07.04.2015 - 07.04.2015 15 °C
Day five of our trip saw the weather swing back to being rainy and overcast, but as usual we didn't let it stop us.
Our first stop was Yasukuni shrine, one of Japan's most controversial shrines. Founded by Emperor Meiji, it honours all who died in the service of Japan between 1868 and 1947. This means that many war criminals are enshrined too and the shrine is a constant source of controversy amongst Japan's neighbours who suffered as a result of Japan's actions during World War Two. Any visit by a Japanese official is sure to spark anger and protests, especially as many believe that Japan has not done enough to demonstrate their remorse at their actions. During our first trip to Japan in 2010, we were made aware that nationalists often parked outside the shrine in black vans that blared nationalist messages. Whilst we did see it in 2010, and a mild police presence, we've never noticed it again in either of our last two trips.
Regardless of your views on Japan's actions during the war years, or their later behaviour, it is undeniable that Yasukuni shrine is one of Tokyo's most beautiful and tranquil spots. The shrine itself is quietly beautiful, with a stunning garden and pond around the back where you can feed a countless amount of Koi carp for 100yen. We've always enjoyed visiting the shrine and this time was no exception, especially as it is a prime location for viewing cherry blossoms. The bloom was coming to an end and the blossoms were dropping from the trees, blanketing the ground like snow. Despite the rain, it all made for a truly special sight. Our advice is that even if you can't look past the controversy of the shrine, visit and enjoy it for its beauty and history if nothing else.
Next up was a trip to Tokyo's Mega Pokémon store. We're both unashamed in our love for Pokémon, one of Japan's biggest franchises. It made its way to the UK in 1995, hitting the country in a big way, and I've never truly grown out of it. Me and a good friend made it our mission to introduce Kathy to it and it didn't take long before she too was hooked on it too! The store was brand new this year, it having moved to a far larger location in the Sunshine City complex in Higashi-Ikebukuro. Its by no means easy to find, yet after some perseverance we made our way to the shop. Its certainly not the best of the many Pokémon stores across Japan (I think Yokohama has that honour) but it's well worth a visit for any Pokémon fan and we definitely had a blast. Just about any form of merchandise is available, as well as some great photo opportunities!
The afternoon saw us visit Zozo-ji, a Buddhist temple set behind Tokyo tower, one of Tokyo's most famous landmarks. Its a fantastic temple with plenty of character but is particularly worth a visit for the great contrast between the temple and the tower behind it. Also of note are its hundreds of jizo statues. These are statues dedicated to unborn children and the grounds of the temple are filled with rows of them, many dressed in hats or accompanied by children's toys. They are a poignant sight and stand sentry to the right of the temple. Film buffs might recognise the temple too, as it featured in The Wolverine. Remember the funeral at the beginning that degenerates into a gunfight? That's Zozo-ji!
Tokyo Tower is literally five minutes walk from the temple and a popular attraction in Tokyo. I must admit, the first time we saw the tower we found it to be a little garish in its famed red and white colours. Since then though, the tower has grown on us both. We'd never been to the top and had planned a visit, but the low cloud meant we would have seen very little so we gave it a miss again. On a side note, many people feel that the tower gives a better view than Tokyo Skytree. We've only ever been up the Mori Tower in Roppongi which gives absolutely spectacular views of Tokyo, particularly at night!
After dinner, we made our way to Senso-ji to get a look at the temple at night. As we mentioned in a past blog, its well worth visiting at night due to the lack of crowds and how beautifully lit the whole area is. If you get a chance, we would wholeheartedly recommend it!
So that's day five done, only one more to go! Next time we'll be covering the geek heaven that is Akihabara, a mighty donut store and the neon delights of Shibuya!