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Saturday, May 24, 2008
WHEN EAST MARRIES WEST
Not going anywhere in Tokyo
The only things that stands perfectly still in this city of ceaseless motion are its statues. Not that most Tokyoites notice them. But I do.
In fact, I consider statue-watching a hobby. It's easier than people-watching and far less risky. For I have yet to have a statue flash a dirty look in return.
So I inserted a "Best 10 Statues" section in "Top Tokyo Sights," a bilingual guidebook I published this month with Kodansha International. The book is filled with sections on Tokyo's best 10 parks, best 10 museums, best 10 coffee shops, best 10. . . well, you name it, all very subjective and all taking advantage of modern man's insatiable desire to view the world through lists.
Alas, my editors did not share my love of statues. The statue chapter was cut, losing out to other listings in this list-lovable metropolis. Buy the book and you will learn a lot about Tokyo, but won't learn about its statues.
That you can only do here, in abridged form. Counting down from 10:
10. The Statue of Liberty — One-fourth the size of New York's version, this 13-ton replica faces inland from Odaiba, rather than out to greet newcomers, a la its sister in America. The reason? Perhaps — with the Rainbow Bridge in the background — it just makes a better photo.
9. The Great Buddha of Tokyo — Located at Jorenji temple 20 minutes from Narimasu Station, this Great Buddha resembles the one in Kamakura, except it is coal black and a bit more svelte, despite weighing 30 tons. It's also a baby as Great Buddhas go, built only in 1977. Narimasu may be a trek, but it's still closer than Kamakura. And this Great Buddha is the third-largest in Japan.
8. The Nagasaki Peace Park Statue — You don't have to fly to Nagasaki to view the famous form that has rested in the Peace Park there since 1955. An exact model of the 10-meter high statue stands in the workshop of the sculptor — Seibo Kitamura, a Nagasaki native. That workshop occupies a quiet corner of Inokashira Shizen Bunk-en gardens near Kichijoji. The model is plaster, not stone.
7. Godzilla — This Godzilla has all the beastly pizzazz of the movie version but stands not nearly as tall, rising only about 3 meters, with half of that being pedestal. You can find the beady-eyed lizard five minutes from Yurakucho Station, next to the raised handprints of well over 60 film and music stars, a Japanese version of the Hollywood Boulevard Walk of Fame.
6. Wings — The nude young girl waits on a pedestal with her arms raised as if to fly. Yet no one looks, not even in Ueno Station. But they should, as Wings is a masterpiece of Fumio Asakura, Japan's greatest sculptor. Asakura gems can be found inside on the Ueno train platform as well, but winsome Wings stands out before the wickets.
5. Tora the Vagabond — This life-size stature of "Otoko wa Tsurai Yo" film star Kiyoshi Atsumi stands in front of Shibamata Station. Here Tora-san is peeking pensively over his shoulder, as if wishing his hometown a fond farewell before the start of yet another journey.
4. Masashige Kusunoki — "Would that I had but seven lives to give for my country!" were the purported last words of the brilliant military leader under Emperor Godaigo in the 14th century. Kusunoki is honored with a massive 4-meter high bronze statue-atop a 4-meter pedestal — in the front plaza before the Imperial Palace, which he has been guarding on horseback since 1900.
3. Masujiro Omura — Omura is widely regarded as the father of the modern Japanese army and his high-pedestaled statue dominates the sweeping promenade at militaristic Yasukuni Shrine. This is the first Western-style bronze statue in Japanese history, sculpted in 1893.
2. Saigo Takamori — Takamori ended his life as a rebel fighting against his country, but was — and still is — widely respected for his integrity and "samurai" spirit. If that sounds familiar, you should know Saigo was the inspiration for the Katsumoto character in the motion picture, "The Last Samurai." This statue of the kimono-clad Saigo taking his dog out for a rabbit hunt stands on an open point of Ueno Park.
1. Hachiko — Hachiko was honored with a statue in 1934, while the loyal dog was still alive and yet awaiting its Shibuya master. The initial statue was melted for the war effort, but the current model has been in place since 1948 and serves as the foremost meeting spot in Japan. The real Hachiko is still around as well, stuffed at the Natural Science Museum in Ueno Park.
How many other chapters got the ax? Almost enough for another top 10 list. Or, perhaps another column . . . someday.