MUSEUMS AND MAJOR SIGHTS IN TOKYO
Edo-Tokyo Museum There are a total of about 50 museums in the Tokyo area. The National Museum of Modern Art (mostly Japanese modern art), the Craft Museum and the Science Foundation Museum (Ueno's National Science Museum is better) are located in Kitanomaru Park (part of the Imperial Palace). Tokyotopia Websites: tokyotopia.com ; Japan Guide japan-guide.com
Museum Pass: The Tokyo Museum-Grutt pass costs ¥2,000, is valid for two months and offers free or discounted admission to 56 facilities, including the Tokyo National Museum, the Mori Art Museum, Ueno Zoological Gardens, and other museums, art galleries, aquariums zoos and facilities. Website: Museum site museum.or.jp
Edo-Tokyo Museum (Sumida-ku in Ryogoku) is a modern silvery-steel building that contains models of Edo (Tokyo) at various periods of its history and a complete set of Hiroshige's 100 Famous Views of Edo , a model of the shogun’s palace and an exhibit of Meiji-era consumer goods. Official Museum site Website: edo-tokyo-museum.or.jp
Hara Museum of Contemporary Art boasts 600 works, including paintings by Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko and internationally-recognized contemporary Japanese artist like Shigeko Kubota, Yayoi Kusama, Yukinori Yanagi and Toshikatsi Endo. Website: Hara Museum site haramuseum.or.jp
Museums in Ueno Park Tokyo National Museum, the National Museum of Western Art, the Tokyo Metropolitan Fine Art Gallery (with mostly temporary exhibits of contemporary Japanese art), the National Science Museum and Ueno Zoological Gardens are located in Ueno Park.
The National Museum of Western Art contains works by Rodin, Renoir and Monet in a cement building designed by the famous Swiss architect Le Corbusier. The museum was established to house paintings and other art seized by France under the 1951 San Francisco Peace Treaty and were returned to Japan on the condition a museum was built to house them. The main buildings was completed in 1959 and is the only work by Le Corbusier in Japan.
The Le-Corbusier-designed museum has been recommended for UNESCO World Heritage listing
See YOKOHAMA, SAITAMA AND CHIBA for museums like the Fujiko F. Fujio Museum (Doraemon Museum), Railway Museum, Hoki Museum, Cup-a-Noodle Museum and Others
Tokyo National Museum
Tokyo National Museum (Ueno Park, Ueno Station) is the oldest and largest museum in Japan and has one of the world's biggest collections of Japanese and Asian art. The collection is so big that only a portion of the 110,000 items can be shown at one time. Particularly impressive are the displays of painted screens, calligraphy, swords and lacquerware. On the vast ground that surround the multiple-building museum are lawns and serene gardens. Many of the visitors to the museum come to see the first rate exhibitions rather than the permanent collection
The Gallery of Eastern Antiquities contains art and archeological objects from all over Asia. Among the treasures here are an A.D. 2nd century Buddha from Gandhara, Pakistan; a mummy in a coffin from ancient Egypt, a 13th century celadon glazed tea bowl and an 11th century paintings of red and white hibiscus flowers by the Chinese artist Li Di.
Buddhist sculptures and stone reliefs dating back to the 2nd and 3rd centuries feature works from Pakistan, Afghanistan, Cambodia, China, the Korean Peninsula and Japan. Two of the sculptures regarded as masterpieces are the Standing Bodhisattva (2nd-3rd century AD, Gandhara, Pakistan) and Standing Buddha (2nd-3rd century AD, Peshawar, Pakistan)---the former being a model for the pre-enlightenment prince Siddhartha and the latter for the post-enlightenment Buddha. There are also Chinese figurines and Gandharan reliefs depicting Siddhartha's birth (from below his mother Maya's arm) and others showing scenes from his life. Among the the Japanese sculptures listed as Important Cultural Properties are the Standing Buddha at Birth (Kamakura Period, 13th century) and the Buddha's Nirvana (Kamakura Period, 13th century) depicting the reclining Buddha entering into Nirvana at his passing.
The Hyokeikan houses Japanese archeological finds and items used by the Ainu. Here you can see 4000-year-old clay figures, examples of the world oldest pottery, an A.D. 4th century bronze mirror with dragons and bell-shaped Chinese bronzes dating to the 14th century B.C. In another area Japan’s most dog, Hachiko, stuffed and displayed, and a room of portraits of famous Japanese leaders and entertainment figures.
Among the treasures in the Japanese art section are detailed 13th century standing Basatsu bronzes; Katawaguruma cosmetics boxes made with maki-e lacquer with gold, mother of pearl inlay; 11th century calligraphy of the Lotus sutra; Noh costumes, valuable kimonos, gold painting by famous artists and a ukiyo-e collection with works by Utamaro and Hiroshige. As of March 2008, this section contained 87 items deemed National Treasures and 616 registered as Important Cultural properties.
The museum was renovated between July and September 2004. The displays were completely reorganized so that they made more sense. Now, not only is the art arranged chronologically it also grouped into themes within a particular period. The second floor of the museum is now devoted to the history of Japanese art with an aims of helping visitors understand and appreciate the art not just observe it, with special attention given to the tea ceremony, ukiyoe and customs of the Edo period. On the first floor objects are groups by art form, with area for paintings, lacquerware and gold and bronze Buddha statues. There are also displays of Ainu cultural and everyday items and photographs of the Okinawa-based Ryukyu Kingdom.
The renovated museum has more English signs and captions and computers where you looks stuff up and hands on exhibits where you can your hand at different art forms. Information areas are conveniently located and floor plan brochures are available in several languages. The museum also host a wide range of lectures and discussion and concerts and other events, Website: Tokyo National Museum site tnm.go.jp
Gallery of Horyuji (part of the Tokyo National Museum) is dedicated to preservation of 319 delicate, 1,200-year-old works of art---mostly bronze Buddha and bodhisattva statues, nimbuses, reliefs, scrolls and masks---taken from Nara's Horyuji temple after it was damaged by fire in 1949. In the past the works were only displayed on Thursday unless the humidity level was too high and then they weren't shown at all. In 1999, a new facility was opened that allows the works to be shown every day.
National Art Center Tokyo and Museums in Roppongi
National Art Center Tokyo (Roppongi Hills) is a new museum opened in January 2007. Designed by the architect Kisho Kurokawa, it is a $300 million architectural marvel with lots of gallery space and a stunning glass facade, said to resemble a tsunami wave, augmented by beautifully-landscaped entrance. The only thing its lacks thus far are exhibits of art worthy to fill it.
The art center (known as NACT for short) contains 14,000 square meters of exhibition space: 10 exhibitor rooms, each 1,000 square meters in size, and two 2,000-square-meter special exhibition galleries. The rooms contain no pillars, giving the staff flexibility in how they want to set them up for displays. The museum will not have a permanent collection. Instead it will host high-profile temporary exhibitions and be a focal point for the art scene in Tokyo, Japan and the world.
On his design Kurokawa told the Asahi Shimbun, “Architecture that creates ambiguity and a little bit of confusion makes people think, or makes them go into a maze. In the design for the NACT, I use several ambiguities. The first one is the ambiguity of interior and exterior. The second way is high-tech and primitive.” Among the center’s greatest delights are a bamboo garden located in an unexpected place and interior iron wood floor that continues outside the building. Among its high-tech features are cleaning robots and lights that brighten and dim when you walk by them. Two concrete tornados welcome visitors at the main door. Websites: National Art Center Tokyo site nact.jp ; Photos benoa.net
New Museums in Roppongi: Roppongi is beginning to challenge Ueno Park as Tokyo’s museum hub. The New Suntory Museum of Art, with its fine collection of arts, and the 21_21 Design Site, a research museum inspired by Issey Miyake, opened in Roppongi in 2007 as part of the $3 billion Tokyo Midtown Project. The Mori art museum occupies the top six floors of Roppongi Hills and is regarded a center Tokyo contemporary art. The Okura Shukokan Museum, with a historical collection, and an annex for the Sen-oku Hakuko Kan museum are also in Roppongi Hills. Websites: Japan Guide japan-guide.com
Ghibli Museum (Mitaka Station on the JR Chuo train line) is the brainchild of Hayao Miyazaki, the Japanese animator that created Princess Mononoke and won an academy award for Spirited Away . Opened in October 2001 and built at a cost of $42 million, it is designed by Miyazaki himself and named after Miyazaki’s studio. It attracted more than one million visitors and is best described as a hands-on art museum-playground for children.
The museum building is a maze of stairways, passages and rooms that calls to mind some of the mysterious sets from Miyazaki’s films. Inside are displays of works by Miyazaki and members his Ghibli studio staff, reproductions of animated characters and rooms and studio intended to convey the work that goes into making animated films. Sometimes his films are shown here and nowhere else. Several Miyazaki short anime films such as Mr. Dough and the Egg Princess debuted at the Ghibli Museum’s 80-seat Saturn theater. Reservations are required for these.
Margaret Talbot wrote the in The New Yorker, “From the outside, the museum resembles an oversized adobe house, with slightly melted edges; its exterior walls are painted in saltwater-taffy shades of pink, green and yellow. Inside, the museum looks like a child’s fantasy of Old Europe submitted to a rigorous Arts and Crafts sensibility...stained-glass windows cast candy colored light on white-washed walls; a spiral stairway climbs...to a rooftop garden of wild grasses, over which a hammered-metal robot soldier stands guard. In the central hall, beneath a high ceiling, a web of balconies and bridges suggests a dream vison of a 19th century factory.”
Among its notable features are reproductions of the cat-shaped bus from My Neighbor Totoro large enough to climb on; and exhibits like Where a Film Begins , depicting a room where a boy dreams up an idea for a film; The museum is open everyday except Tuesday from 10:00am to 6:00pm. Admission is ¥1,000 for adults, ¥700 for middle and high school students, ¥400 for primary school students and ¥100 for pre school children and free for children under four. The restaurant features home cooking rather than restaurant food. Often times reservations are needed to get in. Websites: Ghibli Museum site ghibli-museum.jp ; Photos and Background Information tautoz.com ; Japan Guide japan-guide.com
Earthquake and Science Museums
Shinagawa City Disaster Prevention Center (Shinagawa City) has an in house theater, where you can experience an earthquake via shaking seats and a 15-minute 3-D film of debris falling around you. The theater was established as instructional tool for school children but visitors are welcome. Twenty sets of English headphones are available. . Website: Shinagawa City Disaster Prevention site city.shinagawa.tokyo.jp
TEPCO Museum Earthquake Museum (Kita Ward, near the Nishigahara Station on the Naboku subway line) is a three story museum with a special room where visitors can experience the shaking of an earthquake measuring up to 6.9 on the Richter scale, the intensity of the Kobe earthquake in 1995.
There is also a smoke room, where visitors are taught to squat down and exit to avoid inhaling the artificial smoke. Visitors also get a chance to extinguish a real fire with a fire extinguisher and told how to avoid being hit on the head by falling furniture. There are also exhibition rooms where people can watch videos of major Japanese earthquakes and view a world map that shows major earthquake zones. Website: Tokyo Essentials tokyoessentials.com
Honjo Life Safety Learning Center (Sumida Ward) simulates an earthquake and fire in a 3-D theater. There is also a room that simulates a storm with wind sped of 30 meters per second. Tokyo City PDF file Website: bousai.metro.tokyo.jp
Tepco Electric Energy Museum (Shibuya Ward) is a hands-on, virtual reality museum that welcomes half million visitors a year. Operated by the Tokyo Electric Power Company (Tepco), it features a number of hands-on thrills related to electricity. One display contains a series of 16 television screens that show aerial photographs. One misstep and you'll experience a virtual reality fall. Website: Tepco Electric Energy Museum site tokyo-cci.or.jp
Shibuya Karakuri Museum (Shibuya Ward) contains 40 pieces of trick art that appear different from different angles. To achieve the effect you need to look at the art with one eye closed while moving your head.
National Science Museum (Ueno Park) is a unique museum with three above-ground floors and four below-ground ones. It contains meteorite collection, two stuffed dogs that survived in Antarctica by themselves, a tank full of giant kelp, and real forest with bugs crawling around below the leaves
The 38 hands-on devices on the second floor include "Air Basketball," in which visitors try to throw a beach ball through a basketball hoop using a current of air emitted from a ventilator. A new annex to the museum that opened in 2004 houses a satellite retrieved by a Japanese astronaut on the Space Shuttle, skeletons of huge Basilosaurs, strangler figs from Malaysia and a stuffed elephant that when alive was given to Japan as a present from India after World War II.
A spherical, walk-through screen featured at the 2005 Expo in Aichi has been recently added to the museum. The screen is 12.8 meters in diameter. Viewers watch short video presentations from a bridge-like aisle in the center of the sphere. One of the videos is about dinosaurs. Another is about the molten mantel region of the earth,
About 1 million people visit the museum every year. The annex offers detailed information in English as well as Japanese and in some cases has video images of the objects that visitors are looking at. Visitors can purchase a card which allows them to record data from the museum’s computers and get more daat at home using the museum’s website. Website: National Science Museum site kahaku.go.jp
National Museum of Nature and Science and Technology (Odaiba) has 19 interactive displays that explain science and atomic power. One of them is a glass vacuum bowl that contains a ball of plasma that emits electric charges. Touch the bowl and streaks of "lighting" reach out from your hands. Another device called the "standing wave" uses Styrofoam particles to show how sound waves move. Website: Tokyotopia tokyotopia.com
RiSuPia (in Ariake in Kto Ward) is a digatal museum that opened in 2006 and covers 1,300 square meter. It features 24 games and displays that bring mathematics and the natural science to life and makes them fun, including a game called prime number hockey. The museum is run by Panasonic. Website: RiSuPia site risupia.panasonic.co.jp
The Cosmo Planetarium Shibuya opened in May 2011. It produces the night sky and celestial images with traditional planetarium technology and the latest computer graphics. Owners of the planetarium---which has 120 seats in a 17-meter dome--- say the facility produces the largest number of stars (265,000 of any planetarium in the world.
Sumo Museum (near Ryogoku Station on the JR Sobu Line) is located within the Ryugoku Kokugikan sumo wrestling arena. It basically is a 150 square meter room with a revolving display of sumo-related memorabilia chosen from the museum’s vast collection, which includes 3,600 woodblock prints, 5,700 photographs, 560 keepsakes and personal items that have belonged to wrestlers. The displays are changed every two months. About 70 people visit the museum a day, increasing to around 400 during the tournaments. Websites: sumo museum site sumo.or.jp ; JNTO article JNTO
Ramen Museum draws five million visitors a year, more than any other museum in the country. Opened in 1994 and officially known as the Shin-Yokohama Ramen Museum, it contains silver earrings shaped like ramen noodles, an exhibit on the history of noodles, noodle video games, a package of the first instant noodles ever sold and a special edition cup-of-ramen with Arnold Schwarzenegger's picture on it.
You can also see 230 ramen bowls collected from shops around Japan and uniforms worn by workers at famous shops. The museum shop sells things like ramen-bowl key chains and books on ramen history. Long lines form at museum's nine ramen restaurants, each with its own kind of noodles. Season passes are available. Websites: ; Tokyo Food Page bento.com ; Japan Guide japan-guide.com
Edo-Tokyo Tatemonen (next to Koganei Park, 5 minute bus ride from Musashi-Koganeu Station on the JR Chuo Line) is an open air museum that brings to life the Japanese bathhouse experience. It boasts a impressive 40-square meter penki-e painting of Mt. Fuji. The bathouse was used as a model for the Yuya bathhouse in Hayao Miyazaki’s Spirited Away. The open-air museum also features other kinds of old style buildings.
House of the Insect Poet (10 minute walk from Sendago subway station in Bunkyo Ward) is an insect museum inspired by a Japanese translation of famous poem about insects by the French poet Jean-Henri Fabre. Opened in 2006 in a building designed to resemble a cocoon, it houses specimens of insects and butterflies from around the world. Most of the specimens belong to a scholar of French literature who began collecting insects in the forth grade and has since collected 100,000 specimens,
Ancient Egyptian Museum (8th floor of the Mezon Shibuya Building, near Tower Records, five minute walk from Shibuya Station) contains as you might expect a reasonable display of ancient Egyptian artifacts and then goes a step further by trying to replicate what it is like to explore the inside of an ancient tomb in attempt to bring to life the period in the 1920s when many of the great discoveries of Egyptology were made. Admission is ¥1,500.
Tama Zoological Park (western Tokyo) features an insectarium with 40,000 insects from 800 species. There is darkened room to observe fireflies and other nocturnal insects. Websites: zoo site tokyo-zoo.net
Tokyo Sealife Park (Edogawa Ward) features a huge tank with tuna swimming around at a high speed. zoo site Websites: tokyo-zoo.net
Bunka Gakuen Costume Museum (short walk along Koshu-kaido Road from Shinjuku Station) contains an impressive collection of 30,000 clothes from around the world. Only a small portion of the collection is shown at one time. There are everything from rare silks form the 8th century to modern fashions by Kenzo Takada and Yohji Yamamoto, who studied at the Bunka fashion College, which is affiliated with the museum. Websites: Bunka Gakuen Costume Museum site bunka.ac.jp
Subway Museum (Edogawa Ward) has some old subway cars and turnstiles. The star attraction is a $1 million system that simulates a run on the Chiyoda Line with three 100-inch screens and a control panel. Visitors can virtually drive the subway and feel the bumps as it moves along.
Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department offers special tours five times a day (9:00am, 10:30am, 12:30pm, 2:00pm and 3:30pm). The tour includes stops at the Police Museum, Communications Control Center and the Traffic Control Center. Reservations need to be made in advance. This can be done by contacting the Public Relations Department of the Tokyo Metropolitan Police by fax (☎ 81-3-3581-3924).
Nezu Institute of Fine Art (Minami Aoyama) is a two- gallery museum set around a traditional garden, with a charming and eclectic collection that dates from 2000 B.C. to the 1920s and includes hanging scrolls, tea ceremony utensils, screens, bronzes, lacquerware, ceramics, kimonos, Chinese bronzes, lacquered pillboxes, Japanese swords, and ink drawings by Kano Maonobu. Websites: Nezu Museum site nezu-muse.or.jp
Small Museums include the Gotah Museum, a former estate with charming teahouses in a garden settings and a priceless collection of Chinese and Japanese art; the Mingei Museum, with a famous collection of folk art; and the Hatekeyama Collection, a museum with a delightful garden and superb collection of Chinese and Japanese calligraphy, paintings, tea ceremony utensils, porcelain objects and bronzes.
Ota Memorial Art Museum (Harajuku Station) has a fine collection of ukiyo-e woodblock prints. The Teien Museum (Shirokanedai Station in the Mira and Mamboku subway lines) is housed in an Art Deco Building that hosts regular exhibitions of Art Deco Pieces, including chandeliers and glass panel doors by Lalique and a a fountain by Henri Rapin. The Idemitsu Museum of Art boasts a fine collection of calligraphy, tea bowls and works by 18th and 19th century painters. The Basho Museum (Koto Ward) is devoted to Japan’s most beloved poet.
Japanese Sword Museum (4-25-10 Yoyogi Shibuya-ku) is a seven minute walk from Sangubashi station. Origami House (one minute walk from Hakusan Station in Bunkyo Ward) is a small space with some incredibly complex designs. Ainu Cultural Center in Chuo Ward in Tokyo houses a museum of Ainu crafts and a library and offers classes in Ainu music, dance crafts and language. Mitsubishi Ichigokan Museum (near Tokyo Station) is a new museum that opened in 2010 in a reconstruction of buildings built in 1994 and designed in the Queen Anne style of architecture by a British architect. The museum has a nice courtyard garden and highlights works by European artists, particularly Impressionists.
Mitsu Memorial Museum (seventh floor of Mitsui Main Building near Mitsukoshimae Station on the Ginza Line) features tea ceremony tools. Drawings, swords, lacquerware, noh masks and collection of 130,000 stamps collected over the centuries by the Mitsui family. The comfortable size of the Mitsui museum's galleries and the not-excessive number of works on display also help to make this exhibition a very enjoyable experience. the Mitsui Memorial Museum, in the Mitsui Honkan building in Nihonbashi, Tokyo, next to Mitsukoshi department store. Closed Mondays, except Nov. 22. Admission is 1,200 yen for adults, with student discounts available. For more information, call (03) 5777-8600, or visit the Web site at www.mitsui-museum.jp.
Small Offbeat Museums
Tokyo Sky TreeSmall Offbeat Museums include the Kite Museum (Ginza), a small place stuffed with hundreds of kites; the the world's largest Paper Museum; the Da Vinci Museum (Hibiya Park); the Tobacco and Salt Museum; the Fugu Museum, dedicated to puffer fish and puffer fish cuisine; the Silk Museum; and the Ryoguku Fireworks Museum, where models of fireworks, coats worn by pyrotechnicians and woodblock prints of fireworks are displayed
The Rainwater Museum opened in May, 2001 to pay tribute to rain and its role in the origin of life. The 50-item collection includes a five-ton Sri Lankan water tank, a net used on Peru to extract water from fog. Hidden under a railway bridge near Minami-Senju station is a large statue known as Jizo of the Cut necks, which marks the spot of the old Kozukabara execution grounds. By some counts more than 200,000 criminals and political rebels were beheaded or tied to wooden crosses here. Nearby was the Bridge of Tears, where the family of the condemned saw their lived ones for the last time.
Gohan Museum (first floor of the Tokyo International Forum in Marunouchi Tokyo) is a museum devoted totally to rice. Set up as an agricultural cooperative in 2006, it features displays on rice, a cooking studio, library with over a 1,000 rice-related books and of corse a restaurant that serves rice dishes. In the football-shaped Media Ball, the walls are dominated by high-definition screen images of golden ready-to-harvest rice, accompanied by rice-paddy sounds and the smell of earth and rice. The museum’s shop has a wide selection of rice-based cosmetics.
Tokyo Sky Tree
Tokyo Sky Tree Tokyo Sky Tree (Sumida Ward not far from Ginza or Tsukiji Fish Market) is the world’s highest free-standing tower. It claimed that title over the 600-meter-high Canton Tower in Guangzhou when it reached the 601 meter mark in March 2010, two years and seven months after construction began in July 2008. The Tokyo Sky Tree will reach a height of 634 meters. It surpassed the 333 meter height of Tokyo Tower and became the highest structure in Japan in March 2009. By July it was around 400 meters high. In December it reached 500 meters. It reached its maximum height of 634 meters in the spring of 2011 and is scheduled to open in May 2012. Originally called New Tokyo Tower, Tokyo Sky Tree is radio TV transmitter tower that will be used by NHK and five commercial televison stations. The tower is significantly higher than 333-meter-high Tokyo Tower and the world’s tallest freestanding structure, the 553-meter-high CN Tower in Toronto. Built by Tobu Railway, Tokyo Sky Tree is expected to cost ¥50 billion.
Because a dropped hand tool or piece of construction material could cause serious injury if it were to fall 400 meters and hit someone in the middle of a noisy urban area, where the tower is located, extraordinary precautions were taken to prevent that from happening when the tower was under construction. Each worker had two safety lines and all their tools---even things like ball point pens---are attached to their belts by chords. Tarps were place below the workers and to the sides to block winds. So far no tools or workers have fallen. But here been some problems with ice and snow falling from upper reaches of the tower despite measures to prevent that from happening.
Construction began in in 2008. NHK and the five commercial broadcasters plan to use it for transmissions when they permanently shift from analog to terrestrial digital broadcasting. Among matters that still need to be worked out are aviation restrictions that limit the tower’s height. In October 2009, it was announced the Tokyo Sky Tree will be 634 meters high, 20 meters higher than originally said. The antenna will be extended to make it higher than the 610-meter broadcasting tower being built in Guangzhou, China. It is expected to be finished in 2012. Websites: Tokyo Sky Tree offical site tokyo-skytree.jp ; Wikipedia Wikipedia
Tokyo Tower (near Roppongi) is a mammoth TV and radio tower, standing 333 meters (1092 feet) above a knoll in Shiba Park. Nine meters taller than the Eiffel Tower in Paris, it has two observation platforms with commanding views of Tokyo, Yokohama, Tokyo Bay, and, on clear days, Mt. Fuji and the Izu and Boso Peninsulas.
Tokyo Tower was built in 1958 and had been visited by 157 million tourists as of 2008. It has been pictured in many Japanese movies and is fixture of school bus trips and first dates. Built at a cost of $8.4 million, it is about a football field short than the 443-meter-high Empire State Building. It was the tallest tower in the world when it was built and is still one fo the highest free-standing steel towers in the world. The 553-meter-tall CN Tower in Toronto is considerably higher but it is held up with the help of wires. Tokyo Tower doesn’t dominate the skyline like the Eiffel Tower does because it is near lots of tall buildings.
The main observation deck is completely enclosed in glass. It features a look-down window that allows people to look down to the ground 150 meters below while standing on 54-millimeter- thick piece of glass. From the main observation deck you can take another elevator to the 250-meter-high Special Observatory. From here the view is unobscured by buildings and you can see Mt. Fuji on a clear day.
On weekends and holidays, visitors sometimes have to wait in line more than an hour to get to the elevator to the main observatory, which is about halfway up the tower. Those that want some exercise can climb the 590-step emergency stairway to the top, which takes about 15 minutes to 20 minutes. Climbing you can enjoy the open air, which you don’t experience on the observation deck, and really get a sense of how high you are.
Tokyo Tower looks sort of like the Eiffel Tower except it has white and orange stripes. It and is painted every five years to keep it from rusting. For its 50th birthday in 2008 the tower was given a $6.5 million overhaul by its owner, Nippon Television City, and a new nighttime illumination scheme: the Diamond veil, featuring 276 lights, in seven colors. On St. Patrick’s Day it is usually lit up green at night.
Built on the grounds of ancient Buddhist temple using steel scrap from American battle tanks used in the Korean War, Tokyo Tower was used to beam Japan’s first color television broadcasts. Before it was finished there were rumors that one could see Hawaii from the top. In the 1961 black-and-white film Mothra it was topped by a giant caterpillar. In recent years its it has become a symbol of the nostalgia for the Showa era (1926-89), when Japan was a budding economic superpower and nothing seemed impossible.
At the foot of the tower is a 60s-style shopping center with a waxworks museum, aquarium, holograph display. and shops selling a variety of souvenirs and snacks such as the Tokyo speciality ningyoyaki sweets. There has been some discussion of making Tokyo Tower taller by 80 to 100 meters to prevent major television broadcasters from switching to a planned taller tower---the 610-meter-high Tokyo Sky Tree--- for transmitting broadcast signals. See Tokyo Sky Tree. Websites: Tokyo Tower site tokyotower.co.jp ; Wikipedia Wikipedia
Tokyo Temples and Shrines
Asakusa Kannon Temple (in the middle of Asakusa Park) contains a large five-story Buddhist pagoda and is home to the “Thunder Gate,” with its massive red lantern, one of the most popular photo spots in Tokyo. Also known as Sensoji, the temple enshrines a gold Buddha statue said to have been miraculously netted by a fisherman in A.D. 628. Millions of pilgrims have come from all over Japan over the centuries to see it. During the 1923 earthquake, when Tokyo was engulfed in flames, thousands sought refuse in temple and were saved by its open spaces.
Asakusa Kannon Temple is Tokyo's best known temple. The huge red lantern that hand from Kaminarimon (“Thunder”) Gate weighs more than ton. The pagoda is situated in a beautiful Japanese garden. The temple is also the site of the Sanja Festival in May, a Plant Fair in May, June and July, the Ground Cherry Fair in July and the Battledore Fair in mid-December.
Large weekend crowds visit the temple to make offerings and light incense in the temple buildings and go shopping and play video games at the shops and amusement centers located within the temple grounds. The lively open air market on Nakasmise Dori is a good place to shop for souvenirs. It is filled with stalls selling dolls, kimonos, wigs, crackers, lacquerware, ceramics, paper fans, tourist kitsch, and other stuff. South of the temple a Edo period neighborhood has been recreated on Denboin-dori street. Website: Japan Guide japan-guide.com
Meiji Shrine (in Yoyogi Park) is a popular and impressive shrine, dedicated Emperor Meiji, the 19th century ruler who became a symbol for the modernization of Japan. Set in a forested area of Yoyogi Park, it embraces the lovely Inner Garden, famous for its river of irises that bloom in May and a torii gate said to be one of the largest in Japan. It is a serene place surprising close to some of Tokyo most heavily urbanized areas.
Connected to the Inner Garden by a broad cherry-tree lined avenue is the Outer Garden, which contains the Memorial Picture Gallery, various sports facilities including the Yoyogi Sports Center, Komazawa Sports center, the ultra-modern National Indoor Stadium and its shell-shaped annex constructed for 1964 Olympics, and the National Stadium. Nearby is the Tobacco and Salt Museum. Website: Meiji Jingu site meijijingu.or.jp
Yasukuni Shrine (near the Imperial Palace) is memorial whose purpose is to honor and deify hundreds of thousands who died in World War II and other conflicts in the late 19th and early 20th century. In some ways it the Japanese equivalent of Arlington National Cemetery except no one is buried there.
Founded in 1869 as a way of healing wounds of the Boshin Civil War and located on a hill overlooking the Emperor's Palace, Yasukuni Shrine is a simple Shinto-style building located the end of a 500-yard promenade in a 24 acre park. It is a weathered wooden shrine, like many in Japan, except for the strong presence of purple curtains bearing the chrysanthemum crest of the Emperor, flocks of specially-bred white doves that visitors can feed, a museum with controversial items and a Book of the Dead with some controversial names.
Yasukuni means “Peaceful Nation.” A book at the shrine lists 2.46 million war dead regarded as gods, including soldiers who died in the “Greater East Asian War” (World War II), participants Rape of Nanking, high school students who died defending Okinawa, nurses and engineers who died on the battlefield, and soldiers who were killed in the Russo-Japanese war but does not include civilians who died in Hiroshima, Nagasaki or the fire bombing raids.
The dead at Yasukuni were enshrined with a Shinto ceremony in which their names were written down on a scroll and then ceremoniously placed on a palanquin and carried into the shrine, essentially recognizing them as kami (“gods” or “spirits”). During the peak of fighting in World War II sometimes 30,000 people were enshrined in a single day. For More See Central Tokyo
Zojoji Temple (near Tokyo Tower in Shiba Park) was built by the Tokugawa Shoguns to house the rare black Buddha. Nearly all the 48 temples that once occupied the site were destroyed by fires or development. Sanmon, the gate built in the 1700s, is said to one of the oldest standing wooden structures in Japan. Most structures were built after World War II. There are many cherry trees here. A procession dedicated to temple’s founder often coincides with cherry blossum season.
Yushima is one of Tokyo's oldest shrines. Founded in the mid-14th century, before Edo (Tokyo) itself was founded, it is dedicated to Michizane Sugawara, an acclaimed poet-scholar of the Heian Period (894-1185) who was falsely accused of treason and exiled before he died in 903. The shrine was commissioned by the Emperor as an act of atonement after he realized he made a mistake. The grounds are beautifully landscaped with gnarled plum trees. Website:Shrine homepage yushimatenjin
Gotokuji Temple (Gotokuji Station, Odakyu Line, Setagaya Ward) contains a shrine dedicated to the worship of beckoning cats. Situated in a quiet residential district, it was founded in 1480 and became associated with beckoning cats after a 17th century feudal lord avoided being caught in a torrential downpour by finding refuge in a temple after being beckoned there by a cat. Many people pray for good fortune and good business in the shrine. Many beckoning cats are displayed around the shrine.
Ushiku Great Buddha in listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as the tallest Buddha statue in the world. Completed in 1993, and jointly produced by Japan and Taiwan, it is 394 feet tall, 115 feet wide and weighs 1,100 tons. Visitors can take an elevator up to the statue’s chest. Websites: Wikipedia Wikipedia ; Japan-i japan-i.jp
Interesting Modern Building in Tokyo
Asahi building Tange Kenzo is one of Japan's most acclaimed architects. His works in Tokyo include the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Offices in Shinjuku and the United Nations University near Omotesando subway station.
Other modern is buildings of interest include the NC building (Shin-Koiwa Station on the JR Sobu Line) designed by Peter Eisenman; the Tokyo International Forum (next to Yuraku-cho Station); the Edo-Tokyo Museum in Ryoguku; the Spiral building in Aoyama; the Bunkamura, the Humax Building and Shibuya Beam in Shibuya; and the Odaiba complex on Tokyo Bay.
The Asahi Beer headquarters (downtown Asakusa) is famous for the granite structure on its roof. The sculpture is supposed to represent beer foam. Many Tokyoites say it reminds them of a piece of shit. Designed by Phillipe Stack, the building also boasts an extraordinary exterior and interior.
Some people claim the most extraordinary structure of all is the Tokyo Metropolitan Expressway, a 220-kilometer system of highways and interchanges that is largely elevated above the city and has been compared with the Roman aqueducts and the Great Inca Road. See Designer Shopping in Ginza, West Side of Shinjuku Station, National Art Center Tokyo and Roppongi Museums, Roppongi Hills and Tokyo Midtown Above Websites: Roarfish roarfish.com ; Architecture Tokyo architecturetokyo.com
Tokyo Area Gardens
Tokyo is not especially known for its gardens. Tokyo's most beautiful gardens include Hama Rikyu, and Koishikawa garden as well as Koishikawa Botanical Gardens and Shinjuku National Garden. One and half miles from the Imperial palace is Korakuen Gardens, one of the few great classical gardens in Tokyo. North of Tokyo in Mito is Kairakuen Gardens, one of Japan's three most beautiful gardens. Rikugien Garden (near Komagome Station on the Yamanote line) is a classic Japanese garden established in 1702.
Kiyosumi Garden was originally the estate of a wealthy 18th century merchant. Restored by the founder of the Mitsubishi conglomerate, the gardens features numerous bonsai and a tea house that juts out into a lake. It is a three minute walk from Exit A3 at Kiyosumi Shiakawa Station on the Oedo subway line. Websites: Japan Guide japan-guide.com ; Japanese Lifestyle japaneselifestyle.com.au
Kairakuen Gardens (in Mito) has been ranked as one of Japan's three most beautiful gardens along with and Korakuen in Okayama and Kenrokuen in Kanazawa. Formerly owned by Nariaka Tokugawa, the ninth Lord of Mito, a feudal lord with a passion for plum blossoms, Kairakuen boasts 3,000 chiseled plum trees in an opulent traditional setting. The peak plum blossom season is in March. Websites: Japan Guide japan-guide.com ; Photos Reggie.net
Cherry Blossoms: Good places to see cherry blossoms in the Tokyo area include Ueno Park, Sumida Park (Asakura Station), Yakushina Shrine, Chidorigafuchi by the moat at the Imperial Palace, Showa Memorial Park (Nishi-Tachikawa Station), Aoyama Cemetery (Nogizaka Station) and Shinjuki Gyeon.
Yoshini Baigo (an hour from Tokyo) is a village on the banks of the Tama River with over 25,000 plum trees.
Image Sources: 1) Edo-Tokyo Museum 2) 3) 4) Tokyo National Musuem 5) 16) Ray Kinnane 6) 7) Ghibli Museum 8) Tepco Musuem 9) National Science Musuem 10 Sumo Museum 11) 12) 13) 14) 15) Twin isles 17) Adachi Musuem
Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Daily Yomiuri, Times of London, Japan National Tourist Organization (JNTO), National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.
© 2009 Jeffrey Hays