Five days in Tokyo | War, art, tech and anime
This day in Tokyo brings us to Yasukuni shrine, Yūshūkan war museum, the National Museum of Modern Art Tokyo, Mitsui Memorial Museum and Akihabara neighbourhood. As many of the sites for this day are indoors, this itinerary is ideal for rainy or particular hot days. The second world war and its aftermath in Japan is main theme of the day. From the controversial Yasukuni shrine and its adjecent war museum to Akihabara which started out as an illegal market in post-war Japan.
Imperial Shrine of Yasukuni
We start the day at the most controversial shrine of Japan, the Imperial Shrine of Yasukuni. This shrine commemorates those who died in the service of the Empire of Japan during wars from 1867–1951. Among the enshrined are various convicted war criminals. It gives an interesting insight into the way Japan copes with its history as an aggressor during the 20th century.
The war museum Yūshūkan is located next to the Imperial Shrine of Yasukuni. This museum adds to the controversy of the place because it is seen by many to give an apologetic and revisionist vision of the events leading up to the second world war and the war itself. It’s good to get your own preconceptions challenged and travelling is an ideal way to do this. As an historian with a particular interest in the time period it provided me with views I had not encountered before.
From the war museum, it’s a short and pleasant walk through the Kitanomaru park to our next stop. In the park are several museums and the impressive Budokan, home of the Japanese martial arts. When there are no concerts or events you can freely watch some trainings or tournaments there. At the end of the park lies the National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo (MOMAT). This is a great museum for discovering Japanese modern art. Especially interesting are the artistic responses to the second world war from several Japanese artists.
From the museum, you can partly overlook the Imperial Gardens and the Imperial Palace. The Palace is off limits but the East Gardens can be visited, there are limited places available, you can book ahead online or call the imperial household to see if they have places available that day.
Akihabara is the main area to go to for shopping electronics and experience ‘otaku’ culture. Whether it’s maid cafes, anime shops or video game parlours. Lights are flashing, billboards are shining bright and trucks with huge displays are driving around promoting shows or new music albums. If you’re hypersensitive to noise or light, then this isn’t a place for you.
If you are looking for any manga, anime, sci-fi or fantasy related materials, head over to Radio Kaikan for seven floors of separate shops. Here you can buy figurines, cards, dvd’s, posters and everything else.
For one of the biggest electronics shop in the world go to Yodobashi Akiba. Here you’ll find the widest selection of electronica available spread out over nine floors. Head over to the massage chair section to get a free full body massage and be reenergized for some more shopping.
If you’re looking for cheap souvenirs or something random go to Don Quijote. Here you can buy almost everything from food to X-rated costumes.
Mitsui Memorial Museum
When you’re done shopping head over to the Mitsui Memorial Museum. This private museum of the Mitsui group houses great Japanese and Asian art. One of the highlights of the museum is a detailed reconstruction of the interior of the Joan tea ceremony room. The museum has continuously changing exhibitions on national treasures from different shrines, temples and other Japanese cultural heritage sites, highlighting different Japanese cultural and historical periods.
Next to the museum is Tokyo’s oldest and most prestigious department store, Mitsukoshi. Go there for some high fashion shopping and the excellent food delicacies available in the basement.
Heading down the road towards the water you reach Nihombashi, this is the centre of Tokyo and the place from where all distances in Japan are calculated. Sadly the iconic red-lacquered bridge was already replaced by a stone one at the beginning of the 20th Century. Nowadays this bridge is overlapped by several sections of highways making it far less photogenic than in the past.