Sunday, September 03, 2006

Tokyo: The Return Part 2, Museum Hopping

When I told my students I was going to Tokyo 'On Vacation' they looked at me aghast. Tokyo is certainly not considered a viable vacation destination in Japan. You go to Tokyo on business, you go to Kyoto on vacation. That said there were a couple of interesting museums that I missed last time, one of them being the Tokyo Maritime Museum.

Needless to say a museum filled with model ships is not all that attractive to women, so I had to go it alone. Mo wandered off into Shinjuku by herself for the day. Like anything worth getting to in Tokyo, it was quite a trek to the artificial island that held both my museum destinations. Two subway lines and a docklands elevated rail later, and I was in the ballpark. The Tokyo Maritime Museum is pretty easy to spot, being shaped like a giant concrete ocean liner.

One of the more interesting exhibits was a display of the history of ships in the world in detailed model form. Many of the models were 1:50 or 1:60 scale, so you got a very good sense of how much larger ships have become lately. From the HMS Victory to the Brittanic to the supermassive crude oil carrier Universe Ireland. That particular model must have been at least 15 feet long, if not longer. Of course oil tankers do lack some of the mystique and beauty of the older ships. There were also demonstrations of ship design, construction and propulsion. In the submarine corner was a video periscope that you could use to peek at the neigboring water park.

On the second floor there where exhibits devoted to Japan's place in the sea. They had exhibits related to shipping, fishing, defense and the coast guard. Of course I went straight for defense. Using dozens of tiny models there was a visual representation of the entire Imperial Fleet of WWII. It was astounding, those little ships filled a very long case. Among them were some rather famous (or should I say infamous) names like the Akagi and the Kaga and the rest of the Pearl Harbor strike force.

The centerpiece of this part of the museum is the large and very detailed model of the Yamato, the largest and heaviest battleship ever built. She was commisioned a few days after Pearl Harbor, but despite supermassive 20 inch guns the days of the Battleship were over, as the Imperial Navy had themselves proved. She never sunk another ship and was herself destroyed by US Navy planes towards the end of the war.

On the upper 'decks' of the museum are an observation lounge and a mock ocean liner bridge. The best part of the bridge is the working radar display that allowed me to track the harbor traffic for a couple of minutes, and that was pretty fun. Next door
were two museum ships, one another Antarctic exploration ship that was equally boring to the Fuji that I saw in Nagoya harbor. The other was an old ferry that was the primary linky between Honshu and Hokkaido before the current tunnel was completed. It too was nothing terribly special, but next door was a pretty cool museum.

The Musuem of Emerging Technology is a science museum aimed at the younger set. Despite an emphasis on the 'hands on' (or because of it?) I found it fascinating, if a bit loud. The centerpiece at the moment is a traveling exhibition of a frozen mammoth skull. Rather disgusting but totally awsome. There was also a giant video ball showing weather sat pictures of Earth. It would display the last 24 hours of world weather in a loop, as well as land and sea temperature for the month. It was one of those things you could just stand there in a trance and watch for a good long while. There was also a demonstration magnetic levitation railway, a deep diving ocean research sub and some great space related displays. They had a wall with the photo and name of everybody who has visited space, and the best part is they had managed to collect signatures from a significant number of both astro- and cosmonauts. There was also a neat display concerning distance in the universe. It showed what was happening on earth when light left various stars and even other galaxies. From the Berlin Wall falling to the American Revolution to the Dinosaurs ruling the earth.

It was a great but exhausting day to be sure, and I will admit I had my fill of museums! It was time for a change... the zoo!


羽之助 said...

That actually sounds really cool! I'll have to give it a whirl next time I nip down to Tokyo. I am not looking forward to your zoo tales, though ...

Vesp (and a friend in the small intestines) said...

If only I was able to visit some museums in Tokyo that didn't involve tape worms......... *sigh*