Tokyo, October 15-17

I am in Tokyo to take part in a two week tour organized by Travel Indochina, an Australian company with extensive operations in Asia with which I have travelled quite a few times.  There are ten of us in the group, the others are all congenial Australians.  We have a tour director supplied by the Travel Indochina Saigon office.  She is a New Zealander who has lived for some years in Japan and speaks the language.  We will also have two Japanese guides, one for each half of the trip. I had Saturday to myself as I arrived ahead of the tour.  It was raining so I opted to start with the National Museum.  It is a large museum and I toured only the Japanese collection which was beautifully presented and very interesting.  I also visited a Japanese Handicrafts Centre.  I  found the ceramics and lacquer ware beautiful but very pricey.

Sunday the tour started in earnest with our Japanese guide.  We are using public transport and our feet where possible, including using the bullet trains for inter-city travel. We set off on the metro for the Meiji Jingu Shinto shrine.  The entrance is guarded by two torii gates (photo) made of 1700 year old cypress trees from Mt. Ari in Taiwan. The photo is of the first one. The shrine was built in honour of Emperor Meiji who died in 1912 and his wife.  It was early and very quiet but Sundays are popular for weddings and we saw several happy couples getting pre-wedding photos and one wedding procession (photos). The couple below are in traditional dress which is usually rented as it is very expensive.  The high hat on the bride is supposed to hide two horns that Japanese folklore says are to be found on all women!!  We left the shrine and took a quick walk down a street in the trendy Harujuku area popular with teenagers. As it was early, there were not too many of them around. Our next stop of the day was a visit to the Tokyo Tower, soon to be replaced by a new one called the Tokyo Sky Tree which will be twice as tall.  As the day was clear, the views around Tokyo were spectacular and Mount Fuji was even visible in the distance. We then went to lunch after which we went to the Hama Rikyu Detached Palace garden.  The original palace of the Tokugawa shoguns built in 1709, is no longer in existence as it was wood and burned down. However, the gardens are now maintained as a public park.  The gardeners were out in full force pruning the pine trees into more pleasing shapes (photos).  We then headed for the water boat service which would take us on an interesting 45 minute trip from the park to the Asakusa area where our last stop of the day was the Sensoji Buddhist Temple. It was bombed during WW II and has been rebuilt. Being Sunday, it was really crowded with families on an outing who were patronizing the shopping arcade which leads up to the main hall. they all stop at a large bronze incense burner to bathe their hands and faces in the smoke to ward off illnesses before entering the main hall (photo) to offer a prayer to Kannon.  The young girl dressed up in a kimono in the photo below may be a geisha trainee. The entire Asakusa area is full of small shops selling both modern and traditional goods and is worth exploring if you have a longer visit to Tokyo.  By this time we were all exhausted and returned by metro to our hotel.

Today was a free day and I went to the Imperial Palace grounds.  You can only tour part of the park.  It is quite impressive and I enclose a photo of the Two-tiered Bridge, one of the most scenic spots.  I also walked around the government area and saw various buildings such as the Justice Ministry, the Diet (parliament) and imposing Supreme Court.  Lastly I went over to the famous Ginza area and toured one large department store.  Shops in this area are very expensive. On Mondays however, the Ginza is not busy and I did not really find it interesting.  Also, power saving demands by the government have resulted in the turning off of all the famous neon signs.  Tomorrow, we are heading to the famous fish market and then we will head off to the scenic area of Hakone by train.

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