I needed another six months in Tokyo at least. There’s so much to see and do, even if you’re not into museums. I AM into museums (not just because they’re air-conditioned but I barely scratched the surface and I was a committed museum-goer whilst I was in Japan. There are many temples and shrines to see ranging from the small neighbourhood shrines to large imperial temples, plus so many other places of interest: a spa/thermal bath amusement park, Tokyo Disneyland, the Sapporo beer factory, Sake-making tour, kimono trying-on events, ikebana (flower arranging) classes, tea ceremony, Kabuki, the Robot Dinner Theatre, Panasonic Centre, the Tokyo Tower, Roppongi, Asakusa, the Imperial Palace, my old neighbourhoods, Sumida River Tour, not to mention all the local festivals, sumo tournaments, shopping and Obon (festival of the ancestors) which I’ve always wanted to see. My mum was going to come to Tokyo to visit us because she loves Japan (and probably missed the grandchild too). She visited Japan in 1990 when I was living there and we had a fabulous time touring all over the place…though I was exhausted and had to rest when she went home! This time around it wasn’t the best timing as the heat was a big factor–my mum is an intrepid traveller but brutally high temperatures with high humidity isn’t her cup of tea. I can’t imagine it being anyone’s cup of tea though, unless you’re on a beach somewhere.
I really wouldn’t recommend coming to Japan in the summer. Ever. It’s too hot to enjoy so much of what Tokyo and Japan has to offer. I’d come for the cherry blossoms in the spring or for the shichi-go-san festival (3-5-7) in the fall which is when girls (age 3 and 7) and boys (age 5) go to the shrines in full kimono for a ceremony…cutest thing ever! The weather is decent in both the spring and the fall and at least you can go outside without perishing from heat exhaustion!
In the photo, Karis is leaning against the ad for an exhibit I wanted to see but didn’t get time. The Tokyo National Museum is in Ueno Park…I walked past it on my way to the National Museum of Western Art but even I have my limits. Can’t do two large museums in one day. Smaller ones (like the Bridgestone, L’Orangerie in Paris) yes, but most of the museums in Ueno Park are huge and deserve at least a day to themselves. Not that you’d be staying at the museum for the whole day, but it certainly takes a dedicated art lover with a pliable mind to take in two large museum’s worth of art in one day 😉
Hottest day ever…almost too hot to pose and definitely too hot to cross the street and get a closer picture of that large metal giraffe.
In Japan oftentimes large corporations have significant art collections–one of Van Gogh’s Sunflowers is owned by a Japanese insurance company and the Bridgestone Museum, which houses a lovely collection of French and European 19th and 20th century art, is owned by the tire company. The museum was founded in 1952 by Ishibashi Shojiro to house his private collection which he later donated to the Ishibashi Foundation which has expanded the collection regularly.
I love this museum because it’s small, it has a carefully curated collection with paintings from most major impressionist artists, a small sculpture gallery as well as a very respectable collection of realism, post-Impressionism, modernism and even some abstract art. The best thing was that the museum also houses a collection of Japanese art-works of the time that were painted in the western style. Fascinating. I’d never seen or heard of any of these artists so I learned a lot and saw some paintings I’d never seen or heard of before today.
It was ridiculously hot today though, hard to even walk a couple of blocks from the metro stop. Happy we did walk as there was a very cool stationery store staffed by the tiniest and cutest elderly Japanese lady ever—she wrapped Karis’s stuff separately so she could have her very own package ;-). We also saw a random museum and cafe celebrating the history of Pilot Pens. Did you know they have the first and only retractable fountain pen? Didn’t buy one, mostly because they weren’t for sale. Talk about a missed marketing opportunity….
Karis had a slow day on Thursday so we evaluated our options…particularly our indoor options. We’ve been wanting to check out a special exhibit by Studio Ghibli (Spirited Away) for their new film When Marnie Was Therebut sadly, it’s an outdoor museum and it was fricking hot so Karis decided to try out a ballet class instead. Air conditioned. Indoors. I had emailed around earlier to see what was available on a drop-in basis and in English and found a great studio just a few subway stops away (AND past Gotanda where I used to live 23 scant years ago…it actually looked a little bit familiar unlike my trip to Ginza 😉
Architanz is a studio that offers ballet, contemporary and Pilates mainly to dancers age 13+ with guest teachers from all over the world. The students run the gamut from very talented teenagers to company members to those who try hard but suck, ranging in age from 13-50ish. Karis was the only foreigner in the class and the tallest. Minh Pham taught the class–intermediate level for dancers with 5 years + experience. Karis hasn’t done ballet for about six months due to a back injury so I figured it would be plenty hard enough. Class moved pretty quickly and she did well, especially considering she hasn’t taken class for so long.
I hung out in the smoke-filled lounge. Yup, it seems that all the dancers smoke and drink coffee. Also spent a considerable amount of time looking at the Yumiko leos at the boutique in the lobby. Any dancer or parent of a dancer is fully aware of the caché of these custom made leotards. A good portion of the dancers in the class were sporting the Yumiko brand much like dancers at the National Ballet School wear Ainsliewear (Ainslie Cyopik is a graduate of NBS). Speaking of NBS…the most amazing coincidence of all. Karis comes out of class and heads over to a Japanese girl waiting for the next class. The hug like old friends and chat for a moment. I’m completely puzzled as Karis, as far as I know, does not know any Japanese girls. The models at her agency that she interacts with are all international (no Japanese girls) so I had no idea how she knew this girl. It turns out that she attended summer school with her at NBS in Toronto last year. It’s not like they’ve kept in touch as she doesn’t speak English and Karis had no idea she danced there. So of all the days she chose to go to class, at that particular studio to that particular class and she sees someone she knows in a city with the same population as Canada…it truly is a small world.
Another art gallery/museum day today. It was ridiculously hot and the museums are like refrigerators so I thought it would be a practical expedition. I had taken a few notes on Ueno Park earlier and noticed that there were a lot of museums there AND quite a few temples and shrines as well. It never sounds that big on paper. I think it would realistically take a few days to see them all. It’s huge. Like Stanley Park but with museums. Maybe bigger.
I headed out at 1pm, paid my 200Y and hopped on the Yamanote line which is the circle line that goes around the city. It’s above ground and I wanted to check out the scenery which is why I chose it instead of the subway. So arrived at Ueno and thought I’d head to the Shitamachi Museum first (free with my Grutto pass). Exiting the station, the heat is like a wall…so ridiculously hot.
The Shitamachi Museum was pretty cool. Very small. It’s a replica of what the area would have looked like in the Edo period showing houses that ordinary people would live in as well as the merchant class and the working class. Much like the old-fashioned street scene at the Royal BC Museum in Victoria. Sorry the pix are a big blurry but I couldn’t use the flash. You could actually take your shoes off and walk around in the rooms. Very little floor space but super-organized. Not that I expected anything less 😉
This is our hacienda in all its glory. Top left is the kitchen ‘storage’ and I use that term lightly. Daily grocery shopping is my life. Next is the view of the eating area from the front foyer. Top right is our bedroom…that’s my bed by the deck. Notice the laundry drying on the curtain rod. Electricity is expensive = air drying. Middle left is the bath/shower room–shared by 7 people. The idea is to clean yourself first then soak in the tub. Seeing as we’re not Japanese that doesn’t happen. Middle right photo is the living area and eating area also shared by seven people though most of the girls hang out in their rooms. Note the couches. This is a big deal. Many apartments don’t have such large spaces and definitely no couches. When I was here in 1990-91 I lived without a couch the whole time. Too old now for that sitting on the floor stuff. I make sure to sit on the couch at least once a day to express my gratitude. Bottom left is the washing machine which is immediately adjacent to the shower room. Next is me at the top of the stairs just by our bedroom door. Next is the entry hall with shoe storage (no shoes in the house) and finally, last but not least is one of our two toilet rooms. We’re in Shibuya which is a decent area and this apartment (flower shop on the bottom floor) is probably worth about $2 million dollars….
Perhaps not a stairway to heaven but we do have air conditioning and our own room…along with five (yes FIVE) roommates! The girls are all really nice and it’s not as chaotic as you might think…sort of like camping but in a house with a bed. There are two toilets and one shower but luckily not everyone has to leave the house at the same time. Minimal kitchen utensils but that’s ok because it’s kind of like cooking in a dollhouse. No oven either. Karis isn’t usually home for dinner.
We do have a washer and dryer all-in-one which doesn’t work that well. You have to air dry everything which is pretty standard in Japan as electricity is quite costly.
Apparently there’s no housekeeper but they do supply cleaning products (perhaps as some sort of hint?) and toilet paper. The girls told me that the bookers came over and cleaned and bought some new dishes and towels because a ‘mother’ was coming 😉