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otemachi, the imperial palace east garden & a shrine to warriors {walking tour 2}   2 comments

Sunday, May 14:  After spending all day Saturday stuck in my rabbit hut apartment because of a steady deluge of rain, I’m ready to get out on Sunday.  The forecast is for plenty of clouds but no rain, so off I go to explore the Otemachi area and Imperial Palace East Gardens, as well as the Yasukuni Shrine.

My first stop is Masakado-zuka, or Masakado’s Tomb. It doesn’t look like much, stuck as it is in the midst of high-rise buildings and construction projects, but apparently it has great cultural significance. It enshrines the decapitated head of Taira no Masakado (903?-940 AD), a well-known hero of the eastern region of Japan. A precursor of the samurai warriors, he carried out political reforms in the Kanto area (the area around Tokyo) and became immensely popular among the common people for helping the weak and poor and fighting against oppressors. In 940, Taira no Masakado was defeated and killed in a struggle with the government and his decapitated head was put on display in Kyoto.  Legend has it his head flew all the way back to the Kanto area as a vengeful spirit and finally landed in this spot. People believed that vengeful spirits, who were thought to cause plagues, could be appeased by worshipping them as guardian deities. Thus it was that in 1309, Taira no Masakado was enshrined as one of the deities of Kanda Shrine, which was originally located here.

Hill of Masakado’s Head

Hill of Masakado’s Head

Today, I’m following Walking Tour 2 of Tokyo: 29 Walks in the World’s Most Exciting City: Otemachi, Imperial Palace Gardens, and Yasukuni Shrine.  I already went to Marunouchi, the Imperial Palace and Hibiya Park on April 30, so this walk is a sort of continuation of that one.  I won’t feel that I’ve done the area justice until I’ve completed the whole circuit.

On the city streets in Otemachi, my eye is caught by a fire station with its gleaming red fire engines.

fire station in Otemachi district

random sculpture on the street in Otemachi

I must cross the moat again, as I did last time, but on this walk, I’m on the northeast corner of the palace complex.

Ote-bori – the moat around the Imperial Palace East Garden

The Ote-mon Gate was the main gate of the Tokugawa Shogunate’s Edo Castle. Daimyos (feudal lords) attending ceremonies held inside the palace entered through this gate. A smaller gate and larger gate form a right angle, to slow advancing intruders. Trapped between the two gates, intruders came under attack from firing points on the larger gate. The larger gate was destroyed in an air raid in 1945 during WWII, and was rebuilt in 1967.

Ote-mon Gate

Ote-mon Gate

door at Ote-mon Gate

fish sculpture at Ote-mon Gate

Ote-mon Gate

The Hyakunin-bansho Guardhouse was positioned at the most critical point to guard the entrance to the Honmaru, the main compound, of the Edo Castle. Hyakunin means 100 persons.  Four teams, each consisting of 120 guards, worked in the guard-house in shifts, day and night. This is one of three remaining guard-houses of the castle.

Hyakunin-bansho Guardhouse

I continue walking into the grounds and come to a small forest, the Ninomaru Grove, where deciduous trees are maintained to allow undergrowth plants to expand their leaves and bloom in spring before the area is covered in tree leaves.

The grove was created from 1983-85, at the suggestion of Emperor Showa, the father of His Majesty the Emperor.

Ninomaru Grove

The East Garden includes the Hon-maru (Central Keep), the Nino-maru (Second Keep), and the San-no-maru (Third Keep).  The Imperial East Garden was the former castle site, but the buildings and fortifications were mostly destroyed by fire.  Today it is primarily a garden site.

The Nino-maru Area (the Second Keep) lies at the foot of the Hon-maru; before 1868 it was the residence for the retired shogun.  Its gardens were originally planted in 1630 by Kobori Enshu, a famed landscape artist of the 17th century. Today’s garden, a reconstruction, contains the elements of a traditional Japanese garden: a pond, stone lanterns, a waterfall and a bridge.

Nino-Maru Area

Eighty-four varieties of iris grow in this garden.  These varieties have been carefully maintained since they were donated  by the Iris Garden of Meiji Jingo Shrine in 1966, when the East Gardens of the Imperial Palace were being created.

Nino-Maru Area

Nino-Maru Area

white blossoms

Nino-Maru Area

Nino-Maru Area

wisteria trellis

Nino-Maru Area

Nino-Maru Area

Nino-Maru Area

tiny flowers

Nino-Maru Area

carp in the pond

Nino-Maru Area

Nino-Maru Area

Nino-Maru Area

Nino-Maru Area

wildly shaped pine trees

Nino-Maru Area

Nino-Maru Area

Nino-Maru Area

waterfall at the Nino-Maru Area

Nino-Maru Area

Nino-Maru Area

Nino-Maru Area

peas in a pod

Nino-Maru Area

At the far side of the Nino-Maru Area is the early 19th century Suwa-no-chaya tea ceremony pavilion.

Suwa-no-chaya tea ceremony pavilion in the Nino-maru Gardens

Suwa-no-chaya tea ceremony pavilion in the Nino-maru Gardens

Heading west, I come to the wall of massive granite stones brought from the Izu Peninsula in the early 1600s; it supports the Hon-maru.  The Hakucho-bori, the Moat of Swans, is at its base.  Germany gave the gift of 24 swans in 1953 when the East Gardens were open to the public.

the wall to the Hon-maru Area


The Hon-maru is much flatter and less interesting than the Nino-Maru Area. It originally contained the Audience Hall, the residence, and other official buildings of the reigning shogun.  At its southwest corner is the Fujimi Yagura, which I saw from the Outer Garden on my last walk. It is one of three towers out of the original 21 that topped the castle walls. Though destroyed in the Long Sleeves Fire of 1657, it was reconstructed two years later.

The Long Sleeves Fire was said to have been started accidentally by a priest who was cremating an allegedly cursed kimono. The kimono had been owned in succession by three teenage girls who all died before ever being able to wear it. When the garment was being burned, a large gust of wind fanned the flames causing the wooden temple to ignite.  The fire burned 60-70% of Edo, lasted 3 days, and claimed over 100,000 lives (Wikipedia: Great fire of Meireki).


flower garden in the Hon-Maru Area

flower garden in the Hon-Maru Area

trellis in the Hon-Maru Area

roses in the Hon-Maru Area

roses in the Hon-Maru Area

flowers in the Hon-Maru Area

tea bushes in the Hon-Maru Area

roses in the Hon-Maru Area

bamboo in the Hon-Maru Area

bamboo in the Hon-Maru Area

The octagonal Tokagakudo Concert Hall was built in 1966 to celebrate the 60th birthday of the Empress Kojun, His Majesty The Emperor’s mother.  The roof is in the shape of a clematis flower.  The mosaic images on the wall include birds, the sun, moon and stars, pine, bamboo and plum trees, and musical notes. Though the hall is not open to the public, it hosts concerts performed by the Music Department Orchestra, distinguished graduates of music universities, and others in the presence of the Imperial Family.

Imperial Toka Music Hall

The pride of the castle was its 5-story Donjon (Tenshukaku), or tower, which loomed over Edo. The tower, like much of Edo, was destroyed by the Long Sleeves Fire.  Today, nothing but the base of the Donjon survives.

the base of the Donjon

Imperial Toka Music Hall

From the Hon-Maru area, a drawbridge leads into Kita-no-maru, the North Keep.  It became a public park in 1969 to celebrate the birthday of the Showa emperor, Hirohito.

Kita-no-maru Park

unknown memorial at Kita-no-maru Park

I leave this park through the north gate onto Yasukuni-dori.  Strangely, I find a lighthouse, which is no longer used. Built in 1871, before much of Tokyo Bay was filled in and before tall buildings were erected, the beacon lit the way for boats on Tokyo Bay.

lighthouse near Yasukuni Shrine

man on horse near Yasukuni Shrine


Yasukuni Jinja, a Shinto Shrine, was established by the will of the Meiji Emperor as Tokyo Shokonsha in 1869, but it was renamed Yasukuni Jinja in 1879. It was built to comfort the souls of those who made the ultimate sacrifice for their country, especially those who died in battles for the Meiji Imperial Restoration and the extinguishing of Tokugawa rule. The name Yasukuni, given by the Meiji Emperor represents a wish to establish the peace of the nation.

First Torii (Daiichi Torii) at Yasukuni Shrine

The shrine was run by the army until 1945 and became the center of fevered nationalism. It still attracts right-wing militarists and extreme nationalists today, according to Tokyo: 29 Walks.

First Torii (Daiichi Torii) at Yasukuni Shrine

This statue of Ōmura Masujirō (1824 – 1869) was a Japanese military leader and theorist in the Bakumatsu period in Japan; this period encompasses the final years of the Edo period when the Tokugawa shogunate ended. He is regarded as the “Father of the Modern Japanese Army,” according to Wikipedia.

Statue to Masujiro Omura

sake barrels

Third Torii

Haiden, the Hall for Worship, at Yasukuni Shrine

gold-plated gate

ema at Yasukuni Shrine

Haiden of Yasukuni Shrine

Yushu-kan (Military Exhibition Hall)

Statue honoring horses

Memorial Monument to Patrol Boat Crew Members

Statue of War Widow with Children

Japanese umbrella

Shinchi (Divine Pond)

Shinchi (Divine Pond)

Shinchi (Divine Pond)

Seinsentei Teahouse

carp in Shinchi (Divine Pond)

I continue my walk along the Chidorigafuchi Water Park, the pond that existed before the Imperial Palace was built and was included in the moat structure of the palace grounds. It’s called a “water park” not only because of the moat, but also because people can rent paddle boats here for a “leisurely activity.” The path is lined with cherry trees, which sadly are no longer in bloom.

This must be a bit like our Embassy Row in Washington, because I pass the Embassy of India on my right.

Embassy of India

red building along the Chidorigafuchi Water Park

path along the Chidorigafuchi Water Park

Eventually, I come to the Chidorigafuchi National Cemetery, where I walk in briefly.


A hexagonal pavilion with a light green roof has served since 1959 as the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, a sacred spot memorializing the 90,000 unknown dead of Japan’s wars. Every August 15, the anniversary of the end of WWII, the emperor pays respects here to those who died, regardless of their religion (unlike Yasukuni Shrine, which is Shinto), according to Tokyo: 29 Walks.

Tomb of the Unknown Soldier

After quite a bit more walking, I pass the British Embassy before starting to look for the metro to make my way home.

British Embassy

After arriving back in Fuchinobe, I stop at a lively restaurant near the metro station.  I’ve eaten here before and the food is good, so I sit at the bar and order some sushi.  I’m told, however, that I must wait an hour before I can have sushi.  I guess the sushi isn’t served until 6:30 or so, because it’s 5:30 now.

sushi restaurant in Fuchinobe

There’s a lot of hustle and bustle at this restaurant, with servers calling out orders in sing-song voices and running to and fro.

a wild and crazy place

Next to me at the bar is a single Japanese woman, drinking a beer and smoking up a storm. I haven’t encountered many smokers in restaurants here yet, but I’ve heard smoking is quite common in bars here.

I end up ordering a tofu soup with tiny shrimp that I slurp up, shells and all, accompanied by a draft beer.  It’s not my favorite dish; I would have preferred the sushi.  Either way, the beer is a nice top off to a busy day.  When I’m finished, I “write” with my finger on my palm and say “Bill?”  The next thing I know, the server is bringing two beers, one for me and one for my smoking companion.  I say,”Oh, no, no!  I’m sorry I didn’t order a beer, I said ‘bill!'”  As the letters “r” and “l” are often confused in Japanese, I should have known better than to say “bill,” which they mistake for “beer.” Luckily, they take the beer away.  I reiterate: “check” and the matter is settled! 🙂

Steps today: 18,850 (7.99 miles)

an afternoon at the nezu museum: irises & the rinpa collection   7 comments

Sunday, May 7:  Though I intend to go straight home after Kameido Tenjin’s Wisteria Festival, I see while I’m on the Hanzomon Line that if I hop off the train at Omote-sando Station, it’s only a 7-minute walk to the Nezu Museum.  I also see that a special exhibition, Irises and Mountain Stream in Summer and Autumn, is due to end next Sunday.  My Japanese Instagram friend Yukie several days ago visited and posted beautiful pictures of the rabbit-ear irises that bloom earlier than other irises.  With all these enticements, I couldn’t resist disembarking at Omote-sando.  Though I am tired, I don’t regret stopping at this fabulous museum.

The Nezu Museum has one of the most delightful gardens I’ve encountered in Tokyo. Strolling through it, I find a teahouse as well as a variety of stone lanterns and other objects.

According to the museum’s website, Nezu Kaichirō I purchased this land, which he liked for its hills and dales, in 1906. The original garden, designed in the shinzan-yūkoku, “deep mountains and mysterious valleys style,” included rustic buildings and a teahouse. It burned during the bombing of Tokyo in World War II. Since then, it has been restored, little by little, to reach its present state. The goal of the museum is to create garden scenes of nature.

stone face at Nezu Museum Garden

elephant lantern at Nezu Museum Garden

an artist at work

irises at Nezu Museum Garden

irises at Nezu Museum Garden

irises at Nezu Museum Garden

irises at Nezu Museum Garden

irises at Nezu Museum Garden


reflections in the pond

a lady in kimono at Nezu Museum Garden

stone figure

stone lantern

stone lantern

stone lantern

a peek through the maples

another stone lantern

ponds at Nezu

moss-covered lantern

irises at Nezu Museum Garden

irises at Nezu Museum Garden

irises at Nezu Museum Garden

tea house at Nezu Museum Garden

pretty pond

boat at Nezu Museum Garden


Kitano Tenjin enshrined at Hibaishi

maple leaves


The special exhibit inside the museum is the Rinpa Collection.  The Rinpa school of painting refers to a range of artists who spanned the 17th to 19th centuries. According to the exhibition catalog, the period begins with Hon’ami Kōetsu and Tawaraya Sōtatsu, two artists active in Kyoto’s merchant class culture during the first half of the 17th century, then follows with Ogata Kōrin and his younger brother, the potter Kenzan, who were born of high-ranking clothing merchants in Kyoto.  They were succeeded in 19th century Edo by Sakai Hōitsu, who created his own elegant painterly world from his longing for Kōrin’s aesthetic, and then Hōitsu’s principle student, Suzuki Kiitsu.

The Rinpa Collection

I’m told by Yukie that photography is not usually allowed in Japanese museums.  That of course is a bummer for me, but at least I can buy the postcards or the exhibition catalog.  This time, I buy both.  And, since necessity is the mother of invention, I take photos of the postcards to share!

postcards from the Rinpa Collection

Rinpa artists worked in various formats, notably screens, fans and hanging scrolls, woodblock printed books, lacquerware, ceramics, and kimono textiles. Many Rinpa paintings were used on the sliding doors and walls of noble homes.  The stereotypical standard painting in the Rinpa style involves simple natural subjects such as birds, plants and flowers, with the background filled in with gold leaf. (Wikipedia: Rinpa school)

One of my favorites in this exhibition is Mountain Streams in Summer and Autumn by Suzuki Kiitsu. A stream flowing between boulders set in a Japanese cypress grove links two six-panel screens, ranging from a summer scene of mountain lilies to an autumn scene of a few lingering red leaves on cherry trees.

Mountain Stream in Summer and Autumn (detail) by Suzuki Kiitsu

Of course the postcards and the photos from the exhibition catalog don’t do justice to these magnificent and huge screen paintings; seeing them in person actually brings tears to my eyes as they are so vivid and stunning.

Mountain Streams in Summer and Autumn by Suzuki Kiitsu

Mountain Streams in Summer and Autumn by Suzuki Kiitsu

National Treasure Irises by Ogata Kōrin is another amazing painting.  Clumps of irises, painted solely in shade of blue and green against an overall gold ground, conjure the Yatsuhashi (eight-plank bridge) of Mikawa, a famous site for irises described in The Tales of Ise.

National Treasure Irises (detail) by Ogata Kōrin

National Treasure Irises by Ogata Korin

Summer Flowers by Ogata Kōrin features close to 30 varieties of flowers and grasses of late spring to summer.

Summer Flowers (detail) by Ogata Kōrin

Summer Flowers by Ogata Kōrin

Flowers in Four Seasons by I’nen Seal features about 70 varieties of plants and grasses arranged in bouquet-like groupings with their upper sections fanned out in a wide array.  The flower groups work from right to left across the two screens in a spring, summer, autumn, winter progression.

Flowers in Four Seasons by I’nen Seal

Poet Bo Juyi (Hakurakuten) by Ogata Korin was inspired by the Noh play Hakurakuten, based on the legend of the Chinese Tang dynasty poet Bo Juyi (Japanese: Hakurakuten) who encountered an old fisherman manifestation of the Shinto deity Sumiyoshi-Myojin upon his arrival in Japan.  Sumiyoshi informed Bo Juyi that Japanese waka poetry was superior to that of the Chinese and summoned divine winds to blow the poet’s boat back to China.

Poet Bo Juyi (Hakurakuten) by Ogata Kōrin

Wisteria by Maruyama Okyo

The Tale of the Heike Painting Album Kogo

Cherry blossoms at Yoshino and Maple Leaves at Tatsuta (detail) Japan 17th century

All information about the Rinpa collection is from the exhibition catalog, unless otherwise stated.

This is one of the most fabulous museums I’ve visited in all my travels.  Between the breathtaking exhibition of Rinpa paintings and the museum’s garden with its blooming irises, ponds, hilly terrain and stone features, it ranks near the top of my most moving and satisfying travel experiences.  I highly recommend visiting this museum when traveling in Tokyo. 🙂

Total steps today: 11,669 steps (4.95 miles).

the wisteria festival at kameido tenjin   3 comments

Sunday, May 7:  Today, on the last day of the Golden Week holiday, I visit Kameido Tenjin Shrine on the east side of Tokyo. I would have never heard of this place if it weren’t for Yukie, a Japanese woman who I’ve been following on Instagram for several years,  She posted some pictures on Instagram of this beautiful shrine and its Fuji-matsuri, or Wisteria Festival, which runs from late April to early May.  I wrote to ask her about it, and she told me about the festival and sent some of her fabulous photos.  Even though I live far to the west of Tokyo and the shrine is to the east, I decide to go anyway, on the last possible day.  Most of the wisteria are sadly past their prime, but there are a few that are still in bloom.

Kameido Tenjin Shrine is associated with the 9th century scholar, poet, and politician named Sugawara no Michizane (845-903). By the late 9th century, Michizane was appointed governor of Sanuki province and other important posts by the Emperor Uda. After he was accused of plotting against the throne at the beginning of the 10th century, he was banished from the city and demoted to a minor post in the island of Kyushu (Taiken Japan: Kameido Tenjin Shrine – An Impressive Shrine Worth a Visit)

Gate to Kameido Tenjin Shrine

Several years after Michizane’s death, a series of catastrophes — droughts, fires and the death of a son of Emperor Daigo — were attributed to the banished politician’s angry spirit. To appease his spirit, a Shinto shrine was built in Kyoto dedicated to him; it defied him as Tenjin Sama or the god of study.

Kameido Tenjin Shrine was one of many shrines built in Japan to enshrine Michizane.  Built in 1646, the original shrine was largely burnt down by Allied fire bombing in World War II. What is seen today is mostly reconstructed and restored with concrete, metal and other modern materials. For centuries, pilgrims have come here to pray to the god for success in examinations (Taiken Japan: Kameido Tenjin Shrine – An Impressive Shrine Worth a Visit).

Kameido Tenjin Shrine has several drum bridges, or highly arched pedestrian bridges. The bridges reveal a circle or a full moon reflection over still water and thus are also known as a moon bridges. The steepness forces visitors to slow down, purifying their minds before entering the shrine.

The three bridges that approach the shrine supposedly represent the life of a person. Otokobashi, “men’s bridge,” represents the past (Visiting Kameido Tenjin Shrine, Tokyo – where wisterias bloom in spring).

Drum bridge, or Moon Bridge

Drum bridge at Kameido Tenpin



more wisteria

wisteria over a bridge

wisteria heaven

trellis of lavendar

one of the ponds

ponds and trellises

Shioyaki is a snack of baked fish served on a stick.  The mackerel (saba), a common catch off the coast of Japan, is seasoned only with salt to enhance the flavor of its flaky meat. Saba shioyaki can often be found being grilled up at festival street stalls (The Culture Trip: 14 Amazing Japanese Street Foods).  I don’t try one of these today, but they look interesting. 🙂



drum bridge at Kameido Tenpin

dried fruit snacks

a drum bridge seen through the trellises

drum bridge and trellis

The view of the Tokyo Sky Tree from Kameido Tenjin juxtaposes the traditional against the modern.

The Tokyo Sky Tree as seen from Kameido Tenpin

foliage and blooms

wisteria trellis

strands of blossoms

I don’t take a picture of the middle bridge, called Hirabashi, which is a long flat bridge along among the wisteria trellises. It represents the present.

The last bridge is Onnabashi, or “women’s bridge,” which represents the future (Visiting Kameido Tenjin Shrine, Tokyo – where wisterias bloom in spring).

drum bridge

little shrine

Kameido Tenjin Shrine

serene being

I love the colorful ema at Kameido Tenjin, especially the ones that depict the drum bridge, shrine, wisteria and plum blossoms.  I’m not sure who the characters on the other ema are.

Kameido Tenjin ema

wisteria ema at Kameido Tenjin

Kameido Tenjin Shrine

People are rubbing the big bull sitting near the shrine, but I’m not sure of his significance.

taking the bull by the horns

My Japanese friend, Yukie, tells me these are origami cranes signifying peace.

origami cranes

Though I can’t get a front seat at the drum performance, I’m able to enjoy it from a back view.

drum performance at Kameido Tenpin

drum performance

drum bridge at Kameido Tenjin

drum bridge at Kameido Tenjin

drum bridge at Kameido Tenjin

choco bananas

more dangling blossoms

ponds and shirnes

wisteria arbor

wisteria arbor over pond

more wisteria

another drum bridge

another trellis

wisteria banner over a restaurant

drum bridge revisited

another view of the drum bridge

After walking around the shrine and enjoying all the sights and sounds, I grab a pancake.  I believe it’s okonomiyaki, a savory pancake; this one is stuffed with pork.  I’ve heard of these pancakes, but usually I hear of them with cabbage, pork and other toppings.  However, this one has no toppings, so I’m not sure this is a true okonomiyaki. I do admit it’s good!

My intention is to go directly home because I’m tired out from my Golden Week adventures, so I head back to metro, seeing this cute dog enjoying the fresh air out of the sunroof of the car.

a dog in love with the sunroof

colorful alley

Once I get on the metro and see how easy it would be to hop off at Omote-sando Station, 11 stops along the Hanzomon Line and right on my way home, I decide to get off to visit the Nezu Museum.  I’m really glad I do!

a hike up takaosan: a buddhist temple, mountain views & an onsen   2 comments

Friday, May 5:  I get an early start today, in hopes of beating the crowds to Mt. Takao, or Takaosan, on this Friday of Golden Week.  Little do I know that there is NO beating the crowds on Golden Week.

On the train ride of 11 stops, a young man wearing a blue shirt, a tie and wire-rimmed glasses, around 30-something, primps and preens while looking at himself in his cell phone camera.  He meticulously messes with gelled strands of his hair, never taking his eyes off himself in the phone. His hair already seems perfectly coiffed, yet he continues to push and pull at a couple of strands of hair, smiling coyly at himself.  He does this on the entire train ride, perfectly oblivious to people like me who are looking at him wondering how long he can keep this up!

I don’t live that far from the mountain, but I’m proud of myself for arriving at the Takaosanguchi Station by 9:15 a.m. I try to make some sense of the huge map posted by the station, but I honestly can’t figure out what’s what, so I just follow the crowds up the road to the right.

Map of Mount Takao

The first order of business is to get on the cable car that will take me halfway up the mountain. I buy the 2-way ticket for 930 yen (~$8.18) round trip, then stand in a line where I wait 10 minutes to board. It’s quite a jubilee at this station, with the ride operators and the organizers in their cute uniforms hollering Japanese instructions in sing-song voices.

Entrance to the cable car

When I see how far the cable car takes us up the mountain, I’m glad I paid the ticket price.  It’s a long way up!  We’re packed like engine pistons into the cable car as it grinds and squeals up the steep incline. Finally, we’re released onto the platform like a burst of fireworks on 4th of July.

Mt. Takao Cable Car

Immediately, I can see the view of the Tokyo suburbs, although I can’t identify any landmarks.

view of Tokyo metro area from Mt. Takao (near the cable car)

view of Tokyo

I can also see some mountains in the distance.

View of the mountains around Mt. Takao

I continue up a path, Trail #1, that leads to the top of the mountain. There are other more secluded trails, but I figure I’ll do the main one today to assure I don’t get lost. Maybe I can make it back another time to do one of the more quiet trails.

I’ll pass through the grounds of Takaosan Yakuōin Yūkiji, a Buddhist temple, on the way up.  Mount Takao is said to be a sacred mountain and has been a center of mountain worship for more than 1,000 years. Visitors to Yakuōin stop to pray to Shinto-Buddhist mountain gods (tengu) for good fortune.

markers along the path

In Japan, I often find myself taking pictures of strange things I see. I never know what these things are when I take the pictures.  I find what some of them are by searching on Google, but other things I don’t know about unless one of my readers comments and educates me.  I always appreciate the knowledge.

The round smooth creature that looks like an octopus, shown below, has people lining up to rub it.

something to rub for good luck

People also line up to rub this smooth bowling ball-looking thing.  I also find people rolling prayer wheels and pulling the ropes of gongs.

another thing to rub

The Jizo statues are everywhere on Mt. Takao; they are protectors of travelers, unborn children or children who die at an early age. They are often decked out in small red bibs. The red bibs represent safety and protection, and help to earn merit for the afterlife, a common theme in Buddhism (The Japan Times: A guide to Jizo, guardian of travelers and the weak).

bibbed beings

I approach the first gate leading to Takaosan Yakuōin Yūkijim. This Buddhist temple was established in 744 on the orders of Emperor Shomu as a base for Buddhism in eastern Japan. Its founder was Gyoki, a charismatic priest closely associated with erecting the Great Buddha at Todai-ji Temple in Nara.

gate to Yakuoin

The path is lined with pretty red lanterns.

lanterns on the path to Yakuōin

small shrine on the way to Yakuōin

kitty in the grass

the path to Yakuōin

stone markers

I pass a statue of Kukai (Kobo Daishi), famous for establishing the Shingon Sect of Buddhism in Japan during the 8th century ( Mount Takao’s Religious Statues).

Kukai (Kobo Daishi)

passageway to a shrine

After climbing a steep hill, I find a pretty Relics Stupa.  It is quiet here; most of the crowds don’t bother to climb the steps, so I’m lucky to have it almost to myself.

Relics Stupa on a hill

pretty Relics Stupa

relief carvings

Buddhist beings

a Buddhist statue

some kind of marker


Jizo statues?

I’m hesitant to leave this quiet spot, but I must go on, back to join the crowds on Trail #1.

the path to Yakuōin

A row of ten cedar trees is planted along the approach to Yakuōin, with a giant cedar at the beginning. Although the 26th typhoon ravaged this area on September 24, 1966, these giant trees survived. This giant cedar is 47 meters high and its trunk is 5.6 in circumference. As the cedars are already old, some of their trunks are hollow near the roots.

famous tree

I don’t know what these fence-like planks lining the path are, but I imagine they’re some kinds of wishes or prayers for good fortune.

path to Yakuōin

path to Yakuōin

Finally, I reach the first gate of Yakuōin.  Similar to many Chinese temples I saw when I lived in China, there are some fierce looking guardians at the gate.

At Yakuōin, I find interesting writings, but of course I don’t know the meaning of any of them.

interesting things at Yakuōin

crazy man at Yakuōin

Every temple must have its purification spot.

water purification

Inside the gate of Yakuōin are some scary looking figures of Tengu (long-nosed goblins), which are said to chastise evil doers but protect the good ( Mount Takao’s Religious Statues).

another fierce character at Yakuōin

Below is the crow-beaked little Tengu, said to still be undergoing religious training.


The golden dragon enshrined in the structure called Kurikaradō is said to grant wishes involving enmusubi, which are charms or prayers believed to aid in matchmaking or relationships.

small shrine

another small shrine

Nio-Mon Gate

Main Hall

Up the hill, at the Nio-mon Gate, are more fierce guardians.

more fierce guardians

fierce guardians

The Main Hall, or hondō, is a building for Buddhist deities.

Main Hall

Nio-mon Gate

On the side of the Main Hall is the Daishidō building. The Japanese monk, Kōbō Daishi is worshiped here.

Daishidō building

Daishidō building

The ema of course have the tengu pictured on them.

ema at Nio-mon Gate

Nio-mon Gate

small shrine

stone figure

inside view

Buddha line-up

markers and lanterns

More steps beckon, and of course I climb, as the goal is to get to the top.

the red torii at Izuna Gongen-do Hall

At the top of this set of stairs is the Izuna Gongen-do Hall, with its beautiful carvings and colors.

Izuna Gongen-do Hall

I offer to take a Japanese couple’s picture, and they take one of me in return.  It does prove I am in Japan!

me at Izuna Gongen-do Hall

Izuna Gongen-do Hall

Mount Takao is devoted to tengu, the long-nosed demon-like beings who are believed to dwell on sacred mountains acting as the messengers of the deities and buddhas to reprimand evildoers and reward benevolence. They are often depicted holding a uchiwa (Japanese fan), that sweeps away misfortune and brings about good fortune.

Two figures standing in front of the Izuna Gongen-do Hall exemplify the two types of tengu. The larger one, shown below, has a big nose. The small tengu, which has the beak of a crow, is considered to be still undergoing religious training, while the large tengu is often likened to an experienced yamabushi, a Japanese mountain ascetic hermit believed to be endowed with supernatural powers, who has attained spiritual power through religious training at Mount Takao (Head Temple Takao-san Yakuo-in: About).

Izuna Gongen-do Hall

lesser shrines around Izuna Gongen-do Hall

lesser shrines around Izuna Gongen-do Hall


Izuna Gongen-do Hall

relief-carved painting on the wall of Izuna Gongen-do Hall

lesser shrines around Izuna Gongen-do Hall

I finally reach the top viewing platform at Mount Takao, and it’s packed with people.  There’s a long line of people waiting to get photos of themselves with the monument at the top.

the top of Mt. Takao

Though it’s only 11:30 a.m., not even lunchtime, people are picnicking like there’s no tomorrow.

revelers at the top of Mt. Takao

picnicking at the top of Mt. Takao for Golden Week

I enjoy the views, such as they are – over the heads of all the people – and try to wrangle my way to the fence where I can get an unobstructed view.

the view over the heads of the crowds

view over the heads of the crowds

view from the top of Mt. Takao

After enjoying all the views, I find a small corner of a bench where I eat onigiri, or o-musubi, white rice formed into a triangular shape and wrapped in nori (seaweed).  Yum!  I love these things and snack on them quite frequently.  My favorite is katsuobushi (dried fermented and smoked skipjack tuna).

After a short rest, I’m on my way back to the bottom.

another small shrine

hidden gem

more tough characters

the path back down

Partway down the mountain, I find some dango for sale. Dango is a sweet Japanese dumpling made from mochiko (rice flour), related to mochi, a glutinous rice cake, and often served with green teaDango is eaten year-round, but the different varieties are traditionally eaten in given seasons. Mitarashi dango is skewered onto sticks in groups of 3–5 (traditionally 5) and covered with a sweet soy sauce glaze and burnt fragrance (Wikipedia: Dango).

I bypass these as anything described by the word “glutinous” would not be to my liking.

sweet gooey treats for sale

There are also some iced cucumbers for sale. I continue down the mountain without sampling any of these offerings.

iced cucumbers

lanterns along the path down

view toward Tokyo

view towards Tokyo

another Tokyo afternoon

On my way down, rather than taking the cable car, I take the chair lift.  This is kind of scary as there is no strap or belt to attach you to the seat!  This would never happen in the USA because of the legal liabilities if someone should fall!

taking the chair lift down

Back at the bottom of the mountain, I pass a couple of shrines and head down the street, looking for a place to eat.

a shrine at the bottom of the chair lift

I find a bold and colorful hotel on the street, the Hotel Vanilla Sweet.  All the restaurants have lines at them;  I’m hungry and don’t want to wait.  I keep going.  Finally, I end up at the big modern Fumotoya, where I order a small omelet with bacon and cheese and a beer.

a bright hotel near Takaosanguchi Station

I have been looking forward to this all day.  My goal was to enjoy a beer, which I did, and then go to the onsen near the train station. An onsen is a Japanese natural hot spring; this one is Keio Takaosan Onsen Gokurakuyu.

Keio Takaosan Onsen Gokurakuyu

Of course I can’t take any pictures once inside the onsen, but I can certainly tell you about it.  First, I pay the Golden Week holiday fee of 1,200 yen (it’s 1,000 yen on non-holidays) plus 150 for a big towel.  They ask if I’d like a hand towel, but I say no thanks, I don’t need one.  Only later do I realize that I should have gotten one of these small towels, which are known as modesty towels. This is what I get for not reading about things before I go.

I take my large towel and stop in an outer area near the check-in to put my shoes into a locker.  Then I take my bag and towel into the women’s locker room, where I lock my bag, all my clothes, and the towel into a locker.  I take the locker key, which has a slinky-like band, and put it around my wrist.  Then I go naked into the wash room.

Keio Takaosan Onsen Gokurakuyu

I take my cue from the other women.  They are all sitting on plastic stools at wash stations, scrubbing themselves vigorously from top to bottom.  I do the same.  I didn’t really want to wash my hair, but I see they’re all shampooing, so I do too. After I’m spic and span, I shower another time at a larger shower, and then I look for the first hot bath I can find.  The first one I step into is cold!  I immediately withdraw my foot and seek warmer waters.

Now, too late of course, I see the women using their “modesty towels.”  They hold them either over their crotch or their breasts as they walk from bath to bath.  I guess whatever body part they feel needs modesty is where they place the towel.  I hear you’re not supposed to get the modesty towel wet, and I see many women putting the neatly folded hand towels on their heads when they’re in the tubs.

The first tub is nice and warm, maybe 38C, with bunches of palm leaves floating around in it. I stay there for a bit, enjoying the water and the after-effects of my beer. After I’ve had enough of that, I go outside, where I find four more tubs in a pretty setting.   The temperatures are shown above each tub; the first outdoor one is 40,4C.  That one is quite nice, with sides made of boulders and a trellis with greenery hanging over it.  This is my favorite.  The next one is 41C, but I can’t stay there long; it’s too warm.  The others are 42.4C and 44C.  I really can’t take those higher temperatures.  There are four lounge chairs partially immersed in another tub, but they are all occupied and some of the occupants are asleep.  I don’t think I will get a chance at one of those today.

I could have paid extra for a massage, but I don’t.  Maybe next time.  I see one door attached to the women’s shower room that goes to a dry sauna, but when I look through the glass door, there’s a man sitting in it!  I’m surprised at that, as I thought this place was segregated by male and female.  I opt out of going into the sauna with the man, although he can see all of me as I look through the glass!  Crazy!

After my first onsen experience, I shower and get dressed, use the hair dryer, and then head back to the train station.  I’m so relaxed now, I don’t know how I’ll make it home without falling asleep on the train.  At least I don’t have to watch a young man primping and preening the whole way back.  🙂

Here’s some more information you can read about a Japanese onsen: Taking a Japanese Bath.

Total steps today: 16,543 (7.01 miles).


sankei-en garden & the shanghai-yokohama friendship garden {walking tour 22}   8 comments

Thursday, May 4:  On the second day of my Golden Week holiday, I have a bit of a leisurely morning and then head to Sankei-en Garden, south of Yokohama.  I plan to follow Walking Tour 22 from Tokyo: 29 Walks in the World’s Most Exciting City.  After taking the train to Yokohama, I have to take a bus.  This is the first bus I’ve taken in Japan, so I’m a bit worried I won’t be able to figure it out.  However, as I’ve already found during my numerous day trips, Tokyo’s public transportation system is fabulous and easily negotiable.  I do believe it might be the best public transport system in the world.  I can only speak to my travels in 25 countries, but so far, it’s the tops.

When I get off the bus, two Japanese ladies, a mother and daughter, who overheard me ask the bus driver about Sankei-en, point me in the right direction.  They have both visited the U.S. and can speak decent English.  They tell me this is their first time at Sankei-en too, and I should follow them.  We walk about 10 minutes down a long straight road.  They tell me about their travels to the U.S. and ask where I’m from and what I’m doing in Japan.

At this point, it’s lunchtime and I’m hungry.  As we walk along, I stop to look at menus posted in front of several restaurants we pass, but I don’t find anything appealing.  As we get just outside the gates of Sankei-en, the women point out a cute souvenir shop/restaurant and tell me I might want to try it.

What a cute little restaurant!  I order tempura on soba noodles, which hits the spot.  A small porch at the back overlooks a pretty garden; sadly the two tables in the porch are occupied, but I do snap a photo over someone’s table.  At the table next to me are three young Americans; it always surprises me that when Westerners run into each other while traveling abroad, they rarely speak to each other.  It’s as if all of us want to experience the new culture and not be reminded where we come from.  I know I often feel that way.  I don’t want to waste time getting embroiled in a long conversation about where we’re from and what we’re doing in Japan, so I don’t say anything to them, nor them to me.  I prefer it that way.  I enjoy just sitting silently, enjoying my meal, and watching the people around me.

After my enjoyable lunch, I buy my admittance ticket and enter the garden.  The Sankei-en (Three Glens Garden) was created by local entrepreneur Hara Tomitaro (1868-1939), an artistic Yokohama businessman who grew wealthy in the silk trade; he was also a poet, a calligrapher, and a classical Japanese scholar.  He was known by the pseudonym Sankei Hara.

The primary residence for the Hara family (Sankei) was built around the 30th year of the Meiji era, or 1898.  The compound includes a parlor room, living quarters, study, guest room, a Buddhist prayer room, and other facilities.  The house is an example of modern Japanese architecture from the Yokohama area. In its time, the compound hosted many artists of the Meiji era art world, including Taikan Yokoyama. Thus the building is highly regarded as a major contributor to the art of Japanese painting.

To the natural beauty in the garden, Hara Tomitaro also added 16 historic buildings brought from central Japan.  He built his Haku-un-Tei (White Cloud Residence), a traditional shoin-style retreat, in 1920.  A shoin is a drawing-room or study, a tatami-room dedicated to receiving guests.

Haku-un-tei (White Cloud Residence)

pagoda at Sankei-en

trees at Haku-un-tei

Immediately, beside the Main Pond, I come across this adorable Japanese couple having photographs made.  I figure they’re in a public garden, so I should be able to enjoy their poses and take some photos as well.

bride & groom at Sankei-en

Aha, but the young man sees me and catches me in the act.  His face looks glum here, but he and his entourage laugh about it shortly after I snap this photo.

caught in the act 🙂

From across the pond, I can see Nakano-shima Island and its little bridge.

Main pond and Nakano-shimo Island

The couple seems to be following me!  Of course, I don’t hesitate to snap a few more shots.

the bride and groom again

Soon I come to Rinshun-kaku Villa, brought here in 1917 from the Kil Peninsula beyond Osaka. It was built in 1649 by Tokugawa Yorinobu, one of the ruling Tokugawa clan (1603-1868), as his second home.

Rinshun-kaku Villa

I love the tatami-matted rooms with the sliding doors and the painted walls.

inside Rinshun-kaku Villa

inside Rinshun-kaku Villa

Rinshun-kaku Villa

Tenzui-ji Juto Oido

bridge over a small pond

back of Rinshun-kaku Villa

more inside views of Rinshun-kaku Villa

inside views of Rinshun-kaku Villa

The Gekka-den Guest House was built in 1603 by Ieyasu Tokugawa in the compound of the Fushimi Castle in Kyoto.  It was used as a guest house where feudal lords stayed when they came to pay their respects to the Shogun.

stairs to Gekka-den Guest House

Gekka-den Guest House

Kinmo-kutsu Tea Arbor was built in 1918 by Sankei Hara and has a one-and-three-quarter-mat tea ceremony room.

I am intrigued by the references to the number of tatami mats in the tea arbors.  I find at The Japanese Tea Ceremony that “in Japan, the size of a room, and that of a house is typically measured by the number of Tatami mats or Jō. The traditional dimensions of the mats were fixed at 90 cm by 180 cm by 5 cm (1.62 square meters)(35.5 inch by 71 inch by 2 inch). Half mats, 90 cm by 90 cm (35.5 inch by 35.5 inch) are also made. Tea rooms and tea houses are frequently 4½ mats (7.29m²) which is called a Koma style room.”

Kinmo-kutsu Teahouse

lush foliage

a litlte pagoda

Choshu-kaku Teahouse was built in 1623 by the Third Shogun, Ietmitsu Tokugawa, in the compound of the Nijojo Castle in Kyoto, perhaps as one of the garden buildings. There are only a few buildings with a structure like this still in existence. This two-storied building of a light style, in its front view, was designed on the basis of a balance that avoids symmetry as much as possible. It was moved to the garden in 1922.

inside Choshu-kaku Teahouse

inside Choshu-kaku Teahouse

Choshu-kaku Teahouse

Choshu-kaku Teahouse

Sekikan (stone coffin)

Shunso-ro Tea Arbor has a three-and-three-quarter-mat tea ceremony room, which may have been built by a devotee of the tea ceremony. It was moved to the garden in 1918.

Shunso-ro Teahouse

inside Shunso-ro Teahouse

bamboo grove

The Renge-in Teahouse includes a tea room with an uncovered wooden floor between two mats, a six mat hall, and an unfloored space. It was built in 1917 by Sankei Hara.

Renge-in teahouse in a bamboo grove


Syusse Kannon

Sanju-no-to is a three-story pagoda of the former Tomyo-ji Temple that is a companion to the main hall which I’ll visit down below.   It is 82 feet (25 meters) tall; it was built within the temple grounds in 1457 and is the oldest pagoda in the Kanto region.

Sanju-no-to Pagoda

Sanju-no-to Pagoda

view from Sanju-no-to Pagoda

Sanju-no-to Pagoda

The Nobel prize-winning India poet Tagor, famous Japanese literary Ryunosuke Akutagawa, and many others have visited this arbor. In the autumn of 1915, Akutagawa composed a haiku poem on his impressions when he enjoyed tea in the arbor.  I wish I had a copy of that haiku!


stream and bridge

bridge over stream

a meandering stream

Rindo-an Teahouse consists of a six-mat hall and a four-mat hall. Inside the word “Rindo” was written on a board by Sohen Yamada, the founder of the Sohen school of tea ceremony.  It is the origin of the name of this arbor.

I happen upon a young man posing with an umbrella here for a photographer.  Of course, I must take a surreptitious photo. 🙂

young man with umbrella at Rindo-an Teahouse

The Tomyoji Temple, like the three-storied pagoda, was formerly in Kamo Village in Kyoto. After being damaged by a typhoon in 1947, the main hall was disassembled and put in storage. In 1986, it was transferred to the garden and restored.

Tomyo-ji Main Hall

What draws me to Tomyo-ji is the quilt exhibit by Fumiko Endo. I love the tiny kimono is pretty fabrics on the black background.

kimono quilt

Other quilts have cranes, people in kimono, a single kimono and cascading blossoms.

I continue my walk through the outer garden and enjoy the ponds, streams and bridges.

another little bridge

Nakano-shima Island has a Kankatei Arbor and panoramic views.

views from Nagano-Shima Island

views from Nagano-Shima Island

views from Nagano-Shima Island

Yokobue-an is a country-style tea arbor and it is so named because in this arbor, there was a statue of Yokobue, a tragic heroine of a famous love story.

Yokobue-an Teahouse

The trunk of an Ume (Japanese apricot tree) looks like a crawling dragon.  This tree was the model for “Yoroboshi,” one of the famous masterpieces by artist Kanzan Shimomura, in which the famous “Yoroboshi” sits by a big Ume tree.


I found the image of the painting on Wikipedia Commons: “Yoroboshi, by Shimomura Kanzan, Tokyo National Museum, Japan.”

Yoroboshi, by Shimomura Kanzan, Tokyo National Museum, Japan (Wikipedia Commons)

Kankabashi Bridge

The Old Tokeiji Sanctum of the Zen Sect Style was moved to the garden in 1907 from the compound of the Tokeiji Temple in Kamakura.

Old Tokeiji Sanctum

Little is known about the origin of the old Yanohara Farmhouse with its roof laid with stones. The paper screens are patched with deeds, calendars, and children’s calligraphy exercises. A straw raincoat, sedge hat and hoe stand by the entrance.  Seasonal vegetables and bamboo were planted around the cottage, which also features a bamboo chicken coop and a well. Simple rustic scenes like this were the things Sankei loved best.  He used this cottage as a place to entertain guests and visitors, according to an interpretive sign.

The farmhouse is in the gassho style, noted for its steeply pitched, thatched-roof that resembles hands clasped in prayer. The three-story design was built without nails and its beams are secured by thick straw ropes, according to Tokyo: 29 Walks in the World’s Most Exciting City.

Yonohara Farmhouse

From the south gate of Sankei-an, I cross over a waterway to the Honmoku Civic Park.  Here, I find the Shanghai-Yokohama Friendship Garden, a classical Chinese-style garden with a Chinese Pleasure Barge, a building in traditional Chinese style on an island in the lake.

Shanghai-Yokohama Friendship Garden

Shanghai-Yokohama Friendship Garden

Shanghai-Yokohama Friendship Garden

Shanghai-Yokohama Friendship Garden

Shanghai-Yokohama Friendship Garden

I don’t plan to continue the walk, which would take me to Hasse-den Kyodo Shiryokan, the Hall of the Eight Sages, just outside the Honmoku Civic Park.  From there, I’d have to find a different bus to take me back, or take a taxi.  I haven’t yet had to take a taxi in Japan and I fear they’re expensive.  So, I opt to backtrack though Sankei-en to the bus stop where I disembarked earlier.

wisteria arbor in Sankei-en beside the Main Pond

I loved my outing to Sankei-en today.  The weather was fabulous, the crowds weren’t too thick for a holiday, and it was charmingly scenic.  I highly recommend this enchanting garden. 🙂

Below is my route to Sankei-en this morning.

Steps today: 16,711 (7.08 miles).

meiji shrine & harajuku: takeshita-dori & togo shrine {part of walking tour 18}   8 comments

Wednesday, May 3: For my first day off during Golden Week, I decide to visit the Meiji Shrine as part of Walking Tour 18 in Tokyo: 29 Walks in the World’s Most Exciting City. The walk includes Harajuku, Omotesando and Aoyama, but I am only able to do part of it today. It’s very crowded, as I expected it would be because of the holiday.  That is one thing I hate about being a teacher — we get the same holidays as everyone else in a country does; thus whenever we travel, we have to contend with huge crowds.

As soon as I get off the metro, I see a huge three-story Gap store, with “Everything 50% off!” for Golden Week.  The crowds are already thick, despite the early hour.  I walk away from the shopping district to visit the Meiji Shrine, built in 1920 to enshrine the spirit of the Emperor Meiji and his wife, the Empress Shokun.  It was built eight years after the emperor died and six years after the empress died.  Though destroyed in World War II, the shrine was rebuilt shortly thereafter.

Emperor Meiji was the first emperor of modern Japan. He was born in 1852 and ascended to the throne in 1867 at the peak of the Meiji Restoration when Japan’s feudal era came to an end and the emperor was restored to power. By the time Emperor Meiji passed away in 1912, Japan had modernized and westernized to join the world’s major powers ( Meiji Shrine).

I take the bridge over the railway to the Harajuku-mon (Harajuku Gate).  I’m visiting only the Inner Garden today; it consists of 178 acres with over 120,000 trees of 365 species from all over Japan.

the Harajuku-mon (Harajuku Gate) of the Meiji Shrine

After walking along the path, I come to this fabulous display of sake barrels wrapped in straw.

During the Meiji Period, Emperor Meiji led the industrial growth and modernization of Japan by encouraging various industries and supporting technological development.  These sake barrels are donated every year to these enshrined deities by members of the Meiji Jingu Zenkoku Shuzo Keishinkai (Meiji Jingu Nationwide Sake Brewers Association), which has made offerings of sake for generations. as well as other sake brewers around Japan wishing to show their deep respect for the Emperor and Empress. (from a sign at the shrine)

sake barrels

I love these barrels, with their artistic displays of flowers, Japanese landscapes and calligraphy.

sake barrels

sake barrels

sake barrels

The Meiji Period was an enlightened period during which a policy of “Japanese Spirit and Western Knowledge” was adopted, in the hopes of learning from the best of Western culture and civilization, while keeping Japan’s age-old spirit and revered traditions. Emperor Meiji promoted modernization by embracing many features of Western culture in his personal life, such as donning Western attire. He also set an example by taking Western food and enjoying wine with it.

The barrels of wine to be consecrated at Meiji Jingu have been offered by the wineries of Bourgogne in France, to be consecrated in the spirit of world peace and amity, and with the earnest prayer that France and Japan enjoy many more fruitful years of friendship.

wine barrels offered by wineries of Bourgogne in France

Past the sake and wine barrels is the O-torii, the Great Torii. This 40 foot tall torii is the largest torii in Japan, created from cypress trees said to be 1,500 years old.  Because no cypress trees large enough for the design of this torii could be found in Japan, the Japanese turned to Taiwan to provide the large tree.

the O-torii, the Great Torii

Many celebrations and performances are in store today at Meiji Shrine, but I always seem to be in the middle of shows, and never actually catch one in progress.  I do see these scholarly looking men marching ceremoniously down the path.

some kind of procession

O-torii, the Great Torii

The temizuya water pavilion consists of a water basin and ladles, but is not a place to drink water. It is there to perform misogi, a ritual to purify the body and mind with water before proceeding to stand in front of the deity. Originally this ritual was performed in the nude at special misogi locations like the ocean or a river, but today the ritual has been simplified to rinsing your hands and mouth at the temizuya. The idea is to wash away impurities of the heart as well as from the physical self (Into Japan: The Official Guide: Shrines and temples).

purificaiton at the “temizuya” water pavilion

Finally, I reach the Kita-mon, the North Gate, which opens onto the Honden.

the Kita-mon, or North Gate

The Honden contains the enshrined spirits of the imperial couple.  Built in 1915-1920, the shrine burned down during a 1945 air raid and was reconstructed in 1958.

the Honden

tapestry on the Honden

A path leading to the left would take me to the Imperial Treasure House at the far rear of the Inner Garden. This holds personal belongings of the emperor and his consort.  I bypass that in the interest of visiting the Meiji Jingu Goen.

a gate out to the left of the shrine, toward the Imperial Treasure House

I take this photo of the Honden from inside the courtyard of the shrine.  The large shrine is presently covered in scaffolding for renovation and doesn’t make for a good picture.

The Honden

Returning down the same path on which I entered the grounds, I decide to stop at the gardens I passed earlier.  I pay an entrance fee of 500 yen to go into Meiji Jingu Goen.  I’m happy to pay an entrance fee if it reduces the crowds!

First, I pass the Kakuun-Tei, or Tea House.  According to a sign on the grounds, “The former building of Kakuun-Tei was built by the order of His Majesty the Emperor Meiji for Her Majesty the Empress Shokun in 1900. As the building was burnt down by the war damage, so in the autumn of 1958, the present building was reconstructed.”

Kakuun-Tei (Tea House)

Kakuun-Tei (Tea House)

The South Water Lily Pond is a tranquil place, but this isn’t the season for water lilies to be in bloom.

Minami-ike – the Water Lily Pond

Minami-ike – the Water Lily Pond

Minami-ike – the Water Lily Pond

glossy leaf in the Meiji Jingu Goen

The Jingu Nai-en Iris Garden is expected to bloom in mid-June.  It still looks quite pretty, even if the field isn’t blossoming in purple yet.

The Jingu Nai-en Iris Garden

The Jingu Nai-en Iris Garden

The Jingu Nai-en Iris Garden

I follow the Azalea Path, but I’m too late for most of the azaleas, which already bloomed.  I do manage to catch a few remaining blossoms from the season.

Azalea path

last of the azaleas



After enjoying the paths around the gardens for some time, I leave the grounds of Meiji Shrine and head next door to Yoyogi Park.  As soon as I reach the entrance, I see it isn’t the kind of park I will enjoy.  It’s filled with screaming children and loud music — just the kind of park I hate; it reminds me of many Chinese parks I visited.

Instead, I head into the commercial district looking for the famous Takeshita-dori, a narrow street of more than a hundred boutiques in a sort of fashion heaven for teenage girls.  Before I head down that street, I of course have to stop at Gap, where I buy a couple of items to take advantage of their 50% off sale.

Back outside on Takeshita-dori, people are jammed into the narrow street, and I’m carried right along with them.  Once I’m caught in the crowd, there is no turning back; I have no choice but to slide down the street with hordes of people; we’re all like flies stuck in slow-flowing honey.


There are a lot of strange things to see (or NOT see over the heads of all the people around me), but I’ll just the let the pictures tell the story.


buttons on Takeshita-dori

Takeshita-dori is one of those places that makes me think, yes, this is the Tokyo I’ve always imagined!






Finally, the crowd is regurgitated out at the far end of the narrow street and I can breathe again!  I turn left at Meiji-dori and walk a few blocks, where I find some serenity at Togo Shrine, which deifies the navy’s leading admiral in the Russo-Japanese War.  Admiral Togo Heihachiro defeated the Russian fleet in the Tsushima Straits in the 1904-1905 war, so he was one of the leading heroes of the early 20th century in Japan.

entrance to Togo Shrine

lion at Togo Shrine

Togo Shrine

ema at Togo Shrine

Togo Shrine

pond at Togo Shrine

pond at Togo Shrine

pond at Togo Shrine

After leaving Togo Shrine at nearly 2:00 p.m., I’m starving.  The only thing I can think about is finding a place to eat.  Whenever I’m in downtown Tokyo, I like to take advantage of the many international restaurants that the city has to offer.  I live so far on the outskirts of Tokyo, that most of the restaurants in my neighborhood, except a few, are solely of the Japanese variety.

Today I find Guzman y Gomez, where I get a taco dish with two tacos: one vegetarian and one fish. They are so good!  This restaurant is in a  big shopping mall, much different from shopping malls I’m used to.  It’s modern and upscale and has many shops hard to distinguish because there are no walls between them.  Usually the malls are multi-storied and have shops I’ve never heard of, although I do see some familiar ones such as Gap and Zara.

After lunch, as I head back to the train station, I can’t help but pop into Zara, where I buy a couple of T-shirts.  One thing that is very clear about Japan is that it’s definitely a consumer culture.  Everyone is into fashion and fine things, and everything that you’d ever want to buy is offered here.  I also notice that Japanese people are not as small as the Chinese, so I can actually find clothes to fit here.  When I was in China, I rarely bought anything, because everything was too small.  So, I must admit, I’ve bought more things than I should be buying. 🙂

Japanese trends this year are baggy capri-length culottes and baggy tops with cute bell sleeves, flutter sleeves, or balloon sleeves.  I’m not into the culottes because they make me look like a balloon on the bottom (plus they’re too tight around my waist), but I do like the tops.  Everything is in plain colors or subdued delicate flowers.  Because I often buy clothes with patterns on them, my clothes don’t fit in here at all!  I normally like my style, but here, I stand out as the Westerner I am.

Below is how I got to Meiji Shrine this morning. Fuchinobe > Nagatsuta > Shibuya > Harajuku (1 hour 4 minutes).

Total steps today: 16,363 (6.93 miles).

from tokyo station to the imperial palace outer gardens, topped off by a beer garden in hibiya {walking tour 1}   11 comments

Sunday, April 30:  We had to work six days this past week, Monday-Saturday; the Saturday was to make up for one of the Golden Week holidays we’ll miss in the coming week.  Actually, Saturday was one of the official holidays, as April 29 is Showa Day, which honors the birthday of Emperor Hirohito, the reigning Emperor before, during, and after World War II (from 1926 – 1989).  Also part of Golden Week are three other holidays: Constitution Memorial Day, on May 3, to commemorate the country’s constitution, which came into effect on May 3, 1947; Arbor Day, also known as Greenery Day or Midori no Hi, on May 4, which became a holiday simply because it falls between two other holidays (Japanese holiday law states that a day that falls between two holidays will also be a holiday); and finally Children’s Day on May 5, a day set aside to respect children’s personalities and to celebrate their happiness. It was formerly known as Boys’ Day; families prayed for the health and future success of their sons by hanging up carp streamers and displaying samurai dolls, both symbolizing strength, power and success in life.  Now the celebration is for all children.

When I lived in China, I also had to work a couple of Saturdays to make up for holidays.  I don’t really understand this Asian mentality: how is something considered a holiday if you don’t truly get it off? 🙂

So after 6 days of work, with only Sunday off before having to return to work on Monday, I debate whether I should rest or venture out.  Because I’m me, of course I venture out, to follow Walking Tour 1 from Tokyo: 29 Walks in the World’s Mostly Exciting City: Marunouchi, The Imperial Palace and Hibiya Park.

Marunouchi means “Within the Moats;” at one time it housed the mansions of the daimyo most favored by the Tokugawa shoguns. For 260 years, the most powerful military leaders of Japan occupied this area.

It takes me nearly an hour and a half to get to Tokyo Station, where the walk begins. The red-brick Renaissance-style station was opened in 1914, and was meant as a memorial for Japan’s victory over Russia in the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-1905.  It was used only by royalty (Tokyo: 29 Walks).

Tokyo Station

From the western side of Tokyo Station, I head west, with the Marunouchi Building to the left and the Sin-Marunouchi Building to the right; both boast chic restaurants, fashionable shops and high-end offices.  I keep heading west until I reach Hibiya-dori, which runs along Babasaki-bari (Moat in Front of the Horse Grounds) and the beginning of the Imperial Palace Outer Gardens.

The moat’s unusual name come from a 1635 display of horsemanship presented by a delegation from the then dependent kingdom of Korea to the shogun. On the other side of the moat are the Imperial Palace Outer Gardens.

first view of the moat

Before entering the Imperial Palace Outer Garden, I walk south down Hibiya-dori until I come to the corner of the moat; at this point I turn around and head north, noting the important buildings along the moat, but not quite knowing which building is which because of the Japanese signs.

the corner of palace grounds

Below is the Imperial Theater, which opened in 1911 and was the first major Western-style theater in Tokyo.

Imperial Theater (Teikoku Gekijo)

DN Tower 21, formerly the Dai Ichi Insurance Building, was built in 1938 in what was the style favored by authoritarian governments of that period.  In the original building, from September 15, 1945 until April 11, 1951, General Douglas MacArthur, called the “Blue-eyed Shogun” by the Japanese, had his headquarters as the military and civilian representative of the Allied forces at the end of World War II.  I don’t take a picture of this building.

The Meiji Mutual Life Insurance Building sits where the shogun’s fire department was once located.  They had a thankless and often unsuccessful job putting out the numerous fires that broke out in Tokyo. In the Long Sleeves Fire of 1657, even the shogun’s castle was consumed and destroyed by fire.

Meiji Mutual Life Insurance Co. Building

Looking lengthwise along the moat

looking to the northeast along the moat

I follow the bridge leading into the Outer Gardens; these lie in front of the walls of the palace grounds.  I’m greeted by the 1897 bronze equestrian statue of Kusunoki Masashige, created by order of the Meiji government to promote the government’s new creed of loyalty to the Imperial House and the emperor.  The government emphasized the need to be ready to sacrifice oneself for emperor and nation.  Kusunoki had these virtues: he defended Emperor Go-Daigo and his imperial prerogatives in the 1300s and then committed seppuku, or ceremonial suicide, after he failed defending the emperor against Ashikaga Takauji’s usurpation of power in 1336.

Kusunoki Masashige Statue

Kusunoki Masashige Statue

I continue my walk north past some unusual pine trees at the northeast end of the Outer Garden.

Strange trees in the Imperial Palace Outer Garden

tree shadows

In the 1960s, the Wadakura Fountain Park was added to the Outer Gardens to celebrate the wedding of the then crown prince (now Akihito, reigning emperor of Japan, who will be renamed Emperor Heisei upon his death).

Wadakura Fountain Park

At the end of the Outer Garden near Wadakura Fountain Park, another moat separates the palace walls from the public park; Tatsumi-Yagura and the Visitor’s Center sit on one corner. Today’s Imperial Palace is located on raised ground with walls of huge stones brought by boat in the 1600s from the Izu Peninsula some 60 miles southwest of Tokyo.  In 1873 the last of the Tokugawa buildings burned down, and the emperor and empress were forced to move to the Akasaka Palace Grounds.


The public is allowed on to the palace grounds only twice a year: on the emperor’s December 23rd birthday and at the start of the New Year on January 2. On December 23, the emperor greets the public from the balcony of the Kyuden (Hall of State); on the New Year holiday, the imperial family greets the public from the same balcony.


More interesting trees

When the public is allowed into the palace grounds, they enter over the 1888 Nijubashi Bridge.  The most photogenic place in the Outer Gardens is the spot shown in the photo below, with the bridge in front and Fushimi Yagura, one of the three remaining fortified towers of the Tokugawa castle, in the background. They both seem to rise from the imperial moat.

Nijubashi Bridge & Fushimi Yagura

During the militaristic period of the 1930s and 1940s, the bridge, the Fushimi Tower, and the palace grounds became a symbol of patriotism for the Japanese, so much so that when Japan capitulated at the end of World War II, the more fanatical of the imperial army officers committed ceremonial suicide to atone for Japan’s loss of honor.

Nijubashi Bridge & Fushimi Yagura

another corner of the wall

Finally, I’ve come almost full circle.  I leave the Imperial Palace Outer Gardens, and head east on Harumi-dori toward Hibiya Park.  A large glossy crow stands on the bank of the Sakurada-bari.

a crow on the bank of Sakurada-bari

I pass the Ministry of Justice Building on the right before getting to Hibiya Park.  Two German architects wanted to combine the best of Western and Japanese architecture, but the government, in the push for modernization in the 1890s, insisted on the more Western design.  What I love today are the Koinobori, or “carp streamers” in Japanese; these are carp-shaped windsocks flown to celebrate Children’s Day on May 5.

Ministry of Finance with carp flags

Ministry of Finance

At the north end of Hibiya Park, I find an inviting atmosphere at the Hibiya Saroh Beer Terrace 1949.  The outdoor cafe is pleasantly situated amongst trees blowing gently in a cool breeze. Japanese families are drinking beer and eating from a limited menu.  I would love to have a beer, but instead I opt for a glass of white wine and a tortilla pizza with coriander.  I’m expecting to find coriander sprinkled over the pizza, but when it comes out, it’s covered with a heap of fresh cilantro.  The whole experience — the wine, the pleasant atmosphere, the perfect weather, the delicious cilantro-covered pizza — makes me feel serene and joyous.  It’s moments like these I live for when exploring in foreign lands.

Hibiya Saroh Beer Terrace 1949

After lunch, I’m feeling a bit sleepy from the wine, so I take a leisurely walk through Hibiya Park, which is quite pleasant.

Hibiya Park

Wedding venue at Hibiya Park

Hibiya Park

Hibiya Park

Hibiya Park

flowers at Hibiya Park

delicates at Hibiya Park

pond at Hibiya Park

Hibiya Park

I continue following the walk after leaving the park, passing the Imperial Hotel; the original portion was completed in 1890, but when it proved too small for the growing Tokyo, Frank Lloyd Wright was commissioned to add more to the old hotel in 1915.  After a 7-year construction period, with many cost overruns, it opened in 1922, just as the original Imperial Hotel in front of it burned down, and one year before the Kanto earthquake of 1923.

Imperial Hotel

Finally, I walk through the theater district, passing the Tokyo Takarazuka Theater; this theater served as the Ernie Pyle Theater for American troops during the military occupation of Japan after 1945.

Takarazuka Theater

I’m not sure of the significance of the sculpture in front of Takarazuka Theater.

sculpture in front of Takarazuka Theater

Next door, and across from the Imperial Hotel, is the Nissei Theater, offering ballet and opera in season and concerts and movies at other times.

Nissei Theater

now playing at Nissei Theater

As I make my way back to the metro, I pass a little shrine stuck in the middle of the theater area of central Tokyo.  It’s a strange place to find a little shrine, but it’s a delightful surprise in the midst of today’s ultra-modern concrete city.

small shrine on a Tokyo city street

Here is my route to Tokyo Station this morning: Fuchinobe > Higashi-Kanagawa > Tokyo Station (1 hour 19 minutes).

Total steps today: 18,911 (8.01 miles).

Back to work tomorrow. 😦




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