Sunday, December 26, 2010

Tokyo Day 1--Not Lost in Translation

I expected to be very disoriented when I got to Tokyo for the first time.  After seeing Lost in Translation, I thought I would be badly jet lagged and put off by surreal scenes of large neon glassy buildings from a taxi.  Luckily I was neither and in fact loved Tokyo even with the large neon glassy buildings.

 We arrived at night and got a tour through Shibuyu, Roppongi and Roppongi Hills (possibly not in that order) before arriving at our hotel, the Westin in  Ebisu neighborhood.    Unlike Bill Murray's character, I found the cab ride, once we got to Tokyo after what seemed like an endless amount of time on a freeway (it was about 2 hours total in the cab from Narita to the Westin at a cost greater than what we paid in taxes on our frequent flyer air tickets) to be exciting and the city accessible.  One difference I noticed from what was shown in the movie was that there was plenty of English on signage.  I expected none and was pleasantly surprised at how much there was.

Christmas at Westin Tokyo
The Westin hotel was decked out for Christmas with a huge central tree and toy train track, foreshadowing the Japanese love affair with all things Christmas.  One of my colleagues observed that the abundance of Christmas paraphernalia at the Westin at first seems to derive from its being  an American chain hotel.  But once you go out into Tokyo (or even hang around for Sunday brunch) you realize that the Westin is catering to the Japanese in its Christmas excesses.  I had hoped to miss the Christmas carol season but every public place in Japan as far as I could tell was playing American Christmas songs.

Yebisu Garden Place Baccarat Eternal Lights
Our first day out in Tokyo led us across the street from the Westin through Yebisu Garden Place, an outdoor mall that sported during the holiday season a huge Baccarat chandelier.  We took the JR Yamanote to Tokyo Station, walked through the financial district, the Marunouchi, to the East Gardens of the Imperial Palace.

Moat near Otemon (Main) entrance to Imperial Palace East Gardens

To enter the East Gardens you must cross a famous moat pictured here.  The East Gardens were once part of the defense perimeter of the Edo Castle from the Tokugawa Shogunate (the basis for the James Clavell novel, Shogun).  Shortly after you enter the Gardens, you see a guardhouses, called bansho, before you head across a large field toward the site of the donjon or castle tower, dating from 1638.  All that is left of the donjon is the base which you climb to get a loftier view, both of current Tokyo and, in your mind, of shogunate Japan.
Doshin Bansho
Hyakunin-bansho - guarding entrance to Honmaru (inner citadel)

Donjon Base with skyscraper in background
Walking away from the remains of the Donjon, we headed toward the Ninomaru (second citadel or defense ring) which has been turned into a beautiful Japanese garden.  We spent a long time on a  bench soaking up the atmosphere of the small and large pleasures of the garden-- the pond, the little waterfall, the small arched bridges and the three legged snow scene stone lantern.  The scene looked suspiciously like the stock picture I have as my background on my Blackberry but there were enough differences that I concluded the stock picture was taken elsewhere.  And the autumn colors were spectacular.
View of  Ninomaru Pond with reflection of autumn colors

Pond with reflection

Arched bridge in Ninomaru garden

Stone Lantern near pond in Ninomaru

Waterfall in Ninomaru garden
Vivid autumn colors in Imperial Garden.

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