The arts, the hills and the bullet train

Text and photos by: Jonas Karasch
On the second day of our program we visited the Tokyo National Museum, the Roppongi Hills and had our first ride with a shinkansen (the bullet train) to Hiroshima. After a nutritious breakfast containing western- and Japanese style dishes at a restaurant in the Shinagawa Prince Hotel we headed to the Tokyo National Museum by bus where we received a short explanation about the historical periods of Japan by the guides to get an idea on what kind of stories the exhibited pieces where about to tell us. After our arrival we where astonished by the sheer quantity and variety of the pieces ranging from clay dolls and pottery from the early Jômon era to the first pieces of writings and the sophisticated culture of the samurai, their craftsmanship regarding their swords, their way of everyday life, rites and the exhibition was rounded up by the display of the fine arts like ukiyo-e and tea ceremony (sadou) of the Edo era people. Unfortunately though I had the feeling that with our tight schedule we where only able to scratch the surface of what the National Museum had to offer but lunch already awaited us so we quickly made our way to the bus and departed for our next destination: the Roppongi area and its Roppongi Hills.

After a buffet style lunch including a great variety of different desserts we made our way through the vibrant and skyscraper stuffed area until we arrived at the Roppongi Hills, not only known for its deck where you have an excellent view over Tokyo but also its Modern Art Museum located inside the building. The first intention of many of us was to get to the top as fast as possible, but you already had an amazing panoramic view over the city inside the building on the 50th floor. Unfortunately our view was utterly clouded by fog, but I still consider it the best possible viewing spot in Tokyo, not only because one has a great view over the downtown area, but you could also see the Tokyo Tower and the Sky Tree Tower as well. Most of us then decided to use the rest of their free time to visit the Modern Art Exhibition which was really exciting because of many interactive pieces making the visitors feel a stronger connection to the concepts and messages they tried to bring across. Those pieces where many times optical illusions, ranging from a seemingly existing classroom, floating boats and many different interpretations of weird mirror illusions captivating our senses and requiring a lot of focus and concentration to get behind their concept. Slightly irritated but also very fascinated we met at our meeting point, which was a huge sculpture of a spider looming over us, ready to turn alive at any given time.

Fortunately we where able to get to our bus in one piece and were ready for the following two days involving a visit of Hiroshima and Kyoto, their respective hotels and three rides with the shinkansen. Travelling by shinkansen turned out to be a lot more comfortable and the inside of the train was a lot more spacious than we initially thought. The three hour long ride was accompanied by a meal in the form of a bento, a box containing an array of different Japanese styled snack components, which due to their bright and inviting colours were very pleasing to the eye and reminded us about a little picnic box. We then safely arrived at Hiroshima and checked in to our hotel where there was a Japanese public bath which offered the opportunity to get a first-hand experience on Japanese bathing culture which requires a lot of attention to little details regarding behavioural rules. Some of us gave it a try and were rewarded with a relaxing bath in hot water, soothing our exhausted bodies and minds and refreshing us in preparation for the following exciting days yet to come.

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