Wednesday, January 31, 2007

8. Museum Review: Bridgestone Museum of Art (Kyobashi)

The Bridgestone Museum is a 5 minute walk from Tokyo Station's Yaesu Central Exit; or Kyobashi Station (Meidi-ya Exit) and Nihonbashi Station (Takashimaya Exit) of the Ginza Subway Line. It is right on Yaesu-dori and there is a large sign, in English, on the outside of the building.

1-10-1 Kyobashi, Chuo-ku, Tokyo 104-0031.
Phone: 03-5777-8600

It is open Tuesday through Saturday from 10:00 to 20:00. Sundays and holidays from 10:00 to 18:00.

Adults: 800 yen
65 & older: 600 yen
Students: 500 yen
Under 15: Free
*Except during special exhibitions.
*There are discounts for groups over 15.
*A 100 yen coupon is available online at their website.

The Bridgestone Museum holds a multitude of different exhibits each year. The current exhibition, 'Masterpieces from the Collection - From Impressionism to Twentieth-Century Art', will run from January 2nd to April 8, 2007.

It is not a huge museum, but it is a very serious collection of 'Masterpieces'. Monet, Renior, Cezanne, Picasso, and Matisse; just to name a few. Two rooms were also dedicated to Modern Japanese painters. The museum consists of a total of ten rooms and two sculpture galleries, all on the 2nd floor. The 1st floor has a cafe, bookstore/shop, and an auditorium.

I am not a huge fan of 'Western' art, but I really enjoyed this museum. The floors are all hardwood and/or cream carpet. Bold paint in peach, yellow, lavender, burnt red,... cover the walls. I definitely recommend visiting on a weekday, there were few people there. I felt as if I was able to have each piece to myself, for as long as I wanted to enjoy it.

Everything was labeled in English, and the ladies at the front spoke some as well.

Not a museum for children, unless they are extremely quiet. For art lovers, its a must!

**Free entry with Grutt Pass 2007 (#17)

Friday, January 26, 2007

7. Zoo Review: Inokashira Shizen Bunka-en Gardens (Kichijoji)

The Inokashira Park Zoo is a ten minute walk from Kichijoji Station, on the JR Chuo line (from Shinjuku), the Keio Inokashira Line (from Shibuya).

It is also accessible by car. The park's address is: 17-6, Gotenyama 1 chome, Musashino-shi, Tokyo 180-0005. The phone number is: 0422-46-1100

The Inokashira Park Zoo is open from 9:30am to 5:00pm (last admission 4:00). It is closed every Monday, unless Monday is a public holiday (then it closes on Tuesday). It is also closed from December 29 to January 1.

Admission: Adults (16 - 64) 400 yen Seniors (65+) 200 yen
Students (13 - 15) 150 yen Children (0-12) Free

*Admission is free for junior high school students living in Tokyo or attending schools in Tokyo. Admission is also free for the disabled, and one assistant per disabled person.

*Groups of 20 or more paying individuals are entitled to a 20% discount.

*Entrance to the Inokashira Park Zoo is free with the Grutt Pass.

I had mixed feelings about this zoo. On the negative side, it was obvious that this zoo is old. Many of the animal enclosures were small and worn down. You will feel sorry for some of them. Fortunately, there is only one large animal here, an Asiatic elephant. All the other animals are small, or they are 'petting zoo' animals.

On the positive side, small children who do not yet truly understand the differences in how animals can be caged, will love it here. There is an enclosure that guests enter and squirrels run free in front of them. There is a guinea pig petting area, with lots and lots of adorable guinea pigs to choose from. Many of the animals are cute and furry; foxes, raccoons, deer,...

There is also a building devoted to 'aquatic life'. The displays here were excellent, and they were low enough for small children to get a good look at everything hiding in the tanks. The zoo is also a park/garden. There is a playground, children's amusement rides, sculpture garden,...

The zoo is surrounded by the Inokashira Park (and Natural Culture Park), with lots to see and do. There is a shrine, paddle boat rental on a small lake, walking courses, a jogging track,... Small restaurants within the park serve soba noodles and other basic Japanese foods. All of this just a short walk from Kichijoji Station.

In our exploration of the area, we also came across the famous 'Ghibli Museum'. This museum is so popular that you have to have prior reservations to enter.

Even if you decide not to enter the zoo, the parks around Kichijoji Station are full of things for a family with children to do (or anyone else for that matter). I would definitely recommend it, it is a great day trip.

**Free entry with Grutt Pass 2007 (#49)

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

6. Museum Review: The National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo (Imperial Palace)

MOMAT, or the Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo, is located just outside the Imperial Palace, in Kitanomaru Koen. The museum exhibits Japanese paintings, prints, photographs, and sculptures from the 20th Century to the present. The permanent exhibition comprises of about 200 pieces, more than half of which are replaced every two months. The museum also holds 4 or 5 special exhibitions every year.

This museum has a lot of nice pieces, if you are interested in modern art. I am more of a history fan, so I mainly enjoyed works that echoed the past, especially photographs. I can't say anything bad about this museum, but it didn't blow me away either. Art lovers, I'm sure you'll be very satisfied.

3-1 Kitanomaru koen, Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo 102-8322
Phone: 03-5777-8600

Hours of Operation: 10:00 - 17:00 (last entry at 16:30), closed Mondays (closed Tuesday when Monday is a national holiday) and Dec. 29 - Jan. 1
*Occasionally closed for long periods for exhibit changes.

Late Night Opening: Fridays until 20:00 (last entry 19:30)

Admission: Adults: 420 yen, College Students: 130 yen, High School Students: 70 yen
*Free for elementary school, Jr. high students, and those 65 and older.
*Free every first Sunday of the month, International Museum Day (May 18), and Culture Day (Nov. 3).
*Special exhibitions are not included in general admission price.

The museum is a 3 minute walk from Takebashi Station of the Tozai Line.


**Free entry to permanent collection with Grutt Pass 2007 (#12). Discount coupon for special exhibitions.

5. Museum Review: Tokyo National Museum (Ueno)

The Tokyo National Museum is actually five museums within one entrance. As the oldest and largest museum in Japan, about 3000 objects are on exhibit. The works are rotated regularly.

As guests enter through the main gate, directly in front is the 'Honkan', or Japanese gallery. It was built in 1938 and has 21 exhibition galleries, all focusing on Japan. There are paintings, sculpture, calligraphy, ceramics, textiles, swords, historical documents, and materials of the Ainu and Ryukyu cultures. In addition to detailed Japanese explanations, there are basic English explanations for everything. This is a fantastic museum for those who want to increase their historical and cultural knowledge of Japan. It is easy to spend hours in this museum.

To the right of the 'Honkan' is the 'Toyokan', or Gallery of Asian Antiquities. There are 10 exhibition rooms dedicated to the art and archaeology of many parts of Asia. Without an interest in archaeology, many items in this museum start to run together. However, if you do have an interest, it is an excellent collection. Again, there are basic English explanations for each object.
To the left of the 'Honkan' is the 'Hyokeikan', which is only open for events. When I visited, it was exhibiting itself. It is an example of Western style construction from the late Meiji period. If you've ever been to Europe, or a city like New York, it won't seem very impressive. I was in and out in less than 10 minutes. There were almost no English explanations here. Also to the left, but a bit behind the 'Honkan', is the 'Heiseikan', housing a gallery on Japanese Archaeology. The exhibit was only half of the first floor. The second floor hosts special exhibitions (at an additional fee). Across from the 'Heiseikan' is the 'Shiryokan', a research and information center. This building is closed on Saturdays, Sundays, national holidays, the last day of each month (if this falls on a holiday, the day before), and over the New Year break. Almost all of the material available for reference here is only in Japanese.
Behind the 'Hyokeikan' is the Gallery of Horyuji Treasures. In 1878, Nara's Horyuji Temple donated over 300 works of art to the Imperial Household. These works were later transferred to the National Museum. The building they are presently housed in was built in 1999. I strongly recommend that you save a little time for this gallery. The building itself, and the view from it, are worth seeing.

To round out the museum, there is a lovely garden which is only open in spring and fall, and a couple of outdoor exhibits beside the Horyuji Treasure Gallery.

The Tokyo National Museum is very foreigner friendly. Almost everything was labeled in English and pamphlets/maps in a few different languages were also available. Younger children will be very bored here. I think it would depend on the personality of older children whether they would enjoy it or not. As for adults, I would actually recommend visiting twice. Once, concentrating on the 'Honkan', and a second visit for the other galleries.

Location: Inside Ueno Park

Admission: Adults: 600 yen, University Students: 400 yen, High School aged and younger: free, Over 70: free. There is a 100 yen discount for groups over 20.

Special exhibitions require a separate admission fee. There is a 100 yen discount for these exhibitions with the Grutt Pass.

Hours of Operation: 9:30 - 17:00 (last entry at 16:30). Hours are sometimes extended during special exhibitions. From April to Septtember, the museum is open until 18:00 on Saturdays, Sundays, and holidays. The museum is closed on Mondays, except when Monday is a holiday - then it is closed the following day. Also closed from December 28 to January 1.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

4. Zoo Review: The Ueno Zoo (Ueno Park)

The Ueno Zoo is located inside Ueno Park. It is open from 9:30am to 5pm (gates close at 4pm, viewing of some animals ends at 4:30pm).

Admission: Adults: 600 yen, Seniors (65 and over) 300 yen, Youths (12-14) 200 yen
Groups of 20 or more: Adults: 480 yen, Seniors 240 yen, Youths 160 yen
Annual Pass: Adults: 2400, Seniors: 1,200

*Elementary school children are free.
*Students living or attending school in Tokyo are admitted free (must show valid student ID).

Admission is free on: Zoo's Anniversary: March 20; Greenery Day: April 29; and Tokyo Citizen's Day: October 1.

Closed: Every Monday (closes Tuesday if Monday is a public holiday). Dec. 29 - Jan. 1

Visitor Services:
Monorail: Age 12+ 150 yen, Age 2-11 80 yen
Baby strollers are available at the main gate and Ikenohata Gate for 300 yen

I first visited the Ueno Zoo about 10 years ago. The exhibits almost brought me to tears, I didn't even make it though the entire zoo. Since it was included in the Grutt Pass, I decided to give it another try.

Not much has changed. The zoo is crammed into an area much too small for the number of animals living there. In viewing the polar bears, hippos, rhinos,..., I just felt really sorry for them. It was quite depressing. It does seem that the zoo is making an effort, though. The gorillas and lions were both housed in new habitats, and there was significant emphasis on educating the public on those species. The areas were still a little small, but very much improved. At least the concrete was gone, replaced by trees, grass, and actual dirt!

The zoo has a long way to go, but I will give it a few points for trying. Unfortunately, it is still an embarrassment for a city as rich as Tokyo. The sad thing is, very few Japanese seem to see it that way. The treatment of animals in Japan has a long way to go.

I do not recommend visiting this zoo unless you are teaching your children how 'not to treat' animals.

**Free entry with Grutt Pass 2007 (#6)

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

3. Tokyo Museum Grutt (Guruto) Pass 2006/2007

The Grutt pass is one of Tokyo's best bargains. For 2000 yen, the purchaser is given a passbook full of coupons good for free entrance into over 40 Tokyo museums/zoos/aquariums,... Special exhibitions are not included, but discount coupons for those exhibitions are also included in the passbook. The pass is good for two months from the date of the first day of use.
This promotion was run in 2006 and 2007. I do not know if it will continue past March of 2008.

2. Museum Review: The Shitamachi Museum (Ueno)

The Shitamachi Museum is a small, two story museum located on the edge of Shinobazu Pond in Ueno Park. 2-1, Uenokoen, Taito-ku, Tokyo 110-0007
Phone: 03-3823-7451/7461 Fax: 03-3823-3870

Hours of Operation: 9:30a.m. - 4:30p.m.
Closed: Monday (open if it is a holiday, and closed the next day), Dec. 29 - Jan. 3
*Temporarily closed in Feb. and Oct. for rearrangement of exhibits.

Admission: Adults 300 yen (200 if in a group of 20 or more)
Primary - High School Students 100 yen (50 yen if in a group of 20 or more)

'Shitamachi' translates to 'downtown', but the true meaning is an area where modernization came more slowly, where more traditional lifestyles can still be seen. Taito-ku is Tokyo's 'Shitamachi'. Influences from the Meiji and Taisho periods, even some from the late Edo era, are still evident here.

The first floor of the museum re-creates scenes from the Taisho Period. There is a life-sized geta merchant's home and a tenement house shared by two families (a sweet shop owner and a coppersmith). Guests are welcome to take off their shoes, enter the exhibits, and step back in time.

The second floor is divided into sections, with changing exhibits related to 'Shitamachi' Culture. These exhibits include a public bath entrance donated by a former bath owner living in Taito-ku, and a collection of traditional toys that children can play with.

If you are visiting the Ueno area, I would recommend that you spend a short time in this museum. The staff of retired volunteers? were extremely friendly and some of them spoke excellent English. During the time that I was in the museum, a lady staff member was explaining the second floor exhibits (in English) to two foreigners. Around the corner another woman was helping 2 foreign children with some of the toys. Downstairs were two very friendly gentlemen who gave me an origami 'gift' on my way out.

In addition to the staff, there are papers giving an English explanation of the exhibits as well.
The papers I picked up explained the 'Nagaya' or tenement house, the 'Dagashiya' or Cheap Sweets Shop, the 'Dokoya' or Coppersmith's workshop, 'Inari' - a type of shrine, and 'Omikuji' - fortune telling oracle papers.

Taito-ku (and neighboring Bunkyo-ku) are great areas of Tokyo for wandering. The Tokyo of yesterday still exists here, down side alleys and backstreets. The Shitamachi Museum is a good way to gain some knowledge about what to look for in your explorations. Most of all, it is extremely foreigner (and child) friendly.

*Free entry with Grutt Pass 2007, #8 (see later blog for explanation).

1. Museum Review: The National Museum of Nature and Science (Ueno)

The National Museum of Nature and Science is a great museum for anyone with children, or anyone who wants a refresher course in 'Basic Science 101'. There are two buildings, of which the original building has been completely remodeled and re-opened recently. It houses the 'Japan Gallery', and was originally completed in December 1930. Because of its unique Neo-Renaissance style, I found the building as facinating as the museum itself, it is beautiful.
The 'Japan Gallery' consists of three floors: 1st - Techniques in Observing Nature, 2nd - Organisms of the Japanese Islands & Japanese People and Nature, 3rd - History of the Japanese Islands & Nature of the Japanese Islands. All exhibits were well laid out, interesting, and pleasing to the eye. There is also the 'Theater 360', a 360-degree screen covered by 12 pentagon images. Visitors walk through the globe screen, currently showing a short film on dinosaurs and another on what exists inside the earth itself. The wait was too long during my visit, but I plan to come back and check it out in the future.

The new building, or 'Global Gallery', has 6 floors with these exhibit areas: Animals of the Earth, Woodland Exploration, Progress in Science and Technology, Exploration Space, Biodiversity, Dinosaurs, the Evolution of Life, and the Natural World - Universe, Matter, and Physics.

In the 'Animals of the Earth' exhibit, over 100 'stuffed' animals (some died at the Ueno Zoo) fill a huge glass room. Imagine this collection coming alive inside the room together; a buffalo, polar bear, tiger, gorilla,... all standing side by side.

On another floor is a hands-on discovery room for children exploring a variety of scientific principles related to light, sound, force, motion, magnetism,... The kids that I saw there were having a ball.

I really enjoyed the dinosaur and biodiversity exhibits, and I was pleasantly surprised at the fascinating presentation of 'The Evolution of Life', which traces the evolutionary path of plants and animals.
Everything has a one word/line English title, but all other explanations are in Japanese. There are, however, computer monitors everywhere - and they provide English on all subject matter in the museum. There are also PDA audio exhibition guides that can be rented for 300 yen.

7-20 Ueno Park, Taito-ku, Tokyo 110-8718
TEL 03-3822-0111 (Mon.- Fri.) 03-3822-0114 (Sat., Sun., National Holidays)
Recorded Announcement 03-5777-8600

*Five minute walk from the Ueno Koen Exit of JR Ueno Station.
*10 minute walk from Ueno Station of the Ginza, Hibiya, and Keisei Lines.
*No parking available at the museum. Public and private parking lots can be found around Ueno Park.

The museum is beside the National Museum of Western Art, Tokyo. It is easy to spot because there is a huge whale statue just outside the entrance.

Opening Hours: 9:00 - 17:00 (last admissions 16:30), every Friday 9:00 - 20:00 (last admission 19:30)
Closed every Monday (Tuesday when a national holiday falls on Monday); Dec. 28 - Jan. 1

Admission Fees:
Individuals (adults and college students) 500 yen
Children and Youth in grades 1-12 Free
Seniors (65 or older) with ID are admitted free of charge to the permanent exhibitions.
Groups (at least 20 adults and college students) 300 yen

Night for Astronomical Observation (temporarily closed for renovation)
Individuals (adults and college students) 300 yen
Children in grades 1-12: Free

Special Exhibitions cost extra.

**Free entry to permanent collection with Grutt Pass 2007 (#1)