We agonised over whether it would be worth making a journey out of town to see Mt. Fuji today, Sunday. In the end decided against it. The see-it-all guided tour for occidental tourists like us would have meant leaving at 8:30 a.m., returning at 10:30 p.m. (14 hours), and would have cost us >22,000 Yen (around $300). The alternative would have been to arrange the transport for ourselves, but when I looked at how difficult that would be, changing trains at a Tokyo station (Shinjuko) listed in the Guinness Book of Records as the most confusing station in the world, with 200 exits, handling 3.7 million passengers each day--that's half the population of London--I abandoned the plan. Chris, who has caught the cold I've been fighting off all week, needed a restful day, and so did I. We have a 13 hour flight to look forward to on Tuesday!
Chris and I really like exploring the non-touristy parts of town and finding out how the ordinary people live when we're on these trips abroad. The Shirakawa district is residential, with little flower shops and petrol-stations on the street corners and a large variety of plants in pots in lieu of what we'd call gardens in front of people's houses. Pollarded poplar trees without leaves yet, and orange trees with both leaves and fruit, miniature palm trees too. The cars are stacked in two-tier garages and people's bikes are (tidily) parked everywhere, not usually locked. Streets in Tokyo are kept remarkably clean and at every zebra crossing are grooved and bobbled paving stones that aid the blind. There are rice shops and tea shops with the merchandise in sacks, and book shops. We see books, newspapers and magazines being read everywhere, whenever people have a moment to themselves.
The art museum had several outdoor sculptures and installations on display including a rectangular boxlike tower in which small clouds were being manufactured by steamers powered by solar panels produced by Canadian Solar, Inc. of Ontario) You could climb a flight of metal steps inside so as to penetrate the clouds and see them from above. Indoors we enjoyed the surprises in the foyer and looked at some of the museum's permanent collection including two or three rooms full of abstract art by Japanese women artists of the 1950s and a sound and light show running in a curtained off section, for which we had to take our shoes off. When we fumbled our way in, the entrance very dark, we found that we had to step up onto some big cuboid cushions so soft that you couldn't help sinking down into them and relaxing (some people were lying flat) to watch the “film” (projected onto the ceiling and also reflected in a circular, pool-like mirror at our feet) upon which a “bubble” was superimposed showing a contrasting film, the contrast being between city structures and nature, with a definite bias towards nature! In one sequence a woman's hand was caressing the bark of a tree as if she were making love to it. In another gallery were wall-sized paintings for which the paint had been clay of different colours, strongly reminiscent of aboriginal art from Australia. The dots had been done with Q-tips. Then came a room full of 1960s Japanese pop art, political in its intentions but not as provocative as the American equivalent, perhaps because the Japanese find themselves incapable of total disrespect.
On the way to the station in Shirakawa we noticed that we were walking past the entrance to a cemetery, with memorial plinths rather than graves; I assume the dead are cremated. Stone statues of the Buddhist saints wore red skull caps and red bibs. I had my red beret on today which I hope wasn't too disrespectful in this context. The cemetery or crematorium buildings were elegant and symmetrical, the gardens outside were tranquil and neat, with some narcissi blooming in a neat clump and a row of wooden pails and wooden ladles for the water you might need to keep your loved one's cut flowers alive in the vases attached to each tomb. By the memorial stones stood stacks of wooden sticks with vertical lettering upon them, names perhaps, or prayers. We are illiterate here so have no way of telling. We'd seen these in country cemeteries from the train on Thursday, too. A white funeral car pulled out as we were looking round; white is the colour of mourning here.
Rather than return to the hotel straight away we caught a combination of trains to Asakusa, the district we explored on our first day in Tokyo, which I now realise should be pronounced Asak'sa. After strolling over the Umayabashi, and sitting out of the cold wind in the sun on the far side of the river we walked back across Asumabashi to the Sensoji Temple again, which didn't seem so extraordinary as it had done this time last week. We must be getting used to Japan already. The monkey doing tricks on a lead wasn't there today, though. I could have bought a kimono in the back street bazaar.