Journey in Japan Part 63: Paint and Gunpowder


I meet up with some friends, and the four of us head out on foot toward Ueno Park. Today the National Museum of Western Art is having a free admission day, and despite being in Japan, we consider it worth a look. We stroll inside and are asked to show our tickets.
“Free admission day,” I tell the lady.
“You still need to get a ticket,” she informs me.
We head out of the museum and to the ticket office. We ask for four tickets, and hand over no money, before heading back inside and handing over the tickets to the lady. A rather trivial exercise.

The Museum of Western Art is the main museum of this kind in Japan and has an emphasis on paintings; with a few sculptures thrown in for good measure. The museum is littered with far too many macabre Baroque works. Death and torture seem to be a popular theme here. Amongst the horror sits ‘The Last Supper’ painted by Marten de VosVincent van Goth’s ‘Roses’, and a rather disappointing collection of Claude Monet paintings. Not one to truly appreciate art, I think that Monet’s work looks terrible up close. Especially ‘Water Lilies’, which I think looks plain awful.

My favourite piece on display is Pablo Picasso’s ‘Couple’. Abstract expressionism has always been a preference of mine. I’ll take this over a bowl of fruit or a basket of flowers any day. Picasso painted this incredible piece at eighty-eight years old.

We leave the museum and take the Yamanote Line train from Ueno to Ikebukuro. Outside the station, we need to head east. One of my friends turns out to be well prepared, pulling out a physical compass and casually guiding us in the direction of east. This earns him a new nickname for the rest of the day; he seems to take to the idea quite fondly.

The reason we are here is to visit a shop run by a company that kills infants in underdeveloped countries because it refuses to spend any extra profit on proper labelling for its baby milk formula. The shop here is selling a specific type of confectionery that is hugely popular in Japan. This chocolate covered snack is sold in many unremarkable flavours, such as wasabi, strawberry cheesecake, and sakura.

While the others queue for their chocolate, I wander around outside and admire the street art.

We head to a small coffee shop before heading back to the train station. On the platform, two men are fighting. One guy stands up and walks away, his face dripping with blood, his eyes bruised. This is the first time for me to witness violence like this in Japan, and it comes as a bit of a shock.

After the violence, we head over to Odaiba, taking a seat in the food court of Diver City, to enjoy overpriced wine in undersized glasses. Outside Diver City, I see an extraordinary bus stop crying out to be photographed.

Tonight in Odaiba there is a special fireworks display taking place at 7 pm. We wander around the area, the evening darkness stolen by extravagant illuminations. There is a feeling of forgotten Christmas lights here, and decorations that will likely remain all year round. Trees glisten, Tokyo Tower in the distance is shining orange, and the rainbow bridge is stained in light of red to violet.

We take a position on the balcony of the Decks building, a huge shopping mall with a great view of Tokyo Bay. At exactly seven o’clock, and for ten minutes, fireworks shoot into the sky. Below, boats are lit in various colours, the water reflecting the shimmering light of the Rainbow Bridge, and Tokyo Tower continues to shine on in the distance. The backdrop is made up of a sea of lights from office buildings, which, add to the experience. In the foreground, the light from the huge firework display warms the air and finishes the scene.

After the fireworks, we take the train back to Asakusa. We pass the Fuji TV building as it displays the bright flashing text, “What a cool we are!”


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