CULTURAL POTPOURRI| Revisiting Tokyo

IT WAS my Japanese foster mother, Aoe Migitaka, who insisted that I visit her as she turned 80 years old and wanted to see me.  Fortunately, it is a lot easier now to get a Japanese visa and enter Japan as a tourist.  Japan seems to be bravely demolishing its barriers and increasing its tolerance levels in inviting and enticing tourists to come and visit and get the best out of the city.  As the Japan Travel Bureau would say, no matter what your age, religion or sexuality, you are welcome to Japan.  And happily,  Japan has replaced Hong Kong on the Pinoy’s favored list of places to go to.  Even Davaoeños have made it a habit to travel to Japan like they would go to Hong Kong in days past. Baby Maceda Montemayor commented that you’d surely bump into a Davaoeño when you’re strolling along the streets of Japan like she did during her trip.

Posing with Auguste Rodin’s Gates of Hell at Ueno’s Modern Museum of Arts

Posing with Auguste Rodin’s Gates of Hell at Ueno’s Modern Museum of Arts

     Shibuya, personally speaking, has always been “a city for everyone.”  Thus, I decided to stay with my sister, Diday Dakudao-Yap, and nephew David, at the Shibuya Tobu Hotel.  Shibuya is one of the biggest terminal stations in Tokyo; and has long been a cultural hub that has attracted young people from all across Japan.  With focus on the upcoming Olympics in 2020, Shibuya is currently undergoing large scale development to become a more secure and convenient place for everyone.  Aiming for the year 2027 when the area’s redevelopment plan is realized, Shibuya will surely evolve into one of the world’s most entertaining and attractive destinations for all tourists.  And for sure, tourists will enjoy braving the scramble at the world famous Shibya crossing after posing with Hachiko for a souvenir photo.

     For a limited 6-day stay in Tokyo, I reserved two days for a convenient guided tour of the bustling city.  I’d highly recommend the JTB Sunrise Tours which is operated by the Japan Travel Corporation.  We took the Panoramic Tokyo tour on the first day.  The well-versed Japanese tourist guide, Mia san, spoke good English as she studied in Vancouver; and was so well informed that she was able to answer all of our questions.  Our first stop was at the iconic Meiji Jingu Shrine which I used to visit with my Migitaka foster family on New Year’s Day dressed in formal kimono like thousands of Japanese would pray before this Shinto shrine for good tidings throughout the year.  Next stop was the National Diet Building with the Diet Library near it.  I often did a lot of research at the Diet Library for my thesis and it brought back happy memories of my student days in Tokyo University.

     During my long stay in Tokyo, I was never able to enter (due to laziness) the Imperial Palace so this visit was very special for me even if we were only allowed to wander around the vicinity of the impressive Imperial Garden which reminded me of the Chinese Emperor’s Summer Garden in Beijing.  Naturally, entering the confines of the Imperial Palace entailed passing through strict security.  It only made me wonder why we never did the same with our Walled City of Intramuros.

     Sensoji, the oldest and grandest Buddhist temple in Tokyo, is definitely an essential part of any Tokyo itinerary.  Our tour guide instructed us to first purify our hands at the fountain and “bathe” in the healing smoke from the huge round incense pit once on the temple ground and before entering the temple.  The three of us threw coins near the temple’s altar of Buddhist gods to make our wish.  This temple is also noted for its bilingual omikuji fortune slips which we naturally got for ourselves just like what we did at the Meiji Jingu Shrine.  After taking a picture at the Kaminarimon or Thunder Gate of the Shrine, we went through the lively Nakamise shopping street and had a good look at traditional Japanese crafts and food.  We also chose a cozy traditional Japanese omise where we had a good lunch of traditional Japanese food.  After lunch, we drove through the famous commercial district of Ginza, although I now prefer the more modern and upscale Omote Sando strip of luxury boutiques, and then took our Tokyo Bay Cruise.  The day tour ended at the Tokyo Tourist Information Center in Yurakucho where a Japaense geisha performed a traditional Japanese dance with the sakura theme for all of us.  It was a pleasant tour but exhausting as well because of the summer heat of Tokyo.  But that didn’t stop us from going to Ueno’s Ameyoko (the Tokyo’s black market during WW II) for some pasalubong.

     The following day’s tour took us to Ueno Park and its museums, Tsukiji (Tokyo’s famous market where the freshest of seafood could be had), Tokyo Tower, Tokyo Skytree, the artificial island of Odaiba where we encountered the wandering Statue of Liberty of New York, and had our first lunch buffet in Tokyo.  The two day guided tour was enough to satisfy my nephew, David, as we continued our dining and shopping at Shibuya till it was time to go home.  Oh yes, my nephew had to buy another bag for the things he bought in Tokyo.  And on our last night in Shibuya, we decided to have a taste of the expensive Kobe beef as we bid Tokyo goodbye.

      I am so glad I was able to revisit Tokyo after a two-decade absence.  This trip was a truly sentimental journey for me as the Japanese would say.  Sadly, so many of the Davao born Japanese of the prewar period have passed away.  I am grateful my foster mother, Aoe Migitaka, is still around and she is still hoping to revisit Davao once again.  “That is if you will fetch me in Tokyo and bring me back again to Tokyo after the Davao trip,” she told me.  Thank you, dear Migitaka obasan for the wonderful reunion with you and your family.  You are always in my heart.

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