July 13 – Learning about Tokyo

Today was my first full day in Japan, and as such, I felt like I needed to figure out how to get around and survive in this new city.

I woke up quite early (about 3am…thanks time zones!) and chilled in my room (the mornings is actually when I do these blogs).  I went out at about 7am to see what’s happening in Shinjuku early in the morning. The answer – not a whole lot of anything.  Nothing much opens up until at least 9am, so I had some time to trapse around and get a handle on the town.

I was a bit hungry and was looking for the first place to spend my Yen.  The winner was a store with breakfast food with the coolest name – “Mister Donut”!

Parks around Shinjuku/Shibuya

I spent my morning exploring some of the parks and shrines around the Shinjuku/Shibuya area.

Meiji Shrine

This is a beautiful shrine made in the 1920’s (and subsequently rebuilt after WWII) for the former Emperor Meiji and his consort, Empress Shoken. Meiji was the emperor that bridged the gap between feudal Japan and more modernized Japan that we know now.

The shrine is in the middle of a very forested bit of Tokyo, which is not known for its greenery.

While it wasn’t exactly hopping early in the morning when I saw it, it is apparently one of the most popular shrines in Japan.  There are stations to clense yourself, make offerings, and buy little charms and whatnot.

Shinjuku Gyoen

This park, set in the middle of bustling Shinjuku is one of the largest parks in Tokyo. It features a ton of walking paths, gardens (featuring a traditional Japanese garden, French Garden with a ton of cool roses, and an English garden), and a greenhouse.

This park is a very popular place in April when the cherry blossoms are blooming.  This time of year features tourists and locals alike being drawn to these green spaces to see the pink-leafed trees.


I then hopped on the JR Rail system for a trip to the other side of Tokyo to see Ryogoku. This town had three sites I wanted to check out, and an exciting one I didn’t know about until I got there.

Kokugikan Sumo Stadium

Ryogoku is home to the giant Sumo Stadium. Sadly, there were no sumo matches during my time in Japan, but they did have a gift shop full of really cool sumo stuff (figurines, pictures, and anything else you could think of that would benefit from having a sumo placed on it).

There was also a sumo museum.  I’m not sure what I was hoping for, maybe great loin cloths from history or something, but I was a little let down when I found out that mostly all they had were paintings from former Sumo masters.

Tokyo Memorial Hall

This Hall is to memorialize the people who died in two tragic events, the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923 and the firebombings that leveled the city during the Tokyo air raids in World War II.

I didn’t take any pictures as it didn’t seem appropriate in a fairly austere environment.  They did have several pictures around the Hall showing pictures of the Tokyo Air Raids, something I would learn much more about at the Edo-Tokyo Museum.

Edo-Tokyo Museum

The Edo-Tokyo museum is a museum all about Tokyo’s past. From the 1400’s until 1868 – the area we now know as Tokyo was named Edo (hence the name of the museum).

There were two sections of the museum.  I first went to the special exhibit of some ancient Japanese art.  They were showcasing artistry of “Yokai” which are demons and monsters.  They had a bunch of cool looking art and it made me with I could appreciate art more than I currently am able to.

The other portion of the museum was about the centuries of life in Tokyo.  They had a ton of interesting exhibits and, my favorite, incredible miniatures of life in ancient Edo.

I did find one section particularly interesting in terms of the Fellowship I am currently on.  One section of this museum talks about the Air Raids over Tokyo.  There are many exhibits and artifacts showing life under constant threat of bombarment.  I was struck by how this perspective on the war is rarely seen in the states, as the United States mainland was never under attack (except for some random balloon bombs from Japan).  I took a ton of pictures in this area of the museum and will use some of them later in the Fellowship.

But wait…there’s one more thing…

As I was headed back to the train station, I happened to look at a map of the area.  There was one site that drew my eye that wasn’t far away.

The Ryogoku Fireworks Museum!

All plans out the window, my new mission in life was to find this museum about fireworks!

While the museum itself was only really one room, it had some pretty cool stuff.  They had some mortars used for launching the fireworks and replica of some of the shells used (including one that was probably 2-3 feet in diameter).

This was one of the situations where knowing Japanese would probably have made the entire experience a bit more…understandable.

Still though, it was pretty cool!

Things learned about Tokyo/Japan today…

  • You are supposed to walk on the left on the sidewalk…this was weird to me
  • Vending machines are EVERYWHERE (and I mean everywhere, in the most random of places) and they have an incredible selection of drinks.  There’s a corn drink I want to get next time I see it.
  • The Japanese people are very understanding when stupid Americans just talking in English without thinking and expect them to figure it out.
  • The shopkeepers are way too nice.

That’s a man who is satisfied with his popsicle!

Tomorrow: Raynolds rides a bullet train!