Tag Archives: Edo Museum


In Japan.  At the Edo Museum, I perused an exhibit about women’s lives throughout history.  One plaque explained how women were encouraged to pursue hobbies like calligraphy, flower arranging, and incense contemplation.

I joined Lynn, who was sitting on a bench contemplating an abstract rendition of an earthquake or some such natural disaster that had occasionally befallen Tokyo.

“Did you know there’s a hobby called incense contemplation?” I asked.

“How exciting!  I must buy some incense to bring home and contemplate.”

We bought some tchotchkes in the gift shop—my pile included gum in the form of a geisha, geisha-shaped chocolates, and a box of grey candy the consistency of pencil erasers.  This was for Vince, who had requested “something disgusting” he could share with his coworkers in the kitchen at the country club.  It was going to be hard to beat the Crispy Big-Bottomed Ants I had brought from Colombia.

All the guides recommended visiting the Yanaka neighborhood of old wooden houses.  “It’s just one more stop on the train, and it looked like we walk in either direction from the station and we hit Yanaka,” I said to Lynn.

Right,” she replied drily.

We walked east from the station, following a sign pointing to “The FAMOUS Fabric Area.” It was indeed an area of fabric shops.

“I can’t see why it’s famous,” I remarked.  “It’s not like they’re selling silks and satins or kimono fabrics.”

“No,” Lynn agreed.  “I could find these in Aberdeen.”

We walked back toward the station.  It was past lunch time and after dithering in front of a couple restaurants with curtains that obscured what was inside, we plunged into a Korean place.  There was no English on the menu and the server didn’t speak any English but thankfully there were photos.  We ordered what we assumed were pizzas, and the server looked puzzled and tried to explain something to us, pointing to the menus and flipping through rapidly through the pages.

Were the items we’d requested not served at lunchtime?  Was he trying to upsell us?  To dissuade us from ordering something that wasn’t good?

He flipped back to the page with the pizzas and pointed.  We nodded our heads and he smiled and disappeared.  There was a barbecue grill set in each table and the people around us were all grilling delicious-smelling meats.

“What do you suppose we’ll get?” Lynn asked.

“Whatever it is, we’ll eat it and smile!”

“Or I’ll slip it into my handbag, and we’ll bung it in the first bin,” Lynn offered. Lynn carries a legendary, enormous handbag into/from which many things disappear and appear.

The server returned with something like a cross between pizzas and omelets; Lynn wasn’t keen so I ate mine and half of hers.

“We will never know why that was such a difficult order for him to contemplate,” Lynn remarked.

We walked west of the station and wound up in a massive cemetery.  This is what a Japanese cemetery looks like:

Everyone is cremated, and their ashes are interred at a gravesite.  There is an altar where family and friends can leave coins, pray, and … contemplate incense.  Like western cemeteries, Japanese ones have family members buried in a shared plot.

“I wonder what the wooden sticks are?” Lynn said.

“I know, I’ve seen those before.  Are they supplications?”

“Or the names of individual family members?”

“This one looks very Darth Vaderish,” I said.

“Scary!” pronounced Lynn.

We walked forever; the cemetery was like a corn maze only with dead people.

There was a guy sitting on a wall; sunburned and disheveled and possibly inebriated  He was a retired Kiwi who had been traveling around Japan for several months with no definite return date.

“You’re missing a shoe,” I pointed out.

“Aww, I know,” he replied, unconcerned.  “It’s here somewhere.”

He gave us very dubious directions to the neighborhood of wooden houses but we never found it.  We did find a narrow lane with tiny shops where I bought chopsticks for Vince and his family.  Then we got some iced green tea and sat in the sun, people watching and catching up for another hour, then caught the train back to Ueno.

Selective Whiskey, Selective Memory

Back at the hotel, Lynn revealed the reason for her bag being so heavy.  In addition to half a dozen guidebooks and books for reading pleasure, she had schlepped this all the way from Scotland.

Here are the notes Richard provided to explain its provenance.

We would have to figure out how I could reimburse them for it; Richard had paid for it in pounds sterling, I operate in dollars, and here we were in Japan.

We walked over to Ueno Park, and I—the old hand—showed Lynn the hydrangeas and the shrine.  We had a long, late pizza lunch at an Italian restaurant, which was the only place we could find that was open.  As usual we had months of updates to download.

Heading back to the hotel at dusk, we accidentally walked down an alley lined with Pachinko parlors.  It was dazzling, blinding—thousands (millions?) of blinking lights and beeping noises—with people streaming in and out to try their luck.

“What is pachinko?” Lynn wondered.

“I think you hit a lever … and balls fall down … there are pegs or some such, and … somehow you gamble with it?” was my authoritative reply.

Neither of us is a gambler, but we enjoyed the garish street display.

“This isn’t the Tokyo I’ve experienced so far,” I observed.  “I’ve been pleasantly surprised so far by how sedate the place is.”

“This seems like ‘typical Tokyo’ according to everything you see in guidebooks,” Lynn replied.

We were in bed, reading, by nine.

“If you see a ghostly figure pacing the room at 3am, that’s just me with my RLS,” I warned her.

“Oh, nothing stops me from sleeping,” Lynn assured me.

That was good, since I was up almost all night.  The more I tried to be quiet, the more noise I made, so I spent most of the night in the can, doing the RLS cancan.

The next day was packed.  We would have one day in Tokyo, then leave for Kyoto the following morning.

Fred and Hiromi had strongly recommended we prioritize the Edo Museum over the two art museums in nearby Ueno Park.

I was glad for their advice.  The Edo was just a quick one-stop on the train, and easy to find thanks to much signage involving large red arrows even I couldn’t miss.

As we walked, a flock of little kids in cute school uniforms passed us and called out, “Hah-loh, hah-loh!” practicing their English on us.  It was delightful.

“Edo” is the old name for Tokyo; the museum was all about the history of Tokyo.  The building itself is worth a look.  It is modeled after an old storehouse, but to us it appeared like a samurai helmet.

It is basically built on stilts, and you take a very long escalator to the sixth floor of museum, then work your way down.  Lynn and I had never seen an escalator that turned into a people mover (a moving walkway), back into an escalator, and so on.  It was marvelous.

I could write an encyclopedic post on this museum, since it covered everything from prehistoric cave dwellers to the post World War II period.  There were a lot of model recreations of typical homes and shops and schools from different periods.  This was a post war kitchen.

This was a typical school lunch in 1960, when Japan was still rebuilding.  Pretty grim.

This was 1970:

The 1980s:


And the 2000s, looking pale and starchy, like American lunches, in my opinion.

I stood in front of this for a long time, wondering.

I know it’s too small for you to read.  It’s about the US bombing of Tokyo during WWII. There’s no context as to why America might be doing such a thing.

No mention of 1941 and Pearl Harbor, when Japan attacked America—a neutral country at the time—without provocation and killed 2,400 Americans.

I may sound like a five-year-old, pointing a finger and shouting, “He started it!”  There were plenty of atrocities and needless destructive actions committed by all parties.  But here, only America is mentioned as the aggressor.

To lighten things up, here is a gratuitous photo of a goat from the taxidermy exhibit!