Day 4 was unbelievable. I woke up to glorious sunshine spilling in from the windows, the opaque curtains gently diffusing what otherwise would have been harsh blinding sunlight. It was going to be an unbelievable day.
We had pre-set plans to visitUeno Park – and boy, there is a lot of ground to cover. Famous for its hundreds of cherry blossoms in the spring, Ueno Park is a hit among locals and tourists. With some 5+ museums and galleries, a zoo, several statues and shrines, little play areas, there was a lot to see in not very much time. We spent our first 2 hours at the Tokyo National Museum (Homepage), which was a comprehensive tour of the history of Japan – from the birth of art in Japan to a few modern pieces as well. I quite enjoyed it – particularly the kimono fabrics, designs and how they have evolved over the years, as well as the growing western influences on Japanese art.
Afterwards, we stumbled into Toshugo shrine, dedicated to the founder of the Edo Shogun. Cool and all, but the most amazing thing I thought was the ever burning flame of peace. Story has it that after the atomic bombs were dropped in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, a man ran into his house only to find it on fire. The conflagration consumed the house and even some family members, but before it died out, the man was able to capture a small burning ember. The villagers immediately decided that the small flame would be representative of peace, as they had seen destruction and did not want any more of it. They took turns nurturing the flame, and today, the flame is housed at the Toshugo shrine, surrounded by garlands of cranes.
As the afternoon began to wane, and our stomachs got the better of us, we forced our way toward the Ueno Royal Museum for some good eats. A quick perusal of the menus and we decided on the Korean restaurant called Tokori, just adjacent to the museum’s special exhibit. Upon entering, we were greeted by a VERY happy staff (think Ici minus the pastel) and lovely decor. Jess and Viv both ordered bimbimbap, Char ordered cold noodles, and I had a seafood dangmyeon, or clear Korean noodles you often see. Over a bit of chit chat, we scarfed down delicious (though in my opinion pricey) food – aromatic, visually appealing, a combination of hot food and cold tea – tickles all your senses. Felt pretty good. It was just the fuel we needed to continue our day.
The Neoteny Japan special exhibit will only be available for viewing until the 15th of July 2009, but for those of you who are interested, it is actually pretty interesting. Sorry, I have no pictures as photography was NOT allowed. Several of the pieces highlighted what I thought was an underlying unease of the rapid industrialization and urbanization of Japan, at the expense of culture, heritage and tradition. Another collection that stood out was a series of paintings and sculptures that evoked a sense of degradation of human life, as they all depicted the female organs, particularly the fallopian tubes and ovaries, in dark, dreary colors, and underrepresented the other parts of the female body or even depicted those other parts in a grotesque sort of way. It essentially reduced the female identity into a mere reproductive organ, a vehicle for popping out babies and population growth – all in all, disturbing and very degrading. I wonder what my travel companions thought of the exhibit? Unthinkable.
This is getting to be a looong entry. Bear with me here. Next stop was the Office Cafe, a themed dining and lounge experience, where the overall environment resembles an office. What better way to relax after a day at the office than at The Office, right? Just off the Gaienmae Station in the Yamazaki Building, the Office Cafe offers a short (though a good variety) drink list and small menu. A live DJ spins music every so often, and a small artist collection is hung on the back wall. Themed dining is the big thing here, can you believe it? After a round of drinks, we hopped over to the next themed cafe.
NINJA MAGIC! Located off the Akasaka station, Ninja is a ninja themed restaurant. Shrouded in darkness and mystery, we were lead to our table by a ninja in training. He lead us through on a perilous journey through caves, past waterfalls, over broken bridges, under hidden doors. It was theatrical, comical, full of fromage, and yet, very fun. Once seated in our room, our menu scroll was presented to us by another ninja in training. She proceeded to burn our menu in a flash once we had ordered. The cocktails were sweet and girlie, but very original. Char and Jess even hard sparrow’s bird nest jelly in their Ninja cocktail. A unique dining experience. At some point, a Master Ninja performed Ninja Magic, and I (the cynic) was amazed. Card tricks, coin tricks – sleight of hand was ridiculously quick, and it was all the harder to believe because it was done in such close proximity. I now believe in Ninja Magic. I will never doubt again.
The night was still young when we left Ninja, and can you believe we went straight home on a Friday night while in Tokyo? Unbelievable. I told you it was going to be an unbelievable day.