Tue, 29 Apr 2008 11:40:51 +0000

Another Long Day Index Kyoto

Jet lag is my friend on this journey - I woke up well before 6:00 without prompting. I got breakfast from the 7-11: a couple of sushi-race-wrapped snacks, and a cup of broth with a fried-tofu-wrapped parcel floating in it. I enjoyed all of them.

First bit of touristing was the Asakusa shrine, which is just up the road from the hostel. It has lots of statues and lamps and various bits and pieces, although I'm never really sure what I'm looking at. I like the idea of having a Shinto temple devoted to protecting a neighbouring Bhuddist temple. Very ecumenical.

Next stop was Ueno, to poke my nose into a museum. I went to the Tokyo National Museum, to look at some artefacts. They had a temporary exhibition of some decorations from a famous 7th century temple called Yakushi-Ji, which I'd never heard of. Again, interesting, but the English captions were a little thin for me to really know what I was looking at. I also went around the archaeological exhibit, with lots of pottery and terra-cotta stretching back 8000 years. The captions claimed that the early Japanese cultures were the first to produce pottery, which seems unlikely to me, but who am I to argue?

I had a lunch of curry and rice at the train station. Weirdly, there was a cold poached egg plonked right in the middle of the curry. That wasn't very nice, but the rest of the curry was good.

Next stop was Tokyo central station, to wander around the Imperial Palace. I couldn't actually go in, because you have to book in advance, but it's a nice area to hang out.

Cooler than that, though, was when I realised that the Yasakuni shrine is just next door. I'd assumed it was out in the sticks somewhere, but no, it's like Westminster Abbey. So obviously I had to visit that. Unfortunately, you don't seem to be able to just wander inside off the street - I imagine if you could, the place would long since have been burned to the ground. Maybe I'm imagining things, but it does seem to have a bit of a nationalist feel to it. Mainly this is because of the enormous steel gates along the park leading to it:

There's also the monument to a 19th century minister of war who was responsible for the original industrialisation of Japan's military. He was assassinated by a bunch of disaffected samurai. You have to wonder what they would have made of Japan's later military history.

That felt like enough touristing for one day. I went back to the train station to book a bullet train ticket to Kyoto for tomorrow, and then went back to the Asakusa shrine to buy one of the senbei rice crackers that it's supposed to be famous for (it was very dull). And then back to the hostel.

For dinner I went out for tempura, which the area is also supposed to be famous for. On a whim I ordered a medium beer, which turned out to be well over a pint. I was sat opposite an old bloke with gold teeth who was clearly well past his first beer, as well as working his way through a bottle of sake. He attempted to make conversation with me in English, which didn't work too well. He was also eating his pizza with chopsticks, which is something I haven't seen before. I got a plate of various breaded and fried seafood, with some shredded cabbage and potato salad. Not bad, and pretty good value. I'm eating a lot more fish than I usually do on this trip, which is no doubt good for my brain.

I didn't enjoy the beer much. It's starting to seem like I've lost the ability to drink lager completely. Damn shame. Despite not enjoying the beer, I had a free drink from the hostel and this was my last opportunity to get it, so I ordered an Asahi black. Nicer than the extra dry, but not much.

So that was Tokyo. I thought that it was going to be confusing and difficult, but there's a lot more English spoken than I had expected. I had planned to stay two days in Tokyo, but I think it will be more interesting to go to Kyoto straight away. So that's tomorrow.

Another Long Day Index Kyoto