11 Dec 2014
Clocking the queue at the train station’s Ticket Sales Office, and feeling a little less alien, we bought tickets from the machines this morning. Navigating the rail system was substantially easier today as we’re growing in experience and confidence. And it’s so cheap! It cost ¥200/ $2 to travel to the Tokyo National Museum on the other side of the city.
The trains make interesting people watching. I tried to sneak a couple of photos of people without looking like an annoying tourist.
‘I recognise that hair’ said David pointing to a piece of bronze sculpture poking above a golden hedge. ‘I’ll bet, that’s that guy we saw in Paris; what’s his name.’
‘Rodin… Let’s go and take a look.’
Sure enough, as we rounded the hedge and could see the sculpture in full, we recognised the six figures as the delegates of Calais that sacrificed themselves to the English to save their city during the 100 year wars. I looked around us wondering where we were and then saw that Rodin’s Gates from Hell were here too, along with The Thinker. ‘Talk about closing the loop.’
We were in the grounds of the The National Museum of Western Art. In Paris we’d visited the artist’s studio and gallery and seen his process and test pieces for these very sculptures. And here are the finished pieces. I wonder how many versions he made? Previous post: Musee Rodin
But we are not here to see Western art and continued through the autumnal park. The National Museum has a huge collection across a number of buildings, so we decided to explore a single building: Honkan, the Japanese Gallery. It is housed in an Emperor’s Crown Style building from the 1930’s by architect Watanabe Jin.
Starting on the ground floor with Japanese sculpture and metal work, we saw many interesting things. Although each room had an English introduction, each piece was explained only in Japanese, so we were left guessing. The Iron work sculptures from the Edo period are rich and intricate. This dragon drew a crowd.
The Thematic Exhibition of Noh masks was also very interesting. Noh is a form of classical Japanese theater that was originally a performance during Buddhist ceremonies. The masks are carved from Japanese cypress and painted. Here are a few of our favorites.
Here are a few other exhibits I found interesting.
After leaving the museum, we were looking for somewhere to stop for a coffee and to hatch a plan for the rest of the day. The National Museum is located in what looks like a formal museum district arranged around a central boulevard, not dissimilar to Washington DC, though on a smaller scale. Hand in hand we strolled along a formal fountain pond in search of a cafe.
Looking across the boulevard, I spotted what looked like the entrance to the zoo. ‘Hey look,’ I said grinning. ‘I can use my one remembered sentence from high school Japanese: Watashi wa dobu-tsuen ni ittekimashita (I went to the zoo)’ I said mangling the pronunciation of the last word.
We found a cafe that looked good with the right mix of authenticity and comfort, but it was packed. All the inside tables were full, people were sitting outside and there was a queue to get into the cafe to place an order. The wind had picked up and the sky threatened rain, so an outside table was out of the question.
Back towards the train station we passed a performing arts center that had a cafe and decided to give it a try. Without any English menus or photos or English speaking staff, David stepped up and ordered confidently in Japanese two coffees and a slice of apple pie. There is a certain sense of satisfaction when you can make yourself understood in a foreign language.
Unfortunately the coffee was awful; drip filter with long-life milk. Bleurgh. But we were warm, dry and comfortable. Oh how I long for a proper coffee.
‘We should really be ordering tea, in Japan,’ observed Dave taking a sip of his black coffee and sweeping his eyes around the exclusively Japanese clientèle. He’s right of course.
As we’d enjoyed our stroll yesterday, through the back streets of Shinjuku, we decided to try a place there for lunch/dinner. Deciding on a cute place that specialised in udon noodles, we found a cosy table and settled in for the afternoon. The menu was a little confusing so we ordered a couple of set menus and were not disappointed. It was a bowl of fresh udon noodles with a deliciously smoky beef with a hint of spice dipping sauce; a side of egg, roast pork, bamboo shoots and nori sheets, with pickled cabbage. And a plate of Kimchi pork and cabbage to share. We still don’t know what the drinks were that we’d ordered, some type of very sweet soda. It was an unusual and delicious meal.
We’re still suffering from jet-lag and can’t stay awake longer than 6pm.