tokyo: harmonica yokocho & koishikawa korakuen gardens   2 comments

Saturday, July 22:  Today, I have quite an ambitious schedule.  This is my last weekend before classes end, although my contract with Westgate goes through the Tuesday after next, to August 1. Next weekend, before I move out of my apartment on that Tuesday, I’ll go north of Tokyo to stay two nights in Nikko.  Thus, today and tomorrow are the last days to see everything I want to see in the Tokyo area.

My goal for today is to visit the shopping arcade Harmonica Yokocho, then go to Koishikawa Korakuen Gardens.  From there, I’ll go to the Mori Art Museum and then I’m supposed to meet Graham for drinks at the Aldgate British Pub near Shibuya. None of these places are next to each other, so I’ll be on the metro and walking quite a bit.

Harmonica Yokocho in Kichijōji is one of the few shopping arcades left in the face of rampant development. Built as a flea market in the early postwar years, so many stores were crammed into the arcade that it was nicknamed “harmonica” because these stores were like harmonica reeds.  Today, as many as 98 stores are open for business. Many are restaurants where a person can enjoy lunch or dinner, and souvenir, or omiyage, shops (Tokyoing: Harmonica Yokocho).

In addition, the alleys are lined with grocery and clothing stores, along with specialty shops for goodies like yokan (sweet bean jelly), pork cutlet and taiyaki (fish-shaped pancakes filled with anko bean paste) ( Harmonica Alley).

Harmonica Yokocho

The arcade is very colorful — with flower shops, red lanterns, plastic food displays, vibrant signs, vending machines, bars, street art and quirky statues.

Of course, as I’ve arrived at 11:40 a.m., I immediately begin to check out all the restaurants in Harmonica Yokocho for a lunchtime spot.

Harmonica Yokocho

Harmonica Yokocho

Harmonica Yokocho

Harmonica Yokocho

Harmonica Yokocho

Harmonica Yokocho

food displays at Harmonica Yokocho

restaurant at Harmonica Yokocho

Harmonica Yokocho

Harmonica Yokocho

I enjoy all the odd and even risqué sights as I stroll around Harmonica Yokocho. 🙂

At about 12:15, I come across a Thai restaurant in a basement, Krung Siam, where I stop to enjoy the air-conditioning and a shrimp pad thai.

After lunch, I leave Harmonica Yokocho and head for the train station. From Kichijōji Station, I have to travel about 25 minutes on two different lines to reach Koishikawa Korakuen Gardens.  I take the Chuo-Sobu line to Nakano Station, switch to the Tozai Line and go to Iidabashi Station.  Then I have to walk some distance to the garden, crossing over an elevated walkway over a huge intersection.  I finally get to the garden at 1:45, an hour after leaving Krung Siam.

Koishikawa Korakuen Garden was originally built by Yorifusa, the founder of the Mito branch of the Tokugawa clan, as a second residence. In 1629, it became his main residence.  Later, it was completed as a garden during the reign of the second clan ruler, Mitsukuni.  Its style is kaiyu-style (circuit style) with ponds and man-made hills around the pond.

When Mitsukuni set about constructing the garden, he incorporated some concepts of the Chinese Confucian scholar Shushunsui of the Ming dynasty, including a garden reproduction of Seiko Lake in China, a “Full Moon Bridge” and other features with cultural origins in China (Tokyo Metropolitan Park Association: Koishikawa Korakuen Garden).

The name “Korakuen” was derived from a Chinese text “Gakuyo-ki,” meaning “Worry before all worries in the world, and enjoy after all enjoyments of the world.” Koishikawa Korakuen Gardens is designated as the Special Place of Scenic Beauty and Special Historic Site of the country by the Cultural Assets Preservation Act.  This double designation is quite rare in Japan (from the garden’s English pamphlet).

The central pond in the park is called Dai-Sensui.

Dai-Sensui at Koishikawa Korakuen Gardens

bridge near the lotus pond

Lotus pond at Koishikawa Korakuen Gardens

Lotus pond at Koishikawa Korakuen Gardens

Oigawa is a river named after a river that ran through Kyoto, Arashiyama region.


Seiko-no-tsutsumi bank was made to resemble the bank of Lake Seiko (Xi Hu) in Hangzhou (present-day Zhejiang province) in China.



This rock was called Byobu-iwa, or picture screen rock, because it rose vertically like a picture screen. It is said the 3rd shogun, Iemitsu, often visited this place and sat on the stone by the river.


This vermillion bridge is one of the special features of the garden.




As I hop across the stepping-stones in the river to get pictures of the bridge, a swarm of mosquitoes alights on my ankles in full attack mode.  I hop off the rocks and am scratching furiously for the rest of my time in the garden.  Between my profuse sweating in the sticky heat, and the mosquito bites, this is quite a miserable visit.

Tokujin-do is the oldest building in the garden. When Mitsukuni, an earnest Confucianist, was 18 years old, he was deeply moved by reading Shiki (Record of Great Historians) “Biographies of Boyi and Shuqi.”  Wooden figures of Boyi and Shuqi used to be enshrined in this small temple.


door of Tokujin-do

Maro-ya created the cozy atmosphere of a tea house; it was rebuilt in 1966 after being burned down in the air raids.


Engetsu-kyo (Full Moon Bridge) was named so because of the reflected shape of the bridge on the water surface that appeared like a full moon.

steps over Engetsu-kyo (Full Moon Bridge)

Engetsu-kyo (Full Moon Bridge)

Walking up a hill past the Full Moon Bridge, I have sweeping views of the Inada, or Paddy Field.  It was created by Mitsukuni with the motive of teaching the hardship of farming to the wife of his heir, Tsunaeda.  Today, primary school children in the local Bunkyo ward participate in rice-planting in May and harvesting in autumn.

view of Inada (Paddy field)

When Mitsukuni, the 2nd lord of the Mito-Tokugawa family, met the third shogun, Iemitsu, he was given a statue of a patron saint of literature. Later, he built a small shrine called Hakke-do to enshrine the statue in. The shrine was burned down in a big fire after the Great Earthquake of 1923.  All that remains are the Hakke-do traces.

Hakke-do traces

The Ume Grove blooms with 30 different types of plum blossoms in early February.

Ume Grove

Wisteria trellises

As is typical with gardens in Tokyo, modern-day buildings surround the garden.  Here, Tokyo Dome reminds one that the garden is in the midst of urban Tokyo.

pond in the garden

Engetsu-kyo (Full Moon Bridge)

wisteria trellises

Kuhachi-ya is a model of a “Sake house” found in the countryside during the Edo period.  The original structure was destroyed by air raid in 1945 and was rebuilt in 1959.


stone lantern

pond in the garden

some glimpses of autumn in July 🙂

By 2:40, I’m heading back over the elevated walkway to the train station, where I’ll go to Azabu-juban Station to visit the Mori Art Museum.

elevated walkway on the way to Iidabashi Station

elevated walkway on the way to Iidabashi Station

elevated walkway on the way to Iidabashi Station

I debate whether I even have time to visit the Mori Art Museum, as I’m supposed to meet Graham at Shibuya Station at 5:00 to go to the Aldgate British Pub for beers and dinner.  I’ll have to rush!


2 responses to “tokyo: harmonica yokocho & koishikawa korakuen gardens

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  1. Phew, what a busy day.

  2. I just need a book and I’d be quite happy in that garden. 🙂 🙂 Just started to read Norman Mailer’s The Castle in the Forest, about Hitler. It may take me some time!

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