Thursday, November 5, 2009

Day 13: Imperial Palace (Kokyo)

This morning I got my first chance to practice kendo in Japan. Following instructions from Stroud Sensei, I managed to find the famous Noma dojo. The new dojo is really amazing. The floor in the main practice area has a nice feel to it, though it is very slippery by comparison to the places we practice in the US. Outside the main practice area, they have multiple rooms for getting changed, a room to hang your gi and hakama, and even a tea room. They also have showers and a large hot bath, similar to what you'd find at an onsen. Obukan has got to get one of these...

After practice (it's from 7 to 8AM), we headed out for the Japanese Imperial Palace, called kōkyo. This is the place where the emperor currently lives and the site has been in use by the imperial family since they took over the castle from the shogun in 1868. The area where the emperor lives is closed to the public except on two days a year, but they have a large garden with historic sites that is always open to the public.

This large stylized dolphin used to be on top of one of the gates, but it was knocked down by bombing during WWII:

We saw this tiny hummingbird in the gardens and had to get some pictures. This little guy was only slightly bigger than a bumblebee:

A former guard house where samurai were stationed:

A larger guard house in which 100 higher ranking samurai lived:

This giant stone structure was the base for a huge 6 story tower, which burned down during a huge fire in Tokyo. In its time, the structure was the highest in Tokyo:

Tea house. Currently being restored:

In the evening we headed back to Asakusa to look around some more and find dinner. We couldn't help but take a couple more pictures.

We wandered around for a while before finally deciding to brave an okonomiyaki restaurant on our own. When we walked in, we realized that this was a tiny mom and pop kind of place. It literally had four tables with one man working out front and his wife in the kitchen.

As we came in, the man (who I presume is the owner) asked in Japanese whether we understood Japanese. From the way he asked, I got the impression that he meant "If you don't, this place isn't for tourists." I answered "Only a little", but he was happy to hear it and welcomed us in.

When we came in and sat in seiza, then proceeded to explain why we are in Japan (friend's wedding) and why I speak some Japanese (kendo), the owner became our best friend. He was super nice and basically sat through our meal talking with us and showing us his way of making okonomiyaki. There was another couple there and he was joking with them about the fact that the foreigners were sitting seiza but they weren't. We had a really great time and toward the end, the owner disappeared into the back and came out with one of the paper lanterns that they hang for a festival in that area. He put it in a bag and told us it was a "puresento" (present). It was a great experience.

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