Saturday, January 11, 2014

Tokyo Diary - Part II

DAY 2:
As we kicked ourselves out of bed and geared for new excitements awaiting us, we were greeted by dark and gloomy clouds and a steady drizzle, with a chill in the air to perfect it. Checking the weather forecast stumped us further, as there was a Typhoon alert and quite a strong one (one of the strongest in a decade) they estimated. As I stood on the balcony cursing the ill fate, I noticed the Tokyoites in their Louboutins and Burberry coats with bright umbrellas happily walking down to their work, almost unaware of any deterrents. This lifted our spirits quite much, and by the time we reached the lobby downstairs, raring to go out and embrace the grumpy nature, we met other travelers who were equally upbeat and set to enjoy a wet Tokyo. Indeed, by the end of the day, the Japanese taught us well, how not to be bogged by anything; they showed us why they are the best survivors.

We headed first for the Kokyo or the Imperial Palace, the current residence of the imperial family of Japan. The Kokyo stands at the site of the Edo castle, which was built in 1457 and passed through various hands before being occupied by Tokugawa Ieyasu in 1590. Tokugawa became the Shogun ( a hereditary commander -in-chief in feudal Japan) and his descendants ruled the country for the next 300 years. With the end of feudal era and restoration of Imperial power in 1868, (also the time, when the capital of Japan was shifted from Kyoto to Edo/Tokyo) the Edo castle became the emperor's official residence. A new palace was constructed in 1888 on the site of the earlier Edo castle, and later that was destroyed in WWII, and a similar palace was rebuilt again, which is the one that stands now. 
A short walk of 15-20 minutes from the Tokyo station, the castle is surrounded by an expansive park encircled by canals and heavy stone walls. 

Cutting across the Kokyo Gaien or the Imperial Park, we reached an open plaza, from where we could get a clear glimpse of the inner palace grounds, entrance to which is not open to general public. However, it makes an enchanting fairy tale-ish view, from the plaza, of the two bridges which form an entrance to the inner palace grounds.

Strolling down from the Kokyo, we crossed the Tokyo High Court, and towards the Tokyo station, where we also checked out the Tokyo International Forum, supposedly an architectural marvel. 
Tokyo High Court

Tokyo International Forum building

Tokyo International Forum Building
To get some respite from the constant drizzle, we zeroed in on a visit to the Museum of Contemporary Art, Tokyo. The visit was worth the effort, as one needs to follow the sign posts and almost a good 10 minutes walk from the nearest subway station, and on a dull rainy day, it becomes difficult. 
Following the signposts

Following the signposts

Came across a cemetery while following the signpost

and still following the signposts

Really? still more to walk?!!
However, when you stand to admire the Andy Warhols, Roy Lichtensteins, Sam Francis, David Hockneys and Japanese artists like Tokujin Yoshioka and Yoko Tadanori, you forget the efforts and only bask on the returns. The museum architecture of stone, steel and wood, is in itself a work of art by Yanagisawa Takahiko. Opened in 1995, its over-3,500 collection of artworks of  Japanese and international artists is indeed a treasure trove for art lovers. 

We spent an amazing time there and then headed out once again to embrace the chill and the rain and decide our next destination. 
Since we had plans to do a day trip to Mt.Fuji-Hakone and Nikko, which meant sacrificing two whole days, we thought we might as well brave the rain and the storm and do and see as much as possible, also because we were apprehensive how would the coming days be, post the Typhoon tandem. So, we headed for the Tokyo Tower, one of the most prominent structures defining the Tokyo skyline. Built in 1958,  to assert Japan's economic eminence and post-war boom, this Eiffel look-alike in white and orange at 333 metres is a good 13 metres taller than its inspiration and also the world's tallest self-supporting steel tower.
Tokyo Tower

On a rain -soaked, typhoon-on-its-way day

A lovely garden adjacent to the Tokyo Tower
It was built as a communication tower, providing radio and TV services, but is now more famous for its amusement quotient - with a four-story mall, and an aquarium and the observatory decks.  However, as we approached the iconic structure, the clouds hovered even closer and the showers became heavier. Appreciating it from the outside, we found no point spending our much-valued yens to climb the observatories (there are two at 150 metres and 250 meters), as we could well enjoy the clouds from the ground-level as well. On the hindsight, good that we saved the money, cause later, the view from the 45th floor observatories of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building were not just free, they were as good if not better - we had a lovely time enjoying the sights in bright daylight as well as again in the evening.
As the evening approached and things turned darker, we decided to head to Roppongi Hills. However, we couldn't wander much around with the rain now lashing hard, so we decided to simply enjoy the wet Tokyo and the dazzling blurring lights while enjoying a good meal in a cafe. Later in the evening we were back to our comfort zone of Shinjuku, and to the cosiness of our room, to reflect back on the day's earnings. 

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