Our second swing through Japan was no less interesting than the first. I don’t know why I find myself so fascinated by this county. I thought having spent the last half of our trip in Asia might change our perspective but no-Japan is still awesome.
This time around we decided to concentrate solely on Tokyo. We had a bunch of great tips from my buddy Luke in Thailand and put together a hit list.
One suggestion was simple but really interesting. I think any animal lover who hears the story would find it interesting.
At the Shibuya train station in Tokyo there is a statue of an Akita dog named Hachiko. The story goes that this dog would accompany his master to the train station and await his return each day. When the master died one day at the university where he has a professor, the dog was waiting for him at the station. The dog returned to the station to wait for his master’s return each day for the next nine years! Hachiko is now immortalized in a bronze statue outside the station.
This happened back in the 1920′s and is a beloved story in Japan. It seems Hollywood has caught on now and an Americanized movie of the story starring Richard Gere will be out this year. hooray-yipee. The station is also home to one of the busiest intersections in the world. Check out the merging masses.
We stayed in the Shinjuku district. This seemed to be the party area last time we were here and since we would be in town for New Years it seemed to be the logical choice. Funny enough though, New Years Eve in Japan is not the raucous holiday it is in other countries. The month of December is very busy for the Japanese. It is a time to clean house and tie up loose ends so nothing old carries over into the fresh clean slate of the new year. The majority of Japanese spend the holiday with their families and pay a visit to the temples and shrines. It was a bit refreshing to see this perspective on the new year.
Our Japanese friend Naoko was sick and did not get to spend time with us, but suggested we visit a local temple she took us to last time we were in town. There were food stalls serving noodles and sake around the temple. What a great idea huh? Imagine how many more people would go to church at home if they served food and beer. Anyhow, there were massive numbers of people standing in the freezing cold at midnight. The mood was subdued yet positive. At midnight there was a bit of bustle but no screaming and yelling. Some people were drunk but it wasn’t the loud usual affair.
The temple visits continue on New Years Day which worked in our favor since we planned to visit Diabutsu or “The Big Buddha.” Again, a happy positive mood pervades the atmosphere everywhere. I took my usual 2,000 photos and we moved on.
The Buddha was once housed but the building was destroyed in a tsunami a couple hundred years after it was built. Utilizing my amazing sleuthing skills (hey, my Grandfather was a detective) I figured the water must be nearby. Indeed it was but I was not expecting a beach-let alone with surfers in January. I had no idea you could surf less than one hour from the heart of Tokyo. Granted, the waves are small and the water freezing but everyone looked like they were having a good time.
The imperial palace in Japan is only open twice a year when the emperor makes a pubic appearance: on his birthday and January 2nd. Damn. We can see the emperor of Japan? We filed in through the gates with the throngs of people and waited in the crowd for a glimpse of the emperor. Again, the Japanese always seem so composed-even in a crowd. After an hour, the emperor appeared on the balcony to the thousands of happy spectators who did little more than happily wave their flags and listen intently to what the emperor had to say. I have no clue what it was but assume he simply wished everyone well for the new year. Thanks chief.
We spent the remainder of our time gorging ourselves on ramen soup which is even more awesome when it’s cold out. Ramen here is not the stuff everyone ate when they were starving college students. It is seriously good.
My buddy also suggested we visit the Ramen Museum on this visit and we were all for it. The museum is an ode to all things Ramen and aside from explaining the history of Ramen they have eight different types of Ramen from different regions of Japan available. After a long last day in Japan we were tired and thought about scrapping the idea but knew we would regret it if we did not go. Instead we regretted going. After an hour and a half, $25 in train fare and 3 trains we stood in front of the museum peering through the locked gates-it was closed for the holidays. Ah well… now we have an excuse to go back to Japan “once more.”