Wednesday 30 June 2010

Learning Japanese...

...I think I’m learning Japanese I really think so.

Language lesson 1. How do you say band-aid in Japanese? Bando-aido.

Apart from that I can say hello, goodbye, thank you, bill please, excuse me and do you speak English. But mostly I just nod and smile.

I did a lot of nodding and smiling on my tour, yesterday, of some of Tokyo’s cultural institutions. First up was the Imperial Palace – well, actually, the Imperial Palace East Gardens which are as close as the average Lady Traveller can get.

But the gardens are lovely, shades and shades of green,

with the occasional flash of blue or white.

It was warm and humid the whole time I was in Tokyo, but the grey sky was actually an excellent foil for the green.

Pretty lights,

Pretty pea-type things hanging from a pergola,

Pretty pishy. (My nephew calls them pishies and now I find it hard not to.)

Pretty magnolia.

From the Palace Gardens I walked to the Yasukuni Shrine, dedicated to the Japanese war dead since the mid-19th century.

The trees all around it were festooned with lights, so it looked a little bit like a Bavarian biergarten on approach.

As I watched, a steady stream of people walked up the steps to the shrine, bowed, dropped money in a trough, then clapped their hands. Very solemn and quite moving.

The museum associated with the shrine is dedicated to telling the story of the people the shrine honours. That sounds like a worthwhile endeavour on paper, but visiting the museum was a distinctly uncomfortable experience, though fascinating too.

I don’t think any museum in Europe would be allowed to tell a story in such a way that glorifies war and its victims quite so much, or with so little objectivity. From the first gallery, where the Samurai spirit – and the honourable tradition of dying in battle – are invoked, through the reference to the ‘Chinese Incident’ in the 1930s and the ‘East Asian Conflict’ (World War II) to the gallery about the Kamikaze pilots, the museum luxuriates in the nobility and honour of dying in the service of Japan. It is an interesting insight into a certain mentality and does make you question Euro-centric depictions of these conflicts, but undoubtedly disturbing.

(I was told later that this is a private museum, so it in no way represents the official Japanese line on the history of the conflicts presented.)

Photography was forbidden, except in the entrance hall, where this plane, of the type that the Kamikaze pilots flew, is on display.

From there, I went to the Tokyo National Museum (cramming it all in) and the Japanese Collection. Again, no photos allowed but the best thing was seeing the Hokusais and Hiroshiges in their native habitat, including this one:

I finished the day by eating some of the best fish I’ve ever had in my life: sashimi, oysters big as wagon wheels, lobster tempura (!), but I didn’t bring my camera, so I’ll leave it to your imagination.

This may be the longest post I’ve ever written, so I’m going to stop now and go and soak my poor, blistered feet and apply the band-aids. You see! There was a point to that story.

1 comment:

  1. Have you asked anyone about the Glasnevin Cemetery connection yet?