Thursday, November 29, 2007

12/3/07 Last Day in Tokyo, Goodbye to Parents

Sunday, November the 18th: on my last day in Tokyo with my parents, it seemed like we should all do something a bit more classical, after the hyper-American culture we were soaked with at DisneySea.

Luckily the imperial gardens are a short walk from Tokyo Station, which made it an attractive choice. While the Imperial grounds themselves are not normally open to the public, the adjacent east gardens offered much to see. It was very cool to walk from crowded and loud Tokyo into a scene reminiscent of feudal Japan.

A guardhouse overlooking the moat that surrounds the imperial grounds.

I liked the idea that these walls that were built to keep out invaders were now doing the same to keep us safe from the invading city-congestion.

The Hyakunin-bansho Guardhouse. One hundred samurai guardsmen were stationed here to inspect visitors during the Edo Period.

There were a few buildings that were from the old days, but many of them hadn't made it. I started to laugh every time I read a placard. This building was important, yadda yadda, and then it burnt down. Rebuilt, then burnt down again. You'd think that maybe someone would consider the building materials used after everything important kept burning down. I mean, Japan is covered in mountains; there has to be some stone around here somewhere, right?
Here's a typical quote from one of the signs, this one from the Tenshudai Donjon Base:

Standing 58ms tall above the ground, five storied building outside, six storied within, it was the highest donjon ever built in Japan and symbolized the authority of the Tokugawa Shogunate. It was burnt down in the conflagration of 1657, only 19 years after completion. and it has never since been reconstructed.

The three little pigs teach a lesson that I think is applicable. The definition of conflagration is a large, disastrous fire, by the way.

After seeing most of what the gardens had to offer, we still had a good portion of the day to fill with awesomeness. On my suggestion, we all walked to the nearby(sort of) Yasukuni Shrine.

Yasukuni Shrine is a place that I have been wanting to visit for quite some time. Not only is it a pretty cool place in its own right, but it has played a small role in the relationship between Japan and its neighbors in Asia.

You see, Yasukuni Shrine is quite a unique place. Yasukuni is a Shinto shrine that contains the souls of those who died fighting for the emperor, including those who died in World War 2. This includes many who were convicted of war crimes. Several prime ministers, including my favorite ever, Junichiro Koizumi, have visited the shrine to pay their respects. This results in condemnations and often riots in countries like China and South Korea, places that suffered under Japanese aggression.

I spotted a line of interesting vans parked on the street across from the shrine. Covered in Japanese flags and other imperialist regalia, they spout what I assume is propaganda from loud speakers. I recall seeing several of them in Kyoto, cruising around town, slogans blaring.

These vans are like the Batmobile for right-wingers. Uyoku dantai in Japanese, the groups are ultra-nationalist and quite vocal. So a place enshrining the empire's war dead is Mecca to these guys. I saw a group of about 20 of them wearing camo fatigues and standing at attention. A group leader was speaking to them as if they were receiving orders. I'm not sure if their rightwingness includes a dislike of foreigners or America's involvement in Japan or not, so I stay out of these people's way.

We approached the grounds through a giant, iron looking torii, quite different from the usual wooden or stone gateways. It looked as though it was made from battleship parts.

Mom and I before the entrance to the shrine. Giant metal torii in the background. Yes, I realize we are super tiny.

Directly after the big torii came this statue of Omura Masujiro, regarded as the father of the modern Japanese army. Constructed in 1893, the statue itself is notable for being the first bronze western style statue built in Japan.

Soon after we passed through the gateway, I saw something beautiful. It was a bunch of guys selling antiques! Yayyy. This being a military sort of place, much of the cool old stuff for sale was military in nature. My favorite. I was searching through all the stuff long enough that we almost didn't have time to go to the museum.

This was safe to say my favorite thing for sale. An abacus with a calculator backup. You know, in case one of the wooden beads breaks or something.

Next were a set of giant doors. The big golden seal is a depiction of a chrysanthemum, the symbol of the emperor.

Then came the building that I am sure I have seen in a newspaper article somewhere. It is where all of the praying happens. Not sure about the names.

The museum. The shrine itself is much like the countless other shrines that dot the country, minus all the souls of soldiers floating around. The coolest part for me was the military museum. The museum seems to tell the stories of every war whose dead are being honored.

Me and Tom standing with a statue honoring kamikaze pilots right outside the entrance.

The museum was super cool. I enjoy war related history, but obviously all I usually hear about are accounts of American wars. As a result I saw many things that I hadn't heard of previously. The more ancient stuff was as interesting as ever, with several full suits of samurai armor on display. The war that had the most fanfare surrounding it was the Russo-Japanese war of 1904. The Japanese put a pretty bad hurt on the Russians, so there were plenty of victories to be illustrated in the various video clips and scale models.

Then came world war 2. I was anxious to get to this part of the museum because I wanted to see how the history was handled. The various displays that were in English pretty much put the blame square on the United States forcing the Japanese to attack by cutting off oil and scrap metal imports. I'm not sure that I agree, but I am no war scholar, so I don't see much point in arguing.

In addition to the classic fly-a-plane-into-you kamikaze's, there were a host of other suicidal weapons on display. A human piloted missile and torpedo were on display, as well as a story about people in those heavy diving suits who were trained to simply swim a bomb over to an unsuspecting ship. Pretty serious stuff.

Unfortunately the whole museum was covered in "no photo" signs, so no pictures to be enjoyed. Only a few measly things in the lobby went unprotected.

A zero fighter manufactured by Mitsubishi.

This concluded my time in Tokyo. My parents were leaving early the next morning, and I needed to go to work the next day. I managed to show them one or two interesting things. Hope they enjoyed themselves.

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