Japan’s capital is a fascinating, fun and fast-paced megacity. The first time I visited I was with friends so we spent out time racing around the city’s different districts, such as Shinjuku, Harajuku and Akihabara, as well as a 5.30am trip to the famed Tsukiji fish market, taking in as much as we could in the few days we had. But this time around I was with my parents and we only had one day to look around the capital before flying back to the UK. So instead of running around, trying to fit in as much as we could, we opted for a laid-back culture-filled day.
Our first stop was Tokyo Imperial Palace, home to the country’s royal family. The palace isn’t open to the public, and surrounded by high stone walls and a large moat (above), it’s hidden away from prying eyes. The palace gardens are opened to the public twice a year – on 2 January (for New Year) and 23 December (Emperor Akihito’s birthday) – so unfortunately, as it was October, we weren’t allowed in.
Nevertheless, we headed to the only part of the complex open to the public, the Imperial Palace East Gardens where we enjoyed a relaxing walk in the sunshine. We walked around the pretty traditional Japanese garden, before deciding to climb the foundations of the old castle tower, which burnt down in 1657, to enjoy the fine views over the park. The peaceful park was a lovely place to start our day.
After a spot of lunch, we made our way to Tokyo National Museum (above), which is situated in Ueno Park, a 300-acre site filled with museums, temples and institutions. The museum is the oldest and biggest in Japan, and is home to thousands of splendid art works and artefacts from all over Japan and Asia. Statues, armour, weapons, ceramic objects, maps and clothing from across the ages are among the varied collections of priceless objects on display.
The museum was fascinating, the lacquer objects and costumes, in particular, were sublime and I really enjoyed learning about Japanese culture and history from a Japanese perspective. I was also really intrigued by the exhibition on the Ainu, Japan’s indigenous population, and their culture as I briefly studied them at university, so it was interesting to find out more about them and to read about them from a Japanese view point.
But by far and away my favourite item on display was the Dogu figurine that looks like it’s wearing goggles (above) – even though it dates from between 1000-400BC! I was mesmerised by the ancient goggle-wearing statue, the goggles just seemed so out of place on a 3,000-year-old figurine, and I made sure to buy a fridge magnet of it as a memento.
My final day in Japan was very chilled and relaxing, and the complete opposite of the frenetic, action-packed days I spent in Tokyo the first time around. I really enjoyed just ambling around the city and really taking the time to explore the places we visited in-depth. Tokyo National Museum was fantastic and I would have liked to have spent more time exploring the city’s other museums. But I’ll have to leave that til next time. Sayonara Japan…