Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Sayōnara, Tokyo, until next time!

As our Tokyo trip wound down, we packed as much as we could into each day, making carefully plotted and planned itineraries, and packing our backpacks with band-aids and bottles of water. We were on a mission. 

We made a special effort to get to a Tokyo skatepark. We were totally impressed by the little kids shredding it up here! I think it made Mike and Josh feel old.

The larger skate park, with its gnarly ramps. BMX bikers used it as well.

Josh and Mike on one of the ramps they had in the back!

Another long trek took us to the Tokyo National Museum. This is where many of the most special Japanese artifacts and historical treasures are housed. It is comprised of 7 main buildings, 6 outlying buildings, and parks and gardens. Basically, it's too big to see everything all at once, so we did the best we could and tackled a couple of the main exhibits.

A whole room full of samurai swords. Wish they had more info in English!

One of the most interesting things I saw was the Buddha, in stone and sculptural pieces from early AD, from three Asian countries - China, India, and Japan. I loved seeing the similarities and differences between each country's take on their deity.

The Buddha as represented by India (almost always sitting, usually in Lotus).

Buddha carvings (statue and the reliefs in the back) in limestone from China.

Japan's take on the Buddha - with guardians.

My favorite piece was this contemporary (1881) piece by Miyagawa Kozan. Those two crabs looked so real in person, that it seemed like they were taxidermied and attached to the bowl, but they're porcelain.

This bowl is representative of Satsuma-style pottery.

I will say that America has something to learn from Asia, in terms of museums and public availability. Every museum Mike and I visited on our trip, from the Hong Kong History Museum to the Macau Museum, cost less than $6.00 to enter. In comparison, the LA Natural History Museum cost $12-$20, and the Art Institute of Chicago cost $27.00. Shouldn't we, as a society, want people to be educated and exposed to history and art? I think if our entrance fees were a little more affordable, maybe we'd have a few less ignorant people. 

One place Mike was determined to see, was the Lucky Cat Shrine, otherwise known as the Gotokuji Temple. I'm sure you've seen Lucky Cats in random Asian restaurants and stores. The original Lucky Cat's name was Tama, and he helped this particular temple flourish, and with it, his legend. Although it's a little bit outside of Tokyo, in the suburb of Setagaya, it was worth the trek.

The Lucky Cat Shrine, and many people's offerings.

The grounds of the temple are beautiful and include a cemetery and several other temples and shrines. You can purchase porcelain lucky cat statues here, to leave at the shrine as an offering (which we did), or to bring home and give yourself some luck (which we also did). Mike wanted one for Subietech HQ, so we got the largest one! He hand-carried that sucker back to the US.

Ringing the bell and leaving an offering at the temple.

Leaving another offering (can't have too many prayers!) of a little cat.

You can also purchase prayer boards, on which you write a wish/hope/prayer and leave, with an offering, at the temple. I got one and wrote a little hope for our future. I think we covered our wishing and praying for the day.

So many prayers, and ours just one of the bunch.

We continued our cat theme with a stop for drinks at a cat café! This was one of Bernice's must-dos for Tokyo, and as all of us are cat lovers, we were happy to oblige. I must say, with all the rules they have at this place (wear their provided slippers, wash your hands, don't bring in your bags, etc), these are some of the luckiest and cleanest cats alive. The room looked like a crazy cat girl exploded.

everything in this entire room is for the kitties and scratchable!

Of course the cat café was right near the Harujuku District, so that was our next stop. There are no words for the insanity here.

A shot of Takeshita Dori (Takeshita Street), stuffed with fashion stores.

We stopped in at a Daiso, one of my favorite Japanese stores, on their main street, and bought a package of 20 masks for less than $1.00! We randomly wore them around town for the rest of the trip, and amusingly, no one even took notice. I wonder what kind of looks I'd get if I did this in Bend.

Josh and Bernice going incognito on Takeshita Dori.

Next, we walked up the street to the Meiji Shrine, which was built in the early 1900's to honor the deified spirits of Emperor Meiji and the Empress Shoken. It is surrounded by over 100,000 trees, donated from all over Japan. It is a natural oasis in the middle of Tokyo.

The forested path to the Shrine.

Many sake brewers make offers each year to the Emperor and Empress.

The 40 ft tall Torii gate, made from 1,500 year old Cypress trees from Taiwan.

Cleansing our hands and mouths in the traditional way, prior to entering the shrine.

You can purchase prayer boards here, or simply write a prayer on a piece of paper, and drop it in the box with a little donation. Since we'd already spent the whole morning praying at the Gotokuji Temple, we just prayed on paper here. 

Mike, deep in thought, before the rows and rows of prayer boards.

the courtyard of the main shrine

Our final pilgrimage of the trip was to the Mecca for all Subaru lovers, the STI Gallery. This is a museum dedicated solely to Subaru STIs. In case you have no idea what I'm talking about, this is a car that is famous for excelling in rally racing (motor races along actual roads, rather than a track). If you'd like to see all the pictures from this museum, you can go to the Subietech HQ website, or "like" them on Facebook

To the untrained eye, this is a museum full of blue cars.

The museum is in Mitaka, which is about an hour on public transit from Tokyo. So understandably, they don't get a lot of visitors - only a few a week. The museum manager, Ken, spoke perfect English and was happy to answer questions and let Mike and Josh peek under the hoods.

Mike and Josh geeking out with the museum manager.

We had the whole museum to ourselves.

The treatment we received at the museum exemplified what we'd been experiencing all week in Japan. Everyone thanked us for liking Subarus, and acted really grateful that we had come to visit them. As a whole, the Japanese people were very polite and gracious to visitors, and we really came to appreciate and love Tokyo, despite all the communication difficulties. Next year, we will be sure to learn a lot more Japanese before we go!

It is worth mentioning that we were in these countries while some major events went down - the protests in Hong Kong, and the eruption of Mt. Ontake. While we were not physically affected, it does affect us emotionally, and I have been thinking about those whose lives were lost or changed. Life is precious and unpredictable. Be sure you are living it, enjoying it, fulfilling your purpose and experiencing everything you can - none of us know how much time we are given.

A photo of Izumi Noguchi, right before the eruption.

Admiralty protests - Photo by Bill Kwan

Admiralty protests - Photo by Bill Kwan