The Attraction of Farther Afield – Tokyo
A short distance from Tokyo city center are a number of interesting sights. The Japan Folk Crafts Museum and Goto Art Museum are small gems in pleasant neighborhoods that give an idea of Tokyo life as well as its heritage; in contrast Ikebukuro, Daiba, and Ebisu are all modern urban centers in their own right. Ryogoku, the place for all things sumo, also has the Edo-Tokyo Museum. Rikugi-en, near Ikebukuro, is one of Edo’s last great stroll gardens.
Goto Art Museum
Set in a pleasant hillside garden, this museum showcases the private collection of the late chairman of the Tokyu Corporation, Keita Goto. Avidly interested in Zen, he was originally attracted to Buddhist calligraphy, particularly that of 16th-century priests. His collection contains many examples of this work, called bokuseki. Also included are ceramics, calligraphy, paintings, and metalwork mirrors; items are changed several times a year. The museum’s most famous works, however, are scenes from 12th-century scrolls of the Tale of Genji, painted by Fujiwara Takayoshi, which have been designated National Treasures. They are shown once a year, usually in “Golden Week”.
Japan Folk Crafts Museum
Known to the Japanese as Mingeikan, this small but excellent museum was founded by art historian Muneyoshi Yanagi. The criteria for inclusion in the museum are that the object should be the work of an anonymous maker, produced for daily use, and representative of the region from which it comes. The museum building, designed by Yanagi and completed in 1936, uses black tiles and white stucco outside.
On display are items ranging from woven baskets to ax sheaths, iron kettles, pottery, and kimonos; together they present a fascinating view of rural life. There are also special themed exhibits, such as 20th-century ceramics or Japanese textiles, and a room dedicated to Korean Yi-dynasty work. A small gift shop sells fine crafts and some books.
Tokyo Opera City
Tokyo’s impressive music and theater complex has two main halls, one primarily for Japanese classical music and theater, and a larger opera hall with a soaring vaulted roof. Performances are frequent – phone for details or pick up a leaflet from the foyer information counter.
There are 54 floors, mostly offices. On the first three are an art gallery, shops, and restaurants. The fourth has the NTT Intercommunication Center, with modern interactive art.
The 53rd and 54th floors hold a dozen restaurants and bars with great city views.
Arakawa Tram Line
In 1955, 600,000 people a day were riding the dozens of tram lines that crisscrossed the city. Now the 13 km (8 miles) Arakawa line is one of only two that remain. The others were eliminated as old-fashioned in the modernization for the 1964 Olympics.
The Arakawa tram line runs from Waseda in the west to Minowabashi in the east and costs ¥170 for each trip, short or long. Near the Waseda end of the line is the quiet stroll garden of Shin Edogawa. There are few outstanding sights en route, but the pleasure of this tram ride lies in seeing a quieter, residential side to Tokyo. A short walk from Arakawa Yuenchimae stop, past tightly packed, tiny houses, is a modest amusement park, Arakawa Yuen Park; Sumida River tourboat trips leave from here. Opposite the Arakawa Nanachome stop is Arakawa Nature Park.
With the second-busiest train station in Japan (after Shinjuku), Ikebukuro is a designated fukutoshin (subcenter) of Tokyo. By the station’s south entrance is the flagship store of Seibu, perhaps the country’s most innovative department store, with boutiques of up-and-coming designers and a large basement food market. To the west of the station is the large Tobu department store with a similar set-up.
The Sunshine City complex, including the Sunshine 60 tower, is a short walk east of the station, it is built on top of what was Sugamo Prison, where seven Class-A World War II war criminals, including the prime minister, Hideki Tojo, were convicted and hanged. The Ancient Orient Museum, on the 7th floor of the complex, has collections from Egypt, Iran, and Pakistan. A huge Sunshine City sign points down an escalator; just before here, investigate the Tokyu Hands store for home furnishings and kitchen gadgets.
Down the escalator is Amlux Toyota, five stories packed with cars, where you can sit in any model. In Sunshine 60 there is also a planetarium, an aquarium, and a rooftop outdoor viewing platform.
Yanagisawa Yoshiyasu, grand chamberlain of the fifth shogun, constructed this garden in seven years, starting in 695. Yanagisawa had a well-earned reputation for debauchery, but he also managed to build this, one of the finest Edo-era stroll gardens. Iwasaki Yataro, Mitsubishi’s founder, oversaw its Meiji-era renovation. The design re-creates 88 landscapes in miniature from famous waka (31-syllable poems), so the view changes every few steps. Near the entrance is a weeping cherry that is beautiful all year. Numerous paths and seats offer opportunities to enjoy the views. Bush warblers and turtledoves are among the birds that can be heard here.