Day 2 – Tokyo
On Day 2 of our 17 Days in Japan, we had arranged in advance through toursbylocals.com for a walking tour of historical Tokyo with Patrick Lovell.
Patrick picked us up in our hotel lobby, and began the tour with approximately 1 hour of the history of Tokyo and an orientation to the geography of historical Tokyo through a map that he brought with him, showing the castle, the moats, and the locations of the various groups that comprised the early days of Edo (the original name for present day Tokyo).
After this introduction and a restorative cup of coffee from Tully’s, Patrick led us onto the subway and on to our first stop, the Nihonbashi bridge. This was the site of the first bridge across the Nihonbashi river in 1603. It is also the location of the zero point of Tokyo, from which all distances to and from Tokyo are measured. I darted out to the middle of the bridge to take a photo of the plaque marking this zero point.
Our next stop was the Mitsukoshi department store. July is the time of Summer gift giving, where you give gifts not only to family, but also to those who have helped you in your business. The quality of the gift and the presentation (the wrapping, the envelope) are carefully calibrated to the amount of help provided. Patrick took us down to the basement level of the department store, which is modeled after Harrod’s of London, and in some ways surpasses it. There you can buy $56 melons, $25 tomatoes or other local, seasonal produce for Summer gift giving. Unfortunately, you’re not allowed to take pictures inside Mitsukoshi, so I wasn’t able to capture any photos of the brilliant displays.
We then made our way to the Tokiwashabi bridge and the lost child stone. Here, families that had lost children or those who had found them would post notices, hoping to reunite children with their families.
As Japan modernized, they wanted to show the Westerners that they could build architecture every bit as beautiful and in the same style as the buildings that they saw in London or Paris. Buildings like Tokyo station or the Bank of Japan were built in very Western styles, very different than anything previously seen in Japan.
Next, we walked through Daimyo alley, now known as Marunouchi or sometimes informally as the Mitsubishi Fields. In the feudal days, prior to the Meiji restoration, many of the Daimyo (the warlords who ran the country and were subordinate only to the Shogun) had their estates in this area. After the Meiji restoration, those estates were torn down and the army built a barracks and parade ground here. But when the army left, no one wanted the land. As the Japanese do, they put all of the leading men of Tokyo in a room, forcing them to bid on the land, and the founder of the Mitsubishi family won the bid and turned it into an empire. He bought it for 15M Yen or about $150,000 in today’s dollars.
Just as we were beginning to wonder about lunch, we crossed the street on to the grounds of Edo-jo castle. It has become a park, but in its day it was a serious fortress, with moats and castle keeps designed to defend against invaders. Patrick continued to tell us a number of stories about the days of the Shogun, mentioning that the Shogun rewarded those who weren’t his allies with money and prime real estate, but not with power. The Shogun also interspersed his closest allies in the same areas as those who opposed him, so that they could keep an eye on his enemies.
Patrick took us to a wonderful udon noodle place for lunch where they made the noodles on site and served it with tempura.
Our next stop was a small garden near Edo museum and the Sumo wrestling stadium called Kyu-yasuda garden. It has a small Shinto shrine in it, and a wonderful central lake. We observed a photography session for a bride and groom. He had on a tuxedo and she was in a very beautiful Kimono.
From Kyu-Yasuda gardens we walked over to the Eko-in Temple. This temple was originally established in 1657 to honor those killed in the Great Meireki fire, including 44,000 who died on this site. Inside the temple, we watched a short film about the history of the temple, and about those who died in the fires that resulted from the Allied bombing of Tokyo in 1944-1945, who are also honored in this shrine.
For our next to last stop of the day, Patrick took us to the Kiyosumi Teien garden, a very large and very beautiful oasis in the heart of Fukagawa. It was built in 1878-1885 by the shipping magnate Iwasaki Yataro. He asked that his ships bring back “special” rocks from all over Japan, and they are scattered throughout the garden.
We ended the day in Ginza, where Patrick pointed out the entrance to the Tsukiji market and a nearby sushi place that he recommended. After Patrick left us, we were too tired to visit Tsukiji or wait for the sushi place to open, so we picked up dinner at the Ginza location of the Mitsukoshi department store and headed back to our hotel.