Friday, April 10, 2009

Day 7 - Mr. Oka

Safely back in Tokyo for what seemed like only a few hours after our WishClub extravaganza we were back awake, in our hotel lobby, and off on a walking tour of Tokyo with Mr. Oka with what he has named his Introductory Walk 2 of Tokyo. After hearing of Mr. Oka from someone I contacted online back when I was planning this trip we thought it would be a good way to see a lot of things in a short period of time from a local resident of Tokyo, and since it was not in a huge group we wouldn't have to worry about dozens of other people in a tour group.

Our first destination was back at the Imperial Palace, a place we had been back on our first full day of exploration. Mr. Oka pointed over to our right, past the moat, and told us to look at the buildings in that picture above. It's there on the left, the buildings with the dishes on top, the one with the red and white antenna, and the shorter one in front, that we found out that they were the buildings of the police, the prison, the court, and the equivalent of the FBI in Tokyo. It's there that the mastermind behind the sarin gas attack was held and interviewed, he never confessed to anything though. We also were told that due to the Japanese being so obsessed with work some people who had health problems due to the attack were actually fired for not working to their full potential. Talk about bad luck.

Next we headed down the street and we were told to look up. "Look up there, what do you see?" "Can you see it? Keep looking." After staring at a building for quite some time our eyes opened to a small structure of stone on the rooftop..

I bet you can't see it either in that small thumbnail. Click the picture and have a look for yourself and when you are in Tokyo just at the first light north of the Chidorigafuchi Park impress your friends when you can point it out to them. Here it is on a map if you want a cheat sheet.

Across the way we came to Chidorigafuchi National Cemetery, a quite place tucked behind trees and a street.

There we saw the Japanese tomb of the unknown soldier, a small wooden box given as a gift from the emperor. While it's not possible to store all of the remains in it there is an underground area that holds many more.

There we also read a poem by the Showa Emperor, written for the cemetery's establishment to honor the fallen dead of the Japanese military. Translation can be found at the link above.

In the cemetery is also a small building where they have a shrine on the wall (left picture) of mother earth looking over all of the fallen soldiers represented by the pink pedals. Also on display is a small exhibit of artifacts found during the many wars Japan has fought, items found on the battlefield with no clear owner.

Out of the cemetery we walked along the inner moat of the palace.

While not yet in full bloom the mood was just as festive with people from all over the country coming to enjoy the sakura festivities and good weather.

I even took the time to enjoy a roasted .. something .. from a local vendor.

Down the street we came across the Yasukuni Jinja shrine, a controversial place in that it honors anyone who has died while fighting in battle for Japan, even war criminals, convicts, and other such people not liked in society. The shrine makes no distinction about how you led your life, if you died while serving the country in battle or related war efforts you are enshrined here after death. Because of that when anyone prays here, especially of note is the emperor, you are praying for everyone there. This has led to some international controversy as some nations do not like it when criminals against them are honored.

Across the way from this Mr. Oka pointed out a lighthouse, seemingly in the middle of the city.

"If you look down the hill you'll see buildings, but go back in time and they weren't around, you'd be on top of the hill by the palace looking down to where the less influential lived, and right beyond that, the ocean. But we can no longer see such things and the lighthouse sits unused."

From here we took a quick stroll through Japan's used book store center, Jimbocho,

past Meji University,

and ended up here, at an the main Eastern Orthodox Church of Japan, which as with everything in Japan, had been damaged by fire, destroyed in an earthquake, and rebuilt. Also, like any good Christian symbol the church was built right on the outer moat of the emperor's palace in plain sight of one of it's competitors..

Yushima Seido, a Confucian place of worship.

Confucius says..
All shrines must have their vending machines.

Then it was off for a whirlwind walk through Akihabara, the world famous electronics district.

That's about all we saw that day too, we did go through a few tiny alleyway streets that sold just about every component for any piece of electronics that you could think of, but it was all so fast and overwhelming that I took no pictures. We would return, though.
Oh, and maids everywhere you look. If you ever wanted to go to a cafe staffed by maids who will giggle and serve you tea, this is the place. Mr. Oka stops to get free tissues, a common promo tool all over Tokyo for just about every establishment. Good thing, too, as hay fever was in full swing.

..and now it was time for lunch.

Just as a warning, if you are squeamish to watching food being prepared (translate that to: killed) stop reading and click here to go on to the next day. But, if you are up to seeing some Japanese delicacies, keep on going.

The night before I had a little chat with Mr. Oka on the phone to confirm our plans.

"So, are you serious about your question that you sent me in email?"

"Which one is that?"

"That you want to try this style of food, getamono"

"Sure, I guess so"

"Okay I will make reservations"

and that was that, and now it was time to go to those reservations for a meal we'd remember.

Outside of this particular eating establishment somewhere south of Sensoji temple we saw a tank on our way in the door that would give us our first glimpse of the meal we would soon be eating.

Suppon, or as many of you would know it as, turtle.

Say cheese.

Little did she know that soon after this picture the following would take place.


Soon after the shell is removed and the "yummy" morsels inside are taken out and prepared, but not before each person is first given the traditional..

How did it taste? Let's find out.

Next came the sushi.

From the left it's raw turtle meat, yellowish eggs as our turtle was female, a treat for us, then the three bits on the bottom were gizzards, and on the right was it's liver. I think. We ate it all up, carefully and with strange looks on our faces, and waited for the main course of this meal to be completed in front of us on our table.

Suppon soup. Once all off the fancy sushi bits are taken out of the turtle the rest, shell and all, is tossed into a bot along with some vegetables and seasonings, and boiled on your table on a portable stove. When it was ready we carefully dug through it and tried all of the different things that could be found.

Including this stuff, the fatty jelly stuff that supposedly is great for your skin, which is what makes suppon such a popular dish in Japan amongst young girls, accoridng to Mr. Oka.

At the end of the meal the bits left in the soup are removed, rice and egg is added, and the mush is eaten. That part was actually the tastiest to us westerners. For dessert we had a nice regular orange and we were on our way.

Ueno park is where we would be making our final stop of the day. That statue there is of Saigo Takamori. Who? Well do you know the film The Last Samurai with Tom Cruise? That movie was based off the history of Saigo Takamori, the real last samurai, just hollywooded up a whole lot and a big star thrown in for good measure. He's a hero amongst the Japanese and the statue in Ueno park with him and his dog is quite the iconic spot.

Ahead ws the grave site memorial of the fallen soldiers of Shogi Tai Soldiers. Click the tumbnail for an explination of what that's about.
Rodin says hello and thinks about the sakura.
The Tokyo National Museum

And then came the Sakura.

They were blooming a bit too.

It's what everyone was there for. We made a few turns and then boom.

Hanami row. My name for it anyway. A walkway in the park totally packed with sakura overhead.

And hanami parties covering every last centimeter of open ground.

Everywhere you looked the festivities were in full swing. Amongst all this we saw one of the rarest sites in Japan.
Garbage cans. Seriously. When you go, try to find one. They don't exist. You'll spend quite a bit of time wandering around whatever city it is you are in with garbage in tow, there is just no where to throw anything out. It's amazing how clean everything is given this.

It was party season in the park. Rows of food vendors all over the place, people drinking and eating, everyone in a good mood. We had come to Tokyo at this time of the year just for the sakura and here we were in the thick of it. Mission Acomplished.

It was just about time to say goodbye to Mr. Oka, our walk had taken us to places we never would have seen if we were on our own and allowed us to taste a few things we might not have otherwise. He did point out a few more things before he left us.
The signs outside the Koban. They indicate how many people have died in the city and how many have been injured.

"Today is a good day, no one has died" we were told.

"When you see these signs next to an entrance to a street, stay away, unless you are looking for trouble."

I tried to go back down them later on in the night. She was having none of it.

And thus we parted ways with Mr. Oka. On a street corner we said goodbye and watched him fade off into the crowd of people. It had been a long day and our feet were destroyed. But it was not yet over. After having turtle for lunch we needed a little something to calm our stomachs.

Yay McDonalds Japan! I got the thing on the left, the McDonalds Teritama.. burger? I think it was a sausage and then an egg, maybe, cooked in some kind of teriayaki sauce. Some people say it's an actual burger. Whatever it was it was good. She had the Shaka Shaka Chicken. Exciting stuff. Chicken in bag. Put powder in bag. SHAKA SHAKA! and you have a chicken coated in flavoring.

THEN we went to bed. and slept. for a long time.

Day 8

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