First stop today is the Shibuya in Western Tokyo. This along with Shinjuku (which we visit later) is part of the new Tokyo that only started booming after the 1923 earthquake. Shibuya is supposed to be the centre of young and haute-couture fashion.
Just outside Shibuya Station is a statue of Hachiko, a dog that waited for his master at the station every night for more than a decade after his death. We wand around the streets in close proximity to the station. At times it rains quite heavily and we shelter in doorways. From the street level we view and take pics of Tokyu Hands, Tower Records, Disney Store and Marui Department Store; we are too early to visit them, they don’t open until 9:30 perhaps even 10:00am.
The Centre Gai or Basketball Street looks as if it has had a rough night. Mainly focusing on fashion and fast food stores for youth, the street is also packed with restaurants and bars. Unlike the rest of the city the streets are strewn with rubbish at this early hour.
We take the JR Yamanote Line one stop to Harjuku and follow the crowds into Takeshita Street. This is already a narrow alley with barely room to move with the people moving in both directions. It’s worse on weekends apparently. This is the place for teens and everything from high-end fashion to bargain basement clothes and everything else but elephants. Before leaving the street, we cram into a McDonalds for seats, the air conditioning and a bite.
We retrace our steps to the west side of the station and, via a very wide avenue, to the Meiji Shrine. This Shinto shrine and its various gates and other structures are a memorial to Emperor Meiji and his consort Empress Shoken. The shrine was destroyed during the war but rebuilt in 1958. I have to try and summarise, with a little help from Wikipedia etc., the Meiji Restoration which has cropped up many times now.
Emperor Meiji ruled as emperor over Japan from 1869 until he died in 1912. His reign came at a particularly difficult time in Japan’s history. Europe and the United States had already forced Japan to sign treaties that limited its control over its own foreign trade. The country had also just experienced a civil war fought from 1868 to 1869 between forces of the ruling Tokugawa shogunate and those seeking to return political power to the Imperial Court. (Although there were ruling emperors before the Meiji Restoration, the civil war restored practical abilities and consolidated the political system under Japan’s emperor.)
The ideology or is that the religion of Shintôism was also very much associated with the imperial line, which reached back a long way. Japan had not only the oldest ruling house in the world, but a powerful symbol of age-old national unity. The people seldom saw the emperor, yet they were to carry out his orders without question, in honour to him and to the unity of the Japanese people, which he represented. In point of fact though, even after 1869 the emperor did not rule. It was his “advisers,” the small group of men who exercised political control, that devised and carried out the reform program in the name of the emperor.
And so it was that with the end of the Tokugawa Shogunate, Japan lurched into a process of Westernization, adopting Western political, judicial and military institutions. The feudal lords were forced to give up their domains, which were then transformed into prefectures of a unified central state. Western cultural influences were integrated with Japan’s traditional culture and the Meiji Restoration transformed the country into a modern industrialised state.
Japan was able to then flex its muscles in the First Sino-Japanese War of 1894- 1895, primarily over influence in Korea. The Qing government capitulated quite quickly, demonstrating to China and others, the failure of the Qing dynasty’s attempts to modernize its military compared with Japan’s successful Meiji Restoration.
In much the same way that Europeans used the “backwardness” of African and Asian nations as a reason for why they had to conquer them, for the Japanese elite the “backwardness” of China and Korea was proof of the inferiority of those nations, thus giving the Japanese the “right” to conquer them.
The Japanese thus thought that Korea had no right to be independent and when Russia started encroaching in Manchuria (to gain a warm water port) the nations went to war. The Russo-Japanese in 1904–1905 also resulted in a complete victory to Japan, the first time an Asian power had dominated a European power.
Meiji is thus highly regarded by the Japanese and rightly so. Japan was successful in organizing an industrial, capitalist state on Western models and it gained international recognition for equality with Western nations.
It is hot and sultry, so we move on quickly through the park to the next station Yoyogo where we catch the Oedo Line one stop to Shinjuku. Tokyo works on the West side in huge office blocks where some 250,000 people work each day. We ascend to the Observatory of the biggest which is the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Offices. I have never seen such massive structures. Anna takes countless photos. Next stop is the Metropolitan Assembly Hall but they are not in session so we take photos of the empty seats.
Then back to the East side of the station, the side where Tokyo plays. We wander through some of he streets trying to get a feel for the cinemas, parlours, bars, hostess clubs, karaoke bars etc., but we are getting tired and none of this is our scene at the best of times.
Finally we catch the Metro to Roppongi station where we encounter just outside the station, another massive complex the Tokyo Midtown which houses the Suntory Museum of Art and seemingly endless floors of high-end clothes stores. We walk around it to the attractive gardens at the end then back through it to the station and home to rest our aching feet. Roppongi by the way is the club and music centre of Tokyo, for us next time perhaps.