3 Weeks Japan – Day 3July 23, 2010
Someday in the Rain 24/03
It’s raining today. The prospect of a cold and wet day dampens our fresh morning spirit, but a rice ball breakfast takes care of the necessary energy to step outside the hotel onto the wet streets of Asakusa. Ofcourse a portion of rainy days was to be expected on a 3 week visit, so I shift my attention to the local rainy habbits; this wouldn’t be Japan if there wasn’t a well organised rain plan. While we are quickly surrounded by dozens of umbrellas (preferably the more practical transparant type or ones with a fashionable design), most stores place a little stand at the entrance with plastic disposable umbrella sackets, so customers won’t drip water all over the floor inside. Convenience stores quickly add cheap umbrellas to their assortment. And I finally understand the use of the miniature bicycle lockers outside musea and public buildings. All in all, life goes on in the big city, only slightly more wet.
We start our tour today at Sensoji temple, the famous big red temple in the centre of Asakusa district. Sensoji temple consists of a main hall with a statue of Kannon, a five-story pagoda and the main gate building with the big lantern. It’s the oldest temple in Tokyo and even though it got destroyed and rebuilt because of the war, it’s still one of the most important and significant. It’s also a succesful example of the commercialisation of shrines and temples in Japan. Visiting Sensoji equals “souvenir shopping” in the lane leading to the temple grounds, buying charms and making an offer at the temple to learn your fortune.
It keeps raining, so we decide to take shelter at the National Museum of Western Art in Ueno Park. It might seem weird to visit the one big western collection in Tokyo, but the all star line up (work from Rodin, Rubens, Monet, Renoir, Van Gogh, Gauguin, Picasso, Ernst, Pollock, …) in a building from modernist grandmaster Le Corbusier is hard to pass by.
In the afternoon we have our first encounter with Shinjuku station, even bigger and busier than Tokyo station. Multiple underground corridors on different floor levels form a wide maze-like complex that continues until far under the business district. At our first attempt to surface to the streets, we discover that a terrific wind had started to accompany the downpour. Adventure can wait, so we dive back into the underground tunnel complex. There we take a promenade past the famous skyscrapers of Shinjuku (the pretty boring underground entrances, that is). We don’t mind because our goal is the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building and its free panoramic view on the 45th floor. Supposedly you can see Mount Fuji from there, on a clear day. It’s anything but a clear day, nonetheless the view is great and the presentation meticulous, for example: a three headed crew just to handle the special rapid elevator to the 45th. Once we’re back at ground level, a second adventurous attempt to defy the rain and wind, results only in a broken umbrella and a fast retreat to a local Starbucks, which, by the way, are everywhere.
We end the day at Mos Burger, one of the local Mc Donald equivalents and by far the one with the best name. Mos Burger. It sounds very healthy, if you ignore the fact that moss isn’t eatable at all. They have local versions of burgers, like a Teriyaki Burger or a Yakiniku Rice Burger, and the sandwiches look awesome, almost surreal smooth and tasty. Tastes great too, but the regular Mos Burger (with bolognese sauce) was a real Smos Burger (in dutch the pun is pretty cool, I guess translation would make it a Mess Burger). That’s it for today! Day 4 will be faster, I promise.