DREAMSCAPES WINTER/SPRING 2019
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TOKYO SURPRISES!
 
(2019 - Winter/Spring Issue)

Writer: STEVE GILLICK



A leisurely stroll in Tokyo’s Ueno Park, with its walking paths, cherry trees and amazing museums, led us to the five-storey pagoda, a marvel built in 1639. And only a few steps beyond lay Ueno Toshogu Shrine, dating back to 1651. 

Mirroring the astounding architecture and ornate decoration visitors often travel to the more northern city of Nikko to appreciate, the ancient shrine is, for many, a tranquil gem in the heart of bustling Tokyo.   

Under the stony watch of two fierce lion- dogs, visitors enter the magnificent shrine complex through the Sukibei Wall, where gold façades and intricate wood carvings of land, sea, river and mythical creatures hold them spellbound. Guests of the shrine have been doing this for the past 368 years.   

Tokyo’s new tourism brand, “Old meets new,” is so appropriate, with the past merging into the future and providing visitors with an amazing array of attractions and activities, along with the expected photo and selfie opportunities befitting an ever-changing world-class destination.

ARTISTIC ATTRACTIONS

With the goal of seeing as many new things as possible in a city we have visited many times before, we set out for Shinjuku to see the Yayoi Kusama Museum, a showcase of the avant-garde artist’s work. The “infinity mirror” room features what Kusama calls “my beloved pumpkins,” and after some reflection, guests can pose with one of the pumpkins while abiding by Kusama’s plea to “unearth your own way of living life.” 

With avant-garde on our minds, we headed to Odaiba to view the Epson teamLab Borderless exhibit. This uniquely interactive sensory encounter challenges visitors to wander, explore and discover as they find themselves bedazzled by an explosion of colour, where images of sunflowers appear before you, cartoon frogs hop across the floor, and vibrant butterflies, birds and blue whales flutter and dance on the walls. It’s one of those attractions that you have to experience to believe.

OFF THE BEATEN TRACK

Experience and interaction with a destination are definitely a call to action for many travellers, and Tokyo’s islands offer an opportunity to venture off the beaten track. A one-hour flight from Haneda Airport took us to Hachijojima in Tokyo’s Izu Island chain.

Hachijojima was created when two separate volcanic islands merged. Today, Mt. Mihara occupies one end of the 69-square-kilometre island while Mt. Hachijo-Fuji (which resembles the conical shape of Mt. Fuji) sits on the other end. The vistas from the panoramic lookouts are photo-spectacular and include the small uninhabited island of Hachijokojima, a nesting ground for the black-footed albatross and a prime fishing location for local fishermen and tourists. 

Conversations with Hachijojima residents reveal their historic ties to the island. Miki-san owns the popular Kominka Kissa Nakanosato café, located on land settled by her great-grandfather 164 years ago. Homare Yamashita, a traditional textile maker, proudly took us into his home to show us three Buddha statues given to his ancestors on the island over 300 years before. We chatted with Kiyomitsu Okayama, a personable third-generation shochu distiller, and we visited the factory where Sadae Nishihama and her sister carry on the 100-year-old family trade of producing “stinky fish,” or kusaya, a pungent island specialty. Shoji Hosaya, an island historian, related stories of some of the colourful characters exiled to Hachijojima in the 17th and 18th centuries, while Kunihito Kikuchi told us how he repairs the island’s famous round stone walls with the heaviest stones weighing more than 60 kilograms. 

THEATRICAL EXPERIENCES

Back in the city of Tokyo, our surprise adventures continued at Kabukitaro where we took part in a Kabuki insiders’ workshop. Our instructor, Shijuro Tachibana, provided a short introduction to Kabuki theatre before we embarked on a humorous responsive-reading exercise where we imitated his Kabuki vocal intonations, ranging from gruff and guttural to a squeaky falsetto. Afterward, the facial features of two audience volunteers were transformed with kumadori Kabuki makeup. First a white base was applied followed by the application of red and black lines to emphasize facial features and to express emotion. It was a memorable 90-minute session.

We also had the opportunity to explore Noh theatre, which uses masks to relate character and emotion. At Suigian, a lunch and dinner theatre located in Nihonbashi, the actor Isumi Yamada donned a precious 16th-century mask and performed Snow, seemingly a perfect complement to the theatre’s message that “dream and illusion resonate on the Noh stage.”

Noh theatre emphasizes nature, and we found our ideal accommodation at the Hotel Chinzanso Tokyo, a former Four Seasons property with five-star luxury, comfort, design and customer service. This urban oasis includes a large Meiji-era garden showcasing a centuries-old three-storey pagoda, a tea house, forest walkways, lanterns, statues, cherry blossoms and camellias. Chinzanso actually means “camellia mountain manor.”

CULINARY DELIGHTS

What could be better solace for the soul than Tokyo’s culinary culture? On Hachijojima, we savoured the ultra-fresh seafood at Aigae Suisan restaurant and at the Hachijo View Hotel. In Tokyo, it was delicate nigiri sushi at Suigian, complete with gold lacquered serving dishes. At the popular eatery, Sushi Darihan in Yoyogi, the incredible raw oysters were only a prelude to the melt-in-your- mouth sushi and sashimi featuring tuna belly, ikura (salmon eggs), nodoguro (rosy seabass) and uni (sea urchin).  

For refreshments, we discovered the joys of kaku-uchi, a term describing a liquor store that serves drinks and snacks. After sampling some flights of sake at Kengyo, a modern kaku-uchi in Ginza, we discovered Suzuden in Yotsuya, a very popular older establishment (founded in 1850), full of atmosphere and character and with a notable selection of sake and mouth-watering snacks.

When the Tokyo brand refers to “Old meets new,” it’s unveiling a celebration of just about everything your six senses (including a sense of humour) will experience on the streets, in the restaurants, on the subway system, at Tokyo’s museums and attractions and even on Tokyo’s islands. Tokyo continues to represent a celebration of people, food, culture, awe and surprise for travellers from around the world.

Travel Planner

For more information, visit:

Tokyo Convention & Visitors Bureau: gotokyo.org/en/index.html; tokyotokyo.jp                

Epson teamLab Borderless: borderless.teamlab.art                         

Hachijojima: hachijo.gr.jp                                                     

Hotel Chinzanso Tokyo: hotel-chinzanso-tokyo.com                                     

Kabukitaro: kabukitaro.jp                                                      

Suigian: suigian.jp/en                                                            

Ueno Toshogu Shrine: uenotoshogu.com/en                                     

Yayoi Kusama Museum: yayoikusamamuseum.jp/en/about/museum/      

 
 
 
 
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