Tokyo National Museum, Tokyo, Japan

The main entrance to the Tokyo National Museum, Tokyo, Japan, located in Ueno Park which was full of cherry blossoms during our visit [see our previous blog post, “Sakura (Cherry Bloss

The main entrance to the Tokyo National Museum, Tokyo, Japan, located in Ueno Park which was full of cherry blossoms during our visit [see our previous blog post, “Sakura (Cherry Blossoms), Tokyo, Japan”]

Japan’s oldest and largest museum, the acclaimed Tokyo National Museum houses an impressive assemblage of art and artifacts.  The unrivaled collection encompasses Asian paintings, calligraphy, sculpture, ceramics, arms and armor, textiles, and historical documents.  Each season the museum rotates its collection to feature art that pertains to the season.  Thus, during the Sakura (cherry blossom) season in March and April, the permanent collection of Japanese art and artifacts had many pieces focusing on the celebration of Sakura.

 

Designated as a National Treasure in 1953- “Merrymaking under Blossom Trees” by Kano Naganobu (1577-1654), color on paper (screen), Edo period, 17th century, Tokyo National Museum, T

Designated as a National Treasure in 1953: “Merrymaking under Blossom Trees” by Kano Naganobu (1577-1654), color on paper (screen), Edo period, 17th century, Tokyo National Museum, Tokyo, Japan

 

“Depicted on this… screen is a scene of [Sakura] cherry blossom viewing by people dressed in garments with the latest designs.  Whether it was intended to portray a particular event or setting is unclear.  The surrounding trees and curtains, however, create a dramatic effect in which the people performing a folk dance and the ladies watching them appear as though they were on a stage.” – Tokyo National Museum.  Note that the tradition of celebrating the arrival of spring Sakura (cherry blossoms) goes back a long time in Japanese history – we were fortunate to be in Tokyo for the height of this year’s cherry blossoms and to mingle with locals in appreciating the delicate blossoms signaling the end of winter and the new annual cycle.

“The Museum Garden behind the Honkan main building is open during the spring.  We invite you to enjoy strolling among the five teahouses, each with their own history, as well as the cherry blossoms, which about 10 varieties bloom from one to another.  The flourishing garden is most beautiful at this time of the year.” – www.tnm.jp    The Garden was full of cherry blossoms during our visit [see our previous blog post, “Sakura (Cherry Blossoms), Tokyo, Japan”, for several photographs of the Sakura in the Tokyo National Museum Garden].

 

Ichinotani Style Helmet, Iris leaf design, Azuchi-Momoyama-Edo period, 16th-17th century, Tokyo National Museum, Tokyo, Japan

Ichinotani Style Helmet, Iris leaf design, Azuchi-Momoyama-Edo period, 16th-17th century, Tokyo National Museum, Tokyo, Japan

 

Gusoku Type Armor with two-piece cuirass with dark blue lacing, Edo period, 17th-18th century, Tokyo National Museum, Tokyo, Japan

Gusoku Type Armor with two-piece cuirass with dark blue lacing, Edo period, 17th-18th century, Tokyo National Museum, Tokyo, Japan

 

“The Tokyo National Museum features one of the largest and best collections of art and archeological artifacts in Japan, made up of over 110,000 individual items including nearly a hundred national treasures.  At any one time, about 4,000 different items from the permanent museum collection are on display.  In addition, visiting temporary exhibitions are also held regularly.  The large museum complex is home to six separate buildings, each large enough to be considered a museum on its own, which specialize in different types of art and exhibitions.  The main Honkan building [which we focused on] was opened in 1938 and exhibits a variety of Japanese artwork from ancient times to the 19th century including antique Buddhist statues, painted sliding doors, scrolls, ceramics and maps in addition to cultural items such as masks, costume, armor and weapons among other historical artifacts.” – www.japan-guide.com

 

“Kanazawa, Musashi Province” by Kano Osanobu {Seisen_in} (1796-1846), color on silk, Edo period, 19th century, Tokyo National Museum, Tokyo, Japan

“Kanazawa, Musashi Province” by Kano Osanobu {Seisen’in} (1796-1846), color on silk, Edo period, 19th century, Tokyo National Museum, Tokyo, Japan

 

Primary Textbook for the Noble_s Children by Prince Hachijo-no-miya Toshihito (1579-1629), ink on decorated paper (SCROLL), Edo period, 17th century, Tokyo National Museum, Tokyo, Japa

Primary Textbook for the Noble’s Children by Prince Hachijo-no-miya Toshihito (1579-1629), ink on decorated paper (SCROLL), Edo period, 17th century, Tokyo National Museum, Tokyo, Japan; this spectacular section of the “textbook” features Mt. Fuji in the colored background, painted by the Prince before adding the text

 

Uchikake (Outer Garment, [like a kimono]), Tachibana and screen design on figured satin ground, Edo period, 19th century, Tokyo National Museum, Tokyo, Japan

Uchikake (Outer Garment, [like a kimono]), Tachibana and screen design on figured satin ground, Edo period, 19th century, Tokyo National Museum, Tokyo, Japan

Eat local: Inakaya (Roppongi East), Tokyo, Japan

The lead role in the drama of grilling our dinner at the robatayaki (a country-style grill) was one of the yakikata (“grill-persons”) who manned our grill and the counter piled with

The lead role in the drama of grilling our dinner at the robatayaki (a country-style grill) was one of the yakikata (“grill-persons”) who manned our grill and the counter piled with fresh ingredients, Inakaya (Roppongi East), Tokyo, Japan

 

We met some friends from San Francisco who frequently travel to Tokyo at their favorite casual restaurant in the capital city – Inakaya (Roppongi East).  “Putting an upmarket spin on the robatayaki (open-hearth) cooking beloved by Japanese fishermen, Inakaya serves succulent grilled seafood, meat and vegetables in a vibrant setting.  Much of the fun is in the presentation:  diners sit at a counter facing directly onto the open kitchen, and receive their food and drinks on wooden paddles that the staff pass directly over the grills.” – www.timeout.com

 

Grilled asparagus, Inakaya (Roppongi East), Tokyo, Japan

Grilled asparagus, Inakaya (Roppongi East), Tokyo, Japan

 

Altogether there were nine of us seated around two sides of the robata grill.  We picked out the various vegetables and proteins that we were interested in having grilled.  All of the ingredients were ultra fresh and extremely high quality – the grilling just brought out their natural flavors and heated them.  A superb dinner enhanced by sake and local beers.  As the evening wore on, the restaurant became noisier as the crowd shouted “hai” (yes) as the servers gave orders to the grill chefs (there are two sets of grills and surrounding seats) who resonded “hai” which was then repeated loudly by all of the patrons.  Good fun and great food.

 

Grilled shitake mushrooms, Inakaya (Roppongi East), Tokyo, Japan

Grilled shitake mushrooms, Inakaya (Roppongi East), Tokyo, Japan

 

The iridescent kuruma-ebi (tiger prawn) was skewered while it was still alive, then grilled at Inakaya (Roppongi East), Tokyo, Japan

The iridescent kuruma-ebi (tiger prawn) was skewered while it was still alive, then grilled at Inakaya (Roppongi East), Tokyo, Japan

 

Melt-in-your-mouth fresh grilled Japanese eggplant, Inakaya (Roppongi East), Tokyo, Japan

Melt-in-your-mouth fresh grilled Japanese eggplant, Inakaya (Roppongi East), Tokyo, Japan

 

Wonderful wagyu, succulent cubes of marbled Omi beef from Shiga, skewered, grilled and served with a dip of shoyu, garlic and fresh-grated wasabi root, Inakaya (Roppongi East), Tokyo, Ja

Wonderful wagyu, succulent cubes of marbled Omi beef from Shiga, skewered, grilled and served with a dip of shoyu, garlic and fresh-grated wasabi root, Inakaya (Roppongi East), Tokyo, Japan; our group had several orders, it was so delicious

 

Very simple in presentation, but the onion was almost sweet after grilling, Inakaya (Roppongi East), Tokyo, Japan

Very simple in presentation, but the onion was almost sweet after grilling, Inakaya (Roppongi East), Tokyo, Japan

 

Grilled crab legs, Inakaya (Roppongi East), Tokyo, Japan

Grilled crab legs, Inakaya (Roppongi East), Tokyo, Japan

 

Only available for about a month in the spring as new bamboo shoots sprout up, these grilled bamboo shoots were a special seasonal treat at Inakaya (Roppongi East), Tokyo, Japan

Only available for about a month in the spring as new bamboo shoots sprout up, these grilled bamboo shoots were a special seasonal treat at Inakaya (Roppongi East), Tokyo, Japan

 

Simplicity itself, but dessert was sweet and refreshing – orange slices -- at Inakaya (Roppongi East), Tokyo, Japan

Simplicity itself, but dessert was sweet and refreshing – orange slices — at Inakaya (Roppongi East), Tokyo, Japan

 

 

Sakura (Cherry Blossoms), Tokyo, Japan

Nakamise Street, lined with small souvenir and snack shops -- full of Sakura (Cherry Blossoms) -- leads to the second gate and the temple grounds at Senso-ji Temple (Buddhist), Tokyo, Ja

Nakamise Street, lined with small souvenir and snack shops — full of Sakura (Cherry Blossoms) — leads to the second gate and the temple grounds at Senso-ji Temple (Buddhist), Tokyo, Japan

 

We were extremely fortunate with the timing of our arrival in Tokyo – at the height of the Sakura (Cherry Blossoms) season, which is a really major time of celebration across Japan.  Springtime weather in Japan was very cool this year, delaying the arrival of the first cherry blossoms in Tokyo by several weeks from their typical mid-March appearance.  In the Japanese culture, the arrival of Sakura (Cherry Blossoms) signal the end of winter and the beginning of spring (a re-birth of the spirit as well as agricultural cycles).  The one- to two-week short life span of the delicate blossoms also reminds everyone of how fleeting life is and to maximize time with family and friends and the enjoyment of life.

 

Sakura (Cherry Blossoms) at Senso-ji Temple (Buddhist), Tokyo, Japan

Sakura (Cherry Blossoms) at Senso-ji Temple (Buddhist), Tokyo, Japan

 

Word has gotten out to the rest of the world about the ephemeral beauty of the short Sakura (Cherry Blossoms) season, so Japan (especially Tokyo and Kyoto, our next destination) get really crowded with foreigners and traveling Japanese in the spring.  The major parks and shrines and temples and streets with “Sakura (Cherry Blossoms) “spots” are jam packed (see out photographs, below).  This is such a big deal that Google maps highlights “Cherry Blossom Spots” on its detailed maps of Japan (this was very helpful to us!). It is a traditional custom to bring a picnic lunch or dinner and to gather with family and/or friends under the trees and to relax with some sake or beer and enjoy an al fresco meal under the Sakura (Cherry Blossoms).  The beauty of the season has been captured by Japanese painters for centuries and the major museums rotate their permanent exhibitions to feature paintings of Sakura (Cherry Blossoms) during this season.  Food and drink vendors annually come up with a new Sakura (Cherry Blossoms)-based version of an ice cream, confection, drink, etc. with big signage in the restaurants and stores featuring this year’s specialty.  After a few days we, too, came to both appreciate the short-lived beauty of the Sakura (Cherry Blossoms) and to understand the near-mania of the collective celebrations of this wonderful herald of spring.

Tokyo’s oldest Buddhist temple, Senso-ji, was completed in 645 and later reconstructed after being destroyed by air raids in 1945. Dedicated to Kannon, the Buddhist goddess of mercy, the temple is usually entered via the iconic Kaminarimon (thunder) Gate.  Nakamise Street, lined with small souvenir and snack shops, leads to the second gate and the temple grounds.  The temple’s pagoda is currently being renovated and covered by scaffolding, but it had only have a minor impact on visiting the site.

 

Groups gathered for picnic suppers under the Sakura (Cherry Blossoms) at Yoyogi Park adjacent to the Meiji Jingu Shrine in the Shibuya district, Tokyo, Japan

Groups gathered for picnic suppers under the Sakura (Cherry Blossoms) at Yoyogi Park adjacent to the Meiji Jingu Shrine in the Shibuya district, Tokyo, Japan

 

Sakura (Cherry Blossoms) at Yoyogi Park adjacent to the Meiji Jingu Shrine in the Shibuya district, Tokyo, Japan

Sakura (Cherry Blossoms) at Yoyogi Park adjacent to the Meiji Jingu Shrine in the Shibuya district, Tokyo, Japan

 

The Sakura (Cherry Blossoms) at the Tokyo National Museum Hyokeikan Garden in the Uenokoen district were a bonus to the traditional five elements in a Japanese garden – a pine tree, wa

The Sakura (Cherry Blossoms) at the Tokyo National Museum Hyokeikan Garden in the Uenokoen district were a bonus to the traditional five elements in a Japanese garden – a pine tree, water, rocks, moss, and a lantern; Tokyo, Japan

 

Sakura (Cherry Blossoms) #1 at Tokyo National Museum Hyokeikan Garden in the Uenokoen, Tokyo, Japan

Sakura (Cherry Blossoms) #1 at Tokyo National Museum Hyokeikan Garden in the Uenokoen, Tokyo, Japan

 

Sakura (Cherry Blossoms) #2 at Tokyo National Museum Hyokeikan Garden in the Uenokoen, Tokyo, Japan

Sakura (Cherry Blossoms) #2 at Tokyo National Museum Hyokeikan Garden in the Uenokoen, Tokyo, Japan

 

Sakura (Cherry Blossoms) #3 at Tokyo National Museum Hyokeikan Garden in the Uenokoen, Tokyo, Japan

Sakura (Cherry Blossoms) #3 at Tokyo National Museum Hyokeikan Garden in the Uenokoen, Tokyo, Japan

 

Late afternoon mobs of strollers enjoying the Sakura (Cherry Blossoms) at Ueno Park in the Uenokoen district, Tokyo, Japan

Late afternoon mobs of strollers enjoying the Sakura (Cherry Blossoms) at Ueno Park in the Uenokoen district, Tokyo, Japan

 

Clusters of Sakura (Cherry Blossoms) on a cherry tree at Ueno Park in the Uenokoen district, Tokyo, Japan

Clusters of Sakura (Cherry Blossoms) on a cherry tree at Ueno Park in the Uenokoen district, Tokyo, Japan

 

Groups gathered for picnic suppers under the Sakura (Cherry Blossoms) at Ueno Park in the Uenokoen district, Tokyo, Japan

Groups gathered for picnic suppers under the Sakura (Cherry Blossoms) at Ueno Park in the Uenokoen district, Tokyo, Japan

 

Sakura (Cherry Blossoms) in the gardens of Ueno Park in the Uenokoen district in central Tokyo, Japan

Sakura (Cherry Blossoms) in the gardens of Ueno Park in the Uenokoen district in central Tokyo, Japan