Saturday, December 06, 2003

That Tokyo blog.

Items from the past, again. Dec. 1, 1993.

Last week we took an overnight bus from Osaka to Tokyo for a long weekend. It was more comfortable than you'd think -- three rows of single seats, with significant aisles in between each row. The seats also recline to an angle that isn't horizontal, but fairly friendly to sleep, and the curtains over the windows are almost opaque. The only trouble with the ride was that it ended too early, namely 6 a.m. But it is the cheapest way to get to Tokyo, except for walking. Even driving a car on the highway is more expensive, considering the steep tolls.

Tokyo lends itself to a busy and satisfying time. One of the more impressive sites this time around was Nicholai Cathedral (Nicholai-do), belonging to the Japanese Orthodox Church, done in Russian style complete with onion dome outside, ornate altar screen and plenty of icons within. We went on Sunday, as a service was in progress, with all the singing and chanting and incense and processions. It was a little hypnotic.

Less active, but just as interesting, was Yasukuni-jinja (shrine), which enshrines Japanese war dead (since the revolution of 1868, that is -- it isn't an ancient institution). Perhaps you can imagine the uses such a place might have had for an aggressive government. That ended in 1945, but the place still has a tarnished reputation in the rest of East Asia. Its associated museum holds a large collection of war artifacts, photographs, etc. I couldn't read most of the captions, but it was worth wandering around to see the photos from the Russo-Japanese War and the replica Zero and kamikaze planes, among other things.

We spent most of a day in Yokohama, which is the port south of Tokyo proper, but in fact the two are fused together with other cities and towns to make the vast greater Tokyo glop. Still, Yokohama is a distinct place. It has an enormous Chinatown, probably as big as San Francisco's and certainly as busy. We had lunch, took in some shops, and visited a temple as brightly colored as any I've seen: reds, golds, oranges and black. Yokohama also has a place called Landmark Center, an office/hotel/shopping complex that might as well be in North America.

Monday we had lunch at... the Sizzler. Why this franchise came to Japan, I couldn't say, but there is was, and curiosity got the better of us. Not bad. Better, maybe, than the American Sizzlers, but I haven't been to one in years. It's in a part of town called Shinjuku, famous for its labyrinthine train station and characterized by tall office buildings. Tall for Japan, anyway -- 40 to 50 stories. The tallest of them, Tokyo City Hall, was under construction the last time I was in town. It's finished now, and a nice piece of work. Postmodern, resembling but not exactly copying others I've seen in Chicago.


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