Day 1 – Wednesday 23 October
After a long flight from London, we woke up in our hotel fronting the river in Tokyo. The day began with battling through the crowds of the Tokyo rush hour to start with a visit to one of the University museums - highlighting the 19th / early 20th century collections and the role of these collections in bringing the world to researchers and the role of the University in modernising Japan. The Museum is located in the former main Post Office building, which includes a shopping development as well as part of the University of Tokyo. It is opposite the main railway station and was at the heart of the modernisation of Japan – with the railway station being modelled on that of Amsterdam.
We then walked to the Imperial Palace, taking the opportunity of a photocall at a shrine inspired by the Rugby World Cup. Set in acres of formal gardens, and surrounded by a large moat, the inner part of the palace forms a backdrop to thousands of tourist photos, featuring the bridge on which the Emperor makes public appearances. We arrived only a couple of days after the new Emperor came to the throne, though the major ceremonies planned were cancelled in the light of the impact of the major typhoon.
Lunch was a chance to practice using chopsticks at a sorba noodle restaurant. My bonito noodles were served with a single large leaf that I assumed was as bland as choy. The leaf was dark green with serrated edges and was 'beef steak' or shiso - see - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shiso. It had an intense coriander / slightly bitter mint flavour that was completely unexpected, especially as I ate the whole leaf at once!
In the afternoon we went to the National Museum in Ueno Park to see the amazing prehistoric finds (more later) and then to meet people in the Ministry of Culture - very formal with bowing and ritual handing over of business cards. We had dinner with a couple of artists who are from the Jomonism group who will be exhibiting at the Museum in summer 2020. It was particularly interesting to talk with Ryujiro Oyabu, a ceramicist. We talked a lot about the similarities between their 'Jomon' period pottery and our Beakers and Early Bronze Age pottery – including the Stonehenge cup. Over dinner, I even managed to eat a poached egg with chopsticks.