The weather has been getting steadily cooler in Tokyo but only in the past few days has it actually begun to feel like fall. Since I like sleeping with my window open at night I've had to get out another blanket and warmer pjs. This weekend I got out of Tokyo and enjoyed some beautiful sunny autumn weather, crunched through leaves, and all that good autumn-y stuff! I also got to take a look at a 1500+ year old painted stone burial chamber, visit a small museum and an aquarium, have some good food and drink...
My professor's major was originally archeology and while he has been heavily involved with digs in Alaska, he has also been involved in numerous digs across Japan. One of the digs, at a 7th century tumulus, unearthed a stunning painted stone burial chamber. The team spent a long time monitoring the conditions inside the chamber before they moved in and built a series of chambers leading up to the stone chamber so that the paintings could be protected and studied. A few decades later the chamber is still in excellent condition and the outer chambers are opened to viewers in the spring and fall (when temperature and humidity are similar inside the stone chamber and outdoors).
The next morning we left our hotel and headed off to see a small museum nearby before heading to an aquarium. I was rather excited to discover that the aquarium had a penguin exhibit and spent most of my time watching them swim about in the underwater viewing area.
When we arrived at the aquarium, however we had yet to have breakfast, so decided to eat at the aquarium's food court. I was quite disturbed to find that the food court specialized in sushi - there has got to be something wrong about an aquarium serving sushi, right?! Not 30 minutes after having eaten a bowl of rice topped with raw tuna and green onions (my absolute favourite) I watched three tuna swim past me. My professor says that his reaction to many aquariums is "mmm - that looks yummy!" I just find this all very disturbing. It didn't stop me from enjoying my negitoro bowl, however! ;)
No Japanese tourist spot would be complete without omiyage - souvenirs. The most popular are edible, and often include the local specialty (grape and peach flavoured candies in Yamanashi prefecture, yuba pickles in Nikko, natto in Mito...). If there is no special local product then cookies or Japanese sweets will be imprinted with the picture of or made in the shape of a local tourist attraction. Dolphin shaped cookies for sale at the aquarium were pretty standard. The stone-tool shaped butter cookies from a stone-age historic site, however got me giggling. Aside for their golden colour, they look very realistic! I was also amused by the wafer sandwich cookies with the same designs as those found on the walls of Torazuka's stone chamber. These souvenirs are bought by Japanese tourists and then taken home and given to friends, family and co-workers in a sort-of apology for the traveler's absence.