Wednesday, September 17, 2014

The Imperial Palace, Tokyo

17 September 2014

Today we took the train to the Tokyo Station, and decided to explore this lovely old station before heading to our destination.  The Tokyo Station, formerly the Central Station, was designed in 1896, but construction wasn't completed until 1914.  (Things were slowed by the Russian-Japanese war.)  The building is modeled after the Amsterdam Centraal railway station in the Netherlands, so the style is decidedly European rather than Asian.  The building is still in use, though the new train station is probably larger than the beautiful original building.  And the entire complex houses not only the rail lines for all of Tokyo, but also food courts, shopping malls, sumptuous bathrooms, travel agents, and all kinds of services.  We got quite lost and turned around, but it was the kind of place where you wouldn't mind getting lost for a while. 

For our big sight seeing today, we visited the Imperial Palace in Tokyo.  The residence of the emporer was originally located in Kyoto, the former capital.  But in 1868 the emporer was overthrown in Kyoto, and the Imperial Palace as well as the location of the capital moved to Tokyo.  The construction of the new palace was completed in 1888, though it was destroyed once during World War II and was rebuilt later in the original style.

The palace itself is closed to the public for most of the year - twice a year it is opened to the public who can visit the current emporer then.  However, the moats and gates and open to the general public all year, as well as the east garden.  Which we may or may not have visited.  We aren't sure, it's all rather confusing when things are labelled only in a language you can't even read.

But the place is beautiful.  We walked from the Tokyo Station and found our way the outer moat, complete with willow trees, an arched bridge, pointed-nose turtles, and monstrous sizes koi.  Plus the huge stone walls sloping and disappearing into the murky depths of the moat.  At every turn their was another picturesque view of moat, fish, tree, bridge, wall, merging into a palace of another age and another time.

We walked through to a lovely garden with various fountains, some looking like waterfalls while others mimicked wedding cakes.  There were shaped trees, little artificial canals of water running between fountains, stepping stones and mini-bridges, and places to just sit and enjoy this Japanese water garden.

And then on to the inner moats, with buildings that might be guard towers, or residences, though obviously not the main palace.  Just simple white buildings with sloping curved roofs and ornamental corners, vaguely like pagodas, just very Japanese.  And reflecting in the waters of the moats, still as mirrors but cloudy with algae, sort of the way old mirrors lose their silver and reflect back a greyer and mottled image.

The views were all framed by the warped and shaped trees that are so typically Japanese - the trees that look like regular sized bonsai trees instead of miniatures.  I always think the trees look as if they were tortured into these shapes - a branch cut off here, a trunk twisted there, the whole thing pulled sideways just a bit - I'm not sure how the trees are grown to achieve these shapes, but they are uniquely Japanese and don't seem to grow this way anywhere else.

And of course the city skyline loomed in the distance, shiny and modern and bright, providing the perfect angular and austere backdrop to the twisted turning trees and the curving slopes of the roofs of the palace.

We saw a large heron roosting in a tree - not quite a great blue heron, but something almost as large.  There were also a few swans swimming leisurely through the moats, regal as only swans can be.

So we enjoyed walking around, watching the fish and turtles and birds, trying to find out if any of the entrances were open to the public or if tours were available (we were told no at every gate), and just having fun being outside and exploring a new location and new culture.

We made our way back to the station and decided to be really adventurous - we'd take the train from Tokyo to Osaki, then transfer to the other line and go back to our Shinagawa Seaside Forest.  Couldn't be too difficult, right?

We did our usual - bought tickets at the machine.  Asked and found a train heading to Osaki (one stop past Shinagawa, except there's no train from Shinagawa that goes to the Seaside resort - this is a quirk of the system, you have to go one stop past Shinagawa, transfer, and then backtrack, but on the other line.  Confusing, yes.)

Anyway, we arrived at Osaki, found the platform, waited for the train.  Asked, as always, to be sure we were getting on the right train.  Hopped on.  Rode.  And rode.  And realized we were going waaaay farther than we'd have expected.  Nothing looked familiar.  Nothing looked like our area.  Everything seemed to be getting more and more rural.

Obviously, the inevitable happened - we were on the wrong train, heading way out of our way.  To who knows where.  We had no clue.

So we got off the train at the next stop.  Talked to a nice young man who used his phone to help us figure out where we were, where we needed to go, what train we needed to do that.  It all worked out, with his help, and we finally returned to Shinagawa Seaside.  Only to find out that, because this is a separate rail line, we had to pay more money.  More than we had paid to come from Tokyo, which is much farther away. 

This is one of those situations that happens when you travel and don't speak the language.  There was no way for us to check the price quoted to us, because there isn't some kind of chart or table with prices.  We could only go by what the man at the gate told us.  And the gate was closed to us until we paid.  So, well, there's no option, we paid.  The total for this little adventure was about half the price of a taxi from Shinagawa Station.  Worth the savings?  We aren't sure.  

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