Archive for the ‘Tokyo’ Category

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

delicacies

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).

Fujimi-Yagura

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-dori

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.

cemetery

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

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

Buddha

Kitano Tenjin enshrined at Hibaishi

maple leaves

lantern

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 Japan.com: Kameido Tenjin Shrine, Tokyo – where wisterias bloom in spring).

Drum bridge, or Moon Bridge

Drum bridge at Kameido Tenpin

wisteria

wisteria

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. 🙂

Shioyaki

Shioyaki

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 Japan.com: 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!

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 (JapanGuide.com: 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

azaleas

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.

Takeshita-dori

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.

Takeshita-dori

buttons on Takeshita-dori

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

Takeshita-dori

Takeshita-dori

Takeshita-dori

Takeshita-dori

Takeshita-dori

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.

Tatsumi-Yagura

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.

Tatsumi-Yagura

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. 😦

 

 

 

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

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

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

the view west of Shinjuku Station

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

One of Shinjuku’s 200 exits

Rainy day in Shinjuku

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

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

Shopping street in Shinjuku

JUMBO

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

Shinjuku Sompo building

streets of Shinjuku

Paloma

Skyscraper District of Shinjuku

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

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

Road construction in Shinjuku

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

Sompo Japan Building

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

Shinjuku Center Building

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

Mode Gakuen Cocoon Tower

Shinjuku Sompo building

Shinjuku Center Building

Mode Gakuen Cocoon Tower

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

LOVE at Shinjuku

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

Shinjuku

karaoke at Shinjuku

Shinjuku

Busy crossing at Shinjuku

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

eastern portion of Shinjuku

Shopping street east of Shinjuku Station

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

Hanazono Shrine

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

Hanazono Shrine

Hanazono Shrine

Hanazono Shrine

vermillion torii at Hanazono Shrine

Hanazono Shrine

large torii gate at the entrance to Hanazono Shrine

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

a utilitarian metal box turned to art

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

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

 

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

%d bloggers like this: