Our last full day in Tokyo before heading off to Hiroshima tomorrow. We made our first visit to Tokyo station and stopped at the JR ticket office to book seats on the Shinkansen to Hiroshima tomorrow. Booking seats was easy and the clerk spoke very good English. I was surprised to find that we can’t get a direct train with our JR passes (JR only allows you to travel on certain Shinkansen services with a JR pass reserving the newer and faster services for customers paying full price).
From Tokyo Station we headed off to look around the Imperial Palace gardens which are right next to the station. We got a little lost on the way, partly due to the Japanese habit of displaying maps with North in an odd direction like the right edge of the map and partly due to the mysterious inaccuracy of our GPS. When we arrived at the Palace there were large crowds of people getting off buses to enter but we quickly discovered that the grounds are actually closed on Fridays! The buses must have been a special event or something. Our guide book listed other closures but nothing about Fridays.
Fortunately we had several backup plans in our pocket so, after walking around the outside of the gardens and snapping some pictures of the walls and moat, we headed off towards the Yasukuni Shrine and Yushukan Museum. On the way to the museum we walked through some pretty parkland and shrine gardens. There was some kind of sumo event going on which meant that the area around the museum was very busy but did mean that we were able to have a quiet sit in the gardens and eat our lunch while everyone else was thronging around the wrestlers.
After eating our lunch we went into the museum. The Yasukuni Shrine is dedicated to the souls of Japanese who have died in war and the associated museum is predominantly about the military history of Japan and was quite interesting. It is unashamedly nationalistic and while it does not always overtly celebrate the historical military exploits of Japan it is never apologetic for some of the more questionable events. At least this is the impression I get from the bits that have English explanations.
Unfortunately for me, the exhibits quickly skip past what I consider to be the more interesting parts of Japanese military history to the point at which the Japanese military became just like any other military force in the world. There is very little coverage of the feudal and samurai culture that I am interested in. There are lots of interesting and pretty exhibits to look at but unfortunately again, only the boring bits are translated into English. English speakers are left with loads of dry international relations stuff “In the year such-and-such, so-and-so went to such-and-such country and made a deal with so-and-so which annoyed the followers of so-and-so.” while the descriptions of the interesting looking exhibits are Japanese only.
The routes around the museum are labelled according to how long it will take to get round however they seem to be sorely underestimated even if you only read some of the sparse English signs as we were ushered out of the halls well before we were finished by the famous rendition of Auld Lang Syne. The last sections of the museum contain possessions and letters of kamikaze pilots and it was while in this section that the music came on to usher us out. No one else seemed particularly keen to get out so we carried on viewing the exhibits with this odd musical accompaniment for quite a while.
After the museum we decided to head to a nearby old quarter which used to be a geisha quarter. It took us a while to get off streets that just look like any other Tokyo street but eventually we found a maze of narrow winding cobbled streets with quaint wooden houses and restaurants. It seemed a little invasive to be walking around peering at what seemed to be people’s homes but it was very calm and pretty. One of my favourite parts of the city so far.
Back at the hotel in the evening we packed up as much of our stuff as possible ready for the transfer to Hiroshima tomorrow.