Saitama and Tokyo: Bonsai, a Museum, a Tower, and a Shrine

After our two days exploring in Kyoto it was time to head back towards Tokyo.  Jane lives in Saitama, so that became our home base for the next couple of days.  I liked getting to see Saitama because it did not have either the touristy focus of Kyoto nor the big city feel of Tokyo.

Saitama Adventures

fruit-bonsaiBonsai Museum

In Saitama, Jane took me to the Omiya Bonsai museum.  Sadly, I wasn’t able to take pictures of all of the trees (like a super cool bonsai shaped like a dragon!) so I will leave you with this adorable fruit true.

Shopping and Karaoke

After the Bonsai Museum, we did some shopping and I was able to get a bunch of souvenirs at the ¥100 store (the equivalent to a dollar store here in the U.S.).  They actually had pretty decent stuff!

We met up with one of Jane’s friends for dinner and then I got to experience Japanese Karaoke! What I liked about doing Karaoke in Japan was that the three of us had our own private room so I didn’t have to worry about looking foolish in front of a bunch of strangers.

We mixed it up with some pop songs (that I could only half-remember how to sing), some Disney, and some Japanese songs (I left those to Jane and her friend). By that time of the trip, Jane and I had discovered a mutual love of Hamilton and had been quoting it everywhere we went.  Jane pulled up the soundtrack and lyrics on her phone and we were able to fake-karaoke to it by holding her phone up to one of the mics.

 It was a really fun night, and probably not something I would have done if I hadn’t been visiting someone who lives in Japan.

Tokyo Adventures

Edo-Tokyo Museum

Saitama and Tokyo: Bonsai, a Museum, a Tower, and a Shrine
Miniature replica of Edo
 In Tokyo, we went to the Edo-Tokyo museum which chronicles of the history of Tokyo, all the way back to when it was called Edo when it was the country’s seat of power during the Tokugawa Shogunate (1603-1838).
While we were at the museum, there were several school groups there as well.  They were much quieter than U.S. elementary school children, which was interesting.  One girl who was probably in 5th or 6th grade shyly said “Hello” to me when we were at the same exhibit, probably hoping to prove to her friends she could use a bit of English.  I was surprised so unfortunately all I did was smile and nod at her.  I wish I had said “Hello” back so that she could have a story to tell her friends later on.

The museum included a lot of replicas- both miniature replicas like the one pictured above, and life-size replicas of the Edo Bridge, a Kabuki theater.  Sadly, the only replica we could go inside was the one of a traditional Japanese home (from the 1800s or early 1900s).

Life-size replica of a Kabuki Theater
 Unlike in Europe, most of Japan’s historic buildings were built of wood instead of stone and have not survived.  This is especially true in Tokyo where many of the historic buildings were destroyed by American gasoline bombs during World War II.  The World War II portion of the museum made me sad.  I felt guilt for what the U.S. did to Japan during the war, but I also know from history that the Japanese are extremely resilient and would have fought to the bitter end with extreme force from the U.S..  War is a terrible thing and I don’t think it’s a bad thing to try to understand all sides of the conflict.

Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building

Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building (Tocho)

The next thing on our list for Tokyo sight-seeing was the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building (Tocho for short).  We took the elevator to the observatory of one of the towers where we were able to get a birds-eye view of Tokyo.

The observatory of the building was… interesting.  At the center was a souvenir shop that looked like a mix between a children’s museum gift-shop and Toys-R-Us.  There were a lot of Sailor Moon and Pokemon toys/ memorabilia.  It was extremely touristy.  There was a nice looking cafe at one end of the observation deck.  Jane and I got very excited when we saw a sign for Afternoon Tea (like English/French Afternoon Tea with cakes and everything).  Sadly we had missed that by just 30 minutes.

The views from the Tocho were amazing and definitely made up for the tourist-trap feel of the observation deck.  It’s also free, unlike the Willis Tower in Chicago.

View from Tocho

Final Day in Japan: Tsuki Shrine

The Tsuki Shrine in Saitama
 Sadly, my final day in Japan came quickly.  My flight wasn’t until about 6pm, so that gave Jane some time to show me around some more of Saitama.  I bought some jelly candies to take home and to give as souvenirs, and then we wandered around until we found a local shrine.  According to Google, this particular shrine is called the “Tsuki” Shrine which means Moon Shrine.
In Japanese culture they see a rabbit in the shadows of the moon rather than “the man in the moon.” This is probably why there were quite a few depictions of rabbits throughout the shrine.

 Final Thoughts

I still have one more post to write, dedicated entirely to the food I ate while in Japan, but I wanted to wrap up this series of posts with some closing thoughts.

My time in Japan was absolutely wonderful.  I loved experiencing a culture that is so different than the one I am used to.  I have always been interested in Japan’s history so it was fantastic to get to see Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples in person.  I am also grateful that Jane allowed me to visit her and showed me around.  She really did all of the planning and navigating.  It was actually strange (in a good way) not to be the one in charge of the trip itinerary for once.  I also feel like I got just a little closer to seeing the “authentic” Japan rather than just the tourist version thanks to Jane’s knowledge and the fact that she has lived there for a few years.

I don’t know when, but I will definitely go back to Japan some day.  There’s still so much to see and I can’t wait to explore more of the country!


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