From Tokyo to Kyoto – travels in Japan. Highlights of Shibuya.

No trip to Tokyo is complete without a visit to the Meiji shrine. Below the iris garden created for the Meiji empress at the start of the 20th Century. A beautiful, well balanced park, you can see a lot of gardening effort goes into the maintenance.

Visitors leave their wishes at the temple, which are later burned by the priests.

In Shibuya there’s a cafe where you can stroke cats! It costs a few hundred yen for an hour or so. You can just see a white cat at the top of the arrow. We didn’t go in, the idea made us feel a bit guilty.

You think that’s weird? How about a cafe where you can stroke hedgehogs? The lady holds up the sign to invite you in.

Or would you rather pet an owl?!

Then again, Shibuya is a wild place, heavily frequented by hipsters and tourists, and full of weird stuff (which is not typical for mainstream Japan).

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Surprise! You won’t BELIEVE what I saw in Kansas City. The Nelson Atkins Museum of Art.

I had a chance to visit Kansas City. First surprise: this town isn’t in Kansas, but in Missouri, a relatively flat place with an abundance of farmland and space. Looked quite rural yet attractive from the air.

As usual I only had a couple of free hours in between, so how best to spend my time? Most US cities do not have an inner city that invites a leisurely stroll, so I had to come up with a plan B (although later I did discover that downtown Kansas City does have its charm). An Uber driver pointed out that the city had an art museum – he wasn’t impressed by it, but by his looks he wasn’t into art too much; more a baseball kind of guy.

So I took two hours for a fast visit to the Nelson Atkins museum of art, and indeed was in for a very big surprise, as shown on the photos below.

An impressive facade protects a rich exhibition, which was assembled by art scouts during the 1930 crisis: with wallets full of hard dollars earned the years before the economic collapse, these scouts bought artifacts and paintings from all over the world.

All in all, a visit to this temple of art is definitely time well spent!

 

The façade of the museum, with Rodin’s Thinker in the sculpture garden
An early Piet Mondrian, created before his more abstract style
An early Piet Mondrian, created before his more abstract style
A beautiful impressionist painting by Monet
A beautiful impressionist painting by Monet
A painting by Rembrandt van Rijn
A painting by Rembrandt van Rijn
A Kandinsky
A Kandinsky
A painting by Max Beckmann
A painting by Max Beckmann
A Indian deity in the historic section
A Indian deity in the historic section
I statue from the small but exquisite Egyptian section
I statue from the small but exquisite Egyptian section

Quiz time! Can you guess which famous leader used to live here? He must be turning in his grave.

Today a Chinese restaurant (“Peking Duck”), but once upon a time a very infamous man had his residence and offices behind these doors. Can you guess who? Ten points for the right answer to this quiz; five points for the most original reply. Read the answer below.

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The truth behind the duck:  Mr. Mengling Tang from China is the owner of a Chinese eatery in the Voßstraße in Berlin, exactly on the spot of the entry to Adolf Hitler’s “Neue Reichskanzlei” – the new chancellery. The building didn’t survive the ravages of war, within a few years after completion, the home of the brutal, weirdly mustachioed dictator was destroyed by allied bombs. Dear Adolf probably wouldn’t have clenched his little fists with pleasure, if he would have known about the repurposing of the site where his ugly government building (designed by his favorite architect Albert Speer) once stood. But then again, Maybes he is, in purgatory.

A visit to the ossuary of the church San Bernardino alle Ossa in Milan, Italy

It is the attempt that counts. A piece of art, on the verge of the macabre.  San Bernardino alle Ossa (Saint Bernhard of the Bones) is a church in Milan, not to far from the Cathedral of Milano, by itself an inconspicuous building. This church is best known for its ossuary (a skull and bones collection) in  a small side chapel.

In 1200s, the local cemetery ran out of space, I am not sure why, but one guess could be that famine struck northern Italy. A room was built next to the church to hold bones to tackle that problem. After all, you cant simply throw corpses in the river or burn them, can you? The result is a haunting, octagonal room, with hundreds of skulls stacked to the ceiling. As the church suffered from some catastrophes, and needed to be rebuild a couple of times, this work of art is in actuality much younger.

What struck me during my visit was the perfect symmetry with which the bones and skulls are stacked. The creators invested a lot of time to get it right and to make it esthetically halfway acceptable (if you go for that kind of thing). What I also wondered was how they separated the flesh from the bones. Were these people first buried, and the skeletons dug-up later? A human body may take about 1-2 years to be free of flesh, depending on its location, e.g. a body in a field will decompose much faster than a buried human (see my novel Two Journeys for more grisly details).

The skulls were all small, much smaller than the ones I saw in anatomy class. I suspect that most belonged to children, as only few seemed to be adult-size. An alternative explanation would be that these people were very small – perhaps it was indeed a famine? One or two skulls had impressive deformities; elongations at the back.

Below some of the impressions from our travels. Click on any of the pictures below to enlarge.

Skull and Bones San Bernardino alle Ossa – Stacked Skulls in the Ossuary
A scary sight: these stacked skulls and bones. Isn’t that Mario on the left?

 

Stack ’em ! Quite artistically done, yet still macabre. You’ve seen one ossuary, you’ve seen them all.

A nightly walk through Doha, Qatar #Travel #Reporting #ArabianNights

View of the amazing skyline of Doha, Qatar. On the left the Corniche, on the right the Persian Gulf. How exotic can it get?

Doha skyline

Doha Qatar – skyline

Below: a section of the Doha  souk where traders specialize in selling pets, birds, dogs, cats, tropical fish…  you name it. Exotic ones too, like this parrot. Nice fluffy kittens and puppies, most very passive or sleeping. Personally I couldn’t buy anything here, I felt pity for most of the poor animals. The health of these animals is doubtful too, many cats and dogs are bread under terrible conditions, like in mass production. I am not sure the government in Qatar controls this in any way. Interestingly, few pets are actually visible in the streets: no dogs definitely, and the cats that roam about are all obviously wild outcasts, and ignored.

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Another part of the souk of Doha. Like most areas in Doha, this is a modern, new area, so not overtly exotic. For this needs getting used to; I love old buildings. The shops are specially interesting for tourists that like to purchase gold jewelry, I’ve heard that it is possible to make a good deal. Dozens of jewelry stores. Many pleasant restaurants line the pavement… as a special service to the clientele, air conditioners (those big grey boxes visible in the picture) are put on the pavement (outside!) to blow cold air at the diners. Now, that’s exotic. People in Qatar have few worries about CO2 – energy is free, there are hardly any trees in the country, and it is already hot and human, so what negative effect could climate change have in addition?