Archive for April 2017

an april cocktail hour at the yakatori grill   5 comments

Sunday, April 30:  Cheers!  Welcome to my first cocktail hour here in Japan. We’re meeting at the local yakatori grill tonight because my apartment is either a rabbit hut or a dog kennel, depending on who is labeling it. You can just order what you like at the bar.  As for me, I’m having my favorite Japanese beverages: a sip of hot sake followed by a cold swig of Sapporo beer.  My sister in L.A. taught me that combination, and I’m sticking with it here in Japan.

I hope all is well with you.  I apologize that I haven’t been able to keep up with all my fellow bloggers and friends as I would like.  I work 9 hours a day, walk a half-hour to and from work each day, and then collapse in the evenings.  Every weekend day I go out, trying to see as much of Japan as I can in the short four months I have.  Then I edit my pictures and post blogs about my explorations.  I simply don’t have the time to keep up as I would like.  I figure there will be time for that when I return home, as I’ll have no job and nothing to occupy my time.  But here, now, I must take advantage of this opportunity to explore Japan.

Please do tell me about your spring. I hope yours hasn’t been as cold and rainy as mine has been here in Japan.  Have you planned any travels or taken any trips? Have you seen any good movies?  Watched any good TV shows or read any good books?  Have you eaten fresh fruits and vegetables, or visited any pretty gardens?  Have you done any cooking?  Have you gone on any political rants?  (I have gone on a lot of those lately!)

As for me, this month has been all about getting acclimated to a new apartment, new job, new neighborhood, and new culture. This is just the kind of adventure I love, living and working in a place, getting immersed in the culture, digging beneath the surface.  It always gives me a boost of confidence when I am able to successfully negotiate challenges under these circumstances.  Here are a few tidbits about my month.

Friday, April 7:  Today was my first day of classes.  I teach G, H and I levels, a total of 56 students.  “A” is the lowest and “L” is the highest, so I teach the intermediate, or second from the top quarter, of the second year students. It went fairly well, except I realized right away that my “G” class was a very low-level.  A group of girls and two boys sat together at the back of the room and seemed totally disconnected from the classroom lesson. My “H” class was wonderful, but my “I” class, the last class of the day, from 4:50-6:20, had 8 boys who sat at the back of the class cutting up, and the girls were pretty chatty and noisy as well. Because of the “G” and “I” classes, I realized right away I needed to create seating charts. I created one immediately, separating all boys in the “I” class, and separating the group of low-level seemingly disinterested students in the “G” class.  This also helped me to learn the Japanese names; this was quite a learning curve as I knew nothing about Japanese names.  In China, all my Chinese students took English names, but that is not the case in Japan.  I didn’t know boys’ names from girls’ names; neither did I know how to pronounce any of them, so I was one confused teacher.  I’m sure my students found it quite amusing.

Our administrator met with us to talk about an urgent issue: the sponges in the “pantry,” which I would call the employee kitchen.  This kitchen is mostly for the Japanese staff, as we foreign teachers are pretty much relegated to our own office, caged off from the rest of the staff.  We’ve been told not to speak to the Japanese staff unless necessary.

In the meeting, we were informed that the two small pink sponges on the right of the sink are expressly for wiping the countertops. The large yellow one is for cleaning oily things like Bento boxes.  The large pink sponge next to the yellow one is for cleaning glasses and cups.

Our administrator said, “Sorry. You know — this is Japan,” and she laughed.  🙂

I have about a half-hour walk to work every day, and the first day my feet were killing me because I wore my work flats with the required knee-high stockings.  I decided I would need to wear walking shoes to work; it would be impossible to wear work shoes for a half-hour walk each way.

My first full week of work was stressful with planning and teaching; the students are a lower level than I expected, and they don’t seem motivated.  Planning time seemed in short supply, but my goal from the beginning was to never bring work home with me; after all, I am in the office 9 hours a day.  I was able to do this in Oman, and my goal is to confine my work to the office here too.

Monday, April 10: My Monday lesson was a “shock lecture,” the purpose being to shock the students into realizing how difficult this Academic (Applied Skills) course will be.  The students were to practice note-taking while listening to a high-level lecture about genetics and Mendel and pea plants.  If they managed to take any notes, it was just random words; they certainly had no understanding of the lecture.  It was long and boring as hell.  The biggest problems with the lecture for them were: 1) vocabulary; 2) the topic; 3) speed of delivery; 4) their inability to concentrate; and 5) the length of the lecture, according to a survey I did in class. In effect, everything.

Tuesday, April 11: It rained all day today. It was cold everywhere, classrooms included. In the evening, walking home, I ran into my colleague Tobi and we decided to stop for dinner at a Japanese yakatori grill on our way home.  The husband and wife owners were kind and jovial and the place was warm and cozy.  The menu was only in Japanese and the owners spoke no English, so it was a challenge to communicate what we wanted to eat.  We didn’t even know what kind of restaurant it was at the time!  We had sake and beer, peppers, mushrooms, eggplant, shishito peppers, and yakatori, a Japanese type of skewered chicken. The preparation of yakitori involves skewering the meat with kushi, a type of skewer typically made of steel, bamboo, or similar materials. Afterwards, the skewers are grilled over a charcoal fire. The bill was quite high however, and I wasn’t sure of the prices of each item we got.

a mom-and-pop yakitori grill in fuchinobe

The bar had a bunch of Hello Kitty things lined up on it.  On the wall over our table were unopened packages of weird things from about 40 years ago, such as stamped postcards and old miniature toys.

hello, kitty!

After leaving the restaurant in the wind and rain, I broke my second umbrella when the wind kept blowing it inside out.

Thursday, April 13: Less than one week after classes started, my “I” class was out of control.  The boys kept laughing it up, speaking Japanese, and being generally disruptive. One student kept putting his jacket on upside down and then passing it to his friends, who also put it on upside down. I could see the class was spinning out of control, so I had to figure out what I would do to solve the problem.  One of the reasons I don’t like teaching any students below university age is because of discipline problems, and this behavior was like that of middle-school students. I knew this semester would be a disaster if I didn’t get that class under control.

Friday, April 14:  I had a talk with my “I” class about their behavior.  I told them their disruptive behavior yesterday was a big problem for me.  I said, “They’re paying me a lot of money to come all the way from the USA (not really true!) to help you improve your English so your Study Abroad will be successful.  Yesterday, I felt like I was teaching middle school.  That’s exactly why I teach university students and I refuse to teach middle school because I don’t need those kinds of problems in my life. If you are interested in studying  with me, I’m interested in helping, but if you’re not, I’m not interested.”  At that point, I rolled out a new seating chart, separating all the boys.  They weren’t happy about that, but they finally settled down and worked well together. Near the end of class, I thanked them for being so respectful and cooperative and I allowed them to leave 5 minutes early.

The school cafeteria is pretty good and the food is reasonably priced; there, we can get hot udon or soba noodles, or a white sesame ramen.  My colleague Graham, a Brit, told me he tells the cafeteria servers to give him “squashy soup,” which means a lot of noodles but only a little broth. Later, I was informed by a Japanese friend, it should be “skoshi” soup.  When I went to lunch with my Irish colleague Dee one day, she forgot what she was supposed to say and she said “squishy soup, please.”  I got a big laugh out of that.

Dee told a story of hanging her laundry out to dry on her balcony.  One of her shirts fell off the balcony behind a wall.  A young Japanese man brought it back to her on a hanger all washed and ironed; he had found it and cleaned it because it had gotten dirty when it fell.  This is typical of kindnesses offered by the Japanese.

Friday, April 21: Today’s class was on counterarguments and rebuttals.  I nominated a student to do a role play with me at the front of the class.  The student was to play a teenager who asks his mother to borrow her car to drive to Nagano with 3 friends.  The teen just got his driver’s license 6 months ago and has driven 10 times with no problems.

In class “I,” what I call my rambunctious class, one boy student, Daigo, got up to play the teenager.  Here is the role play we had.

  • Daigo: Can I borrow the car to drive to Nagano?
  • Me: Who are you going with?
  • Daigo: My friend’s mother.
  • Me: Just you and her, alone?
  • Daigo: Yes.
  • Me: It’s not appropriate for you to go alone with your friend’s mother. She’s twice your age!
  • Daigo: But I’m in love with her.
  • Me:  She’s married!  You cannot borrow the car and you cannot go with her.
  • Daigo: But I want to go.  Her husband works and she’s lonely.  I love her!

The class was cracking up laughing at this ridiculous role play, and I was laughing right along with them. It was quite funny, but I’m not sure they got the whole idea that this was a counter argument and rebuttal, because later, when they had to write a thesis statement with a counter argument and rebuttal, their rebuttals were actually more counterarguments against the original thesis!

Another student in class “I” fell asleep in class.  I stood over him and said, “Wake up.  If you don’t wake up, I’m going to count you absent. If you’re going to sleep, then you need to leave the class.”  Then Lisa behind him fell asleep!  Ugh.  I hate these kinds of problems!

Saturday, April 22:  Today I went shopping in Machida, a busy commercial area two stops away from Fuchinobe. When I arrived, I bought a cinnamon waffle, which I’ve seen every time I’ve gone to Machida to change to the Odakyu Line. But there was nowhere to sit and eat it, and I remembered I learned that the Japanese think it rude to eat while walking.  I went to Starbucks and ordered a half a club sandwich just so I could sit down and eat my waffle!

I learned a few things while shopping in Japan.

  1. You have to take your shoes off before entering a dressing room, especially when there is carpet in there.
  2. You have to wear a hood over your head to protect tops from makeup or hair dirt or oil. The hood is made of a material similar to dryer sheets like Bounce. It’s a pain because the hood gets all caught up in the neck of the blouse when you pull it over your head, and it comes off anyway!

Monday, April 24: When I got home at around 7:30, after stopping at Gourmet City for some groceries, I realized that my company phone wasn’t in my purse.  I’ve heard we will be charged an exorbitant sum if we lose that phone, so, in a panic, after gobbling down some sushi and a few sips of beer, I hopped on my bicycle and rode at top speed to the university.  I knew I’d never be able to sleep at night without knowing if I’d simply left the phone in the office or permanently lost it.  Luckily, I found the phone sitting right on top of my desk.  Whew!

In April, I kept busy watching Frankie and Grace and Love on Netflix in my down time. I’ve also been plodding through The Color of Our Sky by Amita Trasi.

I hope you’ll tell me about your spring!  Since I’m so far behind on my cocktail hours, a May cocktail hour will follow shortly. 🙂

 

kamakura to kita-kamakura: temples, shrines & peonies {walking tour 23: part 1}   6 comments

Sunday, April 23: It’s a beautiful Sunday in Japan, so I’m off for a walk through the temples and shrines of historic Kamakura. After taking the metro from Fuchinobe to Yokohama, I switch lines to the Yokosuka Line and go six more stops to Kamakura.

On the Yokosuka line, I chat the whole time with a 20-year-old Japanese boy named Yuki (I thought that was a girl’s name; I’m always getting confused by which names are male and female in Japan!); he is on his way to a BBQ on Enoshima beach with his friends. His English is excellent, and he tells me he’s traveled to Spain, Italy and Australia.  I’ve already encountered so many internationally minded Japanese in my short time here.

Although Kamakura proper is today rather small, it is often described in history books as a former de facto capital of Japan; it was the seat of the Shogunate and of the Regency during the Kamakura period (1185-1333).  This period marks the governance by the Kamakura shogunate, officially established in 1192 by the first shogun, Minamoto no Yoritomo, and it is known for the emergence of the samurai, the warrior caste, and for the establishment of feudalism in Japan. When the shogunate was destroyed in 1333, imperial rule under Emperor Go-Daigo was reestablished for a short time (Wikipedia: Kamakura).

Kamakura was designated as a city on November 3, 1939.

When I walk out of Kamakura Station, I veer south to see one temple before I walk north along Wakamiya Oji, the grand walkway leading to the famous and imposing Tsurugaoka Hachiman-Gu.  I encounter a small shrine that isn’t on my official “Walking Tour 23: Kamakura and Hase” from Tokyo: 29 Walks in the World’s Most Exciting City. The shrine itself isn’t that photogenic, but the gardens and the ivy-covered buildings around it are striking against the blue sky.

This is the Daigyoji Temple.  Before the end of the Muromachi period (16th century), the chief priest of this temple, Priest Nitto, held a memorial service for the wife of Akiyama Kageyu, who had died in childbirth.  From that time, people come to worship the “Ubusume Deity,” the Goddess of Childbirth, said to protect women from suffering during childbirth.

view from temple

I find my way to Hongaku-ji Temple, built in 1436.  It sits on the site where the priest Nichiren lived after returning from exile in 1274.  He was exiled to the island of Sado in the Japan Sea for being against Zen Buddhism, which angered the pro-Zen Hojo regents, who ruled Japan from Kamakura. Later, they forgave him and allowed Nichiren to return to Kamakura.  Two centuries later, in 1407, a portion of this anti-establishment priest’s ashes were placed here, making the temple an important pilgrimage site for believers in the Nichiren sect of Buddhism.

Hongaku-ji Temple

sakura at Hongaku-ji Temple

The temple grounds also hold the grave of Masamune, a famed medieval swordsmith. Each year, the temple hosts a demonstration of sword making in Masamune’s honor, with the swordsmith decked out in the white robes of a Shinto priest.  Thus this ceremony with Shinto overtones, held on the grounds of a Buddhist temple, is a casual mixing of Japan’s two major faiths, reflecting Japanese flexibility when it comes to religious beliefs.

The ceremonial path of Wakamiya Oji is known as the Young Prince’s Way.  It was created in 1180 by Minamoto Yoritomo, the first Kamakura shogun, as an offering to the gods for the successful pregnancy of his wife, Masako.  Though the walkway starts at Yuigahama Beach, 1.4km south of Kamakura Station, I don’t start at the origin. Kamakura Station, where I get off, is near the first red torii.  From the sea to the first red torii, Wakamiya Oji is a commercial roadway; after the torii, the road narrows and splits, and is laid out on either side of a raised promenade.

The long promenade from the sea and the vermillion shrine of Tsurugaoka Hachiman-Gu sitting on the green hillside at the end were meant to impress any visitors to the shogun’s government of the 13th and 14th centuries.

At the red torii where the raised promenade begins, two stone koma-inu (Korean lion-dogs) stand fiercely to prevent evil from encroaching on the path.

koma-inu and vermillion torii at Wakamiya Oji

It just so happens that I find a gaggle of Western girls dressed in kimono taking turns posing in front of the first red torii.

white girls in kimono at Wakamiya Oji

vermillion torii at Wakamiya Oji

As I stroll down the promenade, I get a glimpse of Tsurugaoka Hachiman-Gu at the end.

Wakamiya Oji

As I pass through the second vermillion torii, I come to the extremely steep half-moon Taiko-bashi bridge at Gempei Ponds.  The bridge is closed off, but it is said that success in crossing this bridge assures that a wish will be granted.

the Taiko-bashi bridge at Gempei Ponds

There are two ponds, one on either side of the Taiko-bashi bridge, but I only visit the one to the right (east). There’s a lot of complicated history about the two ponds and their symbolism in history, which you can read about here. As soon as I begin to walk around the right hand pond, the Genji-kie, the pond of the victorious Minamoto clan of Yoritomo, I am stopped and required to pay an admission fee of 500 yen.  I find, much to my surprise, that the peonies are in bloom here, and because of that, a fee must be paid.  This is a pleasant surprise as I’ve always been partial to peonies, and these are particularly charming because of the iconic Japanese umbrellas shading the flowers from the sun.

Genji-ike, or Genji Pond

Genji-ike, or Genji Pond

It’s truly peony heaven on the shores of this Kamakura pond.

Peony heaven

azaleas

white peony

umbrellas for the peonies

charming umbrellas

umbrellas and pergolas

pink peony

The island on the right holds a shrine to the Shinto deity Benten.  It’s pretty because of all the white banners and the wisteria on the pergola near the shrine.

wishes at the shrine to the Shinto deity Benten

wisteria and shrine to the Shinto deity Benten

ema at the shrine

shrine to the Shinto deity Benten

white flags

white wisteria

After walking the perimeter of the pond, I am ready to visit the famous Tsurugaoka Hachiman-Gu, but before reaching the 61-steps leading to it, I stop to admire the wall-less, roofed Shimo Haiden, the Lower Shrine Prayer Hall, which looks much like a stage. Here, Minamoto Yoritomo, who violently hated his younger and more popular brother, Yoshitsune, forced his brother’s pregnant mistress to dance in hopes she would have a miscarriage. Shizuka Gozen, the brother’s mistress, sang of her love for Yoshitsune in defiance of Yoritomo; he was enraged and would have killed Shizuka if his wife, Masako, hadn’t prevented him from doing so. When Shizuka eventually gave birth to a son, he was immediately put to death at Yoritomo’s order.

Shimo Haiden

Shimo Haiden

Shimo Haiden

small shrine

By happenstance, I cross paths with a bride and groom walking south from the staircase.

wedding procession

wedding in progress

scholarly type

Common at every Shinto shrine are wooden sake barrels, known as sakedaru, wrapped in straw blankets and stacked and bounded together by rope on a wooden frame.  Such barrels, which are actually empty, are called kazaridaru, which means “decoration barrels.”  Shinto shrines and sake manufacturers maintain a symbiotic relationship in which the shrines conduct rites to ask the gods for the prosperity of the brewers, and the brewers donate the sake that shrines need for ceremonies and festivals.

The Japanese believe that sake acts as a symbolic unification of Gods and people, according to The Japan Times: Sake barrels at shrines.

sake barrels, or kazaridaru  (decoration barrels)

sake barrels

Finally, I reach the staircase, but before climbing, I admire the huge ginkgo tree that was supposedly planted 1,000 years ago; it blew down in 2010.  There is an intriguing story about the tree and the blood vengeance so common during that period: here the 3rd Minamoto shogun, Sanetomo, was assassinated by his nephew, Kugyo, who had hidden himself behind the tree. Thus, it is also called Hiding Ginkgo.

61 steps to Tsurugaoka Hachiman-Gu

Ema at Tsurugaoka Hachiman-Gu

the ginkgo tree that was

Finally, I climb the steps to Tsurugaoka Hachiman-Gu, the Hachiman shrine to the deity of the city of Kamakura.  When founded in 1063, it sat beside the sea, and honored the Shinto god of war.  The shrine to Hachiman also celebrates both the Emperor Ojin, who is said to have reigned from 270-319, and his mother, the Empress Jingu.  A long and complicated history is attached to this shrine, which you can read about here.

Tsurugaoka Hachiman-Gu

At the top of the steps I take a picture of the shrine from the center point, but I’m admonished by the guard that I’m only allowed to take pictures from the side.

Tsurugaoka Hachiman-Gu

I always love to inspect the ema I find at each shrine.  Each has its own colorful character.

Ema at Tsurugaoka Hachiman-Gu

Tsurugaoka Hachiman-Gu

Tsurugaoka Hachiman-Gu

After leaving Tsurugaoka Hachiman-Gu, I climb steps up a small hill through a tunnel of torii gates to the Maruyama Inari Shrine, dedicated to the Shinto deity of commerce; it attracts worshipers desiring success in business affairs.

Maruyama Inari Shrine

Maruyama Inari Shrine

torii at Maruyama Inari Shrine

Maruyama Inari Shrine

Walking back past the staircase, I head east to visit several shrines a little more off the beaten track.  Before I do, I pass this shrine, but I don’t know what it is.

Shrine near Tsurugaoka Hachiman-Gu

Near the shrine is a chōzuya or temizuya, a Shinto water ablution pavilion for a ceremonial purification rite known as temizu.  These are used by worshippers for washing their left hands, right hands, mouth and finally the handle of the water ladle to purify themselves before approaching the main Shinto shrine. This symbolic purification is normal before worship and all manned shrines have this facility, as well as many Buddhist temples and some new religious houses of worship. The temizuya is usually an open area where clear water fills one or various stone basins. Wooden dippers are usually available to worshippers. (Wikipedia: Chōzuya)

a purification fountain

leaving the shrine area for Yabusame-baba

I leave the shrine complex to follow the path down Yabusame-baba, through cozy Japanese neighborhoods, toward the grave of Yoritomo.

yokohama: points north {walking tour 20: part 2)   19 comments

Saturday, April 15:  Heading inland from Yamashita Park, I come to Port Opening Square, which commemorates the the 1854 treaty between the U.S. and Japan at what was at that time a small village on Yokohama Bay.  The square has fountains, flowers and trees and a memorial to U.S.-Japanese Friendship.

Monument to U.S. – Japanese Friendship

Monument to U.S. – Japanese Friendship

Yokohama Kaigan Kyokai, on the border of Port Opening Square, was founded on March 10, 1872, as the first Protestant church for the Japanese in this country.

Yokohama Kaigan Kyokai

Continuing inland on Minato-odori, I pass the Yokohama Archives of History, established on June 2, 1981, at the historic site where Japan and the U.S. signed the Treaty of Kanagawa in 1854; it exhibits historical materials from the Edo period to the Taisho-Showa era.

Yokohama Archives of History

All along Kaigan-dori, I find miniature garden dioramas under the auspices of the “Spring Flower Festa.”  I can’t read any of the Japanese, so I can’t tell what each one represents.

Kanagawa Prefectural Office (The King) is one of the Three Towers, a group of historical towers at the Port of Yokohama. They have been given the nicknames The King, The Queen and The Jack.

Kanagawa Prefectural Office

As I approach Yokohama Park, I hear crowds roaring and yelling before I can even see the Stadium, which opened in 1978, holds 30,000 people, and is used primarily for baseball. It’s noisy and I don’t really feel like walking through the park with that stadium in it.  By this time my legs are killing me, so when I find a Starbucks on the corner across from the park, I sit at the window bar and enjoy a slice of orange cake and a peach smoothie drink.  After a bit of a rest, I am greeted by some pretty tulips dancing in the wind on the border of the park.

tulips at Yokohama Park

tulips at Yokohama Park

tulips at Yokohama Park

After leaving Yokohama Park, I walk parallel to the harbor (quite far inland) for several blocks, and then turn toward the harbor again on Basha-michi.  This is a very long stretch, with the road eventually turning into Bankokubashi-dori, and I wonder if I’ll ever get back to the harbor.  Finally, after what seems an eternity, I reach Shinko Pier, and my book of trusty walks informs me I’ve “left the first part of the tour, which covers the old center of Yokohama, the Kannai (Inside the Checkpoint) sector, in which foreigners were at first restricted to this transplanted foreign community within Japan” (Tokyo: 29 Walks in the World’s Most Exciting City).

At the western end of Shinko Pier is the huge steel Ferris wheel I spotted from as far away as the south end of Yamashita Park.  It’s part of the Yokohama Cosmo World Amusement Park; the wheel takes 15 minutes to complete a full circle.

Ferris Wheel at Yokohama Cosmo World Amusement Park

Yokohama’s Ferris Wheel

Past Cosmo World, I cross a bridge and can immediately see the 32-floor sail-shaped Yokohama Grand Intercontinental Hotel.  Between the Ferris wheel and the hotel, Yokohama’s skyline is whimsical and welcoming.

The Yokohama Grand Intercontinental Hotel

Waterway around Shinko Pier

a children’s area, which seems to be part of Cosmo World, is at the base of Yokohama’s Queen’s Square

I make my way through the National Convention Hall complex, a sprawling building of no particular interest, to Seaside Park (Rinko Park), which looks out over Yokohama Harbor from the north side.  At this point, I’ve seen Yokohama Harbor from south to north. Beside the Convention Hall is the Yokohama Grand Intercontinental.  Rinko Park is a little scruffy and has just a smattering of folks sitting on the concrete steps lining the harbor side walkway or picnicking on the grass.

Yokohama Grand Intercontinental

From here, I get a good view of the 1989 Yokohama Bay Bridge, a suspension bridge that extends 860 metres (2,821 feet) from shore to shore.

View of Yokohama Bay Bridge from Rinko Park

view north from Rinko Park

I leave the rather unimpressive Rinko Park and head inland, passing the Convention Hall to my left and walking several blocks past modern but characterless apartment buildings.

walking inland north of the National Convention Hall

residences?

I reach the inviting wide pedestrian walkway, with fountains and sculptures, bordered by the Yokohama Museum of Art and Landmark Tower on one side, and a huge modern shopping complex on the other.

Landmark Tower at the Minato Mirai 21 Complex

I don’t have time to visit the Yokohama Museum of Art today, but at least I know where it is for a rainy day.  This 1989 museum is the second largest art museum in Japan.  Its permanent collection includes paintings by Cezanne, Magritte, Dali, and Japanese artists, as well as paintings related to Yokohama. It was designed by Kenzō Tange, a Japanese architect, and winner of the 1987 Pritzker Prize for architecture.

Landmark Tower and the Yokohama Museum of Art

Yokohama Museum of Art

The 70-story Landmark Tower is supposedly Yokohama’s best known sight.  Designed by American architect Hugh Stebbins, it has a 5-story-high central atrium, with offices and the Royal Park Hotel above.  Over 200 shops and restaurants are also inside.

sculptural detail and Landmark Tower

Landmark Tower

Fancy sculpture at Landmark Tower

I continue my walk through this huge complex, with a glimpse of the Ferris wheel from a different angle.

The Ferris Wheel from the Landmark Tower side

I pass the Nippon Maru training ship docked in an 1896 ships’ basin of stone.  Built in 1930, the Nippon Maru was a sailing vessel used to train naval students.  It circled the globe 46 times before it was decommissioned in 1984.

Nippon Maru training ship

Nippon Maru training ship

Hard Rock Cafe

After passing the Hard Rock Cafe, I realize I need to walk through Landmark Tower to get to Sakuragicho Station. At the basement level, I walk past shops and restaurants and bakeries until I finally emerge on the other side, on a pedestrian walkway over the Metropolitan Expressway K1 Yokohama Route.

Yokohama overpass

My plan is to cross through Sakuragicho Station (two stops  northwest of where I got off this morning) to continue the rest of the walk to Kangai (Beyond the Checkpoint), which is the original area for Japanese citizens when Yokohama was founded.

view heading toward Sakuragicho Station

As I cross into this area, I can see remnants of the old Yokohama, with its food stalls and red lanterns.  If I continue the walk, I should see two parks, a temple, a shrine, and shopping areas.  I walk for almost one kilometer, but it’s getting darker bit by bit, and I keep thinking I should get back on metro and go two stops south to where I started the walk, at Ishikawacho Station near Chinatown.  After all, I did promise the shopkeeper at Amina Collection that I’d return to buy a few things. 🙂

Noge District

I’m getting awfully tired by this time, and have walked 20,000+ steps, or over 9 miles.  This part of town looks confusing, as it’s not laid out on a grid pattern like the more modern part of Yokohama. To be honest, I have no idea which direction I should go to find the Nogeyama Fudoson Temple, the first place on my walk, and  I’m too tired to figure it out.  I decide instead to cut this part of the walk short.  After all, I can easily continue another day, as I live less than an hour from Yokohama.

Noge District

Noge District

I return to Amina Collection at Chinatown (how I have the energy for this, I have no idea, but when shopping calls, I must listen!), where I buy a blue kimono jacket with orange flowers, a lavender blouse with aqua embroidery on the sleeves, and a royal blue cotton top with bell sleeves.  The two tops are “one size fits all” and are rather billowy.  The shopkeeper, the same thin hippie-ish Japanese girl with the turban and the maize-colored skirt, is still there, and she helps me with the purchase.  She can speak and understand English, so she talks nonstop.  However, her pronunciation is so abysmal that I can only decipher a few words here and there.  She’s very nice and encourages me to go to the tax-free office to get reimbursed for the tax I paid, but it’s in the opposite direction to metro, and I am just too exhausted to bother.

I take the train back to Sakuragicho Station, where I have to change to the JR Yokohama green line.  I’m not positive I’m on the right train when I get on, so I ask a man sitting directly across from me: “Machida?”  There are two lines at that station, one to Tokyo and one in the direction of Machida; this one is nearly empty and we sit at the station for quite a while as the train originates here.  The man across from me, who introduces himself as Kaz, can speak English very well, and he asks me where I’m from and what I am doing in Japan.  Since he is speaking across the train to me, he asks if he can come sit next to me. He is all dressed in proper business attire; white shirt, tie, black suit; he informs me he has spent the day at the National Convention Hall at a medical products convention.  I tell him I had walked past the convention hall earlier in my walk and I show him the map of today’s walk; I admit I’m exhausted as I walked about 10 miles.  He says he sells medical imaging technology and tells me about technologies at the conference such as cryo-ablation (freezing of tumors) and RFA (Radio Frequency Ablation, or burning of tumors).  He says both treatments result in the tumor dissolving, due to the normal body temperature and the treatment.  We talk the entire time back to Fuchinobe, about all kinds of things.  He sheepishly tells me at one point, with exasperation but humor, that talking to me all this time has exhausted him; he’s not used to thinking and speaking so much in English, although he seems quite natural at it.  He has clients all over the world in many Western and Asian countries, so he is actually used to speaking in English.

We both admit when we part ways that the 1-hour train ride back from Yokohama seemed much shorter because of our conversation; I know has been enjoyable for both of us.

When I finally arrive back to Fuchinobe, I grab a bite to eat at a basement restaurant that serves sushi and beer and chicken grilled on sticks, and then I ride by bicycle home, exhausted and yet exhilarated by the entire day’s adventure. 🙂

Total steps today: 23,784 (10.08 miles).

 

 

yokohama: chinatown and yamashita park {walking tour 20: part 1}   23 comments

Saturday, April 15:  This morning, I head for Yokohama at around 10 a.m., taking the JR Yokohama Green Line to Sakuragicho Station, then changing to the Negishi Line for Ishikawacho Station. When I ride my bike to park at Fuchinobe Station, I find an attendant there charging 100 yen to park: I guess it’s only free on Sundays.  Oh well, 100 yen is hardly going to bankrupt me.

It is easy to find the beginning of Walking Tour 20 (Tokyo: 29 Walks in the World’s Most Exciting City) at Chinatown’s Nishimon-dori (West Gate Street), as it’s right outside the station and there are signs pointing the direction.  The 11:15 start to my walk is later than I intended.  Little do I know I’ll end up walking over 10 miles today, from the south of Yokohama to the north, all along Yokohama Bay and in and out on a circuitous route through the city streets.

The West Gate of Chinatown

Yokohama’s Chinatown, or Chūkagai, is the largest of three Chinatowns in Japan, followed by Nagasaki and Kobe.  It was set aside by the Japanese government in 1863 and now has about 3-4,000 residents, mostly descendants of Chinese from Guangzhou who came as servants of Western merchants or as traders.  Some acted as treasurers to Western firms, while others came as craftsmen who could make clothing and other essentials needed by foreigners. When war broke out between China and Japan in 1937, the growth of Chinatown came to a standstill, but it started thriving again in 1955, when a large goodwill gate was built and Chinatown was officially recognized by Japan.

Yokohama’s Chinatown

Almost immediately, I’m enticed into a three-story shop called Amina Collection.  It has cute clothing, accessories and home decor mainly imported from India and Nepal.  Why it’s in Chinatown, I don’t know; the shopkeeper, who has her hair wrapped in a large turban and wears a maize-colored flowing skirt, tells me her corporation owns many similar shops in Japan.  What I really love are the incense aromas and the whimsical and enchanting music piped in through the shop.  I ask the shopkeeper if they sell the CD with the music playlist, but unfortunately for me, she says the owner downloaded the playlist to an MP3.  I also find some cute tops and kimono toppers (the kind of kimono cover-ups sold in America, not traditional Japanese kimono).  Since I’m just starting my walk and don’t want to buy anything yet, I tell the shopkeeper I’ll return later.  At this time, I think the walk will bring me full circle back to Ishikawacho Station, where I can easily return to shop before heading home.

 

I continue into Chinatown, overwhelmed by crimson and yellow signs, fierce dragons twisting and turning on buildings and signs, shops with Chinese lanterns and masks, huge restaurant boards with pictures of enticing dishes, and touts in front of each restaurant beckoning tourists in.  It is getting to be lunchtime, but my stomach takes a turn at the thought of eating Chinese food.  When I was in China, I was sick almost constantly from the food, but I think maybe in Japan the Chinese food will be fine.  After all, the Chinese restauranteurs must cook to Japanese tastes, just like they cook to American tastes in the USA.

North Gate

Restaurant in Chinatown

 

Though the large multi-ingredient dishes look mouth-watering, I figure maybe I can stick to something like steamed dumplings that aren’t cooked in oil. My hunger gets the best of me, and I drop into a tiny joint where I order three shrimp steamed dumplings with a Pepsi.  It costs nearly $10 for that tiny meal, which is meant to sustain me all day.  After I leave the restaurant, my stomach immediately cramps up and I wonder if it’s because of the food or just my fear of eating Chinese again.

Those stomach cramps are to stay with me the rest of the day, yet I end up walking over 10 miles. 🙂

Yokohama’s Chinatown

a pagoda in Chinatown

East Gate

After lunch, I’m in search of the Kantei-Byo.  The original temple, known as the Kuan-Ti Mao Temple, suffered many disasters.  It was built in 1887, destroyed by the 1923 Great Kanto earthquake, and suffered damages during the 1945 Allies air attack. In 1981, it was struck by lighting and caught fire. It burned down again in 1987, and finally, was reconstructed in 1990 as Kantei-Byo despite the political differences of the Taiwan and Beijing Chinese.

According to Japan Travel, Kantei-Byo is dedicated to the famous Chinese warrior “Kanwu,” who excelled in the areas of power, courage, justice, and loyalty, as well as business. For all these reasons, the people of Chinatown follow Kanwu as their “God of Business.”  However, another source, my book Tokyo: 29 Walks in the World’s Most Exciting City, says the new shrine is dedicated to Sangokushi; to him, the Chinese can pray for good fortune and good business.  Oh well, whomever a person prays too, he’s sure to be successful in business. 🙂

I finally find the temple, with a huge Coke Zero truck parked in front.  The light doesn’t favor this view, so I go immediately into the temple courtyard.

Kantei-Byo

Kantei-Byo

Two golden dragons greet me on the wall of the temple.

Dragons at Kantei-Byo

I love the wonderful details under the eaves of Chinese temples.

Kantei-Byo

The visitors to the temple light incense sticks and bow and pray to the gods within.

incense burner at Kantei-Byo

Here’s the view from the temple to the outside gate. Much better than the outside-to-inside shot with the Coke Zero truck.

Kantei-Byo

I find colorful and intricate architectural details and relief carvings under the temple’s eaves.

 

Inside the temple is gorgeous, but they want 100 yen to go inside and I’m not allowed to take pictures.  If I were allowed to take pictures, I’d gladly pay the entrance fee, but as I can see the altar from outside, that’s enough for me.

Kantei-Byo

incense at Kantei-Byo

Kantei-Byo

Just outside the temple, I find another in the line of Amina shops and I go inside to try on more cute tops. The two salesgirls look so cute, I can’t help but try on tops in the shop that are similar.  They look terrible on me, sadly.  I guess when you’re super tiny, you can get away with wearing anything!

Outside the shop, I encounter these two characters, one of them next to a wide-mouth panda entrance.

a cool character near the East Gate

creature with wide-mouthed panda

Another Chinatown gate

Finally, I make my way out of Chinatown and head to the waterfront.  First, I encounter the memorial commemorating the Reverend James Curtis Hepburn, a medical Protestant missionary who created the first Japanese-English dictionary in 1867 and Romanized the Japanese characters.  He often treated Japanese and Chinese patients for free in his house if they couldn’t afford payment.  The memorial marks his and his wife’s work from 1859-1892.

Hepburn Memorial Marker

The south end of Yamashita Park extends 2/3 mile from the Yamashita Pier to the Osanbashi Pier.  To cover the flood control pumping station at the south end, a raised platform has an ornamental water cascade that extends from the upper level to street level.

south end of Yamashita Park

 

At street level, the ornamental water cascade ends in a pretty pool.

ornamental water cascade at Yamashita Park

From Yamashita Park, I can see Yokohama Harbor.  Today is the perfect day for a walk, with temperatures in the high 60s and a brisk wind.  How I love windy days when the temperature is right.

view of Yokohama Harbor from Yamashita Park

Looking inland, I can see the buildings fronting the park. The Marine Tower was belatedly constructed in 1961 to celebrate the 100-year anniversary of Yokohama’s founding in 1859.  There is an observation deck at the 100-meter level, but I don’t go up today.  At 106 meters is a lighthouse lamp visible over the bay for 24 miles; it is the biggest inland lighthouse in the world.

Marine Tower

General MacArthur stayed at the Hotel New Grand on the evening of August 30, 1945 to begin his stint as the commander of the occupying American forces in Japan.  Also from the hotel, he boarded the USS Missouri battleship on September 2, 1945 to accept the Japanese surrender, thus ending World War II.

Hotel New Grand

A fancy rose and flower garden in the park invites a stroll.

gardens at Yamashita Park

Along the harborside walkway, I can see the north part of Yokohama.

view of northern Yokohama and Yokohama Harbor

Off a small pier south of Osanbashi Pier, the Hikawa-maru, a luxury ocean liner built in Yokohama in 1930 is permanently moored.  It made 238 crossings between Japan and the U.S. West Coast from 1930-1960.  It is now retired from service.

The Hikawa-Maru

Yamashita Park and the Hotel New Grand

The Guardian of the Waters statue was a gift from sister city San Diego to Yokohama and its people.

Guardian of the Waters

Guardian of the Waters

YOKOHAMA 2017

tulip mania at Yamashita Park

tulips at Yamashita Park

Looking south along the waterside walkway, I can see the 1989 Yokohama Bay Bridge.

Yokohama Bay Bridge and view of the North Dock

a ship in port

As I approach the north end of Yamashita Park, I have a better view of Yokohama with its iconic Ferris wheel.

looking to the north

The Osanbashi Pier is at the north end of Yamashita Park.  From here, I’ll be heading inland.

Osanbashi Pier

Here are a few notes on how I get to places in the Tokyo area without access to GPS:

Westgate provides teachers with a phone, but we’re only allowed to use it to make calls to a pre-programmed list of numbers.  We are not allowed to use it to call anyone who is not programmed into the phone.  We can accept calls, but we can’t make them.  Besides, it is an old-fashioned flip-phone and not a smart phone with fancy features like GPS.

I have my iPhone from the U.S., but so far I haven’t had the need to get a pre-paid SIM card for my phone.  As long as I have access to wi-fi, at home and at work, I can use the phone for data or messaging.  I was advised that I can Google directions to a destination by just entering in the beginning station (in my case Fuchinobe) and the end station, and I can get directions as to when to switch trains, how many stops between stations, etc.  I can even get a timetable.

The problem of course is that I don’t get GPS when I’m out and about.  My phone is worthless at these times.  So, before leaving my house, I look up the information and take screen shots of the train route.  Below is a version of how I made today’s trip.  I have another screen shot that expands the 12 stops so I can know exactly which stops I’ll be passing, so I can be on the lookout for my particular stop. So far this method is working pretty well for me. 🙂

 

my metro directions screen-shot from Google Maps

 

aoyama gakuin university   5 comments

Wednesday, April 12: I’ve almost finished my first full week of teaching with Westgate Corporation at Aoyama Gakuin University Sagamihara Campus.  My employer is actually Westgate, and they hire us out to the university.  The university’s program is a two-year program within the School of Global Studies and Collaboration; I teach second year students who will be going on a study abroad in the fall semester to either Malaysia or Thailand.  We’re supposed to help them improve their English skills for their study abroad program; this program is meant to enhance their understanding of different cultures.

Here are some pictures of the campus.

Aoyama Gakuin University Sagimahara Campus

According to the university website, the university was founded in 1949, offering an education in line with “the founding spirit” based on the Christian faith. The aim is to nurture individuals with a strong sense of social responsibility and morality to contribute to ever-changing society. The university is also strongly committed to language education and international exchange to promote international understanding.

Aoyama Gakuin University Sagimahara Campus

Though the university was founded by the Methodist Episcopal Church, and there is a chapel on campus, neither students nor faculty are actually required to be of the Christian faith.  However, we can hear church music and bells on campus, and students have a special chapel time set aside each day.

the chapel on campus

Our teacher office is in the building on the right in the photo below, and the huge cafeteria is on the left.  Bento boxes are offered by kiosks, prepared meals are sold in the 7-11 on-site, and hot meals are sold in the sprawling cafeteria.  There are displays of the food, and machines that list the price and the dish in Japanese (machines on one wall name them in English, thank goodness).  You push a button on the machine, put in your Yen, and then collect a ticket.  At the back, you take your ticket to one of the serving stations depending on what you ordered: a station for udon, ramen, soba, fish or chicken dinner, etc.  You then stand in line, hand your ticket to the ladies behind the counter, and they serve you up!

Aoyama Gakuin University Sagimahara Campus

the chapel

the chapel

the chapel

I have three classes of 18-20 students, 56 students altogether.  I teach all three classes for 90 minutes each on Monday, Thursday and Friday; on Tuesday and Wednesday, the three classes are spread out over two days, giving us some planning time.  I plan four classes a week (repeating the lesson for each of my three classes).  I work 9:30-6;30 on M-W-F and 8:40-5:40 on Tu-Th.

If it seems confusing, you’re right, it is.  I have to keep referring to my schedule to see when I work and where I go to teach and which classes I have.  But, that is always the nature of teaching.

So far my students are a pleasure and seem eager to improve their English for their upcoming study abroad.

notes from my sagamihara neighborhood   8 comments

Wednesday, April 12:  I live in a small apartment owned by Leopalace in Sagamihara, Kanagawa Prefecture; my building is a 20-minute walk from the Fuchinobe metro stop on the JR Yokohama Line and a 30-minute walk from the university where I teach 9 hours/day Monday-Friday.

In our small parking lot, we have one of Japan’s ubiquitous vending machines.  These vending machines can be found on corners throughout Japanese neighborhoods every couple of blocks or so.  On the bottom row, where you see red labels, are the hot coffees in cans. The top two rows offer cold coffees in cans, soft drinks, juices, and flavored waters.  During my first two weeks, I often ran out to the vending machine in the mornings to get a coffee. But it was a pain because I wasn’t sure it would be acceptable to go outside in my pajamas.  I dutifully got dressed, went outside to get the coffee, then put my pajamas back on.  After all, who doesn’t like to drink coffee in their pajamas? 🙂

the vending machine in the parking lot of my Leopalace apartment

I’ve been now experimenting with various coffee options since we don’t have any kind of coffee-maker or kettle in our apartments.  First, I found small cup-sized paper filters (cone-shaped with flat bottoms) in the supermarket.  Then I bought some coffee grounds with pictures on the package showing the coffee grounds placed in the filter in the cup and hot water being poured over the grounds.  That didn’t work too well, because as soon as I poured the water into the filter, the filter, weighed down by the water and the grounds, sank to the bottom of the cup, making for a murky, ground-filled cup of coffee.  That certainly wasn’t a good option.

Next, I bought a small jar of instant coffee.  I drank instant coffee constantly in China, Korea and Oman, so I’m used to it.  However, for some reason, the instant coffee grounds didn’t totally dissolve.  It’s Nescafé and the grounds are finer than the other grounds I bought, but since the jar’s contents are written in Japanese, I’m not sure it is instant coffee.

Recently, one of my colleagues told me he uses this cone-like filter with a cardboard contraption that fits around the top of the filter, suspending the filter at the top of the cup as you pour hot water into it.  Each filter is pre-filled with just the right amount of coffee.  Wouldn’t you know the Japanese would invent a genius contraption like this. 🙂

the coffee contraption

I love living in a new culture because even the most mundane things, like figuring out how to drink coffee, are adventures.  Everyday life is far from monotonous.

Below is the view of my top floor corner apartment, #201, from the vending machine.

My apartment is the top corner one on the right from this vantage point, which is on the other side of the building.

Mine is top right. 🙂

I love my Japanese neighborhood.  The houses are compact with tiny carports or little garages housing colorful compact carts. Many neighbors have created beautiful gardens in their postage stamp-sized yards; some of these container gardens spill out into the street, giving pleasure to passers-by.

a house with a garden

another home garden

flowers with umbrella

I am surprised to find a few brightly colored houses interspersed with the brown, gray and white ones.

house decked out in pink

The trees in people’s yards are often either trained into bonsai shapes or trimmed into ovals, cylinders or balls.

another Japanese house

This is one of my long stretches on my walk into town.

the long walk home

Here’s another long stretch.

the long walk continues

Closer to town, I find some cute little bakeries and cafes.  I haven’t yet tried them out, but I will do so soon.

Last Tuesday at this spot, I heard three fighter jets roaring overhead and of course the first thing I thought of was North Korea.  I couldn’t find anything special in the news about N.K. though.

some cute shops close to town

One of the stores in town is a Beauty store, and inside are personal care items like lotions, shampoos, and toothpaste. I went in one day with a specific list: nail polish remover, hand lotion, body lotion, conditioner. I stood staring at the shelves for a long time, unable to figure out which item was body lotion vs. body wash, which was conditioner vs. hair “milk,” and not seeing nail polish remover or anything like it.  Unable to communicate with the only person in the shop, a male cashier, I had to resort to putting each item into my translator; he patiently led me to each item in the shop and, voila, my trip was successful. 🙂

Back closer to my apartment, about 1 1/2 blocks away from home, is our friendly Seven & I Holdings: 7i – which of course, we simply call 7-11.  I didn’t know this but according to Wikipedia, Seven & I Holdings was established on September 1, 2005 as the parent company of the 7-Eleven Japan chain of convenience stores, the Ito-Yokado grocery and clothing stores, and the Denny’s Japan family restaurants. In November 2005, it completed the purchase of US-based 7-Eleven Inc.

So they are the same, and all owned by a Japanese company.  A 7-11 in Japan is much like Wawa in the U.S.  Every day the shelves are filled with freshly prepared boxed Japanese meals, arranged prettily in plastic containers.  You can get almost anything here.  Too many nights, I’ve eaten dinner picked right off these shelves, and they’ve been quite tasty.

our neighborhood 7-11

Here are a few other narrow streets in our neighborhood.

a neigborhood road

a bonsai garden

We even have some cherry blossoms blooming near this multi-story apartment building.

sakura in the neighborhood

more cherry blossoms

This past Saturday, when we had a break in the rain, I rode my bicycle to the Gourmet City supermarket to stock up on food for the week.  I rode a different route than I normally take and happened upon this cute vermillion shrine.  My shiny new blue bicycle is in front.

a cute little shrine and my trusty bicycle

the shrine up close

The two guardian dogs seemed quite friendly and didn’t snarl one bit.

I love this little shrine.

the tiny red shrine

From the vermillion shrine, I took a detour down a side road and found this exuberant garden.  From there, I kept going to a canal with a walking/biking path beside it, and I rode down that for a while, admiring the big houses on a small hill across the canal.

Cherry blossoms in the neighborhood

In route to the supermarket, I found this row of cherry blossoms in bloom.

sakura in samigahara

Gourmet City is a good-sized supermarket / 100 Yen store a couple of blocks off our route to the university.  I like it because it’s not like the huge multi-story “c-spot superstore.” I don’t enjoy shopping in those huge places that are similar to Wal-Mart or K-Mart.  Now that I’ve discovered Gourmet City, I think that’s where I’ll be doing my shopping.

Every encounter I have with Japanese salespeople is delightful and bewildering all at the same time.  At Gourmet City, I load up a small basket with groceries and place it on the conveyor belt.  The Japanese cashier says hello, followed by a string of other words that I can’t understand but sound sweet and friendly.  Meanwhile, I’m trying to pull up the simple word for hello, “Konichiwa,” but my brain is so slow that by the time I finally blurt it out, the woman has probably said “hello, how are you today, my children are Tomoko and Nene and they are talented at violin and piano, and I love to do flower arranging and my husband works for one of the big car manufacturers…”  My hello comes awkwardly late in the interaction.

In the meantime, she is running all my goods over the price reader, chattering the whole time as if it’s the most normal thing in the world that I should understand her.  When she finishes, she tells me the amount and I open my purse.  The total is 3,684 yen, so I pull out three 1,000 yen notes and then start digging in my change purse for the balance.  I can’t tell one coin from the other (10 yen coins look like US pennies and 100 yen coins are like nickels).  In my confusion, and noticing a line of people growing behind me, I hold out my chain purse to the cashier, and she digs around in there and pulls out the coins she needs.  I place my notes and she places my coins on a little tray (I finally figured out I am always supposed to put my money on a tray rather than handing the money to the cashier), and then she takes the money from the tray.  After that, I say “Arigato,” and she says “Arigato blah, blah, blah (a lot of other words)” and she bows to me and I bow to her.  We bow back and forth several times each, smiling away the whole time.  Then she hands me some plastic bags with my basket and directs me to a shelf where I see other people bagging their own groceries.  I bag my groceries and leave, loading up my bicycle with the bags, and ride speedily home.

I love all the bowing.  It sometimes goes on so many times I lose count.  I bow, they bow back, I bow again, they bow back.  Japanese interactions are one huge bow-fest!  This always makes me smile because it all seems so respectful, quirky and charming.

I’m enjoying my sprawling yet homey neighborhood with its: neat narrow streets; cute homes with flower and container gardens, rock features, and bonsai trees; compact cars squeezed into compact carports; cherry blossoms; tiny vermillion shrine; and trusty vending machines and 7-11.

I’m also getting used to the complicated trash and recyclable collection days: Monday and Thursday for burnables and non-burnables, Tuesday for plastic bottles, cans and containers, and Friday for cans.

This morning I left my house at 7:45; we start early on Tuesdays and Thursdays, so this was my first day to leave so early.  All along my route to school were Japanese schoolchildren walking in orderly lines to school, wearing colorful galoshes, carrying umbrellas with heart and flower patterns, and lugging huge mailbox-shaped backpacks on their backs.  Each line was led by an adult.  At first I was surprised, thinking they were going somewhere with their teachers, possibly on a little field trip during the early morning school hours, but it was definitely odd to be doing that at such an early hour.  I wondered who formed the lines and where they originated.  There were scores of lines converging from all directions, with maybe 10-15 students in each line; like ants on an anthill they scurried along with definite order and purpose.  I finally figured out that the lines served the purpose of school buses in the U.S.: one driver – a parent – driving (leading) the children to school, but without the bus.

This world can be so delightful sometimes. 🙂

 

the shinjuku skyscraper district and a vermillion shrine {walking tour 17: part 2}   20 comments

Sunday, April 9:  After leaving Shinjuku Gyoen and taking the metro back to Shinjuku Station, I walk out the west side of the station to see the Skyscraper District.  Shinjuku is the world’s busiest train station, handling over 3.6 million passengers a day. With over 200 exits and numerous platforms spread out over a large area, it serves as an essential transit hub for the Tokyo rail and subway network as well as rail links throughout the greater Kanto region.  Department stores cover nearly all sides, according to the Shinjuku Station website.

I’m so confused, I’m not really sure where to exit, but I just see a random west exit and emerge from the depths.  This is my view when I first exit.

the view west of Shinjuku Station

Below is one exit, but not the one from which I came. It’s still raining like the devil.

One of Shinjuku’s 200 exits

Rainy day in Shinjuku

It’s such a drab day, I have to stop to take a picture of a colorful florist.

One of my colleagues had on a cute outfit at work the other day and she said she bought it at Uni Qlo.  I find one here in Shinjuku, so of course I have to go in to explore.  Sadly, I come out empty-handed.

Shopping street in Shinjuku

JUMBO

I have a hard time getting oriented.  There are roads going out into all directions and walkways over the roads.  I wander around and it’s raining so hard, I can’t even get my map out to find my bearings.  I wander around randomly for a while until I find someplace to eat.

Shinjuku Sompo building

streets of Shinjuku

Paloma

Skyscraper District of Shinjuku

There are several restaurants around the area, including one conveyor belt sushi restaurant that is packed with people.  I decide on 3rd Burger.

I’m not too happy with my lunch, as the hamburger “with vegetables” is rather chewy.  However, it is a pleasant place to find relief from the rain and to study my map, rather than continue to wander around haphazardly.

Road construction in Shinjuku

The most noteworthy skyscraper I see first is the Sompo Japan Nipponkoa Head Office Building, corporate headquarters for Sompo Japan Insurance.  At 200 metres (656 ft), the building is the 28th tallest building in Tokyo and the 33rd tallest in Japan.  Inside this building is the Seiji Togo Memorial Sompo Japan Nipponkoa Museum of Art. It’s named for the Japanese artist who is known for his paintings of young women.  It sounds appealing, and I try to go in but sadly find it is closed today.  It would have been a great way to stay dry for an hour or two.

Sompo Japan Building

The 54-story Shinjuku Center Building has a free observation deck on its 53rd floor, but I don’t bother going up since I won’t be able to see anything anyway.  It serves as the headquarters of the Taisei Corporation and is the workplace for 10,000 people, with 25,000 visitors.  It was featured in the 1984 film, The Return of Godzilla.

Shinjuku Center Building

The most fabulous building in my eyes is the 50-story, 204-meter (669 feet), Mode Gakuen Cocoon Tower. The building is home to three educational institutions: Tokyo Mode Gakuen (fashion vocational school), HAL Tokyo (special technology and design college), and Shuto Ikō (medical college). Completed in October 2008, the tower is the second-tallest educational building in the world and is the 17th-tallest building in Tokyo.

Mode Gakuen Cocoon Tower

Shinjuku Sompo building

Shinjuku Center Building

Mode Gakuen Cocoon Tower

I’m surprised to find the LOVE sculpture that originates in Philadelphia.

LOVE at Shinjuku

While walking around in Shinjuku, a gust of wind catches my umbrella and turns it inside out, breaking one of the ribs.  One of the metal pieces is sticking out dangerously, and I can’t help but think it might poke my eye out. As I head to the Family Mart to buy a new one, it stops raining. I put my umbrella in the umbrella stand and go inside the Family Mart to check out what’s available.  Since I already spent an outrageous sum of 2,800 yen (~$26) to buy my umbrella at Tokyu Hands, I’m not keen to spend another 1,280 (~$12) today if I no longer need to.  I only brought a certain amount of money to hold me until pay-day on April 26, and I need to make my money last. I forego the new umbrella and leave my broken one in the rack.  I would have just trashed it, but as Tokyo has such strict rules about what you can put in the trash, I wasn’t sure of how to dispose of it.

Shinjuku

karaoke at Shinjuku

Shinjuku

Busy crossing at Shinjuku

I return to Shinjuku Station to walk over to the east side of the station.  As soon as I exit the station on the east side, two nice Japanese ladies standing near an information area ask me where I’m going.  I tell them I’m in search of Hanazono Shrine. They kindly direct me, and as I make my way there, it starts to rain again.  It’s a light drizzle at first, so I think I might be okay.

eastern portion of Shinjuku

Shopping street east of Shinjuku Station

However, as soon as I get to the Hanazono-jinja Shrine, it starts to pour.  I’m going to get drenched without an umbrella.  I remember seeing another Family Mart near the shrine, so I backtrack and buy the 1,280 yen umbrella, which is much sturdier than my expensive Tokyu Hands one.  I walk back to the shrine, still brilliantly vermillion even in the rain.  It houses the guardian deity of Shinjuku.

Hanazono Shrine

Hanazono-jinji Shrine dates back to before the founding of the city of Edo, the former name of Tokyo and seat of power for the Tokugawa shogunate,which ruled Japan from 1603 to 1868.  The shrine sits on the site of a garden that belonged to the Hanazono branch of the Tokugawa clan, which is why the name of this Inari Shrine is also that of a daimyō family; these were powerful Japanese feudal lords who, until their decline in the early Meiji period, ruled most of Japan from their vast, hereditary land holdings.  Inari is responsible for many things, one of which is the welfare of merchants.  This leads many local shopkeepers to pray here for financial success.

Hanazono Shrine

Hanazono Shrine

Hanazono Shrine

vermillion torii at Hanazono Shrine

Hanazono Shrine

large torii gate at the entrance to Hanazono Shrine

It’s feeling pretty desolate here at Hanazono, as even the vendors from the Sunday flea market are almost packed up. It’s 3:00 p.m. now, and I am tired of the day and of the rain, so I head back to Shinjuku Station to make my way home.  Before I descend, I see this colorfully painted metal utility box.  It makes me smile before I weave through the crowds at Shinjuku to get back on the train.

a utilitarian metal box turned to art

This time, I take the Rapid Express Odakyu line for Machida, and then to Fuchinobe, where I ride my bicycle home in the rain. Upon returning home, I enjoy a glass of wine and actually cook myself a meal of salmon with some prepared asparagus and a vegetable rice patty.  I’ve been watching the newest season of Grace & Frankie; soon after I settle in to watch, I drift off to sleep, exhausted from the day.

Steps on this walk: 19,560 (8.29 miles).  I didn’t do the entire walk today as I wasn’t that interested in all the skyscrapers and was feeling defeated by the rain. 😦

 

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