We had spent the morning admiring Kawagoe's Edo-style kura-zukuri buildings and visiting the museums found along its main strip. After a long lunch, we felt rested enough to continue our exploration of the city.
An hour to the northwest of Tokyo, Kawagoe is one of the more popular excursions from the capital. It's known as "Little Edo" because it retains the distinctive kura-zukuri buildings which once lined the streets of the capital. We spent a day seeing the city's sights.
Japan's most famous cultural offering, Kabuki, is not an art form meant to cater to Western tastes. The performances can last all day long. The acting, done exclusively by men, is second-fiddle to the make-up and costumes. Monologues go on interminably. The music is strange and the dialogue is usually recited in an exaggeratedly affected, chiming manner. There is no earthly reason why Jürgen and I should have enjoyed it. But we did.
Today, it's hidden in the shadow of the Tokyo Tower, but the temple of Zojo-ji was once among the grandest in Japan. This was the Tokugawa clan's favored place of worship, and the resting place of many shoguns. We visited the temple on Buddha's birthday and, afterwards, took time to check out the nearby Shiba Detached Palace Garden.
Although it's been unseated from its position as Japan's tallest structure (and, at 333 meters, is positively Lilliputian in comparison to the new champion, Oshiage's 634-meter SkyTree), the Tokyo Tower remains a popular tourist attraction. Modeled on the Eiffel Tower and painted bright orange, the tower has been a part of the city's skyline since opening in 1958.
There was a time when one could see the entirety of Tokyo, or Edo as it was then known, from atop Atago Hill. Today the view is obscured by a wall of skyscrapers, but climbing the steep hill is still worth the effort, thanks to the presence of the Atago Shrine and the adjacent NHK Broadcast Museum.
Sumo wrestling might be the country's most traditional pastime and soccer is gaining ground every year, but Japan's sporting obsession has long been baseball. I always love a trip to the ballpark, so we visited the Meiji Jingu Stadium for a match between the Yakult Swallows and the Hanshin Tigers.
It's safe to say we've never dined in an atmosphere remotely similar to that of Shibuya's Alcatraz E.R. The name says it all: this theme restaurant is meant to emulate the experience of eating inside the blood-spattered emergency room of a high-security prison. Have I mentioned that Tokyo is a little strange?
It's not the best place to take a date, nor would you want to visit after eating a large meal, but the Parasitological Museum in Meguro makes a wonderful excursion for when you... I mean, it's fun if you're in the mood for... Or, it's interesting for those who... You know what? I'm drawing a blank. I can't think of a single non-creepy reason to visit the Parasaitological Museum. Unless you're a professional parasitologist. (Even then, the very fact that you're a parasitologist is kind of creepy.)
Although it houses a priceless collection of bronze sculpture from China, along with artwork that spans the history of Japan, the most valuable commodity of the Nezu Museum might be its tranquility. Outside lurks the distressingly crowded shopping mecca of Omotesando, but inside this museum, we found one of Tokyo's most peaceful corners.