Japan Memories #6: Memorial Shrine and First Sakura
Travel Date : 26th March (Mon)
It was peak hour when we stepped out of the hotel. Immediately, we were greeted with the sight of people in black suits walking briskly and orderly one after another.
I felt as if I was in the virtual time zone in the movie, “Matrix”. It was pretty scary since the two of us stood out so much with our holiday attire. Everyone has a masked look on their face and seemed to be rushing. When we reached Mitsukoshimae Station, we nearly couldn’t enter the station with those identical ‘black suits and pants people’ filing out. I took courage finally when someone ran into the station, opening up the way for us. The pressure was intense and suffocating.
This was the first day when we truly saw a lot of office workers — men and women, walking about. Basically, all the working men were wearing black suits and pants, so it had obviously became a part of their ‘standard dress code’. Though I had always wanted to present myself smartly to others, the thought of having to wear the same ‘uniform’, day-in-day-out, was not appealing.
We bought breakfast at “Lawson” convenience store again, intending to eat near the shrine. Vin had bread while I bought an Onigiri. Eating cold rice in the morning? No choice! -_-”
The shrine that causes disputes between Japan and other countries every year the Prime Minister of Japan visits. It is where the war dead are honoured including 14 leaders convicted as war criminals from World War II. This was originally not in our itinerary but we managed to squeeze it in. I’m glad because this visit fulfilled my curiosity of the controversy.
Before entering, we ate our breakfast in a car park area under the tree. Along the way to the shrine, there was food stalls like our ‘night market’ with interesting Japanese food, like Yakitori, Takopachi…the cost was at least 500 yen though which we found expensive)
Due to the experience at Meji Shrine, it was memorable to visit Yasukuni Shrine with a nice weather. When we were walking towards the shrine, there was a graduation ceremony going on at the ‘indoor stadium’ across the road, where the youngsters were well-dressed for the ceremony.
The streets were otherwise quite deserted as it was still early morning. This gave us many opportunities to take photographs without too many people in the background. True enough, crowds began to pour in later.
Sakura! (Cherry Blossoms)
We saw our first Sakura tree in full bloom! It was so pretty and we took a lot of pictures. The shrine was huge and there was a nice garden which have even more sakura trees.
There were many Sakura trees in the shrine’s vicinity but unfortunately, most of the flowers were not blooming yet, so we were not able to catch its scenery in full bloom. Nevertheless, we still had many opportunities for great photos, thanks to a small pond nearby, which had some Sakura trees with partially bloomed flowers. We tried to pick up a few petals on the ground but got nowhere to keep them.
As we went on to the museum we spotted sakura trees with very pinkish flowers. I was doubtful on whether those were sakura flowers, as so far, the sakura that we saw were white in colour. After close examination of the flowers, we confirmed its species and also took some photos there, where we started to pose for ‘artistic’ photos. When I’m back in Singapore, I then read that there were 200+ different variants of Sakura trees in Japan.
Yusukan (Japan’s oldest museum)
I had read that it covered exhibitions of the wars they went through, including World War II. We started with a documentary in Japanese, and even though we could not understand the language much, we realised that they briefly mentioned on WWII and moved on.
No photography was allowed in this museum, located in Yasukuni Shrine.
The first place we stepped into was the theatre which showcased the history of wars in Japan. Was waiting and waiting to view WWII but nothing was said about it. Even the exhibits were labelled ‘Great Asia War’.
This was an interesting place to visit, since I’m always interested in Wars and Japan’s military history. Besides exhibiting items of modern era, the museum also exhibited items from the olden times such as armours and samurai swords. The swords looked really well-preserved, as although the handles were also rusted, the blades were still as new and shiny as ever. I wonder if that had to do with the special method of producing the blade since samurai swords are always known to be very sharp.
In one of the rooms, there was display of a life-size ‘Kamikaze’ plane, or one they called the Sakura Plane. Its main functionality was to dive into enemy’s vessels and explode with it. Some kind of suicide vehicle. There was also this human torpedo, where a Japanese soldier sat in this really compact torpedo-like underwater vessel and got fired towards the enemy’s ships for another type of suicidal mission. That’s why Japanese were fearsome opponents to fight in the war, given their self-sacrificial mentality.
Lunch – Takoyaki and Okonomiyaki
We felt hungry after the museum visit and decided to settle for these small foodstuffs at the stalls. My first try of Japanese Takoyaki. It was quite different from from Singapore’s. The takoyaki balls felt ‘richer’. At 500 yen, there were 6 of them and the octopus inside was quite a lot. The okonomiyaki taste somewhat the same but after a few more bites, I didn’t enjoy the taste.
We have decided to try out the stalls after we saw them early in the morning when we arrived at the shrine. When ordering, we were a little held back at the beginning, due to the language barrier. However, we managed to get some snacks using basic Japanese and body language, and sat down under the some Sakura Trees which were not blooming yet, enjoying our lunch.
It was a nice experience to be sitting under the sun in cool Spring (we would be perspiring if in Singapore!) and enjoy the serenity.
There were many stalls despite the lack of human traffic. The crowd would probably come in later in the evening, we thought.
We had wanted to return here one of the evenings to experience how it would be like at night, but unfortunately, our tight schedule did not permit for it.
Our Planned Itinerary:
(Morning To Afternoon)
- Walk to Mitsukoshimae Station (5mins)
- To Kudanshita Station
(transfer to the Tokyo Subway Hanzomon Line (5mins) ;to Kudanshita Station (5min) Exit 1-10mins)
- Visit Yasukuni Shrine and Yushukan (Museum) (1.5 hr)
- Short walk to Kudanshita Station to go to Shibuya Station
(take the Tokyo Subway Hanzomon Line from Kudanshita Station to Shibuya Station (12mins))
- Sight-seeing at Shibuya (2-3hrs)
(Check out Hachiko Statue (dog statue just outside Shibuya Station)
(This entry is from our Travel Scrapbook of Japan in 2007)
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