55 Days in Tokyo

February 21st, 2007

Got off to another late start today. Had a hard time waking up and staying awake. My alarm woke me up at 11am but I went back to sleep and stayed in a half-dozing state until almost 2pm. Didn't get to my laundry since I didn't want to spend the entire afternoon at home. Instead I finally managed to drag myself out of bed, get dressed and forced myself out the door. Got onto the subway and headed for Yasukuni shrine. Didn't get there easily though. I had to take the Mita line down to Jimbocho and take another line, either the Shinjuku or the Hanzomon, to the final station of Kudanshita. Took the Shinjuku but discovered that the train I was on was an express and it went right past Kudanshita. That's a problem that vistors sometimes run into. This train was even worse in the fact that it wasn't easy to tell that it was an express line and only had a small notice that had the kanji for express. Got off at the first stop and took another train in the opposite direction and finally got to my destination.

Left the station and started walking up the hill towards Yasukuni Shrine. I'll not go into all the details as to why this specific shrine is so controversial since that debate can be easily found online. Suffice it to say that the shrine is viewed as right-wing and houses the spirits of convicted war criminals. The Chinese and Koreans get into an uproar whenever someone from the government visits. Anyways, the shrine itself was pretty normal as far as shrines go. I got yelled at for taking some pictures from an angle that evidently I wasn't supposed to. There were also lots of reporters standing around in a grove with lots of Sakura trees that haven't yet bloomed. The gift store also had some of the oddest gifts that I have yet seen. They had various kinds of snacks, cookies and sweets but the boxes had a cartoon of the current prime minister of Japan, Shinzo Abe. Most Japanese would be astonished that I would recognize the face let alone the name of their PM. Made a mental note of the gifts and intended to return after visiting the museum.

The museum at Yasukuni Shrine (it has its own name, but I forget what it is) is another sore point about the whole place. I got my ticket for a mere 500 yen since I claimed I was a college student. I still look scruffy enough to be a student. The first thing I saw in the museum was part of a film that as near as I could tell was a narrative of various survivors of World World 2 and letters home from those who did not make it. The movie had moving music intended to strike a chord with your heart and give a sense of the patriotism that their warriors had displayed. I don't fully understand Japanese but I could figure out that the letters, in general, talked about defeating America, bringing glory to Japan and to their Emperor as well as describing how noble self sacrafice is. Pretty normal stuff if you think about it and if you examine America's statements and films about WW2. Watched the film for about 15 minutes before moving on. I knew that the place shut down at 5pm and I only had 90 minutes left.

One of the major sticking points for the museum is its appeared bias against everyone else in the world and its revisionist tendancies in its explainations of various conflicts. The whole place is designed to glorify the military history of Japan. Artifacts are on display and I enjoyed the older armor and weapons displays. The descriptions are sometimes funny to those who have actually studied the history of Japan (I'm no expert, but I'm no layman either) and tend to portray certain people in a kinder and more glorious light. For example, Oda Nobunaga and Toyotomi Hideyoshi, two of the three "unifiers of Japan" are portrayed as noble figures who were trying very hard to unify Japan into a single nation because of some patriotic intent instead of their wish for power. Another example is how those behind the fall of the Tokugawa Shogunate were merely trying to return power and direct rule to the Emperor where in reality they were a group of dissatisfied nobles and oligarchs trying to get themselves into power. Japanese history is defined not by the rule of the Emperor who hadn't ruled directly since the last 800's (save for a few exceptions) but by those who worked behind the throne and actually ran things. Not too suprising to see this place gloss over the details especially when it would portray the Emperor as anything less than a proper ruler.

For the most part however, the museum does get a good number of aspects of the history correct. The WW2 section is visibly biased against everyone else but again, that isn't too suprising. Certain figures are blamed for the war and the cruel aspects of it that were forced upon various people. Interestingly enough, there wasn't too much in the way of information about the atomic bombs used against Japan. Mainly it is meantioned that many thousands of civilians were killed and a short history of their development. It also held that WW2 was caused by the USA and its oil and supply embargos against Japan and glosses over the fact that said measures were taken after Japan began invading other countries in Asia. Some things were just laughable such as saying that when Japan marched into China, the Chinese "misunderstood their intent".

All in all however, the place wasn't that bad. As long as you understand that the museum presents information with a very clear bias (other museums are generally more clever to hide their bias) it is still filled with a fair amount of information. Some of the artifacts are very interesting including a complete bomber aircraft and a tank along with various cannons and weapons. By the time I got to the latter end of the museum it was almost 5pm so I was forced to rush through the last few parts and finally had to leave at 5pm. When I got outside I found that the gift store with Prime Minister gifts had closed as well. Bah. Another time.

I headed across the street and back down the hill to visit another set of gardens that are close by. Discovered that the Budokan was inside and took a look at the outside. The building was built for the 1964 Olympics for various martial arts competitions and has been used for such contests ever since. The rest of the park was nice but nothing special. Given its proximity to the Imperial Palace and the East Gardens it has a bit of a reputation of not being looked after as much and somewhat more rough.

By this point I was starting to get hungry and didn't know where I wanted to go. Akihabara and Kasuga were within walking distance but neither one of them interested me. Instead I decided to walk around the area behind Tokyo Station. Found a little resturant with affordable Unagi and also a little coffee shop with hot chocolate and ice cream. After I stuffed myself I walked around the shopping area that is underground in front of the station and visited the first arcade I ever saw in Tokyo when I first visited. At that time it had a Dance Dance Revolution and a salary man in full business suit was totally rocking out and getting down. Sadly, the machine was no longer there. None of the games interested me and by this time I was feeling very tired even though it was only 8pm. Decided to take the train to Sugamo and hung out in the arcade there for a while before walking home. I had intended to visit the local bath house but found out that they had closed down for the day. Returned to my house to play some poker online before going to bed at close to 3am. I hate it when I feel very tired, only to return home and get all my energy back.

Photos for February 21st, 2007