Archive for the ‘Western Tokyo’ Category

shinjuku: kabukichō, hanazono-jinja, and golden gai — topped off by a gelato at isetan :-)   3 comments

Sunday, July 16:  After Yukie and I leave Omoide Yokocho, we head toward Kabukichō, walking through an underpass.  On the walls is a large colorful and whimsical mural painted by schoolchildren.

Street art on the way to Kabukicho

Yukie with street art on the way to Kabukicho

Street art on the way to Kabukicho

Street art on the way to Kabukicho

We walk through the boisterous Shinjuku area a little after noon.  We’re both getting hungry; Yukie has in mind a particular okonomiyaki restaurant where we plan to eat savory pancakes.

on the way to Kabukicho

on the way to Kabukichō

Kabukichō is Tokyo’s notorious entertainment district, established in 1948 as part of the World War II reconstruction effort. Originally a swamp, a duck sanctuary, and then a residential area, Kabukichō has transformed since it was destroyed during the war to a world-famous red-light district housing over three thousand bars, nightclubs, love hotels, massage parlors, hostess clubs, peep shows, cabarets and the like.  Tourists can be seen in Kabukichō even during daytime (Wikipedia: Kabukichō, Tokyo).

Kabukicho

Often called the “Sleepless Town” (眠らない街), the district’s name comes from late 1940s plans to build a kabuki theater. Kabuki (歌舞伎) is a classical Japanese dance-drama, known for the stylization of its drama and for the elaborate make-up worn by some of its performers. Although the theater was never built, the name stuck (Wikipedia: Kabukichō, Tokyo).

Kabukichō

The place is somewhat deserted on this hot summer day, but I can imagine it is quite lively at night.

Kabukichō

Kabukichō

Kabukichō

We finally find our lunchtime spot in Kabukichō and enjoy our okonomiyaki in a dark, cool atmosphere. Okonomiyaki, found throughout most of Japan, is made of a batter of flour, grated Chinese yam, water or dashi (a Japanese cooking stock), eggs and shredded cabbage; in addition, it often contains other ingredients such as green onion, meat (generally thin pork belly, often mistaken for bacon), octopus, squid, shrimp, vegetables, konjac (yam cake), mochi (Japanese rice cake), or cheese. Okonomiyaki is sometimes compared to an omelette or pancake and may be referred to as a “Japanese pizza”(Wikipedia: Okonomiyaki).

I enjoy a shrimp pancake and Yukie gets pork. It’s too dark inside to get any decent pictures of them, but they are filling and delicious.

Lunchtime

After lunch, we continue our walk around Kabukichō.  It’s so loud here, with abrasive music blaring out of the various establishments. Plus we are dripping in sweat from the sweltering city air.

Kabukichō

Kabukichō

Kabukichō

Kabukichō

I can imagine it must be very lively here at night with all the sex shops, bars, neon lights and robot restaurants.

Robot bar in Kabukichō

Robot bar in Kabukichō

Kabukichō

Kabukichō

Kabukichō

We dip into the Hanazono-jinja Shrine, which I’ve visited before (the shinjuku skyscraper district and a vermillion shrine {walking tour 17: part 2}).   It houses the guardian deity of Shinjuku.  Every Sunday, the Aozora-Kotto-Ichi (antique open air flea market) is held on the grounds.

Hanazono-jinja Shrine

Hanazono-jinja Shrine

Hanazono-jinja Shrine

Hanazono-jinja Shrine

ema at Hanazono-jinja Shrine

At the flea market, I buy a kokeshi doll for 1,200 yen (($11.15). These dolls are handmade from wood, have a simple trunk and an enlarged head with a few thin, painted lines to define the face. The body has a floral design painted in red, black, and sometimes yellow, and covered with a layer of wax. One characteristic of kokeshi dolls is their lack of arms or legs (Wikipedia: kokeshi). I’m so excited to finally buy one of these adorable dolls. 🙂

We finally decide to take a stroll through Golden Gai, an area of six narrow alleys connected by even narrower passageways.  Typically, the buildings are just a few feet wide and are built so close to the ones next door that they nearly touch. Most are two-story, having a small bar at street level and either another bar or a tiny flat upstairs, reached by a steep set of stairs. None of the bars are very large; some are so small that they can only fit five or so customers at one time.  The buildings are generally ramshackle, and the alleys are dimly lit, giving the area a very scruffy appearance. However, Golden Gai is not a cheap place to drink, and the clientele that it attracts is generally well off (Wikipedia: Golden Gai).

Golden Gai

Golden Gai

Golden Gai

Golden Gai

Golden Gai

Golden Gai

As we walk through the nearly deserted alleyways, we’re surprised by a lion bicycling quickly down the alley.  He or she is certainly a colorful character.

lion on a bicycle at Golden Gai

bicycling lion at Golden Gai

We leave Golden Gai and Yukie suggests that we should visit Isetan Department Store’s basement for a gelato.  What amazing places these department store food courts are! Everything is so painstakingly and artistically presented.  If I had endless time and money, and a bottomless stomach, I could walk around for hours on end, sampling everything in sight. 🙂

Isetan Department Store

Sweets at Isetan Department Store

Isetan Department Store

sweets at Isetan Department Store

macaroons at Isetan Department Store

We finally find our gelato place, and we squeeze in to a crowded seating area to enjoy the cool air and the frozen treat.

gelato at Isetan Department Store

What a fun way to end our time together.  After our gelato, we walk around looking at the gorgeous scarves and clothing in the store.  The store is much too expensive for my taste, but later, Yukie admits to returning for one of the scarves.  We both love scarves and have huge collections.  What fun for me to find someone like Yukie who shares my love of travel, photography, food and textiles.  🙂

Total steps today: 11,957 (5.07 miles)

 

a shinjuku kind of day: yoshida hiroshi at the seji togo memorial sompo japan nipponka museum of art & a stroll through omoide yokocho   9 comments

Sunday, July 16:  Today I am finally meeting my Japanese friend Yukie from Instagram!  We’ve followed each other for a number of years, but I think it must have been when I posted pictures of my trip to Portugal in 2013 that she found me, or I found her.  Ever since I arrived in Japan, she’s been direct messaging me on Instagram to check in with me, to see what my plans are each weekend, to find out what I think of the places I visit, to suggest places I should see, to tell me things about herself.   Her messages to me have been helpful, super friendly and caring.  They have made me feel like I belong, that I have a friend here, that I’m not alone in this sprawling and unfamiliar world.

Yukie goes by the name of @mondechiara on Instagram.  I highly recommend you check out her photos. She’s an enthusiastic lover of art and travel, and she holds a special place in her heart for Portugal. On her Instagram page, she posts pictures of Portuguese laundry (which she adores!), Lisbon streetcars, building facades and azulejos, rooftops and balconies, street art and coastlines.  She also posts pictures of her cats, as well as pictures of Kamakura (with plenty of hydrangeas) and the greater Tokyo area. She has a 14-year-old son and a 12-year-old daughter and works full-time in Tokyo.  Though she works hard, she always finds time to attend her children’s extracurricular events, to go out to tea or dinner with friends, to visit art galleries, or to go on photo outings.

Not only has she been a friend to me, but she is an inspiration as well. 🙂

She suggested we meet in Shinjuku to visit the Yoshida Hiroshi exhibit at the Seji Togo Memorial Sompo Japan Nipponka Museum of Art.  She had recommended the exhibit to me some time back.  When I sent her a list of all the things I wanted to see in Tokyo before I left, she chose the exhibit (which I’d included on my list) as the place she’d like us to visit together.

I meet her at 10:00 at the Shinjuku Station West Ground Gate.  She normally doesn’t post pictures of herself on Instagram, so I’m not sure how I’ll find her, but we somehow recognize each other by the looks of anticipation on our faces!  We walk to the museum and join the queue to get in; of course, as is the case with most Japanese museums, no photography is allowed.  I’m disappointed about this because the exhibit is fabulous.

At least, we are able to take pictures of Shinjuku from the 42nd floor museum windows.

view of Shinjuku from the Seji Togo Memorial Sompo Japan Nipponka Museum of Art

Out the window of the museum, we also get a view of the Rainbow Bridge, Roppongi Hills, Mode Gakuen Cocoon Tower, and Shinjuku Station.

view of Shinjuku from the Seji Togo Memorial Sompo Japan Nipponka Museum of Art

Hiroshi Yoshida (1876-1950) was a leading landscape painter during the Meiji and Showa eras. Born in Kurume, Fukoka Prefecture, he studied Western-style painting at a private school in Tokyo.

This expansive retrospective exhibition commemorates the artist’s life and work, featuring over 200 carefully-selected watercolors, oil paintings, and woodblock prints ranging from early in his career until his later years.

Hiroshi Yoshida’s uncompromising attitude led his colleagues to dub him the “demon of painting.”  He traveled to the United States in 1899 where he held several exhibitions and won acclaim for his watercolor painting technique and the high quality of his work. He later traveled around Europe and the United States, where he presented oil paintings and woodblock prints of various landscapes around the world and Japan, according to the museum’s website.

Since we can’t take pictures, I buy a couple of postcards of the artist’s woodblock prints, which I’ve photographed below.  The first one, of the wisteria over Kameido Bridge, is a great keepsake, as I visited Kameido Tenjin Shrine on May 7: the wisteria festival at kameido tenjin.  The main difference is that the drum bridge is not red in the woodblock print.  The bridges are now painted a cheerful red color, but they must not have been painted so in 1927.

Postcard by Yoshida Hiroshi – Kameido Bridge, 1927

Yoshida painted a myriad of landscapes capturing natural beauty and is known for being particularly fond of capturing mountain peaks in his works; he even made a point of climbing the Japanese Alps every year. There is a rich expressiveness present throughout his works, underpinned by his careful attention to nature and assured technique, which has captivated people both in Japan and around the world.  The artist has left an indelible impression on the history of contemporary Japanese painting, according to the exhibit write-up.

Sailing Boats – Morning, 1926
From the series The Inland Sea by Yoshida Hiroshi

Hirosaki Castle, 1935
From the series Eight Scenes of Cherry Blossoms –
Japanese woodblock print

Mt. Rainier, 1925
From the series The United States
Woodblock Print

Yukie and I are both in awe of the artist’s amazing talent, so much so that we spend a long time enjoying the exhibit and then linger for quite some time in the museum shop.  Not only do we buy postcards, but we both buy different exhibit catalogs  I spend 3,240 yen ($30) on mine. 🙂

Two hours after meeting and visiting the museum, we take a walk through Shinjuku Omoide Yokocho, a shopping area near Shinjuku’s West Gate that rose up after World War II’s devastation. Before the war, stalls sold clothes, shoes, and personal products such as soaps.  In addition, 30 to 40 booths sheltered with reed screens sold oden (various foods cooked in Japanese style broth), boiled potatoes, boiled red beans, tempura, tsukudani (seaweed boiled in soy sauce), and used books, but all were destroyed by fire.  After the disaster, “Lucky Street,” a black market consisting of stalls divided by boards, appeared.  People who had suffered the upheaval of war gathered in Shinjuku, and started to run their own businesses (Shinjuku Omoide Yokocho: History).

Omoide Yokocho

Around 1947, flour for making ramen noodles, Imagawa-yaki (Japanese sweets made from flour and red bean curd), and udon were controlled goods, and thus were severely restricted by the government. People thus created businesses using uncontrolled goods, so they used entrails of cows and pigs brought by occupation troops.  These “Motsu-yaki” shops, stalls selling roasted giblets with beef and pork, soon became prosperous (Shinjuku Omoide Yokocho: History).  The fact that many bars today serve skewered chicken and roasted giblets is a remnant of this past. Apart from bars, the alley also has many set-meal diners and second-hand ticket shops (Go Tokyo: Yokocho Alleys)

Omoide Yokocho

In the 1960s, Metro extension plans and terminal buildings were rebuilt due to redevelopment.  Some 300 shops from Koshu-Way to Oume-Way were deemed as illegal occupants and forced to leave, and shops from the current “Palette Building,” also as known as Shinjuku West Gate Hall, to Oume-Way were able to survive.  Since then and until now, Omoide Yokocho, “Corner of Memories,” at Shinjuku West gate has continued to develop, offering a taste of bygone times and reasonable prices. (Shinjuku Omoide Yokocho: History)

Omoide Yokocho

Omoide Yokocho

Here is Yukie in front of a wall of colorful stickers at Omoide Yokocho. 🙂

Yukie at Omoide Yokocho

Omoide Yokocho

Omoide Yokocho

Did I mention that, once again, it is sweltering hot here in Tokyo on this July day?  I told Yukie I was going to explore the area around Kabukicho after our visit to the museum, and that of course I’d love to have her come along, but that she shouldn’t feel obligated. I’m happy she decides to come along. When we arranged our meeting, she told me she wanted to take me to an okonomiyaki restaurant.  I have been hesitant to try okonomiyaki because it is often made with squid; as I hate squid I haven’t trusted my ability to order it without that tough chewy creature. Now, as we head toward Kabukicho and the restaurant, I’m looking forward to finally trying the famous savory pancakes.

 

 

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).

meiji shrine & harajuku: takeshita-dori & togo shrine {part of walking tour 18}   9 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).

the shinjuku skyscraper district and a vermillion shrine {walking tour 17: part 2}   21 comments

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

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

the view west of Shinjuku Station

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

One of Shinjuku’s 200 exits

Rainy day in Shinjuku

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

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

Shopping street in Shinjuku

JUMBO

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

Shinjuku Sompo building

streets of Shinjuku

Paloma

Skyscraper District of Shinjuku

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

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

Road construction in Shinjuku

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

Sompo Japan Building

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

Shinjuku Center Building

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

Mode Gakuen Cocoon Tower

Shinjuku Sompo building

Shinjuku Center Building

Mode Gakuen Cocoon Tower

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

LOVE at Shinjuku

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

Shinjuku

karaoke at Shinjuku

Shinjuku

Busy crossing at Shinjuku

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

eastern portion of Shinjuku

Shopping street east of Shinjuku Station

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

Hanazono Shrine

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

Hanazono Shrine

Hanazono Shrine

Hanazono Shrine

vermillion torii at Hanazono Shrine

Hanazono Shrine

large torii gate at the entrance to Hanazono Shrine

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

a utilitarian metal box turned to art

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Arrival at Shinjuku Gyoen Garden

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

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

lusciousness

cherry blossoms with yellow blooms

dangling blooms

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

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

The Mother and Child garden

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

Cypress area

cypress

more delicacies

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

the gnarled path

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

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

an arched bridge and weeping willows

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

a bridge too far

umbrellas on a bridge

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

tea house under pink

a Japanese tea house at Shinjuku Gyoen

Walking around the many ponds is a wonderful treat.

I love wandering out and about in the Japanese garden.

a pretty little scene

another stone lantern

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

view from the Kyu Goryo-tei Pavilion

view from the Kyu Goryo-tei Pavilion

view from the Kyu Goryo-tei Pavilion

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

another sakura-lined pond in the Japanese garden

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

blossoms leaning into the pond

lounging blossoms

sakura!

textured scene

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

canopy and carpet

soft and sharp

mystical forest

blossoms all around

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

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

gnarly trees in a row

The English Garden

The English Garden

a line of spiky trees

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

jubilant twins

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