Thursday, April 10, 2014

Konichiwa, Tokyo! - Part II

Spring in Japan is not to be missed - the cherry blossoms are of course the biggest draw! The blossoming of the sakura is monitored closely and newspapers report the best places for viewing every day! A picnic under these beautiful trees is a must for the Japanese people every spring! The sakura hold an important place in Japanese culture - the intensely beautiful blossoms, and the short-lived flowering period - a celebration of the ephemeral, transient nature of life!

There are a number of great places to view sakura in Tokyo - to be honest, the entire city is covered with these cherry trees - the distinctive white flowers are kind of hard to miss - but to get the full impact, a visit to one of the many parks is a must! Our concierge recommended going to the Yasukuni Shrine, and then walking over to the Imperial Palace - so that's where we headed! This Shinto shrine seems innocuous enough, but has been the center of controversy a number of times - it is dedicated to those who lost their lives in service of Japan, unfortunately, these include some war criminals from WWII! One curious thing I noticed - after paying their respects at the altar, people would step back and clap their hands a couple of times - maybe similar to the ringing bells in  our Hindu temples?

Yasukuni Shrine

Admiring the cherry blossoms, we started walking in the general direction of the Imperial Palace - actually we didn't know it, but we were walking in the outer gardens of the Palace! This area is home to embassies and consulates of a number of countries - including India - it was a pleasant surprise to the 'Incredible India' posters and of course, the Indian flag! A very picturesque walk - a wide canal lined with cherry blossoms on either bank. Have I mentioned how quiet the Japanese are? There were so many people out to admire the sakura, but there were no raised voices, no hustle-bustle, no pushing or shoving and absolutely no littering! Very serene, very soothing - almost soporific! We must have walked for over an hour here - by the time we finally reached the entrance to the Imperial Palace, we had had our fill - both of the cherry blossoms and the walking! Besides, I had also promised Manasi that we would go souvenir shopping, and a 10 year old's patience with sight-seeing can only go so far - so no Imperial Palace! In any case, the sakura were heavenly - take a look at the pictures!

I did go a little crazy with the pictures!! Since we had walked so much yesterday, today was planned to be a little easier - Senso-ji Temple, and then we were done! On the way there, we accidentally missed our stop - and got off instead at the entrance of the Tokyo Skytree Mall. It seemed a shame to just walk away - so decided to explore a bit. This was a pretty cool mall - had both an aquarium and a planetarium - what really delighted Ajey was the World Beer Museum! This place, literally, sold beers from all over the world - they even had a world map showing where all the beers came from! We would have liked to watch a show in the planetarium - too bad they were all in Japanese!! We were almost ready to leave, when again by accident (got on the Up elevator instead of Down) we found ourselves on the 8th floor roof garden - and an absolutely incredible view of Tokyo Skytree Tower!!! This going-with-the-flow thing seems to be working better than my detailed itinerary!!

Tokyo Skytree

Senso-ji Temple is one of the oldest and most significant Buddhist shrines in Tokyo. Between the giant outer gate - "Thunder Gate"- and the inner temple gates is the Nakamise-dori, almost as famous as the temple itself! Nakamise-dori is lined with stalls with all kinds of souvenirs and of course, food! From kimonos to scarves, Japanese dolls to Hello Kitty merchandise, fake samurai swords to umbrellas, magnets to key chains - every possible Japan souvenir can be found here! Truly, the best place to get all the shopping done!! Unlike China, there's no bargaining - and what a relief that was! We did not go inside the temple, instead spent a few quite moments in a nice little pavilion in the courtyard - again very peaceful, very serene!

"Thunder Gate"



That was our 2 days in Tokyo - what I saw, I liked! Yes, it's another big city - but it has little pockets of peace, and it is charming in it's own quiet way. Time to move on, though, to our next city in Japan - Kobe! Coming up soon!

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