May 27, 2009

Tokyo



Tokyo Station is one of the largest stations in the country and is located in the heart of the Marunouchi district. While Shinjuku and Ikebukuro handle more passengers each day, it is said that Tokyo Station is one of the world's busiest when it comes to the number of trains that pass through each day.

The original grand red-brick station building dates back almost a century to 1914, though most of it was destroyed in the fire bombings in 1945. Only the Marunouchi exit facade still remains of the old structure, and at the moment the station is in the process of being modernised and refurbished ~ a project that is due for completion next year. On the Marunouchi side, in addition to the restoration of the old facade, a broad plaza leading up to the Imperial Palace grounds is being constructed.

The New Marunouchi Building houses a lot of offices with the lower floors given over to fashionable boutiques and restaurants.

A short walk past the New Marunouchi Building brings you to Babasaki Moat and on the other side is the Wadakura Fountain Park, which must be a nice place to relax and escape from the office at lunchtime.



The greater part of the Imperial Palace Gardens are off-limits to the general public, and for the most part all you can see are the bridges and gates leading to the inner grounds, but what is impressive is the sheer scale of the premises. In fact the road that surrounds the Imperial Palace is a popular jogging route and a lap is about five kilometres.
Looking back from the Sakurada-mon section of the Imperial Palace grounds to the office blocks around the station.

Heading back along Babasaki Dori you pass the Meiji Seimei Building and the back half of Tokyo International Forum.
Whilst the area around the station may be filled with large office blocks and somewhat anonymous concrete and glass buildings, you will always find some older grubby-looking eateries in the shop units directly beneath the railway tracks. These izakayas and noodle shops no doubt do a roaring trade in the evening catering to tired salarymen on their way home.

And under the arches you can also find noodle stalls such as this one that only come to life after dark.
I crossed under the tracks to the Yaesu side and wandered around streets lined with yet more tall office blocks with few fascinating features. The ground floor of this building featured a big advertising feature starring Takuya Kimura of SMAP sporting an awful perm, yet he still remains one of the countries top heartthrobs.
The Kyobashi area is home to the National Film Center which screens films in thematic seasons, holds exhibitions and also houses an extensive cinema-related library. The recent Soviet-era silent movie poster exhibition here was superb.
Something I do every morning!
With the intense bombing at the end of World War Two, much of Tokyo's older architecture was destroyed and many of the parts that remained have either fallen into disrepair or have been replaced by newer modern buildings, so it's nice to occasionally come across some older buildings that give you and idea of what Tokyo might have looked like before the war, such as this building that is home to the upmarket grocers Meidi-Ya, who have been in business since the late nineteenth century.
It's not in every town or city you can find a fountain pen museum, but the pen company Pilot have both a museum and cafe in Kyobashi.
The station refurbishments have brought an improved shopping experience to passengers using Tokyo Station, with several fashionable shops selling food, drinks and gifts.

This part of Tokyo has very little to do with my own regular life or routines in the city, but it's interesting to see what this part of the city has to offer.

May 25, 2009

Books: The Real Odessa by Uki Goni

It is common knowledge that a number of Nazi war criminals ended up living in South America, and Argentina in particular. What this book deals with, however, is investigating the policy decisions and intricate systems set up to make it happen. Six years of research and interviews took Argentinian journalist and writer Uki Goni to several different parts of the world trying to piece together what actually happened in the last years of the war and in the immediate post-war period ~ a task made even more challenging when he was informed that key immigration files had been destroyed in a bonfire as recently as 1996 by officials of the Peronist government of Carlos Menem.

The book relates how the Argentinian governments of the thirties and forties were openly supportive of Europe's fascist regimes and had an official immigration policy to refuse entry to Jews fleeing the Nazi regime.

It also goes into remarkable detail (given how much documentation has been destroyed or conveniently lost in Argentina) as to how an efficient network of contacts was built up in Europe designed to help collaborators in France, Belgium and members of the Croatian Ustashi escape once it was clear the tide was turning against Hitler in the war, and later to Nazis themselves.

The book reveals the alarming to which the Vatican were involved in helping known war criminals obtain travel permits and passports under assumed names, more as a move against communism than as a direct support of what the Nazis had been doing, and also how, to some extent both Britain and the US were also guilty of turning a blind eye to some of the people who were fleeing as attention started to focus more on the beginning of the Cold War.

The Real Odessa is a goldmine of information and demonstrates quite clearly how a small group of like-minded people with power and influence in Argentina were able to harbour some of the biggest war criminals of the Second World War with practically no intervention from the rest of the world. Highly recommended.

May 20, 2009

Shibuya Crossing

Yenyeni - Mombasa
Neveen - Salah Ragab
Something Going On - Dojo Cuts feat Roxie Ray
Momma Momma - Betty Barney
Goodbye Monster - Contemporary Noise Quintet
The Blessing Song - Shirley Eubanks Ensemble
The Sky - Lorenzo Tucci
Bennie's Groove - Finn Mickleborg's Kvintet
Juan-Les Pins - Staffen Abeleen Quintet
Shibuya Crossing - LTC

May 17, 2009

May 10, 2009

Nikko

From Kinugawa Onsen it is a short train ride to Nikko, famous worldwide for its temples and shrines and also its hot springs. Most visitors travelling up from Tokyo arrive at the Tobu Nikko Station, but a couple of hundred metres away is the rather more picturesque, but older JR Nikko Station which dates back a hundred years or so.
Under the station entrance is an artist's impression of the roaring dragon, one of the features of the Toshogu Shrine, though it has to be said that this version isn't a patch on the huge charcoal image on the ceiling of the shrine.

The river that runs through Nikko is both very wide and heavily sculpted in true Japanese fashion with concrete and stone weirs and walls. Building up river banks in either stone or concrete is a common feature to be seen all around the country. It is both a lengthy and costly process, which no doubt keeps many contractors happy.
The main attraction in Nikko is the Nikko Sannai area which is home to some very famous and culturally important shrines and temples that have been recognised as World Heritage sites. The first place to see is Rinnoji, a temple complex originally established in the eighth century.

Inside the main building there is the huge Three Buddha Hall, with (obviously) a trio of huge statues of Buddha in different poses.


After leaving the grounds of the complex, there is a dusty road leading up to the entrance of Toshogu, a shrine dedicated to Ieyasu Tokugawa, founder of the Tokugawa Shogunate which heralded the start of the Edo period.
As well as being historically significant, the whole complex is filled absolutely amazing examples of traditional Japanese architecture and craftsmanship, such as the five-storey pagoda.



Another of the famous features of Toshogu are the relief carvings of the Three Wise Monkeys on the Sacred Stable building.


The next of the really famous views at Toshogu is the Yomei-mon Gate which features an incredible amount of detail in its relief carvings, meaning you could easily spend an hour or more looking at each part of the gateway.
There are so many fine examples of detailed carvings and bright colours on show that it's difficult to know where to focus your attention as you try to take in as much as possible on your way through the complex.




Above the shrine is the tomb of Ieyasu Tokugawa, and to get there you have to pass through the Sakushita-mon Gate, famous for the carving of the Sleeping Cat. This ornate carving is actually quite small, but is deemed a national treasure as it is supposed to prevent any evil spirits gaining access to the tomb.
After passing through the gate there is a long climb up two hundred stone steps to the tomb.
Next to the tomb is the wishing tree, what's left of an old cedar tree which dates back a few centuries.

Even after the splendour of Toshogu, there is still more to see, and the next place on the itinerary is Futarasan Shrine, again dating back some twelve centuries or so.

Like all shrines, there are different ways to tell your fortune. In this Wheel of Fortune-style example, you spin the wheel and your fortune is determined by which type of snack lands in front of the arrow. No doubt a more recent addition to the shrine.


The last area to visit in the Nikko Sannai area is the Rinnoji Taiyuin Temple, which is also the mausoleum of the third Tokugawa shogun Iemitsu Tokugawa.
All of the gates are guarded on the left and right hand side, both inside and out by elaborately carved statues of different gods.







To summarise, it's difficult to express in words just how impressive the whole area is and for anyone visiting Japan, this has to be a must on the itinerary.
Temple-hopping is thirsty work, so after taking the bus back into town it was time for some refreshing kaki-gori (shaved ice).
A nice contrast of colours and textures which caught my eye.A Showa period sign outside a shop that had long since gone out of business.
Being just about two hours away from Tokyo, Nikko is well worth a visit for anyone who hasn't done so before.