARA fan club event on that day, I wonder how early these people came to form a line outside.
When we got to the gardens of the Imperial Palace, I was surprised that I couldn’t see any buildings that remotely looked like a palace in the vicinity. The garden is either very big or the palace is very well-concealed from view. Maybe it is both. I remember that was a very hot day. On a cooler day, the gardens look like a very nice place for people to have picnics and relax.
We kept walking until we reached the Tokyo Station. I knew nothing about Tokyo Station before this so I was very surprised when Kasumi recommended the Tokyo Station to me. I wondered what was special about a train station. Furthermore, comparatively Shinjuku train station is so much more famous in Tokyo for the complexity and number of commuters. So when Chizuru suggested that we could visit Tokyo Station and have lunch there, you can imagine my lack of enthusiasm. When I saw how the station looks like, I was pleasantly surprised and happy. The Marunouchi side of Tokyo Station has a renaissance style and it is an important historical property because it was designed and built by Japanese who imitated the much revered European architecture at that time in 1914. I was even happier because I found that the Marunouchi side of the station only reopened in 2012 after undergoing renovation. Yes, perfect timing! This is the view of the Tokyo Station from the old post office. Inside Tokyo Station, the groove is very modern with many shopping and food lanes, including a ramen street, and many train lines.
After having ramen for lunch, I spent my afternoon at Ueno Park. I wanted to visit Ueno Park because I was interested to see the Thinker statue. How did this famous European sculpture make its way to Tokyo? Ueno Park is a pretty big park with many sculptures, museums and a very big lotus pond. A pity that the lotus was not blooming at the time of my visit. It must be quite gorgeous a sight when the pond is covered with flowering lotus. While Japan is world-famous for the cherry blossom season in the month of April, Japan actually has quite a number of flowers which bloom in the different months. I visited Japan in May-June period and the cities, parks and temples were decorated with the Japanese hydrangeas.
I stayed for some time inside the Tokyo National Museum – yet another Western-style building. It was a very nice visit, I had a quick class on the Japanese history and there were numerous interesting artefacts arranged in a chronological order such as samurai armours, fusumas and paintings. What struck me most there were the European-styled sculptures and paintings made by Japanese artists. At one point in time, Westerners could not accept Japanese artwork as art pieces. One of the more unique Japanese artwork is the artwork on fusuma – vertical, rectangular panels which can slide from side to side to redefine spaces in a room. I love fusuma with paintings, it is a beautiful and special type of art. But as fusuma is so uniquely Japanese, many Westerners did not accept it as a type of artwork. Japanese artists in the late 1800s to early 1900s then attempted to make European artwork, infused with some Japanese art influence. In my opinion, those art pieces made at that time kind of symbolize how Asian societies adopt Western ideologies but assimilate them to fit the more conservative and hierarchical Asian culture such as the concept democracy.
I made a quick visit to The National Museum of Western Art located nearby after that and I found the statue of the Thinker in the garden outside of the museum. There are numerous European sculptures in the same garden too. This museum is the only institution in Japan that is devoted to western art. Interestingly, the Japanese are trying to register this museum as a UNESCO World Heritage site because the architect of the building, Le Corbusier, was said to be instrumental at promoting the modern architectural movement. There is something strange about the situation – Japanese people who remain proud of their culture, heritage and architecture are trying to register a building dedicated to western art designed by a Swiss-French architect in UNESCO.