Archive for the ‘Expat life’ Category

yokohama: chinatown and yamashita park {walking tour 20: part 1}   8 comments

Saturday, April 15:  This morning, I head for Yokohama at around 10 a.m., taking the JR Yokohama Green Line to Sakuragicho Station, then changing to the Negishi Line for Ishikawacho Station. When I ride my bike to park at Fuchinobe Station, I find an attendant there charging 100 yen to park: I guess it’s only free on Sundays.  Oh well, 100 yen is hardly going to bankrupt me.

It is easy to find the beginning of Walking Tour 20 (Tokyo: 29 Walks in the World’s Most Exciting City) at Chinatown’s Nishimon-dori (West Gate Street), as it’s right outside the station and there are signs pointing the direction.  The 11:15 start to my walk is later than I intended.  Little do I know I’ll end up walking over 10 miles today, from the south of Yokohama to the north, all along Yokohama Bay and in and out on a circuitous route through the city streets.

The West Gate of Chinatown

Yokohama’s Chinatown, or Chūkagai, is the largest of three Chinatowns in Japan, followed by Nagasaki and Kobe.  It was set aside by the Japanese government in 1863 and now has about 3-4,000 residents, mostly descendants of Chinese from Guangzhou who came as servants of Western merchants or as traders.  Some acted as treasurers to Western firms, while others came as craftsmen who could make clothing and other essentials needed by foreigners. When war broke out between China and Japan in 1937, the growth of Chinatown came to a standstill, but it started thriving again in 1955, when a large goodwill gate was built and Chinatown was officially recognized by Japan.

Yokohama’s Chinatown

Almost immediately, I’m enticed into a three-story shop called Amina Collection.  It has cute clothing, accessories and home decor mainly imported from India and Nepal.  Why it’s in Chinatown, I don’t know; the shopkeeper, who has her hair wrapped in a large turban and wears a maize-colored flowing skirt, tells me her corporation owns many similar shops in Japan.  What I really love are the incense aromas and the whimsical and enchanting music piped in through the shop.  I ask the shopkeeper if they sell the CD with the music playlist, but unfortunately for me, she says the owner downloaded the playlist to an MP3.  I also find some cute tops and kimono toppers (the kind of kimono cover-ups sold in America, not traditional Japanese kimono).  Since I’m just starting my walk and don’t want to buy anything yet, I tell the shopkeeper I’ll return later.  At this time, I think the walk will bring me full circle back to Ishikawacho Station, where I can easily return to shop before heading home.

I continue into Chinatown, overwhelmed by crimson and yellow signs, fierce dragons twisting and turning on buildings and signs, shops with Chinese lanterns and masks, huge restaurant boards with pictures of enticing dishes, and touts in front of each restaurant beckoning tourists in.  It is getting to be lunchtime, but my stomach takes a turn at the thought of eating Chinese food.  When I was in China, I was sick almost constantly from the food, but I think maybe in Japan the Chinese food will be fine.  After all, the Chinese restauranteurs must cook to Japanese tastes, just like they cook to American tastes in the USA.

North Gate

Restaurant in Chinatown

Though the large multi-ingredient dishes look mouth-watering, I figure maybe I can stick to something like steamed dumplings that aren’t cooked in oil. My hunger gets the best of me, and I drop into a tiny joint where I order three shrimp steamed dumplings with a Pepsi.  It costs nearly $10 for that tiny meal, which is meant to sustain me all day.  After I leave the restaurant, my stomach immediately cramps up and I wonder if it’s because of the food or just my fear of eating Chinese again.

Those stomach cramps are to stay with me the rest of the day, yet I end up walking over 10 miles. 🙂

Yokohama’s Chinatown

a pagoda in Chinatown

East Gate

After lunch, I’m in search of the Kantei-Byo.  The original temple, known as the Kuan-Ti Mao Temple, suffered many disasters.  It was built in 1887, destroyed by the 1923 Great Kanto earthquake, and suffered damages during the 1945 Allies air attack. In 1981, it was struck by lighting and caught fire. It burned down again in 1987, and finally, was reconstructed in 1990 as Kantei-Byo despite the political differences of the Taiwan and Beijing Chinese.

According to Japan Travel, Kantei-Byo is dedicated to the famous Chinese warrior “Kanwu,” who excelled in the areas of power, courage, justice, and loyalty, as well as business. For all these reasons, the people of Chinatown follow Kanwu as their “God of Business.”  However, another source, my book Tokyo: 29 Walks in the World’s Most Exciting City, says the new shrine is dedicated to Sangokushi; to him, the Chinese can pray for good fortune and good business.  Oh well, whomever a person prays too, he’s sure to be successful in business. 🙂

I finally find the temple, with a huge Coke Zero truck parked in front.  The light doesn’t favor this view, so I go immediately into the temple courtyard.

Kantei-Byo

Kantei-Byo

Two golden dragons greet me on the wall of the temple.

Dragons at Kantei-Byo

I love the wonderful details under the eaves of Chinese temples.

Kantei-Byo

The visitors to the temple light incense sticks and bow and pray to the gods within.

incense burner at Kantei-Byo

Here’s the view from the temple to the outside gate. Much better than the outside-to-inside shot with the Coke Zero truck.

Kantei-Byo

I find colorful and intricate architectural details and relief carvings under the temple’s eaves.

Inside the temple is gorgeous, but they want 100 yen to go inside and I’m not allowed to take pictures.  If I were allowed to take pictures, I’d gladly pay the entrance fee, but as I can see the altar from outside, that’s enough for me.

Kantei-Byo

incense at Kantei-Byo

Kantei-Byo

Just outside the temple, I find another in the line of Amina shops and I go inside to try on more cute tops. The two salesgirls look so cute, I can’t help but try on tops in the shop that are similar.  They look terrible on me, sadly.  I guess when you’re super tiny, you can get away with wearing anything!

Outside the shop, I encounter these two characters, one of them next to a wide-mouth panda entrance.

a cool character near the East Gate

creature with wide-mouthed panda

Another Chinatown gate

Finally, I make my way out of Chinatown and head to the waterfront.  First, I encounter the memorial commemorating the Reverend James Curtis Hepburn, a medical Protestant missionary who created the first Japanese-English dictionary in 1867 and Romanized the Japanese characters.  He often treated Japanese and Chinese patients for free in his house if they couldn’t afford payment.  The memorial marks his and his wife’s work from 1859-1892.

Hepburn Memorial Marker

The south end of Yamashita Park extends 2/3 mile from the Yamashita Pier to the Osanbashi Pier.  To cover the flood control pumping station at the south end, a raised platform has an ornamental water cascade that extends from the upper level to street level.

south end of Yamashita Park

At street level, the ornamental water cascade ends in a pretty pool.

ornamental water cascade at Yamashita Park

From Yamashita Park, I can see Yokohama Harbor.  Today is the perfect day for a walk, with temperatures in the high 60s and a brisk wind.  How I love windy days when the temperature is right.

view of Yokohama Harbor from Yamashita Park

Looking inland, I can see the buildings fronting the park. The Marine Tower was belatedly constructed in 1961 to celebrate the 100-year anniversary of Yokohama’s founding in 1859.  There is an observation deck at the 100-meter level, but I don’t go up today.  At 106 meters is a lighthouse lamp visible over the bay for 24 miles; it is the biggest inland lighthouse in the world.

Marine Tower

General MacArthur stayed at the Hotel New Grand on the evening of August 30, 1945 to begin his stint as the commander of the occupying American forces in Japan.  Also from the hotel, he boarded the USS Missouri battleship on September 2, 1945 to accept the Japanese surrender, thus ending World War II.

Hotel New Grand

A fancy rose and flower garden in the park invites a stroll.

gardens at Yamashita Park

Along the harborside walkway, I can see the north part of Yokohama.

view of northern Yokohama and Yokohama Harbor

Off a small pier south of Osanbashi Pier, the Hikawa-maru, a luxury ocean liner built in Yokohama in 1930 is permanently moored.  It made 238 crossings between Japan and the U.S. West Coast from 1930-1960.  It is now retired from service.

The Hikawa-Maru

Yamashita Park and the Hotel New Grand

The Guardian of the Waters statue was a gift from sister city San Diego to Yokohama and its people.

Guardian of the Waters

Guardian of the Waters

YOKOHAMA 2017

tulip mania at Yamashita Park

tulips at Yamashita Park

Looking south along the waterside walkway, I can see the 1989 Yokohama Bay Bridge.

Yokohama Bay Bridge and view of the North Dock

a ship in port

As I approach the north end of Yamashita Park, I have a better view of Yokohama with its iconic Ferris wheel.

looking to the north

The Osanbashi Pier is at the north end of Yamashita Park.  From here, I’ll be heading inland.

Osanbashi Pier

Here are a few notes on how I get to places in the Tokyo area without access to GPS:

Westgate provides teachers with a phone, but we’re only allowed to use it to make calls to a pre-programmed list of numbers.  We are not allowed to use it to call anyone who is not programmed into the phone.  We can accept calls, but we can’t make them.  Besides, it is an old-fashioned flip-phone and not a smart phone with fancy features like GPS.

I have my iPhone from the U.S., but so far I haven’t had the need to get a pre-paid SIM card for my phone.  As long as I have access to wi-fi, at home and at work, I can use the phone for data or messaging.  I was advised that I can Google directions to a destination by just entering in the beginning station (in my case Fuchinobe) and the end station, and I can get directions as to when to switch trains, how many stops between stations, etc.  I can even get a timetable.

The problem of course is that I don’t get GPS when I’m out and about.  My phone is worthless at these times.  So, before leaving my house, I look up the information and take screen shots of the train route.  Below is a version of how I made today’s trip.  I have another screen shot that expands the 12 stops so I can know exactly which stops I’ll be passing, so I can be on the lookout for my particular stop. So far this method is working pretty well for me. 🙂

 

my metro directions screen-shot from Google Maps

 

the shinjuku skyscraper district and a vermillion shrine {walking tour 17: part 2}   9 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}   4 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

aoyama gakuin university   4 comments

Wednesday, April 12: I’ve almost finished my first full week of teaching with Westgate Corporation at Aoyama Gakuin University Sagamihara Campus.  My employer is actually Westgate, and they hire us out to the university.  The university’s program is a two-year program within the School of Global Studies and Collaboration; I teach second year students who will be going on a study abroad in the fall semester to either Malaysia or Thailand.  We’re supposed to help them improve their English skills for their study abroad program; this program is meant to enhance their understanding of different cultures.

Here are some pictures of the campus.

Aoyama Gakuin University Sagimahara Campus

According to the university website, the university was founded in 1949, offering an education in line with “the founding spirit” based on the Christian faith. The aim is to nurture individuals with a strong sense of social responsibility and morality to contribute to ever-changing society. The university is also strongly committed to language education and international exchange to promote international understanding.

Aoyama Gakuin University Sagimahara Campus

Though the university was founded by the Methodist Episcopal Church, and there is a chapel on campus, neither students nor faculty are actually required to be of the Christian faith.  However, we can hear church music and bells on campus, and students have a special chapel time set aside each day.

the chapel on campus

Our teacher office is in the building on the right in the photo below, and the huge cafeteria is on the left.  Bento boxes are offered by kiosks, prepared meals are sold in the 7-11 on-site, and hot meals are sold in the sprawling cafeteria.  There are displays of the food, and machines that list the price and the dish in Japanese (machines on one wall name them in English, thank goodness).  You push a button on the machine, put in your Yen, and then collect a ticket.  At the back, you take your ticket to one of the serving stations depending on what you ordered: a station for udon, ramen, soba, fish or chicken dinner, etc.  You then stand in line, hand your ticket to the ladies behind the counter, and they serve you up!

Aoyama Gakuin University Sagimahara Campus

the chapel

the chapel

the chapel

I have three classes of 18-20 students, 56 students altogether.  I teach all three classes for 90 minutes each on Monday, Thursday and Friday; on Tuesday and Wednesday, the three classes are spread out over two days, giving us some planning time.  I plan four classes a week (repeating the lesson for each of my three classes).  I work 9:30-6;30 on M-W-F and 8:40-5:40 on Tu-Th.

If it seems confusing, you’re right, it is.  I have to keep referring to my schedule to see when I work and where I go to teach and which classes I have.  But, that is always the nature of teaching.

So far my students are a pleasure and seem eager to improve their English for their upcoming study abroad.

notes from my sagamihara neighborhood   8 comments

Wednesday, April 12:  I live in a small apartment owned by Leopalace in Sagamihara, Kanagawa Prefecture; my building is a 20-minute walk from the Fuchinobe metro stop on the JR Yokohama Line and a 30-minute walk from the university where I teach 9 hours/day Monday-Friday.

In our small parking lot, we have one of Japan’s ubiquitous vending machines.  These vending machines can be found on corners throughout Japanese neighborhoods every couple of blocks or so.  On the bottom row, where you see red labels, are the hot coffees in cans. The top two rows offer cold coffees in cans, soft drinks, juices, and flavored waters.  During my first two weeks, I often ran out to the vending machine in the mornings to get a coffee. But it was a pain because I wasn’t sure it would be acceptable to go outside in my pajamas.  I dutifully got dressed, went outside to get the coffee, then put my pajamas back on.  After all, who doesn’t like to drink coffee in their pajamas? 🙂

the vending machine in the parking lot of my Leopalace apartment

I’ve been now experimenting with various coffee options since we don’t have any kind of coffee-maker or kettle in our apartments.  First, I found small cup-sized paper filters (cone-shaped with flat bottoms) in the supermarket.  Then I bought some coffee grounds with pictures on the package showing the coffee grounds placed in the filter in the cup and hot water being poured over the grounds.  That didn’t work too well, because as soon as I poured the water into the filter, the filter, weighed down by the water and the grounds, sank to the bottom of the cup, making for a murky, ground-filled cup of coffee.  That certainly wasn’t a good option.

Next, I bought a small jar of instant coffee.  I drank instant coffee constantly in China, Korea and Oman, so I’m used to it.  However, for some reason, the instant coffee grounds didn’t totally dissolve.  It’s Nescafé and the grounds are finer than the other grounds I bought, but since the jar’s contents are written in Japanese, I’m not sure it is instant coffee.

Recently, one of my colleagues told me he uses this cone-like filter with a cardboard contraption that fits around the top of the filter, suspending the filter at the top of the cup as you pour hot water into it.  Each filter is pre-filled with just the right amount of coffee.  Wouldn’t you know the Japanese would invent a genius contraption like this. 🙂

the coffee contraption

I love living in a new culture because even the most mundane things, like figuring out how to drink coffee, are adventures.  Everyday life is far from monotonous.

Below is the view of my top floor corner apartment, #201, from the vending machine.

My apartment is the top corner one on the right from this vantage point, which is on the other side of the building.

Mine is top right. 🙂

I love my Japanese neighborhood.  The houses are compact with tiny carports or little garages housing colorful compact carts. Many neighbors have created beautiful gardens in their postage stamp-sized yards; some of these container gardens spill out into the street, giving pleasure to passers-by.

a house with a garden

another home garden

flowers with umbrella

I am surprised to find a few brightly colored houses interspersed with the brown, gray and white ones.

house decked out in pink

The trees in people’s yards are often either trained into bonsai shapes or trimmed into ovals, cylinders or balls.

another Japanese house

This is one of my long stretches on my walk into town.

the long walk home

Here’s another long stretch.

the long walk continues

Closer to town, I find some cute little bakeries and cafes.  I haven’t yet tried them out, but I will do so soon.

Last Tuesday at this spot, I heard three fighter jets roaring overhead and of course the first thing I thought of was North Korea.  I couldn’t find anything special in the news about N.K. though.

some cute shops close to town

One of the stores in town is a Beauty store, and inside are personal care items like lotions, shampoos, and toothpaste. I went in one day with a specific list: nail polish remover, hand lotion, body lotion, conditioner. I stood staring at the shelves for a long time, unable to figure out which item was body lotion vs. body wash, which was conditioner vs. hair “milk,” and not seeing nail polish remover or anything like it.  Unable to communicate with the only person in the shop, a male cashier, I had to resort to putting each item into my translator; he patiently led me to each item in the shop and, voila, my trip was successful. 🙂

Back closer to my apartment, about 1 1/2 blocks away from home, is our friendly Seven & I Holdings: 7i – which of course, we simply call 7-11.  I didn’t know this but according to Wikipedia, Seven & I Holdings was established on September 1, 2005 as the parent company of the 7-Eleven Japan chain of convenience stores, the Ito-Yokado grocery and clothing stores, and the Denny’s Japan family restaurants. In November 2005, it completed the purchase of US-based 7-Eleven Inc.

So they are the same, and all owned by a Japanese company.  A 7-11 in Japan is much like Wawa in the U.S.  Every day the shelves are filled with freshly prepared boxed Japanese meals, arranged prettily in plastic containers.  You can get almost anything here.  Too many nights, I’ve eaten dinner picked right off these shelves, and they’ve been quite tasty.

our neighborhood 7-11

Here are a few other narrow streets in our neighborhood.

a neigborhood road

a bonsai garden

We even have some cherry blossoms blooming near this multi-story apartment building.

sakura in the neighborhood

more cherry blossoms

This past Saturday, when we had a break in the rain, I rode my bicycle to the Gourmet City supermarket to stock up on food for the week.  I rode a different route than I normally take and happened upon this cute vermillion shrine.  My shiny new blue bicycle is in front.

a cute little shrine and my trusty bicycle

the shrine up close

The two guardian dogs seemed quite friendly and didn’t snarl one bit.

I love this little shrine.

the tiny red shrine

From the vermillion shrine, I took a detour down a side road and found this exuberant garden.  From there, I kept going to a canal with a walking/biking path beside it, and I rode down that for a while, admiring the big houses on a small hill across the canal.

Cherry blossoms in the neighborhood

In route to the supermarket, I found this row of cherry blossoms in bloom.

sakura in samigahara

Gourmet City is a good-sized supermarket / 100 Yen store a couple of blocks off our route to the university.  I like it because it’s not like the huge multi-story “c-spot superstore.” I don’t enjoy shopping in those huge places that are similar to Wal-Mart or K-Mart.  Now that I’ve discovered Gourmet City, I think that’s where I’ll be doing my shopping.

Every encounter I have with Japanese salespeople is delightful and bewildering all at the same time.  At Gourmet City, I load up a small basket with groceries and place it on the conveyor belt.  The Japanese cashier says hello, followed by a string of other words that I can’t understand but sound sweet and friendly.  Meanwhile, I’m trying to pull up the simple word for hello, “Konichiwa,” but my brain is so slow that by the time I finally blurt it out, the woman has probably said “hello, how are you today, my children are Tomoko and Nene and they are talented at violin and piano, and I love to do flower arranging and my husband works for one of the big car manufacturers…”  My hello comes awkwardly late in the interaction.

In the meantime, she is running all my goods over the price reader, chattering the whole time as if it’s the most normal thing in the world that I should understand her.  When she finishes, she tells me the amount and I open my purse.  The total is 3,684 yen, so I pull out three 1,000 yen notes and then start digging in my change purse for the balance.  I can’t tell one coin from the other (10 yen coins look like US pennies and 100 yen coins are like nickels).  In my confusion, and noticing a line of people growing behind me, I hold out my chain purse to the cashier, and she digs around in there and pulls out the coins she needs.  I place my notes and she places my coins on a little tray (I finally figured out I am always supposed to put my money on a tray rather than handing the money to the cashier), and then she takes the money from the tray.  After that, I say “Arigato,” and she says “Arigato blah, blah, blah (a lot of other words)” and she bows to me and I bow to her.  We bow back and forth several times each, smiling away the whole time.  Then she hands me some plastic bags with my basket and directs me to a shelf where I see other people bagging their own groceries.  I bag my groceries and leave, loading up my bicycle with the bags, and ride speedily home.

I love all the bowing.  It sometimes goes on so many times I lose count.  I bow, they bow back, I bow again, they bow back.  Japanese interactions are one huge bow-fest!  This always makes me smile because it all seems so respectful, quirky and charming.

I’m enjoying my sprawling yet homey neighborhood with its: neat narrow streets; cute homes with flower and container gardens, rock features, and bonsai trees; compact cars squeezed into compact carports; cherry blossoms; tiny vermillion shrine; and trusty vending machines and 7-11.

I’m also getting used to the complicated trash and recyclable collection days: Monday and Thursday for burnables and non-burnables, Tuesday for plastic bottles, cans and containers, and Friday for cans.

This morning I left my house at 7:45; we start early on Tuesdays and Thursdays, so this was my first day to leave so early.  All along my route to school were Japanese schoolchildren walking in orderly lines to school, wearing colorful galoshes, carrying umbrellas with heart and flower patterns, and lugging huge mailbox-shaped backpacks on their backs.  Each line was led by an adult.  At first I was surprised, thinking they were going somewhere with their teachers, possibly on a little field trip during the early morning school hours, but it was definitely odd to be doing that at such an early hour.  I wondered who formed the lines and where they originated.  There were scores of lines converging from all directions, with maybe 10-15 students in each line; like ants on an anthill they scurried along with definite order and purpose.  I finally figured out that the lines served the purpose of school buses in the U.S.: one driver – a parent – driving (leading) the children to school, but without the bus.

This world can be so delightful sometimes. 🙂

 

temples & shrines on kotodoi-dori {walking tour 9: part 3}   5 comments

Sunday, April 2:  Continuing further northwest through Ueno Park, I come to the Ikeda Mansion Gate, at gate that once stood before the residence of the Ikeda Lords of Inabe (Tottori) in the Marunouchi district of the city and was relocated here in 1954.   The elaborate gate has two guardhouses with Chinese-style roofs.

Ikeda Mansion Gate

My goal is continue following the walk as long as I can, and as long as my feet will carry me.  Little do I know how far it is to the next stop, past the International Library of Children’s Literature (there are SO MANY MUSEUMS in Ueno Park!!) to Kan’ei-ji Temple, built in 1625 by the priest Tenkai Sojo to serve the ruling Tokugawa clan.

Kan’ei-ji Temple

Kan’ei-ji originally functioned as a prayer hall to protect the Ki-mon (“Demon’s Gate”) of Edo Castle, but later it became the temple in which the Tokugawa family held Buddhist services. At its peak, the temple housed 68 buildings of various sizes. Most of these, however, were destroyed by fire in subsequent civil wars. An enormous image of the Buddha was destroyed by the great Kanto earthquake that hit Tokyo in 1923; only the Yakushi image  of the Buddha of Health remains enshrined today.  As a hibutsu (hidden image), it is never shown (Into Japan: The Official Guide: Ken’ei-ji Temple).

The former Kan’ei-ji Temple, a 5-story pagoda, sat at the right hand side of the approach to Tosho-gu Shrine. It is currently located inside Ueno Zoo.  I didn’t have the time or the interest to visit the zoo today.

Once a great complex, Kan’ei-ji used to occupy the entire heights north and east of Shinobazu Pond and the plains where Ueno Station now stands. It had immense wealth, power and prestige. Of the 15 Tokugawa shoguns, six are buried here. (Wikipedia: Kan’ei-ji)

At Kan’ei-ji Temple

Copper bell at Kan’ei-ji Temple

In the 1600s, the shoguns showed great interest in Confucian doctrines, leading to the founding of the Confucian Academy on the temple grounds.

Sakura at Kan’ei-ji Temple

Sakura at Kan’ei-ji Temple

Luckily, it’s not crowded at this out-of-the-way temple, so I’m able to take a few close-up shots of the cherry blossoms.

Sakura at Kan’ei-ji Temple

Sakura at Kan’ei-ji Temple

Sakura at Kan’ei-ji Temple

Kan’ei-ji Temple

As I leave Kan’ei-ji, I turn right until I come to Kototoi-dori.  Opposite is the Jomyo-in Temple, built in 1666 as one of 36 residences for priests of Kan’ei-ji.  The Hondo (Main Hall) is a square concrete unit, not very attractive.  The draw here are the Jizo images; Jizo is the Buddhist deity protecting children, the dead, pregnant women, and travelers. In the mid-19th century, the abbot vowed to erect within the grounds 84,000 Jizo images.  He didn’t succeed, but the count is now beyond 20,000.

Jomyo-in Temple

Jomyo-in Temple

Jomyo-in Temple

Jomyo-in Temple

Jomyo-in Temple

Jomyo-in Temple

Jomyo-in Temple

Jomyo-in Temple

Jomyo-in Temple

Jomyo-in Temple

Jomyo-in Temple

Jomyo-in Temple

Jomyo-in Temple

By now, it’s getting late and I’m exhausted.  I guess I should have started this walk at 6 a.m. this morning.  I don’t have time to do the rest of the walk before it gets dark or before my legs give out, so I make my way down Kototoi-dori Road back toward the metro stop.  I stop into a couple of small shrines along the way, little jewels hidden along a busy road.

a little shrine by the road

This one has a cute dog, who sits quietly as I walk on the grounds.  He seems like a friendly fellow.

the dog protector

Another shrine sits further back off the road.  It’s quite pretty.  The light is fading fast though, so I don’t linger too long.

another shrine

shrine

pretty shrine

lantern in an oasis

umbrellas & elephants

a warrior

Finally, I return to Shinobazu-dori and, alas, I’m happy to see the Nezu metro station, one stop further along the Chiyoda line from where I disembarked earlier today.  Entering the metro here will save me quite a walk.  I’m happy to sit down on the train, at least until I reach the Rapid Express Odakyu Line.  On that train, I have to stand on a packed train for 26 minutes until I reach Machida.

The problem with the book Tokyo: 29 Walks in the World’s Most Exciting City is that no distances or times are given.  I think this walk was overly ambitious for one day.  I could have taken one whole day to visit EACH of the museums in the Tokyo National Museum Complex, plus the Ueno Zoo, Tokyo University and about five more museums, gardens and shrines.  I believe Ueno Park and its museums could be a week-long journey!

hanami at ueno park: subtemples, shrines, bells, kabuto, and jubilant japanese folks {walking tour 9: part 2}   5 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… 🙂

 

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