Friday, August 18, 2017

Roaming Around Japan: Zojoji Temple, Tokyo Tower and Wax Museum

I first went to Japan in October 2012. One of the things I had always wanted to do was go to Tokyo Tower. It’s an obvious choice for tourists visiting Tokyo for the first time. Though in recent years the facility has received a major upgrade, back then it was a little tired and run down. It was a bit kitsch which made it a bit interesting to see. Apart from the tower itself which I really wanted to see, was the Wax Museum which was located at the base of the tower. After the now defunct House of Wax in Great Yarmouth in Norfolk, UK and the Hollywood Wax Museum in Los Angeles, it was probably the third worst wax works on the planet. In addition I also wanted to see the Zojoji Buddhist temple which was right in front of Tokyo Tower and was generally seen by tourists in conjunction because of the close proximity.

The easiest way to get to these attractions is via the Japan Rail Yamanote line which is one of the two main rail lines in Tokyo. Get off at Hamamatsucho Station and take the north exit. Turn left and walk 700 meters up the road to the main gate of Zojoji Temple, Sangedatsumon (there’s also a stature of Admiral Matthew Perry in a park just before the temple). Entry to the temple is free and it is open from 9am to 5pm. The temple was originally founded in 1393, but was moved to its present location in Minato in 1598 just before the start of the Edo era. It became the family temple of the ruling family, the Tokugawa shogunate. I came early in the morning and saw a fairly steady stream of worshipers, though most came one at a time. It was fairly quiet most of the time. One woman came in to play with and feed a number of cats who had apparently made the temple their home.

I’m not going to pretend that I really know all that much about Buddhism, however I’ll mention a few of the more notable features and buildings of the temple. Apart from the main gate, Sangedatsumon (above, click on all images to enlarge), which is nearly 30 meters high, you have the main hall, Daiden (below). Rebuilt in 1974, it is the centrepiece of the temple grounds and contains a large image of Amida Buddha as well as the highly influential 7th century Buddhist writer Shandao and Honen Shonin, founder of Jodo Shu, the first independent branch of Japanese Buddhism.

To the left of Daiden is Koshoden (below), a lecture hall and place to cleanse one’s soul. Its ceiling features 120 small paintings by various Japanese artists.

To the right of Daiden is Ankokuden (below) which contains Black Image of Amida Buddha, which was apparently deeply worshiped by Ieyasu Tokugawa.

Behind Ankokuden is a mausoleum dedicated to the Tokugawa Shoguns (below).

The grounds also contain various statues and graves including mizuko kuyo statues which symbolise miscarriage, stillbirth, or abortion (below).

Next was Tokyo Tower itself.  It’s about 350 meters from the side exit from the temple grounds near Ankokuden. You really can’t miss it or get lost as it’s almost always visible from the temple grounds. The walk up there is really pleasant with lush, green foliage along the way and park with a small waterfall and small shrine just in front of Tokyo Tower. Entry to the main observatory will set you back ¥900. Though the tower is famously 333 meters in height, the main observatory is at the height of 150 meters, which by any stretch of the imagination isn’t all that high.

Built in 1958, its main purposes are as a communications tower and of course a tourist trap. These days its rival Tokyo Skytree does most of the city’s signal broadcasting, however it still transmits TV signals for NHK, Tokyo Broadcast Systems and Fuji TV. I think I may have said this before; these towers are really a monumental waste of cash. You might as well head off to the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building Observation Decks in Shinjuku. They’re free, provide a view just as good as Tokyo tower, and are over fifty metres higher than the main observatory of Tokyo Tower.

Regardless I did get to manage to get a few good shots of the surrounding area around and beyond Minato;

Reiyukai Shakaden Hall, home to a shinshukyo (new religion, no, I didn’t say cult…) which is primarily based on Buddhism. Much like Kofuku no Kagaku (Happy Science), they have a political wing but don’t seem as nutty.

Odaiba with the Rainbow Bridge and the Fuji Television studios in the background.

And here is a shot looking towards Ueno and Asakusa with Tokyo Skytree in the distance. As I looked at it, I sort of wondered if I had made the wrong decision and should have gone there instead.

Next was the infamous Tokyo Tower Wax Museum which was at the base of the tower. Originally opening in 1970, it was created by Den Fujita, the founder of McDonald’s in Japan. In 1988 his son, Gen Fujita, took over the wax works. As I soon discovered, this place was definitely worth the ¥500 admission fee. Now it may seem like a normal wax works, however as soon as you enter, you can tell something is a little bit off. First thing you’ll see is a titanic display, without the wax models of Leonardo DiCaprio or Kate Winslet;

The wax model likenesses range from mediocre to “who god’s name is that supposed to be?”, and most are arranged in a higgledy piggledy fashion, almost seemingly randomly. Here Elizabeth Taylor from “Cleopatra” is teamed with Cornelius and Zira from “Escape from the Planet of the Apes” (and Marlene Dietrich at the bottom right);

Or this mess of actors including Toshio Mifune, Brad Pitt (apparently), Marlon Brando and James Dean;

Several world leaders and public figures are also on display, but are posed rather uninspiringly, such as this Ho Chi Minh;

The figure of Albert Einstein once had a pipe in his mouth, but now removed has him looking like he had a stroke;

John F Kennedy looks like he’s had an absolute gutful of being president;

A group of inspiring figures including Mahatma Gandhi, Mother Teresa, Anne Frank and most bizarrely Princess Diana in her ballistic helmet and flak jacket that she wore in a Angolan minefield in 1997, because this is all how we remember her, right?;

Jesus at the last supper, who like Kennedy, really has had enough of this shit (and what the hell has happened to his left hand?);

Half way through, the tone of the museum changes dramatically and becomes one dedicated to rock music and memorabilia, specifically progressive rock and krautrock (i.e. experimental rock from Germany from the late 1960’s through to the early 1970’s). Here are what I guess are the Beatles;

We get a full range of really weird and obscure 1970’s rock from Frank Zappa, obscure krautrock acts such as Faust, Robert Fripp, Jethro Tull and even into the 1980’s with Metallica;

The owner of the wax works, Gen Fujita, is an utter prog rock tragic, hence why nearly half it is devoted to weird and obscure artists of the era (as well as few more mainstream acts).  I think the museum was rather embarrassed by people making fun of them on the web judging by this sign;

Eventually you come out into the obligatory gift shop which is jam packed with prog rock merchandise. Doing a bit of research on this place, I discovered that the museum had its own record label which reissued a number of krautrock albums and new recordings by people associated with that genre and era of music.

Unfortunately with the refurbishment of Tokyo Tower, the wax works was shut down in September 2013. In its place are several new attractions such as a One Piece exhibit and gift shop and an aquarium. Despite the changes Tokyo Tower is still a bit kitschy and a tourist trap full of cheap trinket crap for foreigners and locals alike to buy. However I find it really disappointing the waxworks are gone. I suspect the figures will never be displayed ever again in public.

Next time I’ll be heading off to Kabukicho in Shinjuku to the infamous Robot Restaurant.

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