Today 1 little passenger is getting off with her mom. We got to know a little 6 or 7 month girl called Ritka. She’s the daughter of the 1st officer. She’s obviously the youngest person on board and all the grandmothers and grandfathers play and talk with her each time she’s out and about. Ritka is just the most adorable little people on board, always smiling and is totally adored by 100% of the passengers. She’ll be missed.
Toyko-to (“to” indicates its special status as the capital) is separate from surrounding Kanto prefecture, and is probably the first image of Japan for most visitors. Planes are landing here at a rate of 1 per 20 seconds. The modern nation is associated with “high tech”, but traditional Japan lies just beneath the electronic veneer. People here are just steeped in tradition and take it very seriously.
Formerly known as Edo, Tokyo is located at the head of the Tokyo Bay on the Pacific Coast on Honshu. Tokyo has been inhabited since ancient times, originally as the small fishing village of Edo. Development into the larger city did not take place until the Tokugawa period (1603-1867) when it became the capital of the Tokugawa Sogunate. The city was renamed Tokyo, meaning eastern capital, in 1868 after the Shogunate was ended by the Meiji Restoration. During the Meiji period, rapid industrialization took place, causing the population to grow immensely. Other major influences on the city were the Great Kanto Earthquake which struck in 1923 and WWII. The fires following the earthquake lasted 40 hours and laid waste to the city. The quake took some 142,000 fatalities with one fourth of the fatalities taking place in a fire that swept through a department store. WWII saw the city destroyed again, the earliest bombing raid was in April 1942 but the most damage was done in March 1944 when two fifths of the city went up in smoke and some 70,000-80,000 lives were lost. Of course, as is true of the Japanese character, nothing would keep them from coming back and making the city into the beautiful one is it today.
We started our tour today at the Imperial Palace. It’s the city’s traditional centre. Nihombashi, Kyobashi and Ginze (prefectures) are to the east of the palace and Tokyo Station on the west. The financial and commercial area, the three districts (or prefectures) are home to most of the big department stores.
In the early days of established Tokyo, the Imperial Palace, fortified by a solid outer wall and reinforced by a serious of inner walls and moats, was the world’s largest castle. Only the innermost moat remains. The grounds open only on January 2nd and the Emperor’s birthday. One of Tokyo’s most familiar sights, the Nijubashi (double bride) is the main entrance to the royal grounds. Most of the outer wall remains today as it was built in the early 1700’s. Our tour guide MiMi (MiHoKa) had pictures she had taken on one of the rare opportunities to visit the palace and it appears opulent to say the least. It was interesting that in the gardens just outside the main gate many homeless people were sleeping. It appears the number of homeless in Japan is growing, but still not as bad as North America. I couldn’t get numbers but this was really the first case of homelessness we’d seen.
We visited the Ginza area of Tokyo where shopping is for the wealthy. Stores like Dior, Chanel, LV etc line the street. Gerrit and I took some time to find the “local” stores instead where we had a wonderful time.
We then went to the Asakusa Kannon Temple, Senso-Ji is Tokyo’s oldest and most revered shrine. The neighbourhood is festive and throngs of devoted visitors lined the streets. This being Golden Week, it was just jammed packed with people. Of course, lots of vendors selling stuff to eat and the many stalls selling Golden Week commemorative things along Nakamise Street in front of the temple were plentiful.
At the main entrance, the landmark Kaminari-mon (“thunder gate”) is known for its very large red lantern inscribed with its name. In front, a considerable bronze incense burner issues smoke that is believed to harbour divine powers. We, along with the many visitors, waved cupped handfuls of smoke toward our bodies in the belief it will heal illness. We then went into the temple, tossed a coin in the box, and bent 15 degrees in prayerful pose. It’s been so exciting to be part of this prayer and celebration process.
Later, as we waited for our guide, we ate a sweet potato substance sandwiched between 2 pancakes shaped like fish. It was awesome. We also purchased some high end Japanese treats to have in our cabin during our voyage into Alaska. There were a large number of food stalls, pity we had already had lunch. We did try a few delicacies though.
Would you be surprised if we bought more munchies? 🙂 Most of these should arrive back in Toronto with us. Nothing is just tossed together in Japan, even mundane things such as snacks are beautifully wrapped and presented. The 3 bags of munchies were placed into a paper bag, which was then folded, taped and placed into another paper bag for transport. Almost too nice to open.
The architecture is fascinating – especially the Sony building, admired for its panels of TV screens and floor after floor of displays of “what’s new”. But what really took our attention was the garbage incinerator towers. They are approximately 40 stories high (no windows) but contains the obvious big pipe up the middle. The garbage from the city is incinerated here with little or no impact to the environment. The heat from the burning is relayed to an attached public swimming pool, where local residents enjoy the heated water. What a novel idea instead of trucking our garbage to another country like we do in Toronto. We think a great lesson for Toronto is in order.
At the port we were entertained by one of the fascinating hobbies of teens here, dressing up as anime characters. They are very serious at this, spending the whole day posing and acting out scenes.
We have a day at sea tomorrow and then Hakodate.