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October 30 Kamikaze

Yushukan Museum, Harajuka and Shibuya

After Toko Hotel checkout, I rode up to Shibuya station since the evening's hotel was near there. While stowing my gear in a coin locker I sensed my trip unraveling as my trousers split, a seam near the crotch giving way as I bent over. Nothing to do but retreat into a smelly public toilet stall with my sewing kit and effect a repair, leaning against the wall while working with thread and needle over the trough-like Japanese toilet. Not bad though, didn't take long; and it held for the duration.

From there my destination was the Yasukuni Shrine and adjacent Yushukan Museum at the northern edge of the park surrounding the Imperial Compound (what used to be the castle, the moat's still there). It's hard to find information about this museum in the conventional literature, the shrine is to the War Dead and it's somewhat controversial because it's one of the things critics point to when they claim the Japanese don't have requisite remorse, like the Germans display about World War II. So naturally I've been curious; the shrine was just a shrine (like most of those big ones I saw, there was a display of chrysanthemums, since it was that season) but the museum had some really interesting stuff. It's been there for a while; one room had photos and paintings of state visits by the four modern emperors. The main draw (for me) was the Jinrai Butai or "Divine Thunderbolt" material. There's a kamikaze plane in the main hall: Launched from under a bigger plane's wing like the X-15, its little rocket providing just enough thrust to get it to the enemy ship-target. Although this specimen is made of metal I remembered the Captain's tale - he was the officer who taught the Naval ROTC class I took in my Sophomore year of high school. In the closing months of the war he was a naval airman, and described how he neutralized kamikaze planes - said he'd just maneuver around and fly right at 'em broadside, and use his propeller to cut off their tails - said they were just made of wood and fabric by then.

Exhibits for other suicide attack methods were also on display, these were new to me: the human torpedo, or one-man submarine bomb - they had a large example, on loan from a U.S. Army museum in Hawaii, and some smaller models of similar vessels; a big painting of a related idea developed in surface boats and the weirdest of all, a mannequin in a deep-sea diver suit (wearing a square helmet) brandishing a long bamboo pole with an explosive canister at the end. Fukuryu (crouching dragons) of the Special Attack Corps were expected to wade out into harbors and sink enemy ships floating in shallow waters by sticking 'em with their pole-bombs. This method didn't prove to be successful; big losses incurred during testing caused that particular program's cancellation.

After inspecting all the museum had to offer I left the park and had a late lunch during which I finished reading the Memoirs of a Geisha book - this was at a curry restaurant called B&S (part of chain, like the nearby Pot & Pot, across the street from the Freshness Burger). Afterwards, strolled over to the Ichigaya station to catch a Chou line train over to Harajuka. (The Chuo line traverses and goes beyond the great circle covered by the Yamanote.) Harajuka is one of, perhaps the center of Tokyo youth culture - it's always a struggle getting down Takeshita Street, jammed with young people there for the clothes shopping, restaurants and crepe stands. A block over the more sedate, tree-lined Omoté-sando extends east - near the end of this I found Spiral, one of the city's "fashion buildings." (Not sure why they're called that; others I've been to include Wave and Axis - they contain trendy shops, offices and restaurants.)

This one has a semi-circular ramp connecting the first and second floors, and a small art exhibition was happening in the adjacent lobby. Its centerpiece was an installation called the Water Dome Project and this was really neat - a fountain of high-speed spray was fanned out into a dome with a narrow break you could walk through and then stand within the Water Dome, with light projectors around its perimeter shining various ever-changing designs onto the dynamic watery surface.

It was getting dark when I got back to Shibuya - before retrieving my luggage I had some sushi at my favorite mechanical sushi bar. Always a little difficult to locate, I like it because the conveyer belt doesn't travel in the usual rectangle, but rather a convoluted "L" shape. It's usually so crowded that to meet demand the sushi guys are adding so many of the little dishes that they feather them into what's there, and sometimes these fall off with a clatter as the belt moves around its corners. The white-tile walls add to the atmosphere I characterize as proletarian; or used to - guess business has been good for them because the ambience has gotten a little upscale - a lot more wood has been added to the decor, the counters are now marble and one of those additional sub-belts have been added, which carry empty tea-mugs at a much slower speed under the main conveyor. The customer fills these from the recently-added spigots which issue boiling water (placed at regular intervals like the square tubs full of sliced, pickled gari ginger and green tea-bags on the counter).

Afterwards, outside, I rode a bus up the hill to locate my hotel for the night. This was the Fukudaya, a place I got a reservation and map for at the TIC. Family run like a minshuku and quite reasonable, quiet even though it's just off a major boulevard (the multi-level National Road), I was compelled to remove my shoes at the door - unusual for a business hotel. Since this one features more Japanese-style room than the two Western-style ones I occupied on the third (top) floor, that's understandable. Back outside I walked down the hill, eventually discovering that I'd gotten turned around and was heading away from Shibuya; walked back up the hill and then down it the right way, at one point passing a homeless person setting up camp with his cardboard boxes in an underground passageway, and when I surfaced, marveling at the beautiful animated blue neon signage mounted on the surrounding office building rooftops. Eventually I found myself in the throngs surging around the noisy bustle of the heart of Shibuya night action around the station. Adding to the "Blade Runner" ambiance was the anachronistic presence of this '61 Chevy Impala convertible, snapped while waiting for the lights to change. Nearby, I watched a guy with a little stand selling Rolex copy-watches, marked up a $100 or so from the price he probably paid for them on the streets of Hong Kong; and a branch of Baskin-Robbins where I had a very tasty Musk Melon ice cream cone.

Next: Kamakura

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