One year ago today, on March 8, 2016, I arrived in Japan for a four-week stay, a dream trip that I’d waited until my retirement to take. I’ve written about the trip in seven previous installments in the Japan Journal series, mostly from a film and pop culture orientation, but I had so much more material to cover that I decided to put together an album for the one-year anniversary using mostly previously unpublished photos covering the full span of my trip. I spent three weeks in Tokyo and one week in Osaka, with day trips from there to Kyoto and Nara. I took thousands of photos and had to spend a couple of days going through them. I’ve devised some broad categories with which to group them.
One of the things I picked up during my trip to Tokyo that I wanted to share with readers is a Japanese film magazine from 1965 called Eiga Story, found at a flea market table in Ueno Park amidst tons of other old film magazines and comics. On the cover is a photo of Hayley Mills, who’d been a child star in Disney movies (e.g. POLLYANNA and THE PARENT TRAP), and had finally graduated to teenage roles at the time, getting her first screen kiss that year in THE TRUTH ABOUT SPRING. I opened the magazine on the spot and was happy to see excellent-looking color spreads devoted to popular Hollywood films and stars of the time with b&w entries devoted to numerous releases in Japan of Hollywood and European films. Since I was going to films regularly in 1965 and had even seen some of these films during their initial release, I was curious to see what Hollywood films got the most hype during their release in Japan.
One of the absolute highlights of my trip to Japan was the visit to Toei Kyoto Studio Park, in Kyoto, on Wed. March 30, 2016. This is a combination theme park, museum, and studio run by the Toei Company, one of the leading film, TV and animation studios in Japan. Since 1950, Toei has been turning out a steady array of Japanese pop culture staples, including samurai and yakuza movies, martial arts films, superhero TV shows, animated sci-fi and all sorts of other time-honored Japanese genres. The Toei Kyoto Studio Park offers a samurai village backlot that visitors can explore to their heart’s desire, as well as a visitors center filled with galleries devoted to Toei’s 60-year animation output, live-action tokusatsu and sentai TV series, Japanese film history in general, and the singer Hibari Misora. The backlot is in active use as a set for Toei TV shows, plenty of which I’ve seen, and I will share images from shows that were filmed there. It was an immersion in Japanese pop culture history like I’ve never experienced anywhere else.
In my last Japan Journal (Part 4, April 28, 2016), I concentrated on the Suginami Animation Museum in Ogikubo, Tokyo and said I would save the other animation museums for another entry. Here I’m going to recount my trips to the Gundam Front Museum in Odaiba, Tokyo, the Ghibli Museum in Mitaka, and the Pokémon Center and J-World Tokyo in Sunshine City in the Ikebukuro section of Tokyo, more proof of Tokyo’s status as anime heaven.
The Gundam Front Museum doesn’t have as many different exhibits and attractions as the Suginami Museum, but what it does have is pretty spectacular, starting with the giant model of the original Mobile Suit Gundam outside the shopping center where the museum is located.
While I was in Japan, I visited three museums in Tokyo devoted to animation as well as various stores that catered to anime fans. When I was in Kyoto, I visited the Toei Studio’s theme park, Toei Kyoto Studio Park, which had an animation gallery devoted to the output of Toei Animation. The three museums in Tokyo were the Ghibli Museum, located in Mitaka and devoted to Hayao Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli; the Gundam Front Museum in Odaiba devoted to the Mobile Suit Gundam anime franchise; and the Suginami Animation Museum in Ogikubo, which offered a full panoply of anime history, covering Japanese animation from the early 20th century on. Of these, the most rewarding was the Suginami Animation Museum in Ogikubo, Tokyo, which took up a whole afternoon and offered enough interesting material to justify its own blog entry.
At the end of my previous entry, I was checking out of the Shimoda Tokyu Hotel on the morning of Wednesday, March 23, when I found a brochure describing other sites in Shimoda that I was now determined to visit. So, after checking out, I headed back into town to seek out Gokusenji Temple, where Townsend Harris had set up the first American consulate in Japan in 1856, from which he labored to effect a treaty with the Shogun, and Hofukuji Temple, which housed the Okichi Memorial Museum and gravesite, devoted to Okichi, the Shimoda woman who had lived with and worked with Harris during his stay. The closest site was Hofukuji Temple, which wasn’t easy to reach, given the vagueness of the map I’d gotten from the tourist center, but I did find the Shimoda History Museum and went in to ask directions. I had hoped to see this museum also, but was eager to get to the other sites and I was somewhat put off by the 1200 yen admission fee, almost three times as much as the norm for the other places. I probably missed some interesting things, judging from their awkwardly-worded brochure.
One of the key things I wanted to do while in Japan was visit the Izu Peninsula to see sites connected to Yasunari Kawabata’s famous story, “The Izu Dancer,” which has frequently been adapted for films and TV programs in Japan. In researching sites for the trip, I discovered Shimoda, which also happens to have a number of sites connected to Commodore Matthew Perry and the arrival of the famous American squadron of “Black Ships” in Perry’s second Japanese expedition in 1854 and the one that yielded the first treaty between the two countries. So I booked a hotel room in Shimoda for the night of March 22, a one-night stay away from Tokyo, with the intention of visiting assorted spots in the area connected to both Commodore Perry and “The Izu Dancer.”