Sunday, May 23, 2010

A Tokyo Sandwich - The Meat

"Hey punk, no flash photography!"
One of the first major cultural venues we visited was the Tokyo National Museum in Ueno Park. There are three places one might visit that command a certain level of austere silence when regarding what's kept within. If churches are sanctuaries of worship, and libraries are sanctuaries of learning, then museums must be sanctuaries of memory. The pensive afternoon allowed us to quietly take in a plethora of physical memory spanning much of Japan's religious, artistic, domestic, and militaristic past.

While you can't take the physical memory stored inside a museum with you once you leave, fortunately, I wasn't without a camera!

To start off with, we have what I believe is a representation of Vajrapani, (I couldn't read the kanji on the placard so this is only an educated guess). I like how the flash from the camera really sets off the colors, also providing a drop shadow behind the arms giving the statue a unique dimension that makes it seem to be caught in the midst of movement.

Next, we took in a series of byobuu, or folding screens (the pictures that follow not doing them proper justice). I found it interesting how each could be viewed at a different angle and still provide the viewer with a complete picture that told a separate story. (This may not have been the intention with regard to these specific murals, but I like to think all art can be viewed in different ways regardless of how its presented.)

We also found a set of highly detailed life sciences manuscripts containing accurate hand-drawn representations of flora and fauna, some of these opened to pages displaying an internal cross section of the subject. (And, by Jove! I find that while proof-reading these entries my writer's voice takes on a very precise, scholarly tone, like I'm doing a piece on the Discovery Channel; and then you realize how pathetic you are when you go back to change the words "plants" and "animals" to read "flora" and "fauna," so that the whole thing sounds even stuffier. That's a long ways to go for a self-deprecating joke.) Anyway, here they are – Biology 101, courtesy pre-modern Japan!

Dinosaurs aside, the other type of exhibit that is sure to get my attention is one dealing with weapons and armor. The wing at the museum devoted to Japan's military past was a veritable armory! They had various types of armor including those worn by samurai, called O-yoroi, and others like what were worn by the ashigaru (conscripts).

Meiji Shrine
Later in the week, we visited the Meiji Shrine in Shibuya. We actually ended up there on accident as we were roving the forested park, sort of drifting along with the flow of people, in search of the attention-getting "Harajuku girls" (more on that later!), but we spent a good hour or so exploring the spacious grounds of this famous Shinto site (say those two words five times fast).

Most Shinto shrines are located by the red wooden gate-like presence of a torii, an entrance to the shrine that demarcates the boundaries between sacred and profane ground. In this case, the torii at Meiji was not red, but was very large and required each visitor to walk directly under it before treading beneath the solemn eaves of the shrine itself.

The torii at Meiji Shrine.
The purification fountain where visitors can wash their hands using the ladles pictured before entering the shrine.
The shrine's doorway looking out from inside (the torii visible in the distance). Though the door serves more of an ornamental purpose, everything is constructed of heavy timbers and has a sturdy, fortressed look about it.
A few nishikigoi ghosting about the surface of a pond near the shrine complex.
A wedding procession led by Shinto priests on their way out of the shrine.
The lucky couple (at center), attended by two "ladies-in-waiting," and followed by their wedding guests.

The artificial moat that wends around the Imperial Garden.
One of the last places we visited during the week was the Imperial Palace. Much of the location was off-limits to visitors, with some of the innermost grounds and gardens open to the public only one day a year (usually on New Year's or the Emperor's birthday). But when you're roaming grounds that at one time were said to have more value than all the real estate in California combined, I suppose it's okay to keep certain areas private year-round.

Upon arriving we walked down a long paved causeway flanked on both sides by wide recreation areas where people jogged, biked, and picnicked on low-cut grass. Then we crossed a large gravel lot that brought us to the edge of a moat. From there several directions for touring were available, and we began to plot our way through the maze like confines.

Bridge leading across the moat to the Sei Gate; a portion of the Imperial Palace itself is visible amidst the trees in the background.
The Sei Gate, main entrance to the palace grounds with two honor guards standing at attention.
A swan paddles easily across the moat.
An example of the specially tended niwaki found throughout the Imperial grounds that have a distinctive curving trunk and asymmetrical branches with closely clustered pine leaves.
"Black Pine Against The Sky"
Next time, we get out on a limb a little bit more and add some unique Tokyo flavor to the mix!