Monday 9 January 2023
It’s our last day sightseeing in Tokyo. My head says ‘blimey that’s gone quick’ and my feet say ‘thank f*** for that, we’ve already walked the equivalent of a marathon in 2 days.
First up,time to do battle with another Japanese ticket machine; this time, the bullet train seat reservation machine. Although we have a pass, so don’t need to pay for using the bullet trains, we still need to obtain a seat ticket. After only one failure, when we scan the the ticket numbers out of sequence with our passport numbers, we succeed in making our first bullet train reservation for tomorrow.
Now to get on with today, which starts with visit to another park. We take a couple of considerably slower trains to Ueno Park. This large park has a lake, shrine, pagoda, zoo and several museums.
We purchase some breakfast and head to a picnic area overlooking the lake. There is a small area of lake which looks how you expect a lake to look ie an expanse of water. The remainder has a dense covering of reeds.
We continue to the shrine, where a man who looks like he’s auditioning for the Joker in Batman is performing some sort of ritual.
Next to the shrine is a traditional Japanese five storey pagoda, but we can’t work out how to reach it, it appears to be inside the zoo.
Tokyo National Museum
The Tokyo National Museum contains the world’s largest collection of Japanese art. It opens daily from 9.30-5 (except Monday) and costs Y1000. This gives you access to exhibits across several buildings in the huge complex.
We start in the Honkan (Japanese Gallery). The first thing I notice about the National Museum is that they have the heating set to ‘furnace’. It’s absolutely baking hot and I immediately have to start undressing. Not all my clothes of course – I haven’t even managed that in a public bath yet.
We work our way down from the second floor, through ornate kimonos, fan art, samurai swords and armour.
Gallery of Horyu-Ji Treasures
This modernist building houses case upon case of Buddhas.
This grand building commissioned to commemorate the wedding of a prince houses special exhibitions.
Although all the old treasures are very interesting, this in my favourite. ‘Our National Treasures: 150 Years in the Future’ imagines what contemporary items might be displayed in a museum in 150 years time. From Godzilla to Hello Kitty, Keirin bikes to soy sauce.
There’s also a rather strange diorama paying homage to potato products.
The best exhibit is a scrapbook. I have been scrapbooking since I was ten years old and have a large collection of scrapbooks, which daughter no 2 tells me will become my funeral pyre when I die. So I feel vindicated that scrapbooks apparently belong in museums in the future.
The Toyokan (Gallery of Asian Art) houses exhibits from other countries in the region. We pass through here fairly rapidly as we are running out of time. Just time for a quick trip to the toilet before heading to the sumo.
As I have become obsessed with Japanese toilets, here is my report regarding the National Museum toilets. When you enter the cubicle, the seat automatically lifts and when you depart it lowers and flushes. It also boasts the hottest toilet seat I’ve ever encountered. This is the closest I’ve come to burning my bum in the toilet (unless you count after a particularly spicy curry when I was a student!)
National Museum of Western Art
We walk back to the station via the grounds of the National Museum of Western Art. This houses a collection of Rodin almost identical to that at The Cantor in Palo Alto which we visited a the week before last. Rodin was obviously a busy chap!
From Ueno we catch another couple of trains Ryogoku Kokugikan, the 10,000 seater National Sumo Stadium, to watch a sumo tournament. I know very little about sumo. The first thing I didn’t know is that there’s only three tournaments a year in Tokyo, so we are lucky to be able to obtain tickets for this quintessentially Japanese experience.
It’ a very long day with bouts running from 8.30 am to 6 pm. Although the big boys (and I mean that literally) don’t fight until after 2 pm.
We arrive shortly before 2 pm, which gives us a chance to get the hang of things before the top bouts begin.
We find our seats (we’re right at the back in the cheapest seats) and settle down to watch the action. A rough guide to sumo; a couple of large men in nappies faff a lot, throw some salt, then attempt to push each other out of a circle. The circle is raised, so often these huge men fall off the dias onto a judge. I think that about sums it up.
In the gap I go for a wander around the stadium. Outside are cut out figures of sumo wrestlers carrying women in kimonos, with cut out faces so you can inset your own face. I ask a man to take my photo. He tells me I have to pretend to kiss the sumo, so I oblige.
Sumo stadium toilet report; there is a button labelled ‘make flush sound’ which is presumably if you want to do your business without your neighbours hearing. I press the button. Just out of curiosity, not because I have noisy business to do. The sound is less like flushing, more like grating machinery. I have now drawn attention of all my neighbours to the fact I have some business to hide.
Back in the arena, we watch the intermediate category fights, but by the time the top (senior) group start, we are all sumoed out. So we just watch the senior parade then depart for our hotel on the other side of town.
We stop for dinner in the same Rahmen bar we ate in last night. This time I choose the rice combo, which consists of stir fried pork, rice, broth, macaroni cheese, cabbage, pickles and mayonnaise. An interesting combination.
In the evening, we do battle with the washing machine in the guest lounge. There are some instructions in English, but they miss out one vital piece of information; you must create a password in order to start the machine so that only you can open it. With some assistance from a fellow guest, we get the machine going. Then it’s another early night ready for an early start for a day trip to Nikko in the morning.