Friday, May 19, 2006

My time in Japan (the long version)

Warning: Some of these photos have not been re-sized. Click at your own risk.

Arriving in Tokyo at the end of Golden Week* was nice because I was able to get a flavor of the festival environment that surrounds a holiday in Japan. (Golden week is essentially a week long holiday caused by the accumulation of different holidays in close proximity to each other.)

In particular there were many gatherings around Shinto shrines and small parades with Shinto floats. Apparently a typical festival will involve displaying one of these floats (practically shrines in and of themselves) along the side of a road. People will gather to share food and games and otherwise be sociable.

Frequently they will form a parade where float is carried through the streets, accompanied by music (often drums) and chanting.

Around Shrines you may see a spectacle like this one, in which vendors sell food, toys, or have carnival like games.

In this atmosphere the shrines will likely attract plenty of attention, with a constant flow of people coming there to pray.

Even in the rain, there was a steady stream of people to this shrine, and the constant beat of drums in the background.

I spent most of my time in Oyama where I had meetings for several days. Naturally it was a smaller town than Tokyo, and some of the locals claimed it was too small and boring. Still, it seemed like quite a bustling place to me.

After the meetings I took a little time to visit with Lt. Mike, who is spending his time in Japan courtesy of the USAF. He's spent much more time touring the country as he has spent several months here. He has kindly provided several pictures from a trip into the more rural sections of Japan. These were taken near Lake Towada which is up near the northern end of Honshu Island

On one peninsulas into the lake there are some lovely shrines, some of which require a nice climb to reach. It's easy to see how people can enjoy visiting places like this, because they combine the peaceful, wilderness setting with some amazingly ornate architecture.

As is the case with any country, there are some things which simply seem out of place. In this instance I'm referring to the 4 story tall replica of the Statue of Liberty. That's right. Misawa has it's a replica of this lovely green lady in New York. Apparently the statue stands at the same latitude as the original. I have no idea what the backstory is on this bit of sculpture, but it must be interesting. (again photo courtesy Lt. Mike)

Eventually I took some time to explore Tokyo on my own. Considering how densely populated this place is, it's surprising how much space is devoted to parks. I visited the park near Ueno station and found plenty of room to walk around without feeling like I was deep in such huge metropolis. The park isn't really dissimilar to parks anywhere else. You have statues, fountains, and plenty of greenery. For instance, here you have a statue of Prince Akihito, who was considered a hero in many parts of Japan for his service in the Samuri Rebellions and the first Sino-Japanese War.

The park also contained various museums and attractions including the Tokyo National Museum, seen here at the opposite end of the great fountain of Ueno park. (Sadly, the fountain was not running, so it's more of a reflecting pool in this picture.)

The National Science Museum is located here as well and, it has a lovely old locomotive on display at the entrance. (If there's a steam locomotive around, I can usually find it.)

I did notice one interesting thing about this locomotive. While American locomotives typically put the engineer on the right hand side of the cab, the controls here are reversed so that the engineer is on the left. I suppose this shouldn't be much of a surprise as most cars in Japan have the driver on the opposite side compared to American cars.

Once you step outside of the park boundaries you are immediately reminded that you are in a bustling metropolis. There are many shopping districts so crowded that you practically have to push your way through the crowd to get anywhere.

My time in Tokyo was nice, but in the end too short. On Monday I was off for another adventure in another country. That's it for Japan on this trip. I'll post more about my traveling as time permits.


At 3:44 AM, Anonymous Bo said...

Glad you're enjoying Japan, China, and Singapore - dude, I think you officially take the "world traveler" title from anyone else I know... -Bo


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