Archive for the ‘Hanami’ Category

cherry blossoms in the rain at shinjuku gyoen {walking tour 17: part 1}   12 comments

Sunday, April 9:  After being stuck in my apartment all day Saturday because of rain, I am itching to get out to explore Tokyo on Sunday.  My goal during my short time here is to visit a new place at least once every weekend, and maybe twice if the weather permits and I’m not too exhausted.

The forecast for Sunday shows a morning of cloudy skies with the rain holding off until noon.  I wake up early Sunday, look out my window to see no rain, and immediately eat breakfast and take a shower.  By the time I am ready to leave my house at 8 a.m. it has started raining.  Bah!  I know the cherry blossoms are peaking this weekend, so I need to go today or I’ll miss them.  I prepare myself to brave the weather, armed with umbrella and walking shoes.  I ride my bicycle – holding my umbrella over my head – to the bicycle parking lot near the train station.

My goal today is to do Walking Tour 17 from my book, Tokyo: 29 Walks in the World’s Most Exciting City: Shinjuku: A District of Skyscrapers, City Hall, a Central Shopping Area, the Red Light District, and am Imperial Garden.  Since it is “supposed” to rain later (even though it is already raining!), I figure I’d better do Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden first, to be guaranteed I’ll see the cherry blossoms.  So, doing the walk in reverse, I take the train to Shinjuku and then transfer to the Marunouchi Subway line to Shinjuku Gyoenmae Station.

To get to Shinjuku, I take the Yokohama Line to Machida, where I transfer to the Odakyu line to Shinjuku.  From Machida, there is a Rapid Express line, an Express line and a Local.  The local of course stops at every stop.  When I see the Rapid Express train is already packed at this early morning hour, I decide to try the Express; on that train, I get a seat and it isn’t that crowded.  However, it is quite a bit slower than the Rapid Express, about 45 minutes compared to 26 minutes. Still, it’s nice to have a seat and not be packed into the Rapid Express train.

When I arrive at Shinjuku Gyoen and pay the 200 yen admission fee, I find an open area where everyone is posing with the few blooming cherry blossoms.  I stop here and take a few close-up shots.  Little do I know what other wonders the garden will hold.

Arrival at Shinjuku Gyoen Garden

The rain is that annoying drizzle that makes it difficult to keep the camera lens dry.  It’s a struggle to hold both the umbrella and the camera and, at the same time, to keep wiping the rain off the camera lens.  I also hope to stay dry myself.   It’s quite a dark and dreary day, making many of the pictures look dull and blurry.  I wish I could have visited this garden on a sunny day; it was beautiful in the rain but I’m sure it would have been spectacular on a blue-sky day.

Despite all these challenges, I am pleased with some of my close-up blossom pictures, as well as those of people standing on bridges under their umbrellas, and the cherry blossoms juxtaposed against the tea house.  I also like the views from the Kyu Goryo-tei Pavilion, and the drooping branches of cherry blossoms over ponds, and the areas where there is both a canopy and a carpet of blossoms.  Most of my landscape shots are horrible, but I put some here so you can get a general feel for this gorgeous garden.

lusciousness

cherry blossoms with yellow blooms

dangling blooms

The garden was built on the site of the private mansion of Lord Naito, a daimyo (feudal lord) of the Edo era.  Completed in 1906 as an imperial garden, it was re-designated as a national garden after the Second World War; at that time, it was opened to the public. The garden has two parts: the northern portion is laid out as a Western garden combining French and English styles.  The southern portion is a Japanese Traditional Garden, with paths, artificial hills, islands in ponds, bridges and stone lanterns.  It is considered to be one of the most important gardens from the Meiji era.

I go on a little detour through a Mother-Child garden.

The Mother and Child garden

I like the cypress area, with its cypress knees and cypress trees.

Cypress area

cypress

more delicacies

I walk on a wooded path for a while until I see signs for the Japanese garden.

the gnarled path

The Japanese Traditional Garden is my favorite by far, with the pink and white sakura interspersed with weeping willows, pruned trees and bushes, trained bonsai, rocks, ponds, and arched bridges.  It feels so organic and natural, even though I’m sure it has been meticulously shaped.

It is such a shame it’s rainy and my photos are so unsatisfactory.

an arched bridge and weeping willows

I attempt many times to take photos of the umbrellas on the bridge, but it’s frustrating because of the poor light and drizzle.

a bridge too far

umbrellas on a bridge

I spend time admiring the pretty little tea house surrounded by sakura.

tea house under pink

a Japanese tea house at Shinjuku Gyoen

Walking around the many ponds is a wonderful treat.

I love wandering out and about in the Japanese garden.

a pretty little scene

another stone lantern

The Kyu Goryo-tei Pavilion is a Chinese-style pavilion which commemorates Emperor Hirohito’s wedding in 1927. From the pavilion are fantastic views of the Japanese gardens.

view from the Kyu Goryo-tei Pavilion

view from the Kyu Goryo-tei Pavilion

view from the Kyu Goryo-tei Pavilion

I wander over the garden’s 150 acres from around 9 am, when I arrive, until 11:30, and I’m sure I miss some parts of the garden.

another sakura-lined pond in the Japanese garden

I adore the sakura dangling their blossoms over the pond, mimicking the bowing of the Japanese people.

blossoms leaning into the pond

lounging blossoms

sakura!

textured scene

Finally, I find an open woodsy area with both a canopy and carpet of cherry blossoms.

canopy and carpet

soft and sharp

mystical forest

blossoms all around

It’s about time to move on to the second part of my walk, to the west side of Shinjuku station, where the shopping district and skyscrapers of western Tokyo reside.  I’m also tired and getting hungry.  I’m sure the skyscraper district will have some interesting places to eat.

The northern part of the garden, which combines an English and French style, is not of much interest to me.  Maybe it’s better at other times of year, but at least for this weekend, it’s all about the cherry blossoms.

gnarly trees in a row

The English Garden

The English Garden

a line of spiky trees

I leave the garden and head back to the train station, where I’ll catch the train back to Shinjuku.  On the way, I see this pair of vending machines, in sakura colors of pink and red.

jubilant twins

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. 🙂

 

temples & shrines on kotodoi-dori {walking tour 9: part 3}   8 comments

Sunday, April 2:  Continuing further northwest through Ueno Park, I come to the Ikeda Mansion Gate, at gate that once stood before the residence of the Ikeda Lords of Inabe (Tottori) in the Marunouchi district of the city and was relocated here in 1954.   The elaborate gate has two guardhouses with Chinese-style roofs.

Ikeda Mansion Gate

My goal is continue following the walk as long as I can, and as long as my feet will carry me.  Little do I know how far it is to the next stop, past the International Library of Children’s Literature (there are SO MANY MUSEUMS in Ueno Park!!) to Kan’ei-ji Temple, built in 1625 by the priest Tenkai Sojo to serve the ruling Tokugawa clan.

Kan’ei-ji Temple

Kan’ei-ji originally functioned as a prayer hall to protect the Ki-mon (“Demon’s Gate”) of Edo Castle, but later it became the temple in which the Tokugawa family held Buddhist services. At its peak, the temple housed 68 buildings of various sizes. Most of these, however, were destroyed by fire in subsequent civil wars. An enormous image of the Buddha was destroyed by the great Kanto earthquake that hit Tokyo in 1923; only the Yakushi image  of the Buddha of Health remains enshrined today.  As a hibutsu (hidden image), it is never shown (Into Japan: The Official Guide: Ken’ei-ji Temple).

The former Kan’ei-ji Temple, a 5-story pagoda, sat at the right hand side of the approach to Tosho-gu Shrine. It is currently located inside Ueno Zoo.  I didn’t have the time or the interest to visit the zoo today.

Once a great complex, Kan’ei-ji used to occupy the entire heights north and east of Shinobazu Pond and the plains where Ueno Station now stands. It had immense wealth, power and prestige. Of the 15 Tokugawa shoguns, six are buried here. (Wikipedia: Kan’ei-ji)

At Kan’ei-ji Temple

Copper bell at Kan’ei-ji Temple

In the 1600s, the shoguns showed great interest in Confucian doctrines, leading to the founding of the Confucian Academy on the temple grounds.

Sakura at Kan’ei-ji Temple

Sakura at Kan’ei-ji Temple

Luckily, it’s not crowded at this out-of-the-way temple, so I’m able to take a few close-up shots of the cherry blossoms.

Sakura at Kan’ei-ji Temple

Sakura at Kan’ei-ji Temple

Sakura at Kan’ei-ji Temple

Kan’ei-ji Temple

As I leave Kan’ei-ji, I turn right until I come to Kototoi-dori.  Opposite is the Jomyo-in Temple, built in 1666 as one of 36 residences for priests of Kan’ei-ji.  The Hondo (Main Hall) is a square concrete unit, not very attractive.  The draw here are the Jizo images; Jizo is the Buddhist deity protecting children, the dead, pregnant women, and travelers. In the mid-19th century, the abbot vowed to erect within the grounds 84,000 Jizo images.  He didn’t succeed, but the count is now beyond 20,000.

Jomyo-in Temple

Jomyo-in Temple

Jomyo-in Temple

Jomyo-in Temple

Jomyo-in Temple

Jomyo-in Temple

Jomyo-in Temple

Jomyo-in Temple

Jomyo-in Temple

Jomyo-in Temple

Jomyo-in Temple

Jomyo-in Temple

Jomyo-in Temple

By now, it’s getting late and I’m exhausted.  I guess I should have started this walk at 6 a.m. this morning.  I don’t have time to do the rest of the walk before it gets dark or before my legs give out, so I make my way down Kototoi-dori Road back toward the metro stop.  I stop into a couple of small shrines along the way, little jewels hidden along a busy road.

a little shrine by the road

This one has a cute dog, who sits quietly as I walk on the grounds.  He seems like a friendly fellow.

the dog protector

Another shrine sits further back off the road.  It’s quite pretty.  The light is fading fast though, so I don’t linger too long.

another shrine

shrine

pretty shrine

lantern in an oasis

umbrellas & elephants

a warrior

Finally, I return to Shinobazu-dori and, alas, I’m happy to see the Nezu metro station, one stop further along the Chiyoda line from where I disembarked earlier today.  Entering the metro here will save me quite a walk.  I’m happy to sit down on the train, at least until I reach the Rapid Express Odakyu Line.  On that train, I have to stand on a packed train for 26 minutes until I reach Machida.

The problem with the book Tokyo: 29 Walks in the World’s Most Exciting City is that no distances or times are given.  I think this walk was overly ambitious for one day.  I could have taken one whole day to visit EACH of the museums in the Tokyo National Museum Complex, plus the Ueno Zoo, Tokyo University and about five more museums, gardens and shrines.  I believe Ueno Park and its museums could be a week-long journey!

Total steps: 15,357 (6.51 miles).

hanami at ueno park: subtemples, shrines, bells, kabuto, and jubilant japanese folks {walking tour 9: part 2}   6 comments

Sunday, April 2:  As I leave Ameyoko Shopping street and prepare to enter Ueno Park, I brace myself to penetrate the crowds I can already see near the south entrance.  I wrote in my previous blog post that the cherry blossoms were just past their peak, but now I’ve been told otherwise.  They are actually expected to peak next weekend, the 8th and 9th. Sadly, rain is forecast for the upcoming weekend.  So what I’m seeing today are sakura before their peak, and this may be my only chance to see them.

Entrance to Ueno Park

Entering Ueno Park

Once inside the park, I make my way slowly to the “main” entrance, where I find an 1898 bronze statue of Takamori Saigo (1827-1873), dubbed the “last true samurai.”  He was instrumental in bringing the new Meji government to power and in later defeating Tokugawa shogun loyalists who, despite reaching a peaceful agreement for the turnover of power, attacked the incoming government at Ueno; though the loyalists were defeated, they set fire to Kan’ei-ji, the protector temple of the city, and nearly a thousand other houses.  Though the statue should have been erected at the Imperial Palace, it was erected here because Takamori, angered by the new government’s abolishing of samurai privileges, led an abortive coup against the very government he helped bring to power.  He ended his own life in a ceremonial suicide.

The government was conflicted because they wanted to honor him but didn’t know how to recognize him because of his treasonous act.  So they placed the statue in Ueno Park, the site of his victory over the Tokugawa loyalists.  However, they clothed him in traditional kimono with his hunting dog at his side rather than in his Meji general’s uniform.  Neither the statue’s placement nor his garb pleased his wife, however.

bronze statue of Takamori Saigo

Leaving the statue, I stroll under a canopy of cherry blossoms and make my way to Kiyomizu Kannon-do, a sub temple established in 1631 by Tenkai Sojo (a High Buddhist priest), following the pattern of Kiymizu-dera Temple in Kyoto.

sakura

Kiyomizu Kannon-do

Kiyomizu Kannon-do

Many people come here to pray to the Kosodate Kannon in hopes of conceiving a child.

Kiyomizu Kannon-do

Kiyomizu Kannon-do

Kiyomizu Kannon-do

Kiyomizu Kannon-do

Ema at Kiyomizu Kannon-do

At Japanese shrines, I see ema of various types hanging on metal racks. Ema are small wooden plaques on which Shinto worshippers write their prayers or wishes; they then hang them at the shrine. There, the kami (spirits or gods) are believed to receive them. They bear various pictures, often of animals or other Shinto imagery, and many have the word gan’i, meaning “wish”, written along the side.

Ema are sold for various wishes, and help support the shrine financially. Common reasons for buying a plaque are for success in work or on exams, marital bliss, conception of children, and health. Some shrines specialize in certain types of these plaques, and the larger shrines may offer more than one.

In addition, I see O-mikuji, random fortunes written on strips of paper at Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples. These are usually received by making a small offering (generally a five-yen coin as it is considered good luck) and randomly choosing one from a box, hoping for the resulting fortune to be good.  The o-mikuji is scrolled up or folded, and unrolling the piece of paper reveals the fortune written on it.

I attempt to make my way to the Benten-do, an island built in the middle of Shinobazu Pond for the shrine to the Shinto goddess Benten, one of the Seven Gods of Good Luck.  In 1670, a causeway was built from the shore to the island.  However, the crowds are so thick going over the causeway that I decide against going, and instead walk along the less crowded southern part of the pond.

Heading to the Benten-do

Below is a photo of the Benten-do from the southern shore of Shinobazu Pond, which means “The Pond Without Patience.”

Shinobazu Pond from the other side

Walking uphill from Shinobazu Pond, I come to Gojo Tenjin Shrine, dedicated to the gods of medicine and learning.

Gojo Tenjin Shrine

The ema at Gojo Tenjin Shrine are quite elaborate.

Adjacent to Gojo Tenjin Shrine is Hanazono Inari Shrine. From the latter, a tunnel of vermillion torii leads uphill, eventually to the 1666 Toki-no-kane bell.

Hanazono Inari Shrine

Hanazono Inari Shrine

I meet the growling fox guardian at the gate.  His little red bib detracts a bit from his ferocity.

bibbed fox guardian at Hanazono Inari Shrine

Hanazono Inari Shrine

Hanazono Inari Shrine

torii gates from Hanazono Inari Shrine

Uphill, I find a woman selling French fries in a tall paper cup, which I buy because I’m starving. I don’t know where on earth I would sit, so I munch on them while walking.  I come across the 1666 Toki-no-kane bell, which once sounded the hours for the temple monks.

statue at 1666 Toki-no-kane bell

At the top of the little hill, I find this intriguing Buddha face.

Buddha at 1666 Toki-no-kane bell

The ema here have the blue-tinted Buddha face.

Ema at 1666 Toki-no-kane bell

On the far side of the bell, a melody is wafting through the air, and I find a peaceful spot where I can sit on a bench and listen to to the music.  It’s called “Kabuto Music and Manners” by Dr. Manners.

I sit on the bench and cross my legs, placing my French fries beside me. A gentle man wearing a navy blue haori, a traditional Japanese sort of hip-length kimono-like jacket, comes over and gently nudges my knees, indicating I should not cross my legs.  He says, “It’s the Japanese way.”  He then offers me a flower-shaped sugar cube on a piece of tissue paper with calligraphy on it.  I’m so amicably welcomed here.  Each time he comes over, he is so gentle and kind, I can’t help but bow to him and say “arigato.” He then offers me a bowl of green tea, which I drink slowly, enjoying the music and the tranquil surroundings.  As I’m drinking the tea, he comes over again and nudges my knees apart, which I’ve accidentally crossed without thinking, and he offers me another sugar cube, which I eat. I feel at one with the universe as I sit and listen to the transporting music.  It’s a lovely respite from the crowds and the chaotic energy swirling around us on all sides.

a kind soul at 1666 Toki-no-kane bell

A lovely lady wearing kimono sits on a platform preparing the green tea and sugar cubes; she graciously poses for a picture. The whole experience turns out to be the most memorable and enjoyable experience of the day.

geisha (?) at 1666 Toki-no-kane bell

The musician is shown below; I’m not sure if he is Dr. Manners, but a nice lady convinces me to buy his CD, which says “Kabuto Music and Manners Sound by Dr. Manners.”  Possibly he is playing a type of music created by Dr. Manners, or possibly he is Dr. Manners himself.  I really don’t know, but I buy the CD, which costs me 2,000 yen (nearly $20), and add it to the bulkiness of my pack.  I guess I could have just listened to it on YouTube, but at least I was happy to support the musician.

Kabuto musician

1666 Toki-no-kane bell

After my peaceful time at the bell, I walk through a long row of food vendors toward Tosho-gu Shrine.  Some of the food, especially the corn on the cob, looks enticing, but now I’m full from the French fries, sugar cubes and green tea.

Tosho-gu Shrine is the final resting place of Tokugawa Ieyasu, the founder of the Tokugawa Shogunate that ruled Japan for over 250 years until 1868.

The lavishly decorated shrine complex consists of more than a dozen buildings set amidst a small forest. Countless wood carvings and large amounts of gold leaf were used to decorate the buildings in a way not seen elsewhere in Japan, where simplicity has been traditionally stressed in shrine architecture. The shrine contains both Buddhist and Shinto elements; this was common until the Meji period, when Shinto was separated from Buddhism.

Tosho-gu Shrine

Below are some of the ema at Tosho-gu Shrine.

A double row of 50 bronze lanterns stands near the entry to  Tosho-gu Shrine.  They were not meant for illumination but were used to purify the sacred fire for important religious ceremonies.

bronze lanterns at Tosho-gu Shrine

bronze lanterns at Tosho-gu Shrine

bronze lanterns at Tosho-gu Shrine

The Sukibei Wall which surrounds the shrine building was completed in 1651.  The upper part of the wall is decorated with land creatures, while the lower part is adorned with sea and river creatures. Real world wild animals such as birds, fish, shellfish, frogs, catfish, and butterflies can be found here, as well as mythical creatures.

gate at Tosho-gu Shrine

A sacred camphor tree on the grounds of the shrine is over 600 years old.  It was here before the shrine was built and has been continuously cared for by the shrine’s guardians.

Sacred tree at Tosho-gu Shrine

The shrine, built in 1651, is in the kongen-zukuri ornate style favored by early Tokugawa shoguns.  The main shrine building, the Konjiki-den, or Golden Hall, is in the ornate Momoyama style. The pillars and doors are covered in gold foil and the ceilings are decorated with lacquer and colorful carvings.

Tosho-gu Shrine

Tosho-gu Shrine

tree on the grounds of Tosho-gu Shrine

Tosho-gu Shrine

A Karamon (Chinese Gate) at the front of the building, built in 1651, is in the elaborate “Chinese” style with gold foil as well as hand-carved flowers, birds, fish and other animals and shells.

Chinese gate at Tosho-gu Shrine

The carvings on the gate are colorful, elaborate and mythical.

Tosho-gu Shrine

A kagura stage used for religious dances sits at the approach to the shrine.  It also has a roofed bell unit.  Today, some musicians are playing melodies on the stage.

musicians at Tosho-gu Shrine

This huge stone garden lantern was offered as a gift from Sakuma Daizennosuke Katsuyuki to the Tosho-gu Shrine in 1631. It is said to be one of the three great stone lanterns in Japan together with those in Nanzen-ji temple of Kyoto and in Atsuta Jingu Shrine. The 6-meter height of the lantern is impressive, as well as the 3.6 meter perimeter of the capping stone.  Because of its great size, people commonly call it “Monster Lantern.”

Monster lantern

I get caught up in the huge crowds walking a northerly path through the park.  The crowd is moving at melting candle wax pace, and it’s so crowded I can barely move.  It reminds me of the crowds I encountered in Shanghai on China’s International Labor Day: riding the human tide along the bund to cloud 9 & pudong.

I escape the human tide heading north and stop to walk around the statue of the Imperial Prince Komatsunomiya Akihito, the first president of the Japanese Red Cross Society.

Statue of the Imperial Prince Komatsunomiya Akihito

Then I’m back on the path, being carried along with the hordes of people.  This group of young people playing a festive game with oversized cards makes me smile.  They seem to be enjoying themselves immensely. 🙂

a lively card game

I see there is a path to the west, so I make my escape from the main path, ending up near the Ueno Zoo.  Turning north, I’m on a parallel path to the crowded one, and I have this one nearly to myself.  I bypass the sprawling Tokyo National Museum Complex and head northeast quite a distance to Kan’ei-ji Temple; after visiting this out-of-the-way temple, I’ll head southwest outside of Ueno Park to visit some quiet, hidden gems.

As there is no daylight savings time in Japan and it gets dark at about 6:00, I can already tell there is no way I will have time to finish this overly ambitious walk in one day.  Maybe if I had gotten an earlier start… 🙂

 

hanami: shinobazu pond, house of taikan yokoyama, ameyoko shopping street {walking tour 9, part 1}   2 comments

Sunday, April 2:  I’ve still not adjusted to Japan time, so I am awake a couple of hours in the middle of the night.  Because of that, I sleep in till 8:00.  It feels so good once I go back to sleep, I don’t want to climb out from under my cozy futon.

When I finally get up, I make myself some fried eggs, a bit difficult without a spatula.  I use a fork, and it is a mess. I also have a carton of cold milk tea from 7-11 which I heat up, but I resolve not to drink tea again.  I’m a coffee person, through and through.

I have been undecided about doing a big outing today because the weather forecast is cloudy and cold. We also have off Monday, and the forecast is better for Monday.  However, the skies have hints of blue this morning, so I rethink my plans. Today is supposed to be the peak of cherry blossoms in Tokyo and I’ve been told THE place to see them is Ueno Park. Cherry-blossom viewing is called hanami in Japanese, and as it’s Sunday and peak time, I expect there will be huge crowds.  Still, I guess that’s what hanami is all about – the whole festive atmosphere and mingling with millions of Japanese all at once.  Walking Tour 9 in my book, Tokyo: 29 Walks in the World’s Most Exciting City, covers Ueno, so I figure I’ll do that. Ueno Park has a bunch of museums within it, and since they all seem to be closed on Mondays, I’ll be limited in my choices if I wait till Monday. Also, for my first solo outing negotiating the Tokyo metro, it won’t be too intimidating as it’s the exact route I took yesterday for our orientation.

All this figuring and rethinking leads me to a very late start, which I’ll come to regret later.

I debate whether to ride my bicycle to metro (a 20-minute walk) because I hadn’t seen a bicycle parking area.  If I rode my bike all the way there and couldn’t find a place to park, I’d have to ride back home and then walk.  I ask a couple of Japanese people along the way, including the bicycle shop man and his mother, but no one understands me.  Finally, a young Japanese woman points me to the left of the station, a couple of blocks down.  I see people disappearing into a garage opening pushing their bikes, so, voila, I follow them.  There are steps bordered by ramps leading to a second level and I’ve found the bicycle parking lot. I find a less crowded area toward the back, so I park there, but when I ask a man in business attire if I need to pay, he tells me in his limited English that the back area is for yearly pass holders.  He says because it’s Sunday, I don’t have to pay, but I would have to pay Monday-Friday.  At first he tells me 1,000 yen, and when I look shocked, he corrects himself and says 100 yen.  He motions that I should park near the front of the parking lot.

After the long metro ride, which I won’t cover in detail as it’s the same one I took yesterday, I arrive at Yushima Station and walk toward Ueno Park, right past our ramen shop where we had lunch yesterday.  A long line of about 10 people stands outside.  I follow the path to the left of Shinobazu Pond, using my Walk 9 as my guide.

First view of cherry blossoms along Shinobazu Pond

The cherry blossoms seem a little past their prime, but that doesn’t stop the hordes of people who have come for hanami.  Every inch of grass is covered by groups of Japanese picnicking and laughing and talking.  The path is packed with people as well.

cherry blossoms along Shinobazu Pond

cherry blossoms along Shinobazu Pond

cherry blossoms along Shinobazu Pond

cherry blossoms along Shinobazu Pond

cherry blossoms along Shinobazu Pond

cherry blossoms along Shinobazu Pond

The second portion of the pond is full of people skittering about in swan-shaped pink paddle boats and row boats. At this point, I’m to cross Shinobazu-dori and visit the House of Taikan Yokoyama.

paddle boats on Shinobazu Pond

sculpture at Shinobazu Pond

I debate whether to enter the House of Taikan Yokoyama as no photos are allowed inside and it cost 800 yen. After walking away once, I decide to go in anyway, and I’m glad I do.  The artist’s traditional wooden house is in the sukiya style found often in Kyoto. I’m allowed to take pictures in the entry area, shown below.

Stone lantern at House of Taikan Yokoyama

Entryway to House of Taikan Yokoyama

House of Taikan Yokoyama

House of Taikan Yokoyama

After removing my shoes, I go inside the house to see the tea room, with 15 windows looking out upon the artist’s garden, and a brazier in the middle of the floor with a teapot hanging over it.  The adjacent studio workroom contains the artist’s working tools.  I go into the upstairs bedroom, which also has a view of the garden.

Since I can’t take pictures of the house, I buy a postcard showing a view of the house from the back of the garden, shown below.  The garden is lovely, with its little stream, rocks, carp in the pond, and stone lanterns.

Taikan Yokoyama (1868-1958) spent much of his life in this house, painting in the traditional Japanese Nihonga style, but adding Western approaches to painting later.

postcard of house of Taikan Yokoyama

I also buy some postcards of the artist’s work.  I pick out three, plus the one above picturing the house, and the clerk holds up five fingers, but I’m not sure what she means.  Finally, she gets her co-worker to explain to me in English that I should buy 5 for 500 yen.  Once the woman finds out I am a teacher in a university, she loads me up with 4 booklets about the museum to hand out to fellow teachers, which I now have to carry around the rest of the day!

postcard of Taikan Yokoyama’s art

Below are more postcards of Taikan Yokoyama’s art.  Click on any of the photos for a full-sized slide show.

I follow the walk back down Shinobazu-dori to the metro stop where I started, and take a left at Kasuga-dori, and go down a ways until I make another left onto Ameyoko Shopping Street.  More than 500 shops crowd this quarter-mile bazaar under the elevated rail line for the Ueno rail station.

Ameyoko Shopping Street

The name Ameyoko combines two words, Ameya Yokocho, or “Confectioner’s Alley.”  After the Korean War, a pun evolved from the contraction of American Market, since the area sold black market goods from American military Post Exchanges during those years.

Ameyoko Shopping Street

The small shops here now continue the tradition of the Shitamachi, in which small-scale vendors have always operated, selling a wide variety of goods.

Food sign on Ameyoko Shopping Street

Ameyoko Shopping Street

Ameyoko Shopping Street

After this, I continue back into the main part of Ueno Park, where the real fun begins!

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