Archive for the ‘Shinobazu Pond’ Category

the july cocktail hour: farewell to sagamihara :-)   25 comments

Monday, July 31:  Cheers and welcome to my fourth and final cocktail hour here in Japan. We’re meeting at the local Family Mart again tonight. A few of us have already made a stop at Dai Trattoria (see below – at the end), so we’re slightly looped already.  I apologize for getting a head start without you.  Sadly, the second plastic chair here has broken; all that’s left is one plastic chair, a small lopsided stool, and a metal chair with the seat falling apart.  No matter.  We can simply stand and mingle; that makes for a better party anyway. 🙂

Please do tell me about your summer.  Have you traveled anywhere exciting over the summer months? Have you seen any good movies?  Watched any good TV shows or read any good books? Have you eaten fresh fruits and vegetables, or visited any pretty gardens?  Have you done anything exciting, or even anything quietly enjoyable?  I love how we can slow down in summer without making any excuses.  I don’t care for summer in general because of the heat and humidity, but I do like the laid-back vibe of a summer vacation.

I finished my semester teaching at the university.  On August 1, I’ll have my apartment inspection, get the 50,000 yen that was withheld from my last paycheck, and then I’ll be on the Shinkansen for Hiroshima.  I’ll travel around Japan for one week, then I’ll head back to the USA on August 8.

The biggest challenges I had to deal with my last month of teaching in Japan were: 1) marking 55 final essays; 2) dealing with the heat; 3) planning my one week trip around Japan from August 1-8; 4) trying to see all the things in the Tokyo  area I wanted to see before leaving Japan; and 5) wrapping up everything so I can leave Japan on August 8.

Here are some of the tidbits of my last month in Japan, as well as a few observations about Japanese culture.

Tuesday, July 4:  I love the Japanese postal system.  If the post office has a letter to deliver that needs a signature, or if they have a package to deliver, they leave a postal slip in your door slot and you can call them on an English-only number to arrange a time for them to try again.  They will schedule the delivery at a time that’s convenient for you.  They’ll deliver as late as 6-8 pm on a weeknight, or any time on Saturdays or Sundays, giving you a two-hour time slot.  The other thing they’ll do is come to your house to pick up a box you have to send.  Today, I arranged with the post office to pick up my first box to send back home by surface.  It’s outrageously expensive to send a package by air+sea, and even more expensive to send one by air, so I chose to send it by surface (11.5 kg) for 7,450 yen (~$68).  Add about $100 for air+sea and about $200 by air!  It’s so convenient, but then of course, the Japanese are all about convenience. 🙂

Wednesday, July 5: I have become quite a regular at Kenji’s fish restaurant, Kiyariya, which I pass as I walk my 30-minute walk home each night.  It’s not cheap, usually costing me about $16, but the food is so good that I’m happy to splurge at least once a week.  I love the eggplant dish soaked in oil with fresh grated radishes.  Tonight I get the grilled salmon and eggplant, accompanied by a cold beer. Every time I leave the restaurant, Natsumi, the server, or Kenji, the owner, walk out with me and say, “See you next week!”

Thursday, July 6: Thursday nights seem to be our nights for cocktail hours at the Family Mart.  Tonight Graham and I go; as always we enjoy ourselves over cold beer and talk of teaching and politics. 🙂  I love these nights because they’re easygoing, not at all pretentious, and cheap.  As we sit outside the Family Mart in our plastic chairs, students often walk past and stop for a chat.

Friday, July 7: My other regular place is the Indian restaurant Curry Naan, where I always enjoy vegetable curry, a HUGE naan, a salad, and cold beer that, when bought with the meal, costs only 100 yen (less than $1!). As always, Beatles music is playing on the sound system.  Tonight, it’s:

Jojo was a man who thought he was a loner
But he knew it wouldn’t last
Jojo left his home in Tucson, Arizona
For some California grass

Get back, get back
Get back to where you once belonged

I enjoy my meal in the cool dark atmosphere while listening to “Eleanor Rigby,” “I am the Walrus,” “I Want to Hold Your Hand,” “Something,” “Help,” “Yesterday,” “Strawberry Fields Forever,” and “Lucy in the Sky with the Diamonds.”

Who would ever imagine an Indian restaurant in a Japanese city with a Japanese chef playing non-stop Beatles music?

Dinner at Curry Naan

Tuesday, July 11: One of the projects I assigned my students was to create inventions.  They were to come up with a product, create a poster, and then do a sales pitch in front of the class.  Below are the products they created, which I thought were quite fun and original. 🙂

Inventions

Click on any of the following pictures for a full-sized slide show.

 

All my students had to turn in their final essays (after one revision) by Friday, July 7.  I have had a rule while teaching in Japan that I would get all my work done, both marking and planning, during our 9-hour workdays.  I rarely take work home with me. I figure if I have to be in the office 9 hours every day, I should be able to manage my time effectively enough to do this.  As of Tuesday, July 11, I have finished marking class G essays (18).  I celebrate by having dinner at Kiyariya once again. 🙂

Wednesday, July 12: Most days, I eat lunch in the student cafeteria, where we can get cheap hot meals.  I tend to go for the soba topped with vegetable tempura for 290 yen ($2.63). The process is to go to a ticket machine where we pay for a ticket for whatever meal we want.  Then we take the ticket to the window, shown below, where we lay the ticket on the counter and wait to be served our steaming bowl of noodles. I always feel like I am in line for the Soup Nazi from Seinfeld, although the ladies are always perfectly nice, unlike the actual Soup Nazi.  Usually I ask for “skoshi,” which apparently means a small amount of liquid (i.e., mostly noodles).  The ladies always know what we mean and serve us our soup accordingly.

Waiting in line for my soba with vegetable tempura

Thursday, July 13: Yet another fun Thursday happy hour at the Family Mart with Graham and Paul.

Monday, July 17: On this Monday night, which is actually a national holiday (we don’t get it off), Graham and Paul try to take me to their favorite izakaya, or Japanese gastropub.  Sadly, maybe because of the holiday, or maybe because it’s a Monday, the place is closed, so we go instead to Jonathan’s for dinner.  Jonathan’s is a lot like a Denny’s in the U.S.A.  As always, we have a fabulous time.

Tuesday, July 18: Today, I send a second box home to USA by surface.  I have to get a box from the post office, using the following Google translate message. This time it costs me 7,800 yen (~$71) for a 13kg box.

Google translation

Wednesday, July 19: My time in Japan is winding down.  I go to dinner at Kiyariya, where I enjoy grilled salmon, eggplant and beer.  I tell Kenji and Natsumi I’ll only be back in one more time.  Once again, Natsumi walks out with me and tells me they are going to miss me. 🙂

Thursday, July 20: Graham and Paul have to attend a meeting with Reiko, our curriculum adviser, about the fall semester.  The meeting goes on for quite a long time. Tobi and I wait and wait for them at the Family Mart; after a while, we give up waiting, leave, and end up having dinner at Curry Naan.  While waiting at the Family Mart, we wonder about this very strange poster on the Family Mart window.

strange sign at the Family Mart

One of my favorite snacks in Japan is onigiri; the snack is made from white rice formed into triangular or cylindrical shapes and often wrapped in nori (seaweed). My favorite onigiri are filled with salted salmon, shrimp or tuna with mayonnaise. Because of onigiri’s popularity in Japan, most convenience stores stock their onigiri with various fillings and flavors.  This is a picture of one of my favorites, shrimp with mayonnaise.

one of my favorite snacks – shrimp with mayonnaise

Friday, July 21:  On my last Friday when walking to the university, I finally stop to take a photo of these colorful houses I have passed every day. I’ve been thinking about doing this all semester, and I finally get around to it on my next to the last day of teaching.  I love the laundry hanging outside.

colorful houses I pass everyday on my way to work

Today, my “I” class wants to start taking pictures, even though it’s not even our last day.  In case you don’t remember, my “I” class is my most rambunctious and difficult to control class, the one that gives me too many challenges to count. Taken individually, they are each great, but as a group, they are out of control.

 

While Graham, Tobi and I are having lunch out at the picnic table, my two students Emiko and Rena, from my “I” class, stop by to join us and take some pictures.  These two girls were Graham’s students last year and mine this year.

 

Monday, July 24: Today is our last day of classes!  I am so excited that I never again have to walk 30 minutes to the university on steamy days, only to arrive at work to find there is little to no air-conditioning.  My classroom is always an oven upon my arrival. We have been told throughout the semester that the university must save money on energy costs since the tsunami and earthquake of 2011, which damaged the Fukushima Daiichi plant and caused a nuclear emergency. Thus, our office is always warm, and the university doesn’t turn on the air-conditioning in the classrooms until class begins.   We’re told they’re supposed to turn it on automatically at the minute class starts, and turn it off the minute class ends. However, they never do, and I always have to ask one of my students to call using the classroom phone.

For some reason the students find it really funny that I’m always hot and want the air conditioning on.  That despite them coming in dripping in sweat, fanning themselves frantically, and complaining about the heat.  As the person at the other end of the line is Japanese, I always ask my students to call.  However, we are told in one of our staff meetings that the administrative people have complained about students calling.  They say students call asking for the air-conditioning to be turned on, and then call again to ask for it to be turned off, all within the same classroom and period.  So, our program coordinator tells us we must call ourselves.  She tells us to say, “Air con mo skoshi suyoi shitte onagaishimus.” The problem with this is that the person on the other end starts rattling off some long sentences in Japanese, and I never know what they’re saying.  So I end up putting my students on the phone after all.  What a ridiculous rule!

Below are 6 of the 8 boys from Class “I” with me, pretending to make the ridiculous air-con call!

I class boys and me calling about the air conditioning

I gave each class a choice as to what we would do on our last day of class. My “I” class chose to play games and to bring their own snacks.  We played several rounds of crazy Pictionary, where team members chose mismatched slips of paper, such as “alligator — does jumping jacks.”  It’s fun, but after a while the students just want to take pictures, which they do.

 

My H class is always super organized and responsible, and they show their personality in our end-of-semester party.  They bring in a large pizza order, collect money, set up a group of tables and organize the chairs around it.  They are totally in charge, and I don’t have to lift a finger.  We all eat, laugh, and talk while they play their favorite music.  It’s my last class of the day and we have a great time.

 

My G class is my quiet class, and they plan their day in the typical “quiet” fashion that reveals their group personality. They order several pizzas which they place at the front of the class.  They also bring the movie, Frozen, which they watch quietly for the entire 90 minute class.

G class

Tuesday, July 25: On Tuesday, we go into the office to clean up all of our stuff.  After cleanup, some of us have lunch together at Jonathan’s: Rob, Tobi, Joe and me.  The others have to attend a meeting about next fall semester, but we don’t have to go as we won’t be returning to AGU.

Wednesday, July 26: On Wednesday morning I take a walk in the rain with Graham in the forest at Aihara.  In the evening, I enjoy my last meal at Kiyariya — eggplant, beer and barracuda.

 

Thursday, July 27: Today, we have individual meetings with our Program Coordinator and Curriculum Advisor near Ueno in Tokyo.  Here, we discuss the grades of individual students.  After our separate meetings, Paul and I walk to the tapas bar, Vinul’s.  On our way, we pass through Ueno Park, where we admire the lotuses blooming at Shinobazu Pond.

lotus flowers at Shinobazu Pond at Ueno Park

lotus flowers at Shinobazu Pond at Ueno Park

lotus flowers at Shinobazu Pond at Ueno Park

lotus flowers at Shinobazu Pond at Ueno Park

lotus flowers at Shinobazu Pond at Ueno Park

We get a table outside at Vinul’s and snack on tapas and drink wine. Since Graham’s meeting follows ours, he joins us later.  We enjoy our fabulous farewell dinner.  Sadly, I won’t see Paul again, but I’ll see Graham on Tuesday, when I give him my bicycle.

Graham and Paul at Vinul’s

Graham, me and Paul at Vinul’s

walking to the station after Vinul’s

Monday, July 31:  One thing I haven’t written about was an encounter I had on May 6, when I went to a Meetup at the Knight’s Club in Sagamihara.  It was run by a Californian who has an English school upstairs and a bar downstairs.  There I met a fantastic Japanese lady, Reiko, who speaks perfect English and who has traveled all over the world.  She immediately added me on Facebook and we started chatting with each other.  We even spent a day shopping together on a rainy Sunday in late June.

My colleague Tobi is a single guy and I thought he and Reiko might enjoy meeting each other.  After many failed attempts to introduce them to each other, I finally gave up and just gave each of them each other’s contact information.  They finally started chatting and then met for dinner.

Tonight, I meet them at Dai Trattoria, where we enjoy a fun evening eating pizza, drinking wine, laughing and chatting.  Sadly, though I have pictures, they won’t allow me to post them. 😦

Later, Reiko takes one of the pictures she took of me and dolls me up with a silly photo app.  These are the photos she sends me.

 

Tomorrow, August 1, I’ll have my apartment inspection, leave the apartment for good, and take my first Shinkansen to Hiroshima.  I’m going to miss so much about Japan, but not my tiny rabbit hut and not my job.

Here are a few observations about Japan:

  1.  Japan has the best public transportation system I’ve ever encountered.  The trains are always on time, to the minute, so much so that you can set your clock by them.  I love how, in Tokyo, white-gloved train conductors stand on the platform, pointing left and right to check that the platform is clear as the train pulls into the station.  After the doors to the train close, they do the same routine again, followed by blowing a whistle to signal to the person driving the train.  It’s amazing to watch.
  2.  As much as I like the trains, however, I hate the crowded trains and will do almost anything to avoid them.  For example, there’s a Rapid Express Odakyu train from Machida to Shinjuku, which makes only a few stops as it makes its way to the center of Tokyo.  That train is so crowded that people almost always have to stand.  I try to avoid that train as it makes me claustrophobic.  Sometimes I pay extra for the Romancecar, which travels the same route, has reserved seats and makes no stops.  Or, I take the Yokohama Line to Nagatsuta Station, where I take the Tokyu-Den-entoshi Line to Shibuya.  I almost always get a seat on this line.
  3.  I love how Japan is so clean everywhere.  Rarely does one see a piece of trash on the street.  Everything is neat and orderly.  However, the one thing that baffles me is why there are no trash cans anywhere!  If I get a snack when I’m out and about, there is no place to throw the wrapping.  Or if I get a plastic bottle of water, there is no place to toss the bottle when I’m finished.  I must schlep my trash around with me all day.  I’ve resorted to tossing my trash in the tiny trash cans in the ladies’ restrooms.  When I told my students about my frustrations regarding this, they told me that the Japanese government worries about bombs being left in trash cans.  Thus they don’t put trash cans anywhere.  I don’t know if this is true, or if the government just doesn’t want to pay people to empty trash cans.  It’s very frustrating.
  4.  The bathrooms in Japan are fantastic.  Even public bathrooms are generally clean and well-maintained.  Rarely have I come to a dirty toilet or one without full rolls of toilet paper.  Many toilets are of the electronic variety — bidet toilets, commonly called washlets — in many places.  These offer warmed seats, as well as deodorizing and bidet washings.  Sometimes when you sit on a toilet, a sound system plays bird songs and flowing stream sounds, as if you’re out in nature.  Besides the cleanliness and fancy toilet gadgetry, the toilets are ubiquitous.  At every metro station, both inside and outside the gate, is a public toilet.  Also, 7-11s or Family Marts are on many street corners, where bathrooms are readily available for public use. Especially at tourist spots and temples, toilets are abundant.  Why is it that other countries, most notably the U.S.A., seem embarrassed to admit the need for human beings to use a toilet?? I know that on the Washington metro, there are no toilets inside or outside the gate of a station.  If a person has to go to the bathroom when riding the metro, he/she has to leave the station and find a Starbucks, a McDonald’s or some other kind of restaurant; since restaurants near the metro don’t want people using their toilets willy-nilly, they often require the patrons to buy something to get a code to open the bathroom door.  It’s utterly ridiculous not to openly recognize that human beings need to relieve themselves periodically!
  5.  I love how shopkeepers always greet people with a sing-song welcome and a bow.  The bowing continues in perpetuity, that is until the customer walks out the door of the shop.  It’s such respectful behavior toward one’s fellow human beings.  We certainly don’t have that level of kindness in the U.S. these days.
  6.  Here’s a sign I found on one of the trains in Japan: “Please move to the other side of the door immediately after alighting.”  I love it – “alighting.” 🙂
  7.  In every country where I’ve lived so far, it’s been a simple and straightforward thing to wire money home to my bank account in the U.S.A.  However, it’s quite an ordeal in Japan, at least at Japan Post, where I have my account.  They take forever to get the wire transfer set up, and then they tell you that they will need 6 or 7 days to complete the transfer.  This is unbelievable in a developed country like Japan.  I never had any problem transferring money in Oman or China (not considered developed countries), or even in Korea; in all of these countries the money was in my account within hours after I sent it.  I thought Japan Post was possibly exaggerating the time to protect themselves, but in fact, the process did take seven days!
  8.  I don’t like the workaholic nature of Japanese society.  Most people seem to commute long hours and work long hours, with little complaint.  I found my students don’t envision this life for themselves. I hated the expectations placed on us as teachers.  That’s why I was determined to keep a work-life balance, never taking work home with me.  Most of my colleagues worked during week, plus took work home with them.  I simply refused to do it, and I still managed to get all my work done.
  9. Though I generally managed to eat healthy while in Japan, I found the array of available unhealthy snacks confounding, and tempting.  I developed some bad snacking habits, especially with ice cream or pudding.  My students often acted like our classroom was a cafeteria.  They’d bring snacks, Bento boxes, ramen noodles, anything a person could eat, into the classroom, and ravenously gobble down their food throughout the class session.  I’ve never seen anything like it!

It was a short but fantastic experience living in Japan. I hope someday to return as a tourist, as there is so much to see and do.  I’m sure I barely touched the country and the culture in my four-month stay.  In addition to simply traveling around, I hope one day to do the 88-temple walk in Shikoku. 🙂

 

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

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

Entrance to Ueno Park

Entering Ueno Park

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

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

bronze statue of Takamori Saigo

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

sakura

Kiyomizu Kannon-do

Kiyomizu Kannon-do

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

Kiyomizu Kannon-do

Kiyomizu Kannon-do

Kiyomizu Kannon-do

Kiyomizu Kannon-do

Ema at Kiyomizu Kannon-do

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

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

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

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

Heading to the Benten-do

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

Shinobazu Pond from the other side

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

Gojo Tenjin Shrine

The ema at Gojo Tenjin Shrine are quite elaborate.

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

Hanazono Inari Shrine

Hanazono Inari Shrine

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

bibbed fox guardian at Hanazono Inari Shrine

Hanazono Inari Shrine

Hanazono Inari Shrine

torii gates from Hanazono Inari Shrine

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

statue at 1666 Toki-no-kane bell

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

Buddha at 1666 Toki-no-kane bell

The ema here have the blue-tinted Buddha face.

Ema at 1666 Toki-no-kane bell

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

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

a kind soul at 1666 Toki-no-kane bell

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

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

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

Kabuto musician

1666 Toki-no-kane bell

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

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

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

Tosho-gu Shrine

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

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

bronze lanterns at Tosho-gu Shrine

bronze lanterns at Tosho-gu Shrine

bronze lanterns at Tosho-gu Shrine

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

gate at Tosho-gu Shrine

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

Sacred tree at Tosho-gu Shrine

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

Tosho-gu Shrine

Tosho-gu Shrine

tree on the grounds of Tosho-gu Shrine

Tosho-gu Shrine

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

Chinese gate at Tosho-gu Shrine

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

Tosho-gu Shrine

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

musicians at Tosho-gu Shrine

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

Monster lantern

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

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

Statue of the Imperial Prince Komatsunomiya Akihito

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

a lively card game

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

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

 

hanami: shinobazu pond, house of taikan yokoyama, ameyoko shopping street {walking tour 9, part 1}   4 comments

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

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

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

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

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

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

First view of cherry blossoms along Shinobazu Pond

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

cherry blossoms along Shinobazu Pond

cherry blossoms along Shinobazu Pond

cherry blossoms along Shinobazu Pond

cherry blossoms along Shinobazu Pond

cherry blossoms along Shinobazu Pond

cherry blossoms along Shinobazu Pond

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

paddle boats on Shinobazu Pond

sculpture at Shinobazu Pond

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

Stone lantern at House of Taikan Yokoyama

Entryway to House of Taikan Yokoyama

House of Taikan Yokoyama

House of Taikan Yokoyama

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

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

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

postcard of house of Taikan Yokoyama

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

postcard of Taikan Yokoyama’s art

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

 

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

Ameyoko Shopping Street

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

Ameyoko Shopping Street

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

Food sign on Ameyoko Shopping Street

Ameyoko Shopping Street

Ameyoko Shopping Street

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

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