Friday, February 22, 2013

Tokyo Tower - Symbol of Sight-seeing and So Much More

20th August, 2010 - After visiting Zojo-ji, we were off to see another old favourite friend in Tokyo. Good old Tokyo Tower... Walking up the road from Zojo-ji, you catch glimpses of the tower through the tree line. A tease of things to come.

Tokyo Tower was a symbol of reconstruction and re-birth in post WWII Japan. The tower is a complete rip-off of the Eiffel Tower - though at 333 m tall, it is about 10m taller than the original French inspiration. Construction started in 1957 and was completed in 1958 - with the first radio transmitters installed in 1961. 

Tickets to the observation deck are around 820 yen for adults, and 460 yen for children over 4, and 310 yen for children under 4. The main observation deck is at the 150m mark, and affords quite nice 360 degree view of Tokyo, and being where it is, there's lots of cool neighbourhoods to find in amongst the neon and steel.

My brother-in-law said before we went that we should try and find the second Tokyo Tower... and frankly I didn't know what he was talking about. Then as I was looking out at the night-scape, it suddenly struck me. The second Tokyo Tower! No... not the Skytree... but a wonderfully coincidental tower made from the street lights of a busy intersection just a little way from the tower. And yes - even I could see how you could call it a second tower... built entirely from momentary car lights and sodium sparkles. 

Of course - any tower worth it's salt is going to have a "glass floor", and Tokyo Tower doesn't disappoint. Whether it was because it was night, or whether I was taken up in the mood - but I jumped on with complete abandon. Which, as some of you might know I do get afraid of heights quite easily... this was quite an achievement. But then again, sitting on my bottom was something I knew instinctively how to do. 

There is also another "special" observatory that you need to fork out another 600 yen (in addition) once you get to the main observatory. For whatever reason, we've never bothered abut getting up to the 250m level. We were content with what we had. Back down stairs, the tower is amazing at night when it's lit up brilliantly. 

And if you find it all too much, then you can pop into the "Foot Town" building at the base of the tower and check out the faux Shinto temple as something different (and is found on the second floor). It's four floors of beautiful cliche tourist trap sort of stuff. But it's still irresistible!

Tokyo Tower is almost certainly a tourist trap itself... but it's so much more too. Like all symbols it stands apart from that which describes it - even if it seeks to symbolise the city it lives in - Tokyo. It turns out to be quite a classy reminder of the dreams Japan had at the beginning of the 60's when it seemed that all you needed was a good work ethic and the world was your oyster. Even though the world has changed, it's symbolic power remains, if a little hidden under the glare of it's new sister tower, the much larger Tokyo Skytree.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Zojo-ji....The Path To Redemption And An Old Friend

21st August, 2010 - a short taxi ride (or a longer walk) from Takeshiba monorail station you'll find the temple Zōjō-ji (or more correctly, San'en-zan Zōjō-ji). Tokyo is normally a city more renowned for the newest fashion, pop culture or electrical goods rather than historical temples. But there remains (if you look for it) any number of temples around the city. Zōjō-ji may lack the razzmatazz of Senso-ji in Asakusa, but it's still one of the more significant temples in Tokyo. You can check out my original post from our trip back in 2003 here.

The temple was first built in 1393 AD for the Jodo Shu sect of Buddhism (the ones that popularised the act of reciting the nembutsu chant as a way of finding enlightenment). It was later moved to the current location in 1598 AD. However, despite it's rich heritage, only the main gate, known as the Sangedatsumon (roughly as the Gate of the three deliverances - in this case form greed, anger and stupidity!) This huge vermilion painted gate was constructed in 1622.... one of the oldest surviving structures in Tokyo - a city with a history replete with bad endings for buildings.

From the other side of the gate... the busy streets of Tokyo echo softly with the hot breath of summer life drifting through the huge temple gates.

And of course it is still a working temple... so expect to see the odd monk or two around...

Actually - back in it's hey day, you'd have been quite likely to have spotted the elite of Edo (old Tokyo) around the temple, as it was the favoured temple of the Tokugawa clan; the Shogun rulers of Japan for over 250 years. Indeed the family mausoleum was on this site... though the history (other than Sangedatsumon) was largely destroyed following the fall of the Shogunate, and of course the bombing of Tokyo in WWII.

The creatively named Daibonsho... or BIG BELL....constructed in 1673, and comes in at a modest 13.6 tonnes of purification. Rung twice daily - early in the morning and in the evening (I'd vote for seeing it in the evening)... it evokes an amazing feeling as it rings out across the amazingly quiet temple grounds. Remember this is still in the heart of the city,

Time for some purification of another sort at the chōzubachi, which is a ceremonial water trough used for the act of washing your impurities in the temizu ritual (te = hand, mizu = water). How to do it? Grab the full cup/ladle in your right hand, rinse your left hand with it. Then repeat with your left hand washing your right... then pour some water into your left hand and wash your mouth. Though I suspect this last step is often (though not always) skipped for the sake of hygiene.

One of my favourite - though that's perhaps not the right word -  parts of Zōjō-ji is the memorials to the lost children. Around the north-western wall are lined row after row of Jizō statues, disturbingly garbed in red bibs and hats they make for a memorable, if a little disturbing, sight bathed in the late afternoon glow. It's a sad place - and a place for quiet reflection on our children. Jizō is the patron saint of children, and you will find Jizō statues all over the country - protecting and guiding the souls of those unfortunate souls that were not long for the world.

Actually I have also read (not sure about it) that the practice of parents paying for Jizō statues to remember their departed children is used by some temples as a way of money-raising; using emotional blackmail and fear to pry money out of the grieving parents pockets. Of the two versions, I prefer to believe in the more soulful and spiritual protection of Jizō for the children lost to the world.

The Daidan (Honden) is the main hall in the temple building and was a relatively recent construction of (1974). Actually, reading the blurb it's described as combining the best of Buddhism and modern architectural designs (at least circa 40 years ago). I kinda get worried by those sorts of statements - for some reason. Inside you'll find a large - and venerated - image of the Amida Buddha. That's of course if you go inside. Actually, we were just passing through today.... a more detailed visit will need to wait for another trip....

And our old friend is revealed... Tokyo Tower. Mama-san of the Tokyo's night skyline.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Time To Unwind In Tokyo

20th August, 2010 - Ok - first things first.... I admit I haven't been posting many new blog entries of late. There's a reason - several. Firstly - had child #2 (kind of changed priorities), second - have been holidaying in Japan (yeah - ninth trip... man am I behind on my posts), and third - there's some big news which you can read about on my sister blog (Raising Adelaide). Anyhow - I'm back at home - busy as usual, but I want to get stuck into these posts. Real quick.

So where were we - oh that's right - Odaiba. We had a totally full-on day there, T-chan with her friend, and me with L-kun visiting all the different and very interesting things (in the middle of a very hot Tokyo summer day). After the end of the day, we decided to visit another old friend. But I won't spoil the surprise. First thing we did was jump on the Tokyo Monorail that stops at Odaiba, and wound our way to Hamamatsucho. The monorail is a slightly expensive, but a worthwhile experience in Tokyo... 470 yen will take you end to end, from Haneda Airport to Hamamatsucho.

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Only 1 minute after getting on the Monorail, L-kun was fast asleep... we got off at Takeshiba Station and found a quiet place to sit down by the harbour, watching the boats come and go. L-kun slept soundly in Mum's arms for an hour, whilst Mum and Dad had some quiet time together. It was a strange afternoon - but amidst the hustle and bustle of the trip, and especially of the day - it was great afternoon break together. Just goes to show that for all the excitement of sight-seeing in a big city, sometimes you just need to sit back, relax and unwind.