First day sightseeing in Tokyo

Trip Start Jan 02, 2013
Trip End Mar 17, 2013

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Flag of Japan  , Kanto,
Tuesday, February 19, 2013

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It looked pretty bleak out when I first got up.  I decided I wanted to do something inside.  Unfortunately, many museums are closed on Tuesdays but I noticed there were a few in the Ueno area (the area around my hotel) that were open.  The National Museum is in the neighborhood but I decided I'd visit it on a Friday in March when it's open late.  I thought I'd go to three of the smaller ones today.

The Daimyo Clock Museum aka Daimyo Tokei Hakubutsukan had the earliest closing time so I headed there first.  It's also the hardest to find.  After asking several people for directions (all of whom knew where the museum was, surprisingly) I eventually made it to the museum.

It's a very small museum.  The displays are all in one room.  The earliest "clocks" in their collection were portable sundials.  The majority of the clocks were an unusual design used by samurai lords before 1860.  The hours were named after the animals of the Chinese zodiac.  There were no explanations in English so I can't tell you anything about how they operate but they all had weights on rods that spun around in a horizontal plane below a large bell on top.  There were some later clocks including a couple Grandfather clocks and a number of pocket watches.

Next I went to the Shitamachi Museum.  The museum has several traditional homes from the neighborhood of the museum during the period from 1868 until 1926.  There's a merchant house, a tenement house and a craftsman's house showing how life was lived by different classes of people and at different times.  The museum had some displays in English and English-speaking guides.

The last museum I visited was the National Museum of Western Art aka Kokuritsu Seiyo Bijutsukan.  This museum was created in 1959 to house and display the Matsukata Collection.

The Matsukata Collection was acquired by Koijiro Matsukata.  He had gone to law school at Yale University.  He traveled through Europe on his way home and fell in love with European art.  He started collecting European art in London a few years later during World War I after his company had made a lot of money building ships.  He went on a buying spree on several trips to Europe during the next decade with the goal of building an art museum.  His collection grew to 10,000 works including 8,000 Japanese woodblock prints that were owned by someone in Paris and are now in the Tokyo National Museum's collection.

Part of his collection was shipped back to Japan.  He even secured a building site for his museum in Tokyo.  Then an economic crisis hit Japan as well as much of the rest of the world in 1927 and Matsukata was forced to sell his art collection at auction to keep his company going.  Things went from bad to worse when fire destroyed a London warehouse in 1939 in which many of the works he owned were destroyed.  There were still 400 pieces in Paris under the care of the director of the Musee du Luxembourg, a contemporary French art museum of the time, that were being stored in the facilities of the Musee Rodin, for which he was also director.    These works were seized toward the end of World War II as enemy property and became the property of France as part of the San Francisco Peace Treaty agreements in 1951.

That looked like the end of the museum but the French government decided to give back the majority of these artworks as a sign of renewed amity between the two countries.  These are the pieces known as the Matsukata Collection.  I don't know why they weren't returned to Matsukata's heirs but they were returned to the Japanese government instead in 1959, which led to the opening of the National Museum of Western Art.  They hired Le Corbusier to design the building and the museum opened that same year.  The building is now listed as a "Kokyo Kenchiku 100 Sen" (100 selected public buildings), a list created by the Ministry of Construction, and was designated as an Important Cultural Property.

While the bulk of the collection is European works ranging from the Renaissance to the early 20th century with an emphasis on the Impressionists there are some American and later works that the museum has added to the collection.

When I was through at the museum I headed back to my hotel and got ready for dinner.  I went to Tokyo Shiba Tofuya-Ukai.  The restaurant is very close to the Tokyo Tower, a 1,093 foot (333 meter) tall tower built to closely resemble the Eiffel Tower, and it seems to loom over you when you're in the courtyards.  I was expecting a small restaurant but it is anything but.  They have 58 private dining rooms and serve 400 to 500 people each lunch and dinner.  In spite of the name of the restaurant, much of their menu was not vegetarian.  I negotiated a few changes to the menu to eliminate most of the meat.  I enjoyed the meal but I must admit that many of the flavors and smells were a little subtle for my taste. 
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Trixie on

Hi Gordon. I just got caught up to date on your blog and have enjoyed the read. Thanks for sharing your trip. (For some strange reason, though, I've kept craving steaming hot tea as I read; hehe.)

wheresgordon on

It's nice to know I have a reader. I had powdered green tea with dinner last night. It was steaming and hot but I doubt it would satisfy your craving. It must be an acquired taste and I certainly haven't acquired it.

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