Catch-up post – 歴史知識の溢れた東京博物館 (History lectures at Tokyo National Museum)

Back to Tokyo, our glorious capital. We began by getting a bit lost in Shibuya – we cut trough what appears to be a love hotel area – but managed to reach the famous crossroad. I was recording while crossing, to show my relatives how many people there were, when I suddenly spotted a guy doing the same thing from the other side! We actually spotted each other yelling a big ‘yeah!’ to mark the coincidence.

Nothing thrilling the following day, as we went to Shinjuku to visit the city hall and the SquareEnix shop – a got a classy FFXIII thermos, featuring Vanille. I went to Kichijoji in the evening to have a drink with Chiyomi-san and Haru-san. The latter had brought some of his students’ answer sheets – he is lecturer of law at Meiji university. It was a big laugh, as half of the sheets were nearly blank, and some had appalling kanji mistakes – 裁く (sabaku – to judge) was written (which is wa – I), and (chigau – different) lacked strokes.

I was unlucky enough to spot hideous advertising boards above Shinjuku’s Yodobashi camera, a tremendous anger filled my body and soul at the reminder that Star Ocean 4 was X360 exclusive (one month later, this nightmare would be finally over). Honestly, I didn’t believe that a Japanese shop staff could have authorized such outrageous publicity for Xbox360. Those people are more like scum, because this kind of behaviour is filthy beyond recognition.

The day we spent in Ueno was the opportunity to visit one of the numerous museums the park counts. I chose the Tokyo National Museum which, despite being divided between four buildings, is not that big. True, I strolled only in the principal one, that’s called 本館 (honkan – main building). It was destroyed during the 1923 earthquake and was reconstructed to what it is today in 1938. The second-largest building called 表慶館 (hyokeikan) was originally constructed as a wedding gift for the prince (not the Half-Blood Prince) and resisted in 1923.

The first hall is dedicated to the introduction of Buddhism in Japan. The museum reckons that Buddhism must have spread in India during 2 or 3 centuries before Christ, having for origin the achievement of Enlightenment by Siddhartha around 450 BC. Few centuries after, many Chinese emperors chose Buddhism as official religion, spreading it further eastward to Korea. The museum shows that Buddhism in Japan came directly from Korea, which at that time was divided between three kingdoms. The kingdom of Baekje seems to be the one that influenced Japan most, therefore many think that it brought Buddhism to the archipelago. Although there is no historical evidence liking Prince Shotoku to Beakje, there was a military alliance between this Korean kingdom and Japan around 500-600. If you consider that Prince Shotoku was regent of Empress Suiko around that time, and that Shotoku strongly favored ideals from the continent, he might have been the one who welcomed the emissaries from Beakje. The museum also refers to Nara’s Gangoji, a temple dedicated to Shotoku that regards the Prince as the pioneer of Buddhism in Japan. Moreover, Nara became the first capital of centralized Japan in 710. I therefore reckon that it is safe to think that Shotoku was based in Kansai (there is historical evidence he founded Tennoji in Osaka) and from there inspired a sense of unity thanks to the teachings brought by Baekje, which made Nara the religious center and therefore capital of Japan a hundred years later. The impact of Buddhism was then so important that Shotoku became known not only in Kansai but as far as Nagano.

The first floor features an interesting collection of swords (although less impressive than the Tokyo sword museum or the one in Osaka castle) in which you can see two Osafune. For reference, osafune is a katana featured in Final Fantasy Ivalice Alliance. Historically speaking, Osafune represents a lineage of sword smiths from Kamakura era to Nanbokucho era (1185 to 1392). The museum also tells us about (shitsu – lacquer). Lacquer trees are found in Asia and when the first Europeans saw the variety of lacquer ware manufactured in Japan around the 16thcentury, it was the beginning of a huge export business. Lacquer was so strongly associated with Japan that the word Japan itself was synonym of lacquer, as China still means Chinese ceramics, as it was fashioned originally.

As we were making a small diversion for me to find a 包丁 (hocho – keen (?) kitchen knife), we realized that nearly all kitchenware shops were closed. They seem to have taken their summer vacation all at the same time, knowing I’d come. They probably didn’t want me to make additional cheap sashimi. But so it happens, a nice retailer was still open, and I got get hands on a shiny one for the reasonable price of 10.000.

Originally published in august 2009.

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