Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Hawaii and Japan, 2014 - 11/4 - Day 19 - Old Wood and New Land

Anyway, our hotel is very nice, and we have a great view of Tokyo Harbour from our 24th floor room.  There's even a tiny replica of the Statue of Liberty sitting right at the edge of the water. Tonight we decided to stick around Daiba. Nothing in this town is at ground level except parking. Everything is accessible via 2nd or 3rd floor walkway, and its all modern malls and restaurants. There are very few mom and pop places around here. There's even a small replica State of Liberty sitting by the bay. For dinner we went to a branch of the famous Gonpachi restaurant, known for being the inspiration for the restaurant fight scene from Kill Bill. To be honest, while the food was good, the whole place felt like a sort of facade of a real Japanese restaurant - everything seemed faked - like the Rio Bravo of Japanese cuisine. The food wasn't *bad*, but it wasn't spectacular, aside from a lovely expensive chunk of wagyu beef we enjoyed (certainly not the highest grade of wagyu, but great nonetheless.)

Horyuji Kondo with 5-Story Pagoda in the background
We needed to be back in Tokyo at some point today, but didn't really want to spend two entire days exploring there again, so we opted to take a side trip to the little town of Ikaruga, halfway between Nara and Osaka, to visit Horyuji Temple, the world's oldest surviving wooden structure.
Horyuji was created by a rich old dying emperor, as a way to heal himself. He died shortly after it was finished, so I guess it didn't work out for him...or perhaps it did, in an existentially ironic sort of way. Anyway, the end result is impressive nonetheless, as Horyuji has survived for more than 1300 years and was fairly untouched by war and fire. There is an interesting museum there, housing hundreds of priceless cultural artifacts, and the grounds are extensive, having two unique precincts, east and west, and covering about 187,000 square meters.
The most impressive structure is probably the main hall, or Kondo, which houses several bronze statues and some original wall paintings which are in pretty good shape given their pronounced age. The Kondo also features intricately carved wooden gargoyles in the shapes of dragons and lions on the awnings and columns. Horyuji as a whole is very well maintained. It certainly looks old, but it doesn't look delapidated. It was definitely worth the hour it took to get out there.
Replica Statue of Liberty at Daiba,
 with Rainbow Bridge in background
Horyuji viewed and appreciated, we went our way back to Osaka to retrieve our bags from their storage lockers at the train station, then proceeded back on the Shinkansen to Tokyo. Three hours later we arrived in the city and spent the next half hour trying to figure out how to get to our hotel in the neighborhood of Daiba, which is right on Tokyo harbour. The most efficient route to get there is on a private train line and after wandering the JR station for a while, then scouring their website, we discovered through a series of pictorial clues, that there was a completely separate station for the line, called the Yurikamome. We left the JR station and figured out our route. The Yurkiamome or Tokyo Waterfront New Transit Line is known for having a big loop midway through it. We can only guess that this seemingly inefficient design is due to the need to align the track both horizontally and vertically to a large bridge that crosses the harbour, but it seems like a waste of construction and time.
Daiba is built on reclaimed land from the harbour and is a brand new area compared to just about everywhere else in Tokyo. Until the 1990's Daiba was a series of more or less disconnected man-made islands in the harbour. But in the early part of the 90's the governor of Tokyo began an initiative to turn Daiba into a futuristic concept city called Tokyo Teleport Town. Several years and more than 1 trillion yen later, the governor's successor shit-canned the project, and Daiba remained unfinished and underpopulated. Daiba is still pretty empty compared to the rest of Tokyo, but it's slowly starting to develop, and is part of Japan's bid for the 2020 Summer Olympic games.
Tomorrow is our last day in Tokyo. We don't have any solid plans and we're both pretty exhausted at this point, but we're determined to do something with our last full day of our time in Japan. Until then, it's time for a nap.

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