Archive for the ‘Tokyo’ Category

rikugien garden in tokyo   6 comments

Sunday, July 9:  This hot Sunday, following my exhausting trip to Kawagoe yesterday, I decide I will keep it simple and visit Rikugien Garden.  I’m not going to take a long walk, nor will I visit more than one place.  I’m going straight to the garden and coming straight home.

I take the Romancecar from Machida to Shinjuku, then I get on the Yamanote Line to Komagome.  Somewhere along the way from Shinjuku to Komagome, I find myself sitting across from this man reading the newspaper on the train.

Man on the train

I have to walk several blocks once I leave the station to find the garden, enclosed as it is within an expansive stone wall.  Rikugien is considered by many to be Tokyo’s most beautiful Japanese landscape garden, alongside Koishikawa Korakuen. It is a kaiyu-style (circuit style) daimyo garden with man-made hills and ponds that reflect the tastes and flavor of the world of Waka poetry.

Built around 1702 by the lord of Kawagoe domain, Yanagisawa Yoshiyasu, for the 5th Tokugawa Shogun, Tokugawa Tsunayoshi, Rikugien literally means “Garden of the Six Principles of Poetry” and reproduces in miniature 88 scenes from famous poems. It is a good example of an Edo Period strolling garden and features a large central pond surrounded by man-made hills, stone bridges, stone lanterns, streams and forested areas.

stone lantern at Rikugien Garden

Rikugien became the second home of the founder of Mitsubishi, Iwasaki Yataro in the Meiji era.  It was donated by the Iwasaki family to the City of Tokyo in 1938.  The garden is a valuable cultural heritage that was designated as a Special Places of Scenic Beauty in Japan in 1953.

Rikugien Garden’s extensive trails wind around the gardens, through forests and open lawns, and lead to several tea houses which are open to the public (Tokyo Travel: Rikugien Garden).

Some of the tea houses in the gardens are not open to the public, including Shinsen-tei and Gishun-tei, shown below.

Shinsen-tei at Rikugien Garden

Gishun-tei at Rikugien Garden

In this garden, a big pond with some islands is surrounded by trees, offering imitations of famous beautiful Japanese spots such as Wakanoura in Kishuu (Wakayama Prefecture) (Tokyo Metropolitan Park Association: Rikugien Garden).

Rikugien Garden

Deshio-no-minato is the name of one of the pond shores, rich in perspective, with Naka-no-shima to the right, Horai-jima to the left, and Fukiage-no-hama on the opposite shore.  The man-made hills on Naka-no-shima, the islet in the pond of Daisensui, are known as Imo-no-yama and Se-no-yama and represent a male-female relationship.  “Imo” means “woman” and “Se” means “man” in ancient expression.

Rikugien Garden

Rikugien Garden

Rikugien Garden

Rikugien Garden

Rikugien Garden

Rikugien Garden

maple leaves

maple leaves

Rikugien Garden

I’m not sure exactly what the cones below are, but it seems someone has been collecting them.  (According to Lynn from Bluebrightly: the cones are from a Magnolia tree, probably…, Magnolia grandiflora, or Southern magnolia. This is what’s left after the petals fall off the flowers, it slowly matures into this interesting-looking seedhead…the large, smooth brown leaves near the cones are magnolia leaves).

pine cones at Rikugien Garden

pine cones

Rikugien Garden

Rikugien Garden

Togetsukyo is a stone bridge that was named after a famous poem, “Shadow of the moon moving at night and cry of a crane in a marsh of reed on the shore of Waka, makes me feel so lonely.”  Two massive slabs of stone give a distinctive effect to the landscape.

Togetsukyo at Rikugien Garden

polka dots

Tsutsuji-chaya teahouse was built using wood materials of azalea in the Meiji period. It managed to escape damage during the war, passing on its rare style to the present day. The whole area today is planted with large numbers of azaleas.

Tsutsuji-chaya at Rikugien Garden

When the garden was first built, it was surrounded by large numbers of cherry trees and other flowering plants. It was used as a site for enjoying food and drink and viewing the blossoms. The Iwasaki family also had a building called the Ginka-tei, near the location shown below.

Rikugien Garden

foliage at Rikugien Garden

reflections at Rikugien Garden

The Horai-jima is a stone arch-shaped islet based on the main theme of Taoist immortality.

Horai-jima

Horai-jima at Rikugien Garden

Rikugien Garden

Rikugien Garden

Rikugien Garden

Rikugien Garden

Rikugien Garden

stone lantern at Rikugien Garden

It’s just as hot here in the garden as it was yesterday at Kawagoe, so after strolling around and sweating profusely, I get back on the train.  I take the Romancecar back to Machida, where I stop at Dai Trattoria Pizzeria for dinner; here, I enjoy a glass of chilled white wine with a Sicilian Pizza.  This is the first time I’ve visited this place; my friend Graham described its location to me some time ago, and though I’ve been wanting to come for a while, I simply haven’t made it here before tonight. I’m happy to have a new place to add to my other favorite restaurants.

Total steps today: 14,936 (6.33 miles).

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hasadera’s hydrangea walk: the third time’s a charm   16 comments

Sunday, July 2: Today, I invite my colleague Tobi to come along with me to Hasedera Temple, which is about a 7-minute walk from the Daibutsu, or the Big Buddha. He’s been wanting to go to the Daibutsu for a long time, but hasn’t done it for whatever reason.  I’ve decided once more to try to do the hydrangea walk at Hasedera.  I tell him we must get an early start because I don’t want to miss the hydrangea walk for the third time.  I tried two times before, with no success.  You can read about those botched attempts here and here.

Even though we live in the same apartment building, I have a bicycle and Tobi doesn’t, so we agree to meet at Fuchinobe Station at 7:30 a.m. After meeting and having a brief coffee, we get on the train to Kamakura.  On the train, we sit across from this lady carrying a huge bouquet.  Tobi takes a great photo of her and allows me to share it.

on the Yokohama Line – photo by Tobias Manthey

Upon arriving at Kamakura Station, rather than pack ourselves like sardines into that ever-crowded Enoden Line, we hire a taxi for 800 yen to take us directly to Hasedera.  By the time we arrive, it’s nearly 10:00. We get our timed tickets for the hydrangea walk and find, much to our surprise, that the wait is only about 45 minutes!

floating iris garden at Hasedera

We check out the Benten-kutsu Cave while we wait.  It is here at this cave that Benzaiten and her followers of Sixteen Children are chiseled out of the rock walls. Benzaiten is the Goddess of water and wealth, and the only female among the Seven Japanese Gods of Fortune.

outside the Benten-kutsu Cave

inside the Benten-kutsu Cave

ema at the Benten-kutsu Cave

Benten-do Hall is next to Hojo-ike pond.   It houses the statue of Benzaiten with eight arms.

Benten-do Hall

We make our way up the hill, past the pond and iris garden.

pond and iris garden at Hasedera

About halfway up the hill, we stop at Jizo-do Hall, where Fukujyu is enshrined. Here, visitors can pray for easy childbirth and prosperity.  Surrounding the hall are thousands of little Jizo statutes standing in long rows. The statues are there to comfort the souls of miscarried and deceased children.  Jizo is a Buddhist saint who saves people and is especially believed to protect children.

Jizo statues at Jizo-do Hall

Jizo statues at Jizo-do Hall

Jizo statues at Jizo-do Hall

Jizo statues at Jizo-do Hall – Photo by Tobias Manthey

Jizo statues at Jizo-do Hall

Jizo statues at Jizo-do Hall

At the top of the hill, we find the Kannon-do Hall, which houses the fabulous statue of Hase Kannon.  Although Kannon is often described in English as “the Buddhist Goddess of Mercy,” it is, strictly speaking, neither masculine nor feminine.  Sadly, no photography is allowed.

Kannon-do Hall

incense burner at Kannon-do Hall

We stop to admire the hazy view of Yuigahama and Zaimokuza Beaches, as well as Sagami Bay, from the Observation Platform.  We can see the Zushi Marina and the Miura Peninsula in the distance.  It’s very hot and humid today.

View of Yuigahama and Zaimokuza Beaches and Sagami Bay from the Observation Platform

garden near the hydrangea walk entrance

garden near Kannon-do Hall

Buddha footprints – Photo by Tobias Manthey

Buddha footprints

The hydrangea walk begins near the Observation Platform, and now, at 10:45, we show our tickets and get into the line.  Luckily, the line is not nearly as long as it’s been the last couple of times I’ve been here.

map of the hydrangea walk

hillsides covered in hydrangea

hydrangea hills

As we walk up the hill of the hydrangea walk, sweat is pouring off of me.  It’s such miserable weather today!

view from the hydrangea walk

multi-armed statue

hydrangea

view of Sagami Bay from the hydrangea walk at Hasedera

view of Sagami Bay from the hydrangea walk at Hasedera

I’m finally able to have someone take a picture of me, and my hair looks horrible because of the straightening I had done yesterday.  It’s so flat!  I’m never allowed to wash my hair for two days after straightening, and after sleeping on it all night, it looks awful. 😦  Oh well, at least periodically, I like to prove I actually was in Japan. 🙂

We continue on the hydrangea walk, admiring the views, the plethora of hydrangeas, and the stone lanterns.

stone lantern among the hydrangeas

lantern amidst white hydrangeas

view over Sagami Bay

view over Sagami Bay

Japanese lady in yukata

hydrangea heaven

from a bygone era

hydrangea

Back at the bottom of the hill, near the exit to the hydrangea walk, I find this lineup of Buddhist deities.

Buddha statues

stone lantern

In the Kyozo (space for storing Buddhist scriptures), there is a rotary bookshelf called a Rinzo. It is believed that when you rotate the Rinzo once, you will receive the same virtue as when you recite the complete scriptures. There are also 18 prayer wheels called Mani-guruma which you can turn to receive virtue such as that from the Rinzo.

Rinzo- a rotary bookshelf

looking back up at the hillside

the hillside above

a rock garden with stone lantern

We go inside of Kannon-do, where we admire the amazing Kannon statue, at 30.1 feet (9.18 meters), one of the largest wooden Buddhist statues in Japan.  It has eleven heads in addition to its main one: three on the front, the right, the left, one at the top and another on the back.  Each face has a different expression, signifying that the Kannon listens to the wishes of all types of people and leads them away from distress. Hase Kannon holds a vase with lotus flowers in its left hand and is unique in that it holds a staff instead of prayer beads in its right. It stands on a stone-like base instead of a lotus flower like most eleven-headed Kannon statues.  It really is amazing to see, and I’m sorry that I’m not allowed to take a picture of it. 😦

The Sho-Kannon Bosatsu is one of the most beloved deities from old times in Japan. Kannon is known for its mercy and compassion such as a mother’s affection.  It is believed that Kannon will immediately appear to those who seek salvation in this realm.  Created by the late Mr. Seibou Kitamura, the statue is enshrined here as a symbol of peace.

statue of Sho-Kannon Bosatsu

Next to Kannon-do is Amida-do Hall, where the golden seated statue of Amida Nyorai, one of Kamakura’s six principal statues of Amida Buddha, is enshrined.  According to legend, in 1194, Minamoto no Yoritomo, who was the first shogun of the Kamakura Shogunate of Japan, commissioned the statue for warding off evil.  In later years, people came to believe it would expel evil spirits and offer protection against misfortune.

statue of Amida Nyorai

ema at Hasedera

ema at Hasedera

The Shoro Belfry was constructed in 1955 to house a massive bronze bell, created in 1264 and recast in 1984.  Following the Buddhist tradition, the bell is run 108 times around midnight on New Year’s Eve to dispel the 108 sufferings of humanity.

Shoro Belfry

This shrine was rebranded Inari-sha in later years, although it was originally dedicated to “Kojin” (god of the cooking stove and fire). According to the legend of the Kannon statue, the deity appeared floating on the sea, drifting ashore by the guidance of “kakigara” (oyster shells) attached to the statue.  This Inari-sha was established to enshrine the Kakigara and to receive the divine guidance of Kannon.

Inari-sha (Kakigara Inari)

“kakigara” (oyster shells)

Inari-sha (Kakigara Inari)

“kakigara” (oyster shells)

“kakigara” (oyster shells)

Near the Benten-do Hall and Benten-kutsu Cave is a pretty rock garden.

rock garden at Hasedera

The Japanese rock garden (枯山水 karesansui) or “dry landscape” garden, often called a zen garden, creates a miniature stylized landscape through carefully composed arrangements of rocks, water features, moss, pruned trees and bushes, and uses gravel or sand that is raked to represent ripples in water (Wikipedia: Japanese rock garden).

rock garden at Hasedera

rock garden at Hasedera

Near Benten-do Hall, one can pick up a fortune which appears blank; the fortune appears when placed in a concrete water bowl much like a bird bath. My friend Yukie from Instagram later translates my fortune for me:  I have moderate luck (chu-kichi).  In different categories, my fortune is such: Romantic relationships: Being kind to others will bring you happiness. Learning: Go back to your basics again! Health: You should relax with aromatherapy tonight!  Your work: Be more careful than usual.  One step at a time.

It’s funny about the work fortune, because at work, the university barely turns on any air conditioning, making the work situation unbearable. It’s miserably hot and humid in Japan, and I’m not tolerating it well.  I am about to explode over the situation, and have even seriously considered hopping on a plane and going home!  So, the admonition to “be more careful than usual. One step at a time” is an appropriate warning for me to calm down about the situation. 🙂

my fortune for today

Daikoku-do Hall houses the statue of Daikokuten.

inside Daikoku-do Hall

Daikokuten is one of the Seven Japanese Gods of Fortune. He is considered the god of wealth (or more specifically, the harvest), or of the household, particularly the kitchen. He is often prayed to for an abundant harvest, success in life and business. Recognized by his wide face and beaming smile, he is often portrayed holding a golden mallet and standing or sitting on bales of rice (Must Love Japan: Hasedera Temple).  People are allowed to touch this “Sawari Daikoku” to receive good fortune.

statue of Daikokuten

By the time Tobi and I leave Hasedera, it’s 11:40, and we walk down the street toward the Daibutsu, which I’ll now see for the second time. 🙂  We stop in one of the shops for an ice cream treat, and then we’re on our way.

(All information about Hasedera is from the temple’s tourist brochure, unless otherwise stated).

tokyo: akihabara electric town   7 comments

Saturday, July 1:  After leaving Kagurazaka, I hop on the train and ride a couple of stops to Akihabara Station.  I want to see one of Tokyo’s craziest areas before I leave Japan, although I’m not that excited about it. I’m not a big fan of noise and sensory overload, but I also think I wouldn’t be getting a full sense of Tokyo without experiencing at least some of this super hyped-up culture.

Akihabara (秋葉原) is a common name for the area around Akihabara Station in the Chiyoda ward of Tokyo.  The area was nicknamed Akihabara Electric Town (秋葉原電気街 Akihabara Denki Gai) shortly after World War II for being a major shopping center for household electronic goods and the post-war black market (Wikipedia: Akihabara).

Akihabara Electric Town

In more recent years, Akihabara has gained recognition as the center of Japan’s otaku (diehard fan) culture, and many shops and establishments devoted to anime and manga are now dispersed among the electronic stores in the district (Japan-guide.com: Akihabara).  Anime includes animated series, films and videos, while manga includes Manga, graphic novels, drawings, and related artwork. They have their origin in Japanese entertainment, but the style and culture has spread worldwide since its introduction into the West in the 1990s (Wikipedia: Anime and manga fandom).

Akihabara Electric Town

Dozens of stores specializing in anime, manga, retro video games, figurines, card games and other collectibles have filled the spaces between the electronics retailers.  In addition to shops, various other animation-related establishments have become popular in the area, particularly maid cafes where waitresses dress up and act like maids or anime characters, and manga cafes, a type of internet cafe where customers can read comics and watch DVDs in addition to having access to the internet (Japan-guide.com: Akihabara).

Akihabara Electric Town

Akihabara Electric Town

Akihabara Electric Town

Akihabara Electric Town

Akihabara Electric Town

Akihabara Electric Town

Akihabara Electric Town

Akihabara Electric Town

Akihabara Electric Town

It’s incredibly noisy in this area.  I really don’t enjoy this place and have little interest in electronics except as a means to an end.  Neither do I have any interest in manga or anime.  But I do like to take colorful pictures, and there certainly is a lot of color here!

 

I’m sweating like there’s no tomorrow, so when I feel a cool blast of air coming from a Mister Donut, I simply must stop for an iced coffee and a donut, even though it’s almost dinnertime!  I sit here for a while until I stop sweating, only to have to go back out into the heat again.

Mister Donut treat

Akihabara Electric Town

Akihabara Electric Town

Akihabara Electric Town

Akihabara Electric Town

 

I don’t try out any of the maid cafes here in Akihabara Electric Town because I’m on my own and it wouldn’t be much fun without company.

Akihabara Electric Town

Akihabara Electric Town

Akihabara Electric Town

Akihabara Electric Town

Akihabara Electric Town

Akihabara Electric Town

Akihabara Electric Town

Akihabara Electric Town

Akihabara Electric Town

Akihabara Electric Town

Crosswalk in Akihabara

Akihabara Electric Town

Akihabara Electric Town

Akihabara Electric Town

Akihabara Electric Town

Akihabara Electric Town

Akihabara Electric Town

I’m happy to escape the noise and heat and to get on the train back to my quiet area of Fuchinobe.  At least I can now say I saw some of Tokyo’s craziness.  I definitely prefer the quiet temples and gardens tucked into the city’s little pockets.

Total steps today: 16,141 (6.84 miles).

 

tokyo: a japanese hair straightening and a walk through kagurazaka   Leave a comment

Saturday, July 1:  My main goal this Saturday is to get my hair straightened because, in this Tokyo-area humidity, it’s misbehaving shamelessly. Sadly, the hair salon in Machida doesn’t open until 10:00, so I can’t get an early start. I take the train to Machida and stand outside the multi-story mall, waiting for the doors to open with other Japanese consumer wannabes. We wait patiently, watching two men in standard white shirts stand at attention inside the mall doors.  I know there is no chance they’ll open the doors early because Japan is a punctual country and everything will be done just at the minute it’s supposed to be done. Of course I’m right; at exactly 10:00, the men bow in unison to the people standing outside and unlock the doors.

This is the first time I’ve entered a Japanese mall at opening time, and I find it funny that every shopkeeper is standing at attention at the entrances of their shops.  They bow politely as we walk past, and sing out their welcome message of “Irasshaimase,” or “welcome.”  I smile.  It’s all so adorable.

Up to the fourth floor I go to HAIR SALON SOCIÉ, where I meet Kei for my appointment. In his limited English, he tells me I have a nice shaped head and that my hair is difficult. I agree with him on the hair being difficult, but not on the nice-shaped head!  He begins the straightening process at about 10:30.  Normally a chemical hair straightening takes about 3 hours; by the time he’s finished today, it’s about noon, only 1 1/2 hours.  Of course it worries me that the process is considerably shorter than normal; I wonder if it will “take.” Luckily the process only costs me $115; in the U.S., hair straightening costs me $250!

At noon, I hop on the train, or rather a series of trains, for the long ride to Iidabashi Station.  Sleeping on the seat across from me is an older woman dressed like a Raggedy-Ann doll.  She’s wearing a red plaid gathered skirt and a white blouse with eyelet trim.  White eyelet ruffles bloom out from beneath the plaid skirt. Thick white tights are bunched up around her ankles above a worn pair of brown loafers. Her magenta ruffled hat is pulled down over her forehead, which keeps bobbing back and forth with the train’s movement. I don’t know if she’s just weirdly dressed like this, or if she’s wearing a costume for an unconventional job.  On the streets of Tokyo, I see many, mostly young, girls wearing silly costumes, calling out advertisements for businesses.  Maybe she’s dressed for something like this.  During the entire train ride, I never see her wake up from her slumbers.

Also, on the train, where I’m always seeing interesting people, a young lady gets on with bright turquoise helmet-head shaped hair and bright pink tennis shoes.  Oh the strange things I see in Tokyo. 🙂

Once at Iidabashi Station, I follow the crowds to the neighborhood of Kagurazaka, once famous as Japan’s premier pleasure quarter, or hanamachi (literally “flower town”), abundant with geisha houses. The geisha disappeared after World War II, but a charming atmosphere remains with its quirky shops and cozy cafes.  Kagurazaka was popular with artists and writers, including the Japanese author Soseki Natsume (1867-1916), whose face featured on the 1000 yen bill between 1984 and 2004 and whose birthplace is marked by a stone monument in Okubo, Tokyo’s most famous Korean town.

As my arrival is late and I haven’t eaten, my first goal is to find a place to eat.  I find an Italian restaurant called Trattoria Azzurri.  I know that the area is especially known for its French restaurants, but I’m afraid they’ll all be closed shortly.  It’s nearly 2:00 and I see from the sign that the last order for lunchtime is 2:00. So I pop in and sit at the bar, ordering a vegetable pasta dish.  Though colorful, it’s way too much food and not very good.

trattoria Azzurri

Feeling stuffed, I leave the restaurant at 3:00 and walk down the main street in Kagurazaka.  Red lanterns and charming shops line the road.  It’s hot and humid as usual, but at least my hair is in control. 🙂  I have to pull out my umbrella several times when the sky starts spitting rain, but it clears periodically.

Kagurazaka

Kagurazaka

Kagurazaka

I walk down the street, dipping into shops along the way, mainly to have some relief from the heat.

At one point I come to the Bishamonten Zenkoku Temple (Go Tokyo: Bishamonten Zenkoku Temple), built in 1595 by the first shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu. In 1792, it was relocated from Chiyoda-ku to its current home.  Originally a Hindu god, Bishamonten was absorbed into Buddhism and evolved into a deity known to grant the people’s wishes. He is one of the Four Heavenly Kings and the protector of the north. In Japan, he is also one of the Seven Gods of Fortune.

Bishamonten Zenkoku Temple

Here I find omikuji, white paper fortunes, tied to a rack, along with a couple of ema.

wishes and ema at Bishamonten Zenkoku Temple

Bishamonten Zenkoku Temple

Bishamonten Zenkoku Temple

Back on the streets of Kagurazaka, I find some pretty hydrangeas.  The season hasn’t yet ended, giving me hope for my third and last try to do the Hasedera Hydrangea Walk tomorrow.

hydrangeas in Kagurazaka

Kagurazaka

Foods and flowers are prettily displayed along the road.  I wish I could tell you what these foods are.

Kagurazaka

Kagurazaka

French details in Kagurazaka

cafe in Kagurazaka

street art in Kagurazaka

Before leaving the neighborhood, I drop in to the historical Akagi Shrine, which was completely renewed in 2010 under the direction of renowned architect Kengo Kuma, resulting in an impressive, modern version of a Shinto holy site.  (Time Out Tokyo: Akagi Shrine)

red torri to Akagi Shrine

There are some instructions for walking through the circle of grass (?) at the shrine. Though all in Japanese, a chart demonstrates that you walk through the circle and then around to the left and back to the beginning, then through again and to the right, then again through and to the left. Repeating the three circular motions is said to bring good luck.

Akagi Shrine

ema at Akagi Shrine

The shrine is very modern, with glass walls and warm wood, unusual for shrines in Japan.

Akagi Shrine

Akagi Shrine

Akagi Shrine

Akagi Shrine

By 4:00, I’m ready to try to squeeze in one more destination for the day: Akihabara, the shopping district for video games, anime, manga, and computer goods.  Though it’s not my cup of tea, I’ve heard it’s one of those places in Tokyo you have to experience.  So, off I go!

tokyo: a stroll from yanaka to ueno   4 comments

Saturday, June 24: I can never resist a walk that’s all mapped out, a route just begging to be followed.  Today, I set out to explore a neighborhood I missed when I went to the Ueno area of Tokyo soon after I arrived in Japan.   The City Walk comes straight from the pages of Lonely Planet Japan: ‘Strolling Yanaka,”  and I opt to do it in reverse from the way it’s laid out in the book.

I start by going to Sendagi Station and looking for Yanaka Ginza, a mid-20th century shopping street. It’s easy to find; I simply follow the crowds. Soon, I’m walking under the archway at the street entrance.

Yanaka Ginza

At 175 meters long and 5-6 meters wide, the street is packed with 70 shops (Go Tokyo: Yanaka Ginza Shopping District).

Though compact, the district is chock-full of restaurants and shops selling yukata, souvenirs, flowers, fans, Hello Kitty paraphernalia, fruits and vegetables, flip-flops, baskets, pillows, housewares, and anything else a person could want.  Jovial folks snack and drink beer while sitting on overturned milk crates.  It’s quite a festive atmosphere.

shops in Yanaka Ginza

Yukata in Yanaka

Yanaka Ginza

produce for sale in Yanaka

produce in Yanaka

Yanaka Ginza

straw sandals

menus in Yanaka

Yanaka archway

bicycles in Yanaka

cute shop with bicycle in Yanaka

Yanaka Ginza

Yanaka Ginza

shop in Yanaka

At one point along the street, I find a small hole-in-the-wall that sells okonomiyaki, a Japanese savory pancake containing a variety of ingredients.  I haven’t yet tried one yet, because I’ve read that most of them contain squid, which I despise. I type into my Google translate app on my phone: “Can I get one without squid?” and show it to the shopkeeper.  He shakes his head no, so I move on.  Instead, I stop at a little bakery that sells slices of pizza and get one to carry with me.  I munch on it as I walk down the road, even though I know it’s considered rude to eat while walking in Japan.  I have no choice, however, as all the milk crates are occupied. 🙂

Yanaka Ginza

exotic merchandise in Yanaka

At the far end of the street, I climb the Yuyake Dande, literally “Sunset Stairs,” until I approach Nippori Station.

Yuyake Dande, literally the “Sunset Stairs”

baskets for sale

shopfront in Yanaka

I take a sharp right at the train tracks and walk along them until I reach the entrance to Yanaka-reien, or Yanaka Cemetery. Here, the paths are well-manicured and wide, presenting a good trail for a tranquil stroll. The grave of Tokugawa Yoshinobu, the last shogun of the Edo period, is located within the cemetery, according to Japan-guide.com.

Yanaka-reien

According to Lonely Planet Japan, Yanaka-reien is “one of Tokyo’s most atmospheric and prestigious cemeteries.”

Yanaka-reien

gate at Yanaka-reien

small shrine at Yanaka-reien

Yanaka-reien

Yanaka-reien

Yanaka-reien

Yanaka-reien

Yanaka-reien

Yanaka-reien

Yanaka-reien

hydrangea in the temple area of Yanaka

I continue on my walk toward Ueno Park, taking several detours to visit some of the temples in the Yanaka area.  It’s hot and humid today, so I’m sticky with sweat and my mouth is dry.  Thank goodness for all the vending machines on street corners. I buy one of my favorite flavored waters and continue walking, dipping into the various temples along the way.

Yanaka temples

Yanaka temples

Yanaka temples

Yanaka temples

Yanaka temples

Yanaka temples

Yanaka temples

Yanaka temples

Yanaka temples

Yanaka temples

Yanaka temples

Yanaka temples

Yanaka temples

Yanaka temples

Yanaka

Yanaka temples

Yanaka temples

Yanaka temples

Yanaka temples

Yanaka temples

Yanaka temples

Yanaka temples

hydrangeas in Yanaka

temple area of Yanaka

After leaving the temple area, I cross over Kototoi-dori and continue my walk through neighborhoods on Sakura-dori until I reach Ueno Park.

pink house on the way to Ueno

I pass by the Tokyo National Museum thinking that if I have time while I’m in Japan, I really ought to visit the museum.  I also walk past Rinnoji Temple, also known as Rinno-ji Ryodaishi-do, a Buddhist temple on the outskirts of Ueno Park Tokyo; it was originally a part of the cathedral of Kaneiji Temple and was called Kaizan-do or Jigen-do, according to GoJapanGo.com.

Rinno-ji

Within minutes I’m on an overpass looking down on the extensive rail tracks converging on Ueno Station.   My goal is to get to Ueno Station and find a tapas restaurant my friend Graham has told me about.  I don’t know the name of the restaurant, so I put “tapas restaurant” into Yelp and find one called Vinuls. The app says it’s near Ueno Station, which is where Graham said it was.  I then put the name into Google Maps and let the app lead me to the restaurant.

Ueno Station

I find Vinuls Spanish Bar & Restaurant right outside Ueno Station.  It is so easy!  It’s hot, so I sit inside at the bar and order a glass of cold wine and two small plates, one with prawns and one with tomatoes topped with garlic and olive oil.

Vinul’s

Vinul’s

Vinul’s

My young Japanese waiter, who is attending high school in Tokyo, tells me in perfect English that he lived for a long while in Barcelona and so also speaks fluent Spanish.  He’s friendly and confident; I find when I encounter Japanese people with a command of English, they seem very confident; whereas those with little English ability are very shy in the face of a foreigner.

tapas at Vinul’s

Vinul’s

After enjoying my wine and tapas, I walk across the street to Uniqlo, a discount fashion store much like Zara or H&M.  This is only a small branch of the store, but the clerk tells me they have a big store at the end of the adjacent shopping street, Ameya-yokocho.  Purely by accident, I thus find one of Tokyo’s popular open-air markets. This market got its start as a black market after WWII, when American goods were sold here.

Ameya-yokocho

These days, the market is crammed with vendors selling fresh seafood and produce, Hawaiian shirts, jeans and camouflage clothing.  There are also small restaurants and watch shops.

Ameya-yokocho

I’m surprised at these small markets to find so many Hawaiian shirts being sold.  I think they are so passé, but I find many Japanese young men, and even young women, wearing them.  Even some of my students wear them to class.

Hawaiian shirts at Ameya-yokocho

seafood at Ameya-yokocho

Ameya-yokocho

fresh seafood at Ameya-yokocho

seafood for sale at Ameya-yokocho

produce at Ameya-yokocho

produce at Ameya-yokocho

At the end of the shopping street, I see the huge Uniqlo store across a major intersection, so I wait until the traffic passes and cross over.

Tokyo taxi

At Uniqlo, I get in a bit of trouble buying a couple of shirts, although they’re not very expensive, about $15 each. However, right after leaving Vinuls, I also stopped into another more expensive shop and bought two other tops.  I won’ t say how much those cost. 🙂

One thing I can say about Japan is that it’s a very consumer-driven society, and as a person who has a weakness for shopping, I have a hard time resisting the enticing goods for sale! 🙂

Total steps today: 15,754 (6.68 miles)

asakusa: kappabashi-dori plastic foods & another buddhist temple {walking tour 8: part 3}   16 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}   6 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. 🙂

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