Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Tokyo: September 30, 2011

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All marterials including photographs are ©2011 Ronald Gary Dunlap / Doglight Studios.
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 It took a long time in the shower this morning to wash away the cobwebs.There is something almost religious about standing under a generous flow of near-scalding hot water; it is essential to firing up my cognitive functions in the correct sequence and promoting my general sense of well-being.

Last night, after reviewing my photographic take from the past few days, I decided that I needed to revisit a couple of areas to see if I could capture a more atmospheric or accurate version.

But first I had to check the Japanese Sword Museum and Ukiyo-e Ota Memorial Museum of Art off my shot-list. Then I would retrace my photographic footsteps in hopes of better light and fewer visitors.

After leaving the hotel, my first order of business was to correct yesterday's oversight and stop at Denny's for the obligatory bacon and eggs.

My appetite sated, I headed west. The Sword Museum was supposed to be within walking distance, just to the southwest of my hotel. I had a map, but Tokyo's streets and street addresses are a bit of a puzzle and downright obtuse to most visitors. I've heard that even now and then, taxi drivers have to stop and ask the police for directions.

I trudged around for a while and was about to give up when I spotted a neighborhood police post. I found an obliging officer and showed him my guide with the Sword Museum circled. The officer smiled and handed me a printout with detailed directions to the museum, in English. I guess there are more lost visitors than one would think, because they had a ready supply of these maps.

I followed the instructions and only had to backtrack once before I found the blocky black-and-white building set in a quiet residential neighborhood.

I took a couple of shots outside, then made my way upstairs to the bookstore/ticket office and paid the ¥525 admission fee. The docent passed across my ticket and a pamphlet on the museum and sword-making, then pointed at my camera and informed me that no photography was allowed in the museum.

The documentation was excellent, with lots of explanations of how swords are made and how, through the "perfection of craft," the master swordmaker may endow a kind of spirit or soul into the folded layers of the gleaming steel blades.

In the dark, the spotlighted steel arcs seemed to shimmer with an inner power, almost as if they were plugged into some electrical circuit. It's impossible to know if these blades were used for good or evil, or if they simply carried out the actions of the hands that held them. These swords have such a mythical quality that it is very hard to separate them from the actions of the Samurai who owned them. Was it the sword that determined the actions of the Samurai, or the Samurai who dictated to the sword?

I left the museum elated, but very disappointed that the museum is so close-minded that they believe banning photography is beneficial to their enterprise, as opposed to the reality that any exposure is to be desired.

Down the block, I came across a shop that specialized in the buying and selling of privately owned Japanese swords. Unfortunately, the store was closed, and I could only gaze through the window. The sword is considered a national treasure in Japan, protected by law and prohibited from being exported. I guess it is a good thing they can't be sold to the highest bidder; but I would love to own one.

The area around the museum is an upscale neighborhood with lots of neat private homes and apartment/condo buildings that I wouldn't mind living in.
I walked back the way I'd come, heading to the Yamanote Line.

The Japanese are fine dog-owners. Owning a dog in Tokyo is a very expensive and time-consuming commitment; so if you have chosen to have a canine companion, you are totally committed. I stopped this lady and her daughter with their very well-cared-for young Sheltie.

When the train arrived in Harajuku, I exited the station and went looking for the Ukiyo-e Ota Memorial Museum of Art. I had looked for it the last time I was here (not where Google Maps says it should be), but today I learned it was on a side street, something like an alley to one of the main boulevards. After walking around the block a couple of times, I finally found the side alley, and there it was.

The museum wasn't open yet, so I visited the small gift shop located under the main building. I inquired as to the museum's hours and was told that it was closed for the installation of a new exhibition and wouldn't reopen until after I had left Japan. What a pisser; but I was a little consoled when I learned that they didn't allow photography here either.

The small shop had a striking collection of Tenugui — traditional Japanese hand towels. When I'd been here back in my USAF days, I was a big fan of these little hand-dyed cotton towels. Their traditional patterns provided a much-needed counterpoint to my usual somber attire.

I selected two and paid the clerk and asked if I could photograph the towels being wrapped, but I was sternly informed that photography wasn't allowed here either. I had forgotten the golden rule: "Never ask for permission, just apologize later."

A few blocks farther on is the Omotesando Hills area, a luxury shopping area often compared to the Champs-Élysées in Paris. Its wide, tree-lined sidewalks and ultra-hip architecture make it an inviting setting for some of the most expensive designer salons in the world.

The salons' refined window displays are defined by fine craftsmanship, a wealth of materials and the mystique of gut-wrenching price tags for their much-in-demand luxury goods.

I walked back to the train station by way of Cat Street and over to the gravel path that leads back to Meiji Shrine. I was hoping that the crowds would be fewer and I could get the shot I had been hoping for the other day. Luckily, I got to the shrine just as the crowds were ebbing and was able to line up the shot and grab it before the ebb reversed itself. Mission accomplished.

I took a different path back to the train station and found the shrine's restaurant and bridal consultant area. There was an exquisite wedding kimono in the window that I grabbed a detail shot of before entering the restaurant. My favorite was on the menu, so I ordered it and a Coke and sat in the near-empty dining room reviewing today's take and shoveling down spaghetti.

Back in Shinjuku I stopped at the Family Mart for some dinner snacks and rested up a couple of hours before heading out again to look for my phantom Buddhist shrine.

I walked through the area, looking here and there, and got a lot of ambiance but no solid leads as to where the shrine might be. After a couple of hours of walking, I returned to the hotel to eat my snacks and sack out for the night.