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In January, I posted on this blog about returning from Tokyo to Atlanta via Seattle 110 years after the writer Nagai Kafu made his transpacific journey. I also posted photos from Ishioka, Tsuchiura, and Kasumi-ga-ura, places I reached by hitchhiking down Highway 6 to Tokyo.
My reasons for visiting Tokyo were two. One was to catch my flight from Narita airport back to the USA, since I had booked a round-trop flight to Tokyo in July. I first traveled to Japan and went to Shanghai to study at Fudan University via boat from Nagasaki. My second reason was to attend a conference connected with the research of Dr. Haneda Masashi, a professor and Vice President of the University of Tokyo with whom I had the pleasure to be acquainted in Shanghai, at a conference at Fudan. Dr. Haneda is deeply involved in a project to rewrite world history in a way that reflects the discoveries of science and diminishes the influence of the concept of “nations” and “nationality.” The conference was called “Southern Barbarians, Redheads, and Chinamen: Conflict and Trade in the East Asian Seas” (J: 国際シンポジウム「南蛮・紅毛・唐人―東アジア海域の交易と紛争」) and was held at the Institute for Advanced Studies on Asia at the University of Tokyo. Thanks to the generosity of Dr. Haneda, I was granted the important opportunity to attend this conference (conducted 90% in Japanese) and witness the proceedings of an academic conference in Japan for the first time. More about the conference later.
While in Tokyo, I met with many friends, but unfortunately caught a bacterial intestinal infection (again, as I mentioned last year in July when I got sick in Yokohama). I made up my mind the next morning to go for a doctor, and when I stepped outside, I found the world covered in snow.
The photos below were taken outside my hotel (the first three), on the University of Tokyo campus (the fourth), and on the train to Narita Airport.
It’s almost the New Year in China. On February 10, the world will enter the Year of the Snake. It’s thus spring break in China, so I came trough Japan and arrived in Seattle today where I will transfer to Atlanta.
The writer Nagai Kafū studied abroad in Shanghai and arrived in Tacoma by boat from Shanghai in 1903. In 1908 he published his Amerika monogatari, or American Stories. It seems he encountered brazen racism in American and didn’t altogether enjoy his time here, though he liked the theatre in New York. Did you know a Japanese writer wrote stories about America in 1908?
I bought the cheapest flight from Shanghai to Tokyo, which in fact did not fly to Tokyo at all, but to Ibaraki, a prefecture to the northeast of Tokyo. I decided to stop on the way to Tokyo in Tsuchiura and see the lake Kasumi-ga-ura. In Japanese, the name means something like “Spring Fog Sound.” I rode the loop bus from downtown to the shore by the Dutch Windmill. The cattails waved in the breeze and the shallows were frozen. The pictures speak for themselves.
I am in Japan again. I crossed from Shanghai to Ibaraki by plane and rode the bus from Ibaraki Airport to Ishioka, a small town to the west. I hitchhiked from Ishioka south to Tsuchiura one day, and the next hitched the rest of the way to Tokyo. I would like to share some photos of Ishioka, where my journey began.
July 18, 2012
Back in Tokyo
Bakuro-cho, Asakusabashi, Sumidagawa, Sumida-ku, Midori-cho, Kamezawa-cho, Edo-Tokyo Museum, Tokyo Sky Tree
Seattle to Tokyo
Flew via Seattle to Tokyo, and slept an hour on a bench in the Sea-Tac airport. Started and almost finished Dazai Osamu’s novel Arrived late around 6:30PM local time. Rode the train in from Narita. The sky was fearsome bright over Narita town in the evening. Trucks rolled over a bridge and a red tower peaked over green trees before an orange sky.
Tsukemen in Asakusabashi
I slept at the Khaosan Tokyo Ninja hostel in Asakusabashi and met a guy from the Phillipines while drinking tea in the common room downstairs. I walked across the Asakusa bridge looking for the ramen place the girl at the desk recommended. I happened upon it under the rattling train and ordered tsukemen from the ticket machine ($10). I sat between two guys on lunch break and dipped the noodles a mouthful at a time. When I had eaten them all, and the pork that was roasted with a blow torch behind the counter, I filled the soup with hot water and drank some.
I walked about Bakuro-cho among little cafes and restaurants, and across the Sumida River. Next to the river was a relief of nine faces representing artists inspired by it. I passed under an overpass toward Ryogoku, and on a map was a mark for the former residence of Kobayashi Issa (a haiku poet) in Midori-cho. I didn’t find Issa’s former home, but two surveyors in blue peered into a gadget on a tripod while workers with a crane lifted a huge pipe off a barge. A highway overpass ran the whole length of the river. A little boat came in among the barges. The crane had “I will not cause an accident” (私は事故を起こしません) written on its arm. The workers guided the pipe with ropes to the artificial embankment they were building, set it down, and started cutting it with a saw. Another worker stood welding a pipe’s mouth, and the smoke plumed up toward the highway.
I walked back through Midori-cho among nondescript buildings, and then Kamezawa. Along Hokusai-dori were prints of Katsushika Hokusai’s works stuck to the lampposts, such as some of the “36 Views of Mount Fuji.” Apparently, Hokusai was born in Kamezawa. I passed kids on the street and a playground covered with kids who looked like they’d just got out of class. Across the street loomed the gray battleship-like Edo-Tokyo Museum. I walked up the wide and empty stairs and under the elephantine metal exhibition hall. The wide and flat platform looked out over Tokyo.
I bought a ticket and took the escalator up a bright red animal organ-like tube into the belly of the elephant and walked through the museum. Inside was a reproduction of the wooden Nihonbashi from 19th century, among other things. I saw lots of exhibits about Edo, from the time that the shogun turned it from a fishing village into a military headquarters, to the time it became Tokyo after the Meiji Restoration. I learned that people who were granted an audience with the shogun were called hatamoto (旗本), or “bannermen” and were provided individual residences. Other household workers in the shogunate, called gokenin (御家人) lived in communal quarters. Around 1720, there were about 5,000 bannermen, and about 17,000 household workers. Sometimes land was provided that could be used for income, but usually salaries were paid a few times a year, in rice from the shogun’s granary.
In 1854, Commodore Perry forced the shogunate into an unequal treaty with the US, and the establishment of trade relations ended the closed door policy. In the museum were drawings from news clippings depicting the fearsome American steamships. After the Meiji Restoration, there was debate about whether to establish the national capital at Kyoto, Osaka, or Edo. A “two capital” policy was favored for a while, and thus Edo’s name was changed to Tokyo, the “Eastern Capital.”
I took the train to Kuramae. Leaving the station to change trains, I passed by Kaya-dera (榧寺), a small Pure Land temple with two concrete pillars shielding a little garden, and a squat modern-make building with attached cemetery. Inside were sumptuous golden decorations at the altar. A sign showed that Hokusai once painted Kaya-dera in a painting called something like “The High Lantern at Kaya Temple” （榧寺の高燈籠） which shows some people in a boat behind the temple.
Tokyo Sky Tree
I went on to Oshiage to see the Sky Tree. Newly opened, the Sky Tree is an impressive tower that changes from a trangle shape at the bottom to a circle at the top. It looks like an old Soviet TV tower in a way, but also a bit organic in its bend. Inside the ticketing area were 12 objets d’art representing the tower, each made of a different Japanese craft, and paired with a Japanese virtue. The crafts are listed here: http://blogs.futaba-en.jp/2012/06/super-craft-tree.html (Japanese).
I walked through the “Japanese Experience Zone” (expensive mall) and took the elevator up to the Dome Garden. There, a silver dome greets the Sky Tree on one side, and the partner building on the other, whose glass reflects the Tokyo tree. Kids played on the grass by the dome, and on the other side wordless music played while people slept or lounged on wooden benches. Green plants lined the black fence, and the sky was blue with white clouds behind the Tree, and the orange sun peeked through.
Have you seen the Sky Tree? What do you think of it?