Ting went off to work this morning. The Japanese branch of her company
is located only a few blocks from the hotel, so she walked. I got up a
bit earlier than normal (due to the disorientation of the time difference,
no doubt) and decided to emulate the bear that went over the mountain by
taking a walk to see what I could see of Tokyo. I put together a short
list of possible destinations and set out for the first one - the traditional
garden on the grounds of the New Otani Hotel, across the street from the
Akasaka Prince. Walking through the New Otani, I noticed that some sort
of fashion show was being put together, but it looked as if they were a
ways off from actually showing any models -- at this point they were stringing
lots of lights and decorating a runway in an atrium with all sorts of paper
Exiting the hotel above the atrium put me at the foot of the garden,
which climbs a small hill behind the hotel. The original garden dates to
approximately 400 years ago, when it was commissioned by a Tokugawa regent,
and the hotel was constructed so as not to disrupt the garden too much.
Although small, it was threaded by several paths, each of which gave a
sense of privacy and calm, despite being plopped down into the middle of
bustling Tokyo. Both of the garden pictures were taken from the same spot,
at the foot of a large koi pond.
After wandering most every path in the garden, I exited on the opposite
side from the hotel, crossed the street and began my walk along a strip-park
that followed a small ridge. A few hundred feet below was a narrow park
filled with a succession of game fields. First an empty soccer field, then
several archery ranges (in use!), then tennis and badminton courts (lots
of doubles matches being played), then swimming pools, and so on. An electric
train line ran on a ridge on the far side of the fields, and these two
ridges (the one I was on and the one for the trains) gradually came together,
squeezing out the recreation area.
The strip park was mostly deserted except for a few homeless people,
occasional grandparents tending toddlers, and one or two joggers. The park
ended a few blocks from my second destination,
Yasukuni-jinja, a Shinto temple established prior to WWII to memorialize
Japanese war dead.
When I first entered the shrine, I walked about the outer paths through
the gardens that encircled the main shrine. Plums and other trees were
just starting to bloom, augmented by the workers transplanting fresh trees
into giant holes. I sat for awhile on a bench at the pond, but the hovering
presence of a uniformed guard unnerved me, so I postponed lunch there in
favor of further exploration.
The fierce fish was one of two guarding a large museum of war artifacts,
of which there were plenty additional ones outside, but too large to fit
inside the building, like the kaitan, a one-man kamikaze submarine/torpedo,
a train engine, several piece of artillery and large gun shells. I skipped
the museum and moved on to the main shrine, which was pretty solemn, given
that few people were visiting today.
As I was standing at the main gate, looking back at the shrine, a
little old man approached me and through a combination of Japanese and
pantomime, conveyed his wish for me to autograph a composition book that
he was carrying...Hmmn. I hope I was the right Randy for him!
Walking further away from the shrine and down the path lined by giant
Tori gates, I found a nice sunny spot surrounded by trees for my picnic
lunch. Following lunch, I crossed the street and entered Kitanomaru Park
for further exploration.
After walking through the North Gate (3F) and past the Budokan (3B),
which was undergoing some sort of renovation, I came upon the strange tree
pictured in 3A. The blooms reminded me of spent clematis blossoms -- looking
like fat yellow tarantulas clinging to the leafless branches. I continued
on into the park, sticking mostly to the wilder northwest side instead
of the groomed, manicured, and mostly brown lawns surrounding the main
lake shown in the map. Although the map doesn't show elevations, the northwest
side is made of a gradually sloping ridge, rising to 50 meters or so before
tumbling abruptly downwards into the outer moat (which is absent from the
map for some reason).
I walked quite a ways along the moat, as it was peaceful and sunny.
Here and there, gardeners worked on trimming the trees and plants, including
a whole crew that was cutting grass on the side of the moat walls while
suspended from the top with long ropes. Unfortunately, without a zoom lens,
they came out looking like white blobs in the picture I took!
After reaching the end of that path, I circled back through a pine
woods that was chock full of noisy crows. Although I could get up relatively
close to them while walking, once I stopped and pointed the camera, they
would fly off -- presumably expecting a flying rock from the person aiming
at them! I had decided not to visit any of the park museums -- it was such
a nice day, I couldn't bear the thought of going indoors -- so I continued
lopping back along the small stream there, eventually returning to the
Budokan and the North Gate, where it was only a few hundred yards walk
down to the subway station.
A brief wait and a short ride took me to Nihombashi, an old bridge
that marked the geographic center of Tokyo. Although the bridge marker
itself had no plaque, a small plaza on the south side of the bridge contained
a marker on the wall, and several stone benches where old men sat playing
checkers in the fading afternoon sunshine.
Walking down a block to get another view of Nihonbashi, I passed
the two unusual parking garages documented at right. I suppose the logic
on the double-decker spot was FILO: that the first person in goes on top,
and the lower car must be moved if that first car needs to leave first
as well. While wasting some space on the carousel mechanism, the other
garage gave truly random access to the cars...just spin the big wheel until
your jalopy reappears! The small shrine shown was right across the street
from one of the parking garages. Unfortunately, it was closed, so I couldn't
pay my respects.
In the background of the expressway picture, you can spot the Nihombashi
bridge marker poking up beneath the highway. I thought this scene was commentworthy
because most all of the highways in Tokyo seemed to be routed above the
waterways -- likely to save precious ground for buildings!
I was psyched to see the giant Sanwa bank building, assuming that
I would be able to pull cash out of my accounts, but it turned out that
despite the conspicuous logos for Interlink and other banking systems,
the ATM at Sanwa Japan refused to verify my account information with Sanwa
By this point it was about 4 PM, and I was feeling a little tired,
so I decided to duck into a museum to drink some hot tea and rest awhile.
The first museum I came to was the Bridgestone Museum of Art. In addition
to their regular display collection (mostly impressionists!), they had
a special exhibition of about 30 paintings by Renoir, so I paid for
my ticket and had a pleasant time viewing French art...my three favorite
paintings are at right.
Exiting the museum, I continued on down Chao-dori towards the heart
of the Ginza. Hints of neon were chasing off the last rays of sunshine
as I came upon a 40-something businessman sitting astride the police motorcycle,
flashing the lights, revving the engine, and generally having a good old
time pretending to chase bad guys until he noticed me pulling out my camera!
I tried to get him to take a picture of me with the elf, but he pretended
that my Japanese was unintelligible and walked quickly off towards the
It turned out that the police museum consisted of about six or seven
floors of assorted police memorabilia. A sizable chunk of the first floor
was taken up by a small helicopter, which was occupied by two little kids
having a GREAT time playing with the controls. The din of the taped helicopter
noise was a little too much for me, so I quickly climbed up to the next
floor. After several floors of uniforms, disaster photos and memorials
to fallen officers, I arrived at the more exciting displays. First was
a floor devoted to ceremonial gear -- all sorts of instruments and flags
and swords and such, together with photos of parades and festivals. The
next floor was full of various propaganda efforts -- displays to show off
captured contraband and paraphenalia, as well as a whole row of driving-simulator
video games, including two that were squeezed into 1/3 or 1/4 scale auto
bodies. As you might guess, there were plenty of kids hanging out here,
so I didn't wait for my turn to try out Tokyo traffic!
Dusk had fallen by this point, but I was too tired to take any pictures
of the neon nightmare street scene. I continued on a couple more blocks,
stopping only to duck into a record store (on a fruitless quest for Pharoah
Sanders discs), and to take a picture of the giant flower wedding cake
outside -- the CD shop was next to a formal wear outfitter. Finally I arrived
at Ginza Station, and after a few more minutes wait, a subway train arrived
to whisk me away to Akasaka-Mitsuke station and our hotel.
Ting and I met up while I was crossing the street from the subway
back to the hotel. She was just returning from a successful expedition
in search of an ATM that would take our card! She had also come across
a Sanwa earlier in the day and had the same experience as I did. After
asking the concierge at the hotel for help, she was directed to a Visa
International ATM. Ting's colleague Hiro had arrived last week and had
not been able to get any cash yet (he had been bumming money from his father
to hold him over), so Hiro was way psyched to finally find a working ATM!
We decided to explore the Akasaka district as part of our dinner
restaurant search. Our trip took us around to the Tokyo Broadcasting Service,
where two giant robots stood guard near the entrance. After walking for
close to an hour, we decided to try a restaurant called the New Seafood.
We expected that the name implied an English-speaking waitstaff. Much to
our chagrin, not only did the waitstaff not speak English, the menu was
entirely in Japanese. But there was a sushi bar! So we fell back on sushi,
and by the end of the night, the sushi chef there was feeding us huge portions
of fish. Yum!!