Archive for the ‘Tokyo’ Category

asakusa: kappabashi-dori plastic foods & another buddhist temple {walking tour 8: part 3}   12 comments

Sunday, June 11: After leaving Senso-ji, I continue my walk toward Kappabashi-dori, a street full of shops supplying the restaurant trade. These shops sell everything from knives and other kitchen utensils to mass-produced crockery, restaurant furniture, ovens and decor, such as lanterns and signs. The street also has some shops that sell plastic display foods (sampuru, derived from English sample) found outside Japanese restaurants.

“Shop Planing & Antique” on Kappabashi-dori

I drop into one shop that actually sells the plastic food items to tourists.

plastic foods on Kappabashi-dori

plastic foods on Kappabashi-dori

desserts: plastic foods on Kappabashi-dori

ice cream: plastic foods on Kappabashi-dori

plastic foods on Kappabashi-dori

plastic foods on Kappabashi-dori

pizza: plastic foods on Kappabashi-dori

sushi: plastic foods on Kappabashi-dori

snacks: plastic foods on Kappabashi-dori

plastic foods on Kappabashi-dori

plastic foods on Kappabashi-dori

plastic foods on Kappabashi-dori

I don’t buy any of these enticing but oddly unsatisfying plastic foods, although in retrospect, they might have made for some interesting gifts. 🙂

I continue my walk to the train station, stopping in briefly at Honzan Higashi Hongan-ji along the way.

Approximately 400 years ago, in 1651, the Tokyo Hongan-ji Temple was established in the city of Edo (modern Tokyo) under the patronage of Shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu by Kyonyo Shonin (1558-1614). It was then known as the Edo Gobo Kozuiji Temple. After a fire in 1657, Higashi-Hongan-ji Temple was moved to its current site in Asakusa and was called Asakusa Hongan-ji Temple. Then in 1965, Higashi-Hongan-ji Temple changed its name again to Tokyo Higashi-Hongan-ji Temple.

It is presently the headquarters of the Jodo Shinshu Higashi Honganji Sect with a following of some 400 temples.  The door to this living Buddhist temple is open to all races, nationalities and people of the world.

Higashi Hongan-ji

Higashi Hongan-ji

I continue my walk to the train station, admiring all the offerings of plates and crockery along the way.

dishes for sale

Total steps: 11,834 (5.02 miles) 🙂

tokyo’s oldest buddhist temple: sensō-ji {walking tour 8: part 2}   4 comments

Sunday, June 11:  After enjoying my conveyor belt sushi lunch, I head to Sensō-ji, Tokyo’s oldest and most popular temple.

According to legend, in the year 628, two Hamanari brothers, Hinokuma and Takenari, fished a statue of the Buddhist deity Kannon, the goddess of mercy, out of the Sumida River, and even though they put the statue back into the river, it kept returning to them. Consequently, Sensō-ji was built nearby for the goddess of Kannon. The temple was completed in 645, although most of its main buildings were rebuilt with concrete after they were burned down in World War II.

The temple’s first gate, the vermillion Kaminarimon Gate (Thunder Gate), boasts a huge paper lantern, or Chochin, which is illuminated at night.  Chochin are Japanese lanterns traditionally made with a bamboo frame covered in silk or paper;  that have been crafted in Japan since 1085.

Kaminarimon Gate

After the Kaminarimon Gate is a long shopping street called Nakamise-dori, the Inside Shops Street.  This shopping street is within the temple compound.  Lots of people come here dressed in yukata, mainly to take pictures of themselves on the temple grounds.

the yukata stroll

Nakamise Dori

Nakamise Dori

Nakamise Dori

Every sort of thing can be bought in the 150 shops that line this 984-foot-long street: masks, fans, Buddhist scrolls, combs, traditional sweets, woodblock prints, kimono and other robes, sandal socks, mobile phone straps, traditional sweets and meals.

masks on Nakamise Dori

fans on Nakamise Dori

fans on Nakamise Dori

what-nots on Nakamise Dori

socks on Nakamise Dori

Down one of the side streets, the Tokyo Sky Tree is visible, an ever-present reminder of a modern city encroaching on a traditional temple.

Nakamise Dori

painting at Senso-ji

At the far end of Nakamise-dori is the Hozomon Gate, the Treasury Gate, of the temple.  The upper level still stores some 14th century Chinese sutras (Buddhist scriptures).  A large paper lantern hangs in this impressive gate.

the Hozomon

the Hozomon & the crowds

To the Hozomon’s left is the five-story Asakusa Pagoda, which was rebuilt in 1973. The pagoda contains bits of Buddha’s bones, a gift from Sri Lanka.

the Goju no To five-storied pagoda and a corner of the Hozomon

the Hozomon

lantern in the Hozomon

I encounter a couple of monks playing tourist on the temple grounds.

monk at Senso-ji

lantern in the Hozomon

Between the Hozomon and the Hondo (Main Hall) is a large bronze incense burner.  People stand around the incense sticks burning in the burner and, with their hands, waft the smoke toward afflicted parts of their bodies.  The smoke from the incense is said to have curative powers.

The Hondo (Main Hall of Senso-ji

Bronze incense burner with curative powers

I even do some wafting of the incense smoke, even though I don’t have any ailing parts to my body. 🙂

The Hondo

lantern in the Hondo

The temple is also known as the Kinryusan Senso-ji, the Golden Dragon Mountain Asakusa Temple, due to the legend of the dragon’s descent on the finding of the small golden Kannon.  Because of this, a dragon has been painted on the ceiling of the Hondo, the work of Kawabata Ryushi, while the angels and lotus flowers surrounding it are by Domoto Insho.

Dragon painting by Kawabata Ryushi

Angels and lotus flowers on the ceiling of Senso-ji, by Domoto Insho

The Hondo (Main Hall) of Senso-ji

Honda of Senso-ji

the five-story Asakusa Pagoda

Hozomon Gate

the yukata stroll

On the backside of the Hozomon Gate are two oversized straw sandals, a gift from a provincial village to the temple.

giant straw sandals made to fit Deva Kings

monks in front of the pagoda

the Hondo

It’s fun to watch all the Japanese men and women here who are wearing the yukata, a casual summer kimono usually made of cotton or synthetic fabric, and unlined.  Yukata are worn by both men and women.

beautiful yukata in front of a food vendor

Yogodo Hall is where Buddhist divinities who support Kannon Bosatsu are enshrined.

grounds of Yogodo Hall at Senso-ji

Yogodo Hall at Senso-ji

Little shrine

Inside Yogodo Hall

Yakushido Hall, built in 1649, is dedicated to Yakushi Nyorai, a Buddhist divinity of medicine.

Yakushido Hall

Awashima-do is the shrine of the guardian deity of women; this deity attends to female ailments.  Women often bring dolls to shrines such as this, which have proliferated all over Japan, so their dolls can serve as substitutes, taking on the donor’s ailment.  Eventually the dolls are burned in a religious ceremony in order to offer up prayers for relief from the ailment that has been transferred to the doll (Tokyo: 29 Walks in the World’s Most Exciting City).

another small shrine

a yukata gathering

colorful yukata

Tokyo Sky Tree

the five-story Asakusa Pagoda

The Asakusa Shrine is dedicated to the two fishermen brothers, Hinokuma and Takenari Hamanari, and their master, Hajo-no-Nakatomo.  The Honden, or Spirit Hall, is said to hold the spirits of the two brothers who found the Kannon image and their master, who enshrined the image.

Asakusa Shrine

ema at Senso-ji

Shafu are seen dashing down roadways pulling large carts behind them, usually with a tourist or two along for the ride. These rickshaw-pullers in Japan, usually slim muscular men who have to run long distances each day with passengers in tow, are considered appealing by many young Japanese women, according to the Japanator: Japanese ladies love them some rickshaw-pullers.

Shafu, rickshaw pullers in Japan

In front of Asakusa Shrine, a young lady in a hat and yukata is selling some fruity gelato bars.  I help myself to one of them and sit on a bench to enjoy.

ice cream for sale near Asakusa Shrine

the Hondo of Senso-ji

the Hozomon at Senso-ji

Two large bronze images of Bodhisattvas (enlightened beings who postpone entering nirvana so as to help those still living) sit on the temple grounds near the end of the Nakamise shops.  They were a gift from a rice merchant in honor of his deceased master in 1687.

Two Bodhisattvas

I am in awe of this shrine and the people who have flocked here to visit. Though it is one of Tokyo’s major tourist sites, it also seems to be a place of active worship and a symbol of tradition.

I leave the temple to explore a bit more of Asakusa, stopping at Kappabashi-dori and the street’s purveyors of plastic foods. 🙂

asakusa & a conveyor belt sushi lunch {walking tour 8: part 1}   6 comments

Sunday, June 11:  On this dreary Sunday, after my long Saturday at Enojima and Hasedera, I have just enough energy to attempt Walking Tour 8: Asakusa, Kappabashi and Minowa from my much-used book: Tokyo: 29 Walks in the World’s Most Exciting City. The main sight to see in this area is the ancient Buddhist temple Senso-ji; other than that the walk doesn’t cover much territory.  I don’t intend to cover the Minowa part of the walk.  I figure I can handle a limited stroll today, especially as it’s cloudy and not too hot.

As soon as I take exit #1 from Asakusa Station onto Kaminarimon-dori, I see a typical Tokyo street scene.

first view of Asakusa

I walk toward the Sumida River and onto the bridge, where I can see two of Tokyo’s iconic landmarks: The Asahi Beer Hall and the Tokyo Sky Tree.  I’m glad to see the Asahi Breweries offices, as Asahi has become my go-to beer while in Japan.  I love it!

The Asahi Beer Hall, one of the buildings of the Asahi Breweries, is also known as Super Dry Hall or Flame d’Or.  Designed by French designer Philippe Starck, it was completed in 1989.  The shape of the building is that of a beer glass, designed to complement the neighboring golden beer mug-shaped building housing the Asahi Breweries offices.  It is noted for the Asahi Flame, an enormous golden structure at the top, said to represent both the ‘burning heart of Asahi beer’ and a frothy head (Wikipedia: Asahi Beer Hall).

The Asahi Flame is often colloquially referred to as “the golden turd” (kin no unko). Kin no unko (金のうんこ) or “golden poo” is a symbol of good luck, as the name is a pun meaning “golden poo” and “good luck” in Japanese (Wikipedia: kin no unko).

The Asahi Beer Hall itself is fondly known as “poo building” (unko-biru, うんこビル) by many Tokyo residents (Wikipedia: Asahi Beer Hall).

Asahi Breweries, Ltd. is a leading brewery and soft drink company in Tokyo. As of January 2014, Asahi, with a 38% market share, was the largest of the four major beer producers in Japan followed by Kirin Beer with 35% and Suntory with 15% (Wikipedia: Asahi Breweries).

view across the Sumida River to the 1989 Super Dry Hall, aka the Asahi Brewery Building and the Tokyo Sky Tree

The Sumida River

boat on the Sumida River

I’d have to get on the train again to visit the Tokyo Sky Tree, which looks closer than it is. Its observation deck is also quite expensive and it’s too cloudy to get a decent view today anyway.  So I’ll have to admire it from afar.

parting shot of two Tokyo landmarks

On the corner near the bridge, I find this Sushi go-round restaurant, where sushi is served on a conveyor belt.  No one speaks English so it takes me a while to figure out the system and the cost, but when I do, I enjoy a great lunch before going on my way to Senso-ji.

a conveyor belt sushi restaurant

inside the conveyor belt sushi restaurant

P6110776

street in Asakusa

Below is my route to Asakusa this morning. As you can see, it’s always quite convoluted to get anywhere in Tokyo, since I live on the outskirts.

I’m now on my way to Senso-ji.

otemachi, the imperial palace east garden & a shrine to warriors {walking tour 2}   9 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   10 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   6 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).

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