23rd December - the Emperor’s Birthday and a national holiday in Japan. It is also one of the only two days of the year when the Emperor and the Royal Family show themselves to the public! The other day they do this is just after New Year on the 2nd of January.
We asked our friend Kawana-san if it was a good idea to go see the Emperor on his birthday and he was convinced that it was a BAD idea - there would be too many people and it would be better to watch on TV! Against his advice, not wanting to miss this opportunity, we headed off to the Imperial Palace on the morning of 23rd to face the crowds. We planned our route so as to arrive at the nearest station to the gardens, but were somewhat taken aback when we arrived there. his was a first for us in Tokyo - the station was completely deserted with not a single person in sight! We could hear some strange, very loud chanting noises coming from outside so we followed the sounds to the exit expecting huge crowds…
However, as we emerged from the station, we were greeted with abandoned streets! It took us a while to figure out that the noise was actually coming from Japanese vans driving around with speakers blaring something we couldn't understand!
Luckily, we seemed to have missed the very early morning crowds and we were also pleasantly surprised (although we should expect nothing less of the Japanese) by the incredible orderliness of the people attending. The security was pretty intense and we got checked a few times.
As you enter everyone is given a small paper Japanese flag to wave around. The gardens around the palace are really beautiful and we stopped to take some photos as we followed the rest of the crowd to the balcony where the Royal Family was to appear.
We were definitely not prepared for what the crowds’ reaction would be when the Emperor appeared. With one great burst of enthusiasm, the entire crowd started shouting “Tennouheika, Banzai, Banzai, Banzai” (which means long live the Emperor. Banzai literally means ten thousand years of life) while raising both arms and bowing profusely!
The Emperor silenced the crowds with a wave of his hand and spoke for a bit. When he was done, the whole family had their minute of royal wave time and then they disappeared back into the house while the crowd resumed their chanting! Quite an interesting and fun experience!
We walked around the gardens a little more and sat down to have coffee. Contemplating our next move we decided to go back to Odaiba again with the hope of finding the National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation open this time! The previous time we went to Odaiba we did not know that the Museum was closed on certain weekdays.
Lucky for us, they were open and we found LOADS cool and fun interactive exhibits and displays. The orange and green picture of us is a real-time screen which detects heat.
We stayed there until they closed at 5 pm and then we set out on our mission of finding Rooibos tea at an international shop in Roppongi. That was very successful and we also discovered all sorts of oversized fruits! Generally, the fruits are pretty damn huge in Japan though!