Tokyo Day 6

As previously mentioned, I went to the Buddhist temple Senso-ji yesterday morning. Massive red front gate, then 100 meters of shopping street: trinkets, traditional candies, octopus balls, rice crackers, red bean buns, hello kitty - a seething mass of humanity. Being Japanese crowds, you can walk that 100 meters (slowly!) and hardly be jostled at all, but it's still noise and chaos. The temple/shrine was large and red ... and didn't excite me much more than that. There was a tiny, lovely little garden that presaged the next day. Overall not a great success.

Later in the day Trine and I went to Meiji-Jingu, a Shinto shrine. Meiji-Jingu is set in a huge wooded area that strikes me as a minor miracle (or perhaps a major one ...) in the centre of this incredibly congested city. There were quite a few people, but nothing like Senso-ji - and no shopping street, just a long (several hundred meters!) peaceful walk through the woods. It was quiet and wonderfully relaxing. Very attractive wood building too.

Trine and I were at Shibuya crossing (possibly the busiest pedestrian crossing in the entire world) yesterday around 1330. She told me it was relatively quiet while we were there. I knew she was serious, but didn't really "get it" until I passed through it again tonight at 1830. Yup, it's everything you've seen on TV: thousands of people per minute flowing across five different corners in a scramble crossing. And it works too: it's crowded, but everyone gets across and on their way surprisingly easily.

photo: Shibuya crossing

Lots and lots (and lots) of people at a the world's busiest scramble crossing

From the video game parlour yesterday, I can now report that Dance Dance Revolution continues to spawn new games: I think this one was called "Dance Dance Evolution" and it now does Kinect-like body tracking rather than floor pads. That means hand gestures, posturing, spins, and kicks. And the guy who was doing it while we were there had clearly been practicing A LOT. But I was particularly fond of the Kodo-style drumming video game - that looked entertaining. There may be pictures.

I started today with Rikugi-en, another miracle of peace in this densely packed city (as is Chinzan-so, next up). The first time I saw a Japanese garden (or perhaps the first time I noticed I'd seen one) was in San Francisco in 2004 - at which point I pretty much immediately concluded that everyone else was doing gardens wrong. The Japanese don't do symmetry. Everything is trimmed and placed and manicured - to make it look "more natural" (I don't know if the Japanese do irony, but I certainly do). A healthy limb chopped off, a weak one propped up - to achieve the right look. I still visit gardens occasionally when I'm in Europe, but they don't grab me the way Japanese ones do. Rikugi-en is centred around a large pond, and as you walk around you're treated to views at different places, each of which is meant to show scenes from classical poetry. It's a gorgeous place. The various apartment buildings towering around the edges occasionally detract slightly from the beauty, but it remains wonderful.

Next was Chinzan-so, another fantastic garden. No big pond this time but lots of flowing water and more hillside, which allowed them to make more quiet corners. And apparently Japan and North America aren't that different: both gardens had wedding parties in them getting photographed. But there were kimonos.

Across the road from Chinzan-so is the Roman Catholic Diocese of Tokyo, and it includes St. Mary's Cathedral - quite similar (although I think it's smaller) to St. Mary's Cathedral in San Francisco, both very "modern." The similarity isn't as surprising as it seems, as they were both designed by the same Japanese architect. Both are soaring modern concrete things, and I loved the one in San Francisco so I really wanted to get to this one: the concrete forms a cross at the top, about three feet wide both ways across the central beam(s), and in SF it's all stained glass. Here, it's just translucent white glass and I discovered that that was a major feature I loved about the one in SF. I don't remember the acoustics in St. Mary's SF, but this one - any sound anywhere in the building reflects off the raw concrete and amplifies something fierce. And no pictures allowed - Rrrrrrr.

The Nezu Museum is a lovely place - I think they specialize in ceramics, but I'm a little unclear. They had early Japanese Bronzes, some Buddhas, and a big display of materials to do with the Japanese tea ceremony - which had drawn the largest concentration of women in kimonos I've seen so far, there must have been about 20 of them. The attached gardens are lovely as well, and riddled with multi-hundred year old statues and fittings.

I ended the evening at "Zoetrope"/"the Shot Bar" - a tiny place in Shinjuku with about 300 whiskies available. My guidebook called it "Zoetrope" but the sign - on the third floor, mind you, as that's where it is - says "the Shot Bar" so I didn't realize I'd found it until I asked someone on the street. You pay ¥620 just to sit down ("seating charge"), and when I asked for a recommendation on a Japanese whisky for an Islay drinker (me), he pointed me to Nikka "Peaty & Salty" which was excellent (as it should be at ¥1800 a shot ...). He told me after the fact that it's only available from the distillery store - in Hokkaido. I also tried the house whisky, their own bottling of Akashi Malt, five years old and matured in sherry casks. As promised, it's quite unusual: very sweet and rich at the start, but ending salty - and not nearly as harsh as I expected given the age. The place seats about ten, plays an eclectic, bizarre, and rather wonderful selection of music, and runs Harold Lloyd silent movies on the wall. A really entertaining place.

Shinkansen to Kyoto tomorrow. Love hotel, here I come. Interesting question: I had trouble getting a room because half of Japan wanted to be in Kyoto for Hanami - cherry blossom time. But the blossoms are off the trees because it started exceptionally early this year (and we've had hard rain to help knock them down). Will the tourists all still be there? I suspect most will be.