Monday, March 26, 2007

31. Museum Review: Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography (Meguro-ku)

The Metropolitan Museum of Photography is hidden behind the Yebisu Garden Place Tower. If you weren't looking for it, you wouldn't notice it. That said, you should set out to visit this museum!

Exhibits change continuously, so it is important to check the website. I was there to see two exhibits: 1) Tokyo seen by Magnum Photographers - an excellent collection of Tokyo photographs, taken by famous foreign photographers (1000 yen).
2) Yoakemae - a collection of photos taken during the final years of the Edo Period (1603-1867) and the first half of the Meiji Era (1868 - 1912). 180 photographs, mostly portraits and scenes. For those interested in Japanese history, this exhibit was especially great (500 yen).

This is an excellent photography museum. As a history and photography enthusiast, this is the museum that I will visit more often than any other in Tokyo.

Each exhibit is priced differently, usually between 500 yen and 2000 yen.

Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography
Yebisu Garden Place, Mita 1-13-3, Meguro-ku, Tokyo 153-0062

Phone: 03-3280-0099

Hours of Operation:
10:00-18:00 (Tuesday, Wednesday, Saturday, Sunday)
10:00-20:00 (Thursday, Friday)
Closed on Mondays (Tuesday, if Monday is a national holiday), and New Year's holiday.

Admission Fees: Varies depending upon exhibition or screening.
*Elementary school children and younger are usually free. Check at the information counter.

The museum is located in Yebisu Garden Place.

Transportation: 7 min. walk from east exit of JR Ebisu Station, via the Sky Walk.
7 min. walk from the bus stops at Ebisu 1-chome and Ebisu 4-chome (the #87 Shibuya - Tamachi route city bus).

**Free entry to certain exhibitions with Grutt Pass 2007 (#24)

Friday, March 23, 2007

30. Garden Review: Koishikawa Botanical Garden (Bunkyo-ku)

The Koishikawa Botanical Garden was first established in 1684 as the Koishikawa Medicinal Herb Garden by Tsuneyoshi Tokugawa, the 5th Tokugawa Shogun. In 1877, shortly after the Meiji Restoration, it became a garden of the Tokyo Imperial University (now Tokyo University) and has been (and still is) used for botanical research. There are over 4000 plant species here, and the greenhouse still contains medicinal plants dating back to the Edo Period.

The garden is especially famous for its plum and cherry blossoms. It is not a well known garden, so crowds are usually minimal. I found it to be a very lovely park, well worth a visit.Admission: 330 yen

Closed on Mondays (or Tuesday if Monday is a national holiday) and Dec. 29 - Jan. 3.
The greenhouse is only open from 13:00 - 15:00 on Tuesday and Wednesday.

Hours of Operation: 9:00 - 16:30 (last entry at 16:00)

Address: 3-7-1 Hakusan, Bunkyo-ku

Transportation: A short walk from Myogadani Station (Marunouchi Line) or Hakusan Station (Toei Mita Line).

Thursday, March 22, 2007

29. Temple Review: Gokoku-ji (Bunkyo-ku)

Gokoku-ji Temple was built in 1681 by the 5th Tokugawa Shogun, Tsunayoshi. It was built at the request of his mother, Keishoin. Spared from earthquakes, fires, and WWII; the main temple (Kannon-do) is designated as important cultural properties of Japan.A large cemetery, Toshimagaoka, surrounds the temple. The Emperor Meiji declared Gokoku-ji the Imperial mausoleum in 1873. Several of his children, and Emperor Meiji himself, are buried there.

Gokoku-ji also oversees the practice of Japanese tea ceremony in all the country's temples. On the day I visited, there were many women visitors in kimono.

The temple was built on the top of a hill and it is said that there was once a nice view of Edo Castle from its grounds. Now the view is of office buildings down Otowa-dori.

This temple is not a famous tourist spot, very few foreigners have even heard of it. I would recommend visiting the temple, then take a walk downhill through Meijirodai and Sekiguchi, until you reach the Four Seasons Hotel and their magnificent garden.

An antique/flea market is held on the grounds of Gokoku-ji on the second saturday of each month, from 7:00 - 16:00

Access: Gokokuji Sta. on the Tokyo Metro Yurakucho Line
5-40-1 Otsuka, Bunkyo-ku
Phone: 03-3941-0764 (Japanese only)

28. Museum Review: Miraikan (Odaiba)

The Miraikan is my favorite new discovery, what an excellent museum! Mirai means future, and the Miraikan is Tokyo's 'National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation'. The building itself is gorgeous, and it is filled with an overwhelming amount of stimulating scientific information.

There are exhibits on the 1st, 3rd, and 5th floors, and on the 6th is a dome theater, 'Gaia'. The showpiece of the museum is the large globe, suspended from the ceiling, made of a million LED's. The 1st floor exhibition space is currently under renovation.

The 3rd floor exhibits are divided into two topics: 'Inovation & the Future' and 'Information Science & Technology for Society'.

The 5th floor exhibits are also divided into two topics: 'Life Science' and 'The Earth Environment & Frontiers'. There is an in depth focus on 'green' technology.
I am not going to even try to describe what you'll see. You just have to go there for yourself. If you have any interest in science, you'll be here all day. Even if you hate science, you'll probably change your mind after one visit to the Miraikan.

Extremely knowledgable volunteers are on hand to explain all of the displays and to help with the interactive exhibits. I do not know if they speak any English. But, no matter, everything in the museum is explained in depth, in both Japanese and English.
I would recommend this museum for Jr. high students and older, the subject matter was quite sophisticated. I saw some college students picking the brains of the volunteers, one young woman was taking pages of notes! That said, the elementary school kids that I saw were also really enjoying themselves. Especially in the robot making department above!

Reservations are required for the 112 seat dome theater. Pick up a numbered ticket at the ticket machine on the 6th floor. As soon as you arrive in the museum, go straight to the 6th floor and pick up a ticket. I was very disappointed that we were unable to get a reservation, the movie topics looked really interesting. This museum is a 'must see', and its location make it easy and fun to visit. With so many other things to do in Odaiba, it is a great 'day trip' within Tokyo.

Address: 2-41 Aomi, Koto-ku
Phone: 03-3570-9151
Open 10am to 5pm. Closed Tuesdays (except for national holidays)

Admission: Adults 500 yen, children 200 yen (18 and under)

Nearest station: Telecom Center station on the Yurikamome line (A four-minute walk in the direction of Odaiba and the Fuji TV building)

English website:

**Free entry with Grutt Pass 2007 (#45)

Friday, March 16, 2007

27. Museum Review: National Art Center, Tokyo (Roppongi)

The National Art Center, Tokyo is Japan's first national art museum without a permanent collection. It is the largest exhibition space in Japan with 14,000 square meters, and a total floor space of 48,000 square meters. There are 12 exhibition rooms, and a library with over 50,000 publications. It is a facility especially designed for exhibitions organized by curators and exhibitions presented by artist associations.
It was designed by the famous Japanese architect, Kisho Kurokawa (who is currently running for governor of Tokyo). The curved front is based on "computer-rendered rhythmic images formed by mountains and the seashore." The idea was to balance nature and high technology. For example, glass lets in natural light, but an energy saving design cuts solar heat and UV rays.
Each exhibition is priced separately. I visited the exhibition, 'Paris du monde entier : Artistes étrangers à Paris 1900-2005'.

This exhibition introduced more than 200 works of art from the collections of the Centre Pompidou. The exhibit is said to "explore the significance of artists' activities associated with Paris in the history of modern and contemporary art". I thought it was an excellent exhibit. There were so many works that I was a little overwhelmed, but at least I felt as if I had gotten my moneys worth. This exhibition runs until May 7th.
Admission: Adults 1500 yen, University students 1000 yen, High school 800 yen, free for Jr. high and younger.

Even if you have no interest in art, go and visit the museum. Have a snack or coffee in one of the three cafes, or lunch in the restaurant. Currently there is a free exhibition on Kisho Kurokawa's architectural designs. Although it was all in Japanese, it was fascinating. You do not need to pay anything to enter the building itself, only to enter individual exhibition rooms.

The National Art Center, Tokyo
7-22-2 Roppongi, Minato-ku, Tokyo 106-8558

Hours of Operation: Most of the exhibitions (and the cafes) are open from 10:00 - 18:00, with last admission at 17:30. Exhibitions organized by The National Art Center stay open until 20:00 on Fridays. The art library opens from 11:00 - 18:00 and the restaurant is open from 10:00 - 22:00. The facility is closed on Tuesdays (unless a national holiday, then closed the next day) and during the New Year's holidays.
Access: Chiyoda Line - Nogazaka Station, exit 6 is directly linked to the center.
Hibiya Line - Roppongi Station, 5 minute walk from exit 4A.
Toei Oedo Line - Roppongi Station, 4 minute walk from exit 7.


26. Sightseeing Spot Review: Asakusa

Asakusa is definitely one of the first destinations for any visitors to Japan, and it is on the list of 'places to see' for all Japanese as well.

Most people are familiar with Asakusa Kannon Temple (Sensoji) and it's famous Kaminarimon Gate and Nakamise Dori Street. Inside the grounds of the temple is a 5 story pagoda, Hozomon Gate, the Asakusa Shrine, Nitemmon Gate,... Standards for all visitors to Asakusa.

What is possible to miss is what surrounds the temple. Hours and hours can be spent wandering the many narrow alleys and shopping arcades. This is the Asakusa that I recommend most.
Pick up a map at the information center across the street from the Kaminarimon Gate. Concentrate on the section that is located to the left of the temple grounds. Asakusa 1 chome, Asakusa 2 chome, Nishi Asakusa 2 chome, and Nishi Asakusa 3 chome.

If possible, do a bit of research ahead of time. Some of the shops in this area date back over 200 years, and are still run by the same families. Find out which ones and search them out. Some of the more famous are: the 'Tokiwado' which sells sponge cake filled with sweet bean paste, 'Bunsendo' which sells fans - known for special orders for Kabuki stars, 'Yonoya' which sells boxwood combs,...
Be sure to:

1) Walk the Hanayashiki Street and check out its amusement park that dates to the mid 1800's.
2) Wander Rokko Broadway. Once quite spectacular, it is still fascinating, even if a little seedy. Along this avenue are traditional theaters, strip shows, a huge horse betting establishment,...
3) Get lost in the covered arcades. Eat in one of the tiny family run restaurants filled with locals.
4) Walk to Kappabashi and check out the plastic model food and stores that sell almost every kitchen item imaginable.
Things I have not yet done, but are suggested:

1) Visit the Asakusa Kannon onsen public bath (sento). It is open from 6:30 - 18:00, and costs 700 yen for adults.
2) Explore the Edo-shitamachi Tradition Museum (not far from the corner of Kokusai dori and Kototoi dori).
3) Enjoy the Western style buffet lunch on the 28th floor of the Belvedere Restaurant, in the Asakusa View Hotel. Views of the area are said to be fantastic.

I also recommend traveling to Asakusa by boat up the Sumida River. For more information, see my previous write-up called 'Tokyo Cruise Boat'.

Friday, March 2, 2007

25. Sightseeing Spot Review: Shibamata (NE Tokyo)

Shibamata is an area of Tokyo made famous by the world's longest running film series, 'Otokowa tsuraiyo', which means 'It's tough being a man'. The 48 films, made between 1968 and 1996, revolved around a main character called 'Tora-san', who was from Shibamata.
The popularity of the films made Shibamata a Japanese tourist destination. The area has a very traditional feel, especially because the Taishakuten Sando (path) leading from the station has changed very little. Shops and restaurants selling kusa-dango (herbal rice cakes), unagi (eel), and other traditional favorites line both sides of the path.
At the end of the street is a famous Nichiren Buddhist Temple called 'Taishakuten', which is over 300 years old. For 400 yen, visitors can view beautiful temple wood carvings depicting scenes from the Lotus Sutra, and can stroll through the Suikeien Garden. Open from 9:00 - 16:00.
Shibamata lies right beside the Edogawa River. Yagiri no Watashibune, the only remaining manually operated ferry service in Tokyo, is located here in a riverside park. It was established in the beginning of the 17th century for farmers to get to their fields on the other side of the river. It can still be ridden for a mere 100 yen one way (50 yen for children). Rental bicycles are also available on weekends from 9:00 - 16:00, adults 400 yen, children 200 yen.
Across from the riverside park is also the Yamamoto-Tei, a semi-Western building built in the beginning of the 20th century. It can be toured for 100 yen, and visitors can also purchase tea and traditional sweets to enjoy while relaxing on tatami overlooking a lovely garden. Closed every 3rd Tuesday.

Also in Shibamata: Tora-san Museum, Shibamata Shichi Fukujin (7 Gods of Good Fortune),...

Shibamata is located in Katsushika-ku (ward), in NE Tokyo. The border with Matsudo City, Chiba, is just across the river.

We drove there, although parking was hard to find. The easiest way there is by train. From Nippori, on the Yamanote Line, take the Keisei Line limited express to Keisei Takasago (11 minutes). Change to the Keisei Kanamachi Line and get off at Shibamata (3 minutes). From Nippori to Shibamata costs 250 yen.

Shibamata is a great day trip when the weather is nice. Combine traditional sightseeing with a riverside picnic (or bicycle ride) for a perfect day!