Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Phi Alpha in Japan

My college buds Seago, Wheeler, Frank were in Japan for 12 days ending today and very unwisely entrusted their well being to me. These gentlemen and I all met at school in a fraternal organization called Phi Alpha Literary Society. I'm a big fan of the Phi wikipedia page because I wrote it, hehe.

Friday the 26th after school I took the train to Shinjuku and walked to the Shinjuku Washington Hotel where my three friends were staying. I read that the area is a seismically stable bit of a very earthquake prone Japan, and so Shinjuku is where the city's skyscrapers congregate.

It has already been a couple of years since the last time we were all together during college, so meeting them in Tokyo was pretty cool. Our first night consisted of trying to find an izakaya that had four available chairs. We finally persevered after asking about the 7th bar. Everything was clogged with salarymen that had probably escaped their offices ludicrously late. I was happy with the smokey little yakitori place we stopped at because I think it was a good introduction to the Japanese recreational style.

Saturday started off with a roundabout journey to Ueno Park and the Tokyo National Museum to the north. The guys had a healthy interest in their new surroundings, and detours upon detours left me a sort of lost that I haven't been in Japan for a long time. It was a nice change. We had some classic stall food at the park: yakisoba, grilled corn on the cob, and even some of the questionable steamed oden sausages that I usually avoid. We saw a pond completely stuffed with lily pads, and debated about why too many plants in a body of water kill the fish(it's called eutrophication).

I had expected big things from the Tokyo National Museum(English website here) but the guys didn't look incredibly impressed. I think we were all hoping for more cool samurai war instruments and that sort of thing. There were swords and armor on display, of course, but it all felt very clinically presented. "Here is a sword. It was made by ____ in the year ____." The museum I'm going to build will have sword signs that continue a bit further. "Shogun Ashikaga, known by his enemies as Robocop the Castle Crusher, once sliced a mid-flight arrow in half with this sword at the battle of Mordor." History is so awesome.

A sarira that apparently contains the ashes of someone important.

Five ritual bells that represent the five Buddhas.

This is a perfect example of the super weak signage in this place. The sign read:

"Costume for Kemari" "Design of lozenges on red ground" " Edo period, 19th century"

Snore! The only reason I bothered to take a picture of this is that I thought it looked kind of snappy. Turns out, kemari is a "form of football that was popular in Japan during the Heian Period". It very well could be my own oversight, but I didn't see a lot of explanation of something that actually sounds pretty cool.

The dolls on the right are the ones displayed on Hinamatsuri, or girl's festival. I found a store that only sells this sort of stuff in Utsunomiya some time ago, if you are interested.

The Chinese weren't the only ones who made terracotta warriors.

The Great Map of Ten Thousand Countries

"Maps of the world began to be produced from the 15th century, based on explorations and surveys conducted by Europeans when they first began to circumnavigate the globe. Representative of these early efforts in cartography is the Great Map of Ten Thousand Countries, produced in Ming-dynasty China at the beginning of the 17th century by an Italian Jesuit missionary named Matteo Ricci.

Maps such as these, drawn by Europeans, were imported to Japan during the turmoil of the war era through to the time of unification in the late 16th century, when Japan was developing a broader world view and opening up to outside nations. These maps played an important role in the spread of geographical knowledge among Japanese people. In the Edo period (1603-1868), when the unrest began to stabilize, local efforts in land measurement and topographical surveying provided the people with a more precise understanding of their homeland, and from this time on, maps of Japan were actively produced.

Whilst comprised of only few works, this exhibition marks the first time for a folding screen featuring the Great Map of Ten Thousand Countries, donated to the museum last year, to be displayed to the general public. Other works on display include world maps dating from the Edo period as well as maps of Japan which developed in parallel. The representations of Japan in the maps created by Europeans are especially interesting to note."
I don't know what it is, but there is something especially cool about old maps that have the details all wrong.

My favorite part about samurai armor is the faces. The Japanese strapped on some pretty mean looking demon masks before they went to battle. I think European armor misses out on a perfect opportunity to give the enemy nightmares.

"During the mid-Kamakura period, the Ichimonji school, a group of sword makers in Bizen province(now Okayama prefecture), produced swords with showy clove-shaped edge pattern. Yoshifusa, Norifusa, and Sukezane were among the representative members of the school. This tachi sword was presented by Kato Kiyomasa to Tokugawa Ieyasu, who used it as an uchigatana sword with specially made mountings. After Ieyasu's death it was deposited in Toshogu, a shrine dedicated to Ieyasu, in Nikko." Representing Tochigi prefecture!

After thoroughly milling around in the main building of the museum, the Honkan, we ended up lounging at the museum's outdoor cafe and having lively discussions until the staff politely informed us that they had closed 15 minutes prior. We left a good amount of stuff at the museum unstudied, but we had gotten our 6 dollar entry fee's worth and were ready to bounce. Maybe our attention spans are getting shorter.

Some of the crew members were already tired from walking but I thought a trip to Akihabara needed to happen. My friends are all pretty tech savvy so I would be a terrible person if I kept them away.

Will our intrepid adventurers make it to Akihabara in time? Will I take a picture of something? Will we all go to a maid cafe together? All three YES's will be explained shortly on John Milito's Amazing Adventures.


  1. I think alot of the signs have a bit of history in Japanese since we are in Japan lol. The English is just as literal and quick as possible so you know what it is, not what its been through.

    Sometimes I think I forget we are in a different country and the main language is Japanese lol.

  2. Point taken. This is the National Museum, though. Surely they have the resources to write a few paragraphs in English.

  3. John Milito. I was planning on going to the museum this weekend. Way to go before me... and blog about it before me. It looks cool though...save for the lack of descriptions in English.

  4. Is Kemari considered kickball? I recently read the book "Japonius Tyrannus" about Oda Nobunaga, the first of the three great unifiers of Japan. In it it talked about kickball being a popular sport of the nobility in Kyoto and that Nobunaga also became interested in it and supported it.

  5. Tornadoes28: Yeah I read your post on Japonius Tyrannus. From the description of the game on wikipedia, it sounds like it's a lot like hacky sack. "The object of Kemari is to keep one ball in the air, with all players cooperating to do so."