Wednesday, September 23, 2009


We just had a 5-day federal holiday weekend (called Silver Week) here in Japan. Monday was Respect for the Aged Day, Tuesday something called "Bridge Public Holiday" and Wednesday was the Autumn Equinox. I have since confirmed that Bridge day is just a day to bridge the gap between the other two holidays and not really a holiday set aside for a feat of civil engineering.

On about Wednesday of the week before, Ryan and I decided it might be nice to maybe go away somewhere for the long weekend. On about Thursday I thought I would try to find a reservation in one of the close getaway spots. You can probably see where this is going. Orbitz practically laughed at me. There was not a single room available, I think, in all of Japan. So instead we decided to be tourists in Tokyo and check out some of our own local cultural treasures. Our first adventure was to ride our bikes to nearby Ueno park to check on the lotus plants in the pond (they are bigger than ever) and visit some of the museums (there are at least four). We went to the Tokyo National Museum, which consists of about six separate buildings. The main building (below) houses the Japanese-specific art and artifacts, including ancient vases, kimonos, old maps and incredibly impressive swords. The other buildings hold less interesting collections of various Asian art. From some of the buildings we could glimpse bits of the lush garden and old-fashioned teahouse in the back. Apparently the garden area is only open for one month in the Spring (to view the cherry blossoms) and one month in the Fall (to view the changing leaves). So plan your visit accordingly!
Then we road over to Ueno's narrow streets of shops and restaurants, dined and took in some cinema. Okay, so Wolverine is hardly high art, but it was pretty fun to relax and watch a flick. As long as we make sure to pick a movie that has subtitles and is not dubbed, we can pretty much see any movie easily, albeit about 6 months after it was originally released. Oh and we can also quite easily eat fries and hotdogs at the movies if we desired, by purchasing them from this nifty vending machine (and yes that is a popcorn vending machine on the left).
On another day of silver week we trekked out to Rappongi to the Mori Art Center. Down on the ground floor they were having a big show of traditional dance, music and martial arts. Here were a group of boys doing some cool choreographed fighting moves that got dangerously close to cheerleading at times. I loved it!
Then we braved the lines to head up to the 53rd floor of Mori Tower where there is a museum, a sky deck and an aquarium. The museum was featuring contemporary art by Chinese artist Ai Wei Wei, which included cool pieces made of compressed tea leaves (a cubic ton of them to be exact), bits of drift wood grafted together to make a hollow in the middle in the shape of China, and controversial pieces in which he essentially destroys vases that date to 5000 B.C. No cameras allowed in there of course. The view from the sky deck was pretty amazing. We could travel around the floor with an almost completely unobstructed view, so that probably 270 degrees of Tokyo were visible. We tested our geography. Most notably in this view is the big red and white Tokyo Tower.
The final feature of the tower was the aquarium. I think it actually has some jazzier name, but really it was an aquarium. The first big room simply housed many normal-sized aquariums (fresh and seawater) filled with certainly pretty, but not entirely exotic fish. The aquariums and their contents were not all that dissimilar to what you would find in homes and office buildings. The strangest part about it was that loud techno music was playing, the lights were off and most of the aquariums were lit with black lights. It gets weirder.

The next room was playing disco and had mirrored floors and giant tanks filled with goldfish. Just goldfish. So many of them that they resembled moving specks of light from a disco ball. From there we entered a turquoise room that focused entirely on jellyfish. And lasers. The center piece was a tall tank with two kinds of polka dotted jellyfish (left). With the changing light coming from above, the jelly fish themselves became polka dots in the otherwise empty tank.

The last main room had a kaleidagraph theme, with the tanks taking on geometric shapes of colored glass and each housing a large quantity of a single kind of fish (right). Odd as it was, you really did get the feeling that you were on the inside of one of these toys.

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