Thursday, August 18, 2011

Natsu Yasumi 2011

My summer break (natsu yasumi) just ended yesterday, and it's back to school today. It was a pretty fantastic two weeks off- I got to spend a lot of time with my friends and really enjoyed my stay in Tokyo last week.

I visited Tokyo with a friend from Sendai, and it was our goal to do some of the touristy stuff there that we hadn't done yet. Also, and most importantly, we wanted to climb Mt. Fuji. This post will be about the first part of that trip: our time in Tokyo. It was incredibly hot and humid there, so we tried to avoid the heat by visiting some of Tokyo's many great museums. Most of them are located in Ueno Park, where you can also see one of Japan's oldest zoos. The park itself is a fun place to hang out, with a lake to walk around and lots of street performers and vendors. 

Ueno Park
The first museum we visited in Ueno was the Tokyo National Museum. There were two main buildings we visited: the first held art from other Asian countries, including China, Korea and India, as well as some things from Egypt. It was all a few centuries old at least, most of it older than that, and to be honest not the greatest collection. However, the section on India had some very nice Buddhist art pieces that are worth seeing. 

Statue of Buddha, from India.
The second main building held the collection of Japanese art. There were pieces that dated as far back as the Jomon Period (1,000-400 B.C.E.), including lots of really interesting clay statues and other archeological finds like arrowheads, suits of armor, etc. There were many beautiful pieces of Buddhist artwork, a great collection of ukiyo-e (woodblock prints), including some horror prints by Hokusai, one of Japan's most iconic artists. Altogether, it was a really impressive collection.

The second museum we visited in Ueno was the National Museum of Western Art. It was also a very good selection, with lots of medieval paintings, beautiful French Impressionist works (including a room full of Monet, and his famous "Water Lilies"), and some very nice modern pieces, such as a couple by Picasso and a Jackson Pollock. Also, there were statues by French sculptor Auguste Rodin all throughout the museum, including a really impressive piece located in front of the building ("The Gates of Hell").

Monet's "Water Lilies".
Rodin's "Gates of Hell", in front of the National Museum of Western Art.
We also spent an afternoon at the National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation (called the Miraikan in Japanese) in Odaiba. Odaiba is a really fun area to visit, with a beach that offers a fantastic view of Tokyo's Rainbow Bridge and Tokyo Tower, as well as lots of shopping and the Fuji TV network building. The best way to get to Odaiba is to take the Yurikamome monorail train. It's a great way to see Tokyo as well, with lots of good views of the city and famous landmarks along the way.

The harbor in Odaiba
View of Tokyo Tower from the Yurikamome Monorail
The Miraikan had some fun exhibits, in particular the sections on the International Space Station and on robotics. We arrived just in time to see a demonstration of a robot called ASIMO created by Honda, which can walk, run, dance and even speak in Japanese. Upstairs you can also check out a model of the International Space Station which you can walk through and see just how claustrophobic life as an astronaut must be. There was also a shuttle launch engine on display, which is pretty exciting if you're a nerd like me. ;)

ASIMO robot, made by Honda
In addition to the museums, we also visited the Imperial Palace Garden. It was a pretty garden, though I would actually recommend Shinjuku Gyoen over it. But it was fun to check out some of the historical landmarks there.

The Imperial Palace Garden
Finally, one of my most important goals in Tokyo was to eat a lot of ethnic food that I can't get in Sendai. I love living in Japan, but sometimes I do miss the variety of food from back home. While we were in Tokyo, we ate at a Hawaiian restaurant in Shinjuku called Tiki Tiki. The decor was impressively over the top, kind of reminiscent of a Las Vegas casino. The food was great, and the drinks were amazing- they not only tasted good, the presentation was also really well done. You can also see a hula dance performance in the evenings, which sadly we missed.

Awesome drinks at Tiki Tiki in Shinjuku
We also ate at a nice Russian restaurant near Waseda University. It's located close to the Takadanobaba station on the Yamanote Line. The restaurant is called Chaika ("seagull" in Russian) and was a little spendy, but the quality was good. We got a set meal for about 2,000 yen ($20) that included piroshkii, borscht, a kind of pot pie, salad, and dessert. I also had some great Georgian red wine (my favorite kind, but sadly difficult to find most of the time.)

Great Russian food at Chaika
Our stay in Tokyo was a lot of fun, and I really enjoyed seeing the museums and eating great food. Not to mention visiting my friends down there. Next post: climbing Mt. Fuji!


  1. I was like Ueno Park, Ueno Park where have I heard that name. Then I remember that's where the murder loving cherry tree from Tokyo Babylon is located, random facts for the WIN!
    Also YAY HIO! Everything looks awesome I'm glad you had fun!

  2. lol, seriously? I totally forgot about the Tokyo Babylon thing. I will be more careful around the cherry trees next time!