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.

 

 

shibuya & the yamatane museum of art   4 comments

Saturday, July 15:  Back at Shibuya Station, I finally see the famous “Myth of Tomorrow,” Okamoto Taro’s 1967 mural commissioned by a Mexican luxury hotel.  It disappeared two years after its creation, but was finally found in 2003.  In 2008, the 30-meter long work, which depicts the atomic bomb exploding over Hiroshima, was installed inside Shibuya Station.

Myth of Tomorrow at Shibuya Station

Myth of Tomorrow at Shibuya Station

At the far end of the 2nd floor, on the way to the Inokashira line, is this pretty tile mural.  I don’t know much about it, but it’s very colorful.

Colorful tile art at Shibuya Station

Colorful tile art at Shibuya Station

Shibuya Station has a lot for which it’s famous.  Shibuya Crossing is rumored to be the world’s busiest, and is nicknamed “The Scramble.” People cross in all directions at once.  I’ve crossed here before, but until today, I’d never had a high-up vantage point. It’s fun to watch from Shibuya Station’s second floor, near the “Myth of Tomorrow” mural.

Shibuya Crossing

Shibuya Crossing

Shibuya Crossing

From Shibuya Station, I get on the Yamanote line and go one stop to Ebisu Station.  When I get out, I need to walk some distance to the Yamatane Museum of Art, but I have no idea in which direction to walk.  I normally try NOT to turn on my cellular data while I’m in Japan, but here I’m so hopelessly lost, that I must turn it on to follow Google Maps to the destination.  I finally get to the museum at 3:30, an hour after leaving Shibuya Station.  It’s a long hot walk up and down hills to get to the museum, and I am soaked in sweat by the time I arrive!  How I hate this Tokyo weather!

Kawabata Ryūshi at The Yamatane Museum

The Yamantane Museum of Art is featuring an exhibit by Kawabata Ryūshi (川端 龍子, June 6, 1885 – April 10, 1966).  The artist’s name was the pseudonym of a Japanese painter in the Nihonga style, active during the Taishō  (July 30, 1912 – December 25, 1926) and the Shōwa (December 25, 1926 – January 7, 1989) eras. His real name was Kawabata Shotarō.

While working as a magazine illustrator, Kawabata Shotarō studied Western-style painting at various studios.  In 1913, he traveled to America.  After returning to Japan, he switched to creating Nihonga.  The Nihonga style refers to paintings that have been made following traditional Japanese artistic conventions, techniques and materials, according to Wikipedia: Nihonga.

He became an advocate of art created for large public spaces and his works stood out for their immense, dynamically charged expression.  In 1959, he was designated a Person of Cultural Merit and awarded the Order of Culture.

Yamatane Museum

I am interested to find out that in 1950, after the death of his wife and son, Kawabata Ryūshi went on the 88-temple pilgrimage in Shikoku, something I want to do sometime.  He took a total of six years to make the circuit, sketching extensively along the way. I don’t plan to take that long to do the pilgrimage, if I’m able to do it! 🙂

As is usually the case in Japanese museums, visitors are not allowed to take photographs. The only photo that is allowed is of this panel, Pearl Divers, painted by the artist.  You can see some of the artist’s work on this link: Kawabata Ryūshi.  Also, I bought several postcards from the museum and took pictures of those, shown below.

Pearl Divers, Kawabata Ryūshi

Pearl Divers, Kawabata Ryūshi

Ryūshi was known for his love of family, his devotion to Buddhism, and his passion for haiku poetry. He composed haiku, one verse a day, throughout his life.

Three cranes by Kawabata Ryūshi

Japanese Irises by Kawabata Ryūshi

Bomb Exploding by Kawabata Ryūshi

After spending a half hour at the rather small exhibit, I make my way back to Shibuya, where I’ll take the train home. At Shibuya Station, I still don’t see the famous Hachikō statue, but I do find this mural of the legendary loyal dog.

Hachikō the dog was a golden brown male Akita Inu (a Japanese breed from the mountains of northern Japan) who arrived every afternoon at Shibuya Station to wait for the return of his master, Professor Hidesaburo Ueno. This pattern went on for just over a year, until one May day in 1925, the Professor suffered a cerebral hemorrhage while away at work and died. Each day, for the next nine years, nine months and fifteen days, Hachikō awaited Ueno’s return, appearing precisely when the train was due at the station. Over these nine years, the fame of Hachikō grew with several articles in the newspapers (GoJapanGo.com: Hachiko Statue and Wikipedia: Hachikō).

Hachikō mural at Shibuya Station

The story of Hachikō is often told as an example of great loyalty.  The story of Hachikō has also been told in the British-American drama film Hachi: A Dog’s Tale in 2009, which starred Richard Gere, Joan Allen and Sarah Roemer. This film was remake of the Japanese film, Hachikō, released in 1987.

Hachikō mural at Shibuya Station

Hachikō mural at Shibuya Station

Two hours after leaving Shibuya Station, I’m sitting at the bar at Dai Trattoria Pizzeria, enjoying a glass of chilled white wine, a pizza, and the cool air conditioning. 🙂

Dai

Dai

Tomorrow, I’m excited because I finally get to spend the day with my Instagram friend Yukie.  This will be the first and only time I will meet her in Japan, but I do hope to meet her some other time in the future!

Total steps today: 16,955 (7.19 miles).

 

tokyo: the quirky neighborhood of shimo-kitazawa   2 comments

Saturday, July 15:  As my time in Japan is winding down, I’m slowly but surely marking places off my go-to list.  This hot summer Saturday, I’ll cross off two places, the neighborhood of Shimo-kitazawa and the Yamatane Museum; the museum features an exhibit by Japanese artist Kawabata Ryushi. I’ve decided I’m going to try to do one museum during each of my remaining outings, the main reason being to escape from the heat and humidity into an air-conditioned environment, at least for part of the day.

Shimo-kitazawa is a bohemian neighborhood of narrow streets that has been a favorite hang-out for students, musicians and artists. Although there is an active underground bar, music and theater scene, I’m interested mainly in the quirky boutiques, secondhand shops, and cafes. It turns out I am surprised by the colorful street art and delightful vibe of the neighborhood.

Shimo-kitazawa

It seems I’m always arriving in places right around lunchtime, so I immediately begin looking for a place to eat.  I’m not in a rush, as it’s only 11:40, so I can wait until the right place calls to me.

Shimo-kitazawa

Shimo-kitazawa

Shimo-kitazawa

Shimo-kitazawa

Shimo-kitazawa

Shimo-kitazawa

Shimo-kitazawa

Shimo-kitazawa

One of the nicest attributes of Shimo-kitazawa is its lack of cars. Despite being on the intersection of two major train lines, there are no proper roads – only narrow lanes barely wide enough to drive down.  Riding bicycles and walking are the main modes of transportation.

Shimo-kitazawa

Shimo-kitazawa

Shimo-kitazawa

Shimo-kitazawa

Shimo-kitazawa

Shimo-kitazawa

Shimo-kitazawa

Shimo-kitazawa

At a few minutes after noon, I stop into a small family restaurant where the woman speaks perfect English.  I order a salad, asparagus soup, and fresh bread.  It’s also a nice escape from Tokyo’s relentless heat.

lunch stop

After lunch and feeling refreshed, I continue on my merry way through the colorful streets.

Shimo-kitazawa

fashionable street art in Shimo-kitazawa

I love the street art, the funky store windows, the laundry hanging on balconies, and the container gardens I pass in the neighborhood.

Shimo-kitazawa

Shimo-kitazawa

In one area of Shimo-kitazawa, I stop in at several women’s clothing boutiques, where I buy a couple of cute tops. 🙂  Now my bag is heavier, and I have more places to go!

Shimo-kitazawa

Shimo-kitazawa

Shimo-kitazawa

Always drawn to vibrant colors, I find myself enticed by a wild sticker-covered table sitting outside of a shop called B-side Label; the entire shops sells stickers.

sticker shop in Shimo-kitazawa

sticker shop in Shimo-kitazawa

The salesgirls are easy-going and welcoming and I ask them if I can take pictures of the stickers.  They’re quite expensive but very cool.  For example, there is a sticker of Tokyo Tower shown in different colors, at sunrise, mid-day, sunset and night-time.  Each sticker has several different versions.  Besides the vast array of fun stickers, the shop offers respite from the heat, so I linger for some time.  I find souvenir stickers of Tokyo sights, plus I get stickers for my three children, based on their interests (food, exercise and surfing).  In the end, I spend about 2,120 yen ($19.50) on stickers, which luckily don’t add any weight to my bag. 🙂

Just before getting on the metro, I see this pretty flower shop.  If I lived permanently in Japan, I’d love to live in this neighborhood and take home a potted plant, even though I’d probably kill it before long (I usually do, quite by accident). 🙂

Flower shop in Shimo-kitazawa

I get on the metro at Shimo-kitazawa Station heading to Shibuya.  Then I’ll change to the Yamanote line to Ebisu Station; from there I’ll walk to the Yamatane Museum. Little do I know how hot and exhausted I’ll be after that! 🙂

 

rikugien garden in tokyo   6 comments

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

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

Man on the train

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

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

stone lantern at Rikugien Garden

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

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

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

Shinsen-tei at Rikugien Garden

Gishun-tei at Rikugien Garden

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

Rikugien Garden

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

Rikugien Garden

Rikugien Garden

Rikugien Garden

Rikugien Garden

Rikugien Garden

Rikugien Garden

maple leaves

maple leaves

Rikugien Garden

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

pine cones at Rikugien Garden

pine cones

Rikugien Garden

Rikugien Garden

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

Togetsukyo at Rikugien Garden

polka dots

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

Tsutsuji-chaya at Rikugien Garden

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

Rikugien Garden

foliage at Rikugien Garden

reflections at Rikugien Garden

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

Horai-jima

Horai-jima at Rikugien Garden

Rikugien Garden

Rikugien Garden

Rikugien Garden

Rikugien Garden

Rikugien Garden

stone lantern at Rikugien Garden

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

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

kawagoe: kita-in, remains of the edo castle, & 500 statues of rakan   4 comments

Saturday, July 8:  After leaving the Kawagoe City Museum, I stop briefly at the Honmaru Goten (primary hall) of Kawagoe Castle.  It’s not open to the public, so there isn’t much to see except the facade. As Kawagoe was considered by the Tokugawa Shogunate to be an important place for protecting the northern region, the Shogun dispatched his trusted chief vassal to Kawagoe Castle for greater protection. Only the primary hall remains to this day.

Honmaru Goten of Kawagoe Castle

I continue to walk quite a distance through the baking streets until I reach Naritasan Kawagoe Betsuin Temple.  There’s not much to see here except an angry-looking fellow, so I surreptitiously walk past to Kita-in Temple.

Naritasan Kawagoe Betsuin Temple

stone lanterns at Naritasan Kawagoe Betsuin Temple

Founded as Muryoju Temple by the monk Ennin during the Heian period (794 to 1185), Kita-in Temple has ties to the Tokugawa Shogunate.  Muryoju is another name for the Amitabha Buddha (Buddha of Unending Life), which is the main object of worship at the temple.

Burned down during fighting in 1205, the temple was rebuilt in 1298 by the monk Sonkai.  Emperor Gofushimi made it head of the Tendai Sect temple in east Japan in 1300.

 

Kita-in pagoda

Kita-in became the main temple of the three-temple complex after Tenkai became the head monk in 1599. Previously, Nakain Temple had been the most influential. Under Tenkai’s influence and his friendship with the first Tokugawa shogun, Ieyasu, Kita-in flourished.  The Chinese characters used to write Kita-in were changed from those meaning North Temple, which has a dark image, to those meaning Temple of Much Happiness.

Main Hall at Kita-in

Main Hall at Kita-in

inside the Main Hall at Kita-in

small shrine at Kita-in

Small building on the temple grounds

ema at Kita-in

 

On January 3, the first Darumaichi (Good Luck Market) of the year is held along with Buddhist fire rites to pray for good luck, protection from misfortune, family safety and traffic safety.

Main Hall at Kita-in

pagoda at Kita-in

pagoda at Kita-in

pagoda at Kita-in

pagoda at Kita-in

small shrine at Kita-in

To help rebuild Kita-in, Shogun Iemitsu ordered several buildings to be moved from Edo Castle  (now the site of the Imperial Palace in Tokyo) to Kawagoe. These buildings, which house Kita-in’s museum, today are protected as Important Cultural Properties.  They are all that remain of the buildings of Edo Castle because of the damage Tokyo suffered during the Great Earthquake of 1923 and World War II.

inside the remains of Edo Castle

a chest in the Edo Castle remains

inside looking out – Edo Castle Remains

Kita-in has several gardens both inside and outside the museum area.  Planted with plum, cherry, and maple trees, plus a variety of flowers, particularly hydrangeas and azaleas, the gardens change throughout the year.

garden at Edo Castle remains

garden at Edo Castle remains

Edo Castle remains

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Edo Castle remains

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Edo Castle remains

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painted door in Edo Castle remains

Festival cart

Edo Castle remains

walkway at Edo Castle remains

The famous statues known as the “500 Statues of Rakan” actually consist of 540 statues representing the disciples of Buddha. They were carved between 1782 and 1825 with no two statues alike.  It is said that if you feel among the statues in the dead of night, you will find one that is warm.  Mark it, come back during the day, and you will see it is the statue most resembling yourself.

The English-speaking ticket-taker at the 500 Statues of Rakan asks for my birth year.  He tells me I was born in the Year of the Sheep.  Sometimes it’s also called the year of the Goat or the Ram.  The kind man tells me I should look for the Rakan holding a sheep, and when I find it, I should rub it for good luck.

500 Statues of Rakan

500 Statues of Rakan

500 Statues of Rakan

 

I spend quite some time looking for the Rakan with the sheep, but, when I can’t find it, I ask the ticket-taker to show me where it is.  He takes me right to it.  I do as he suggested and rub the head for good luck!  He looks like a jolly fellow. 🙂

Rakan with sheep

Temple in the Kurazukuri Zone

Temple in the Kurazukuri Zone

Temple in the Kurazukuri Zone

 

I don’t stay long at the temple, because I want to return to one of the shops for some pretty ceramic cups I had seen earlier. Even if I don’t buy anything, I’d love to dip into the shop for a blast of cool air. I continue down the street until I find the shop, passing some deer street art on the way.

street art in Kawagoe

I find the shop, where I linger and cool off for a bit, and then I buy two pretty cups.  The shopkeeper wraps them carefully in bubble wrap.  I intend at this point to still look for the bell tower, but after asking the shopkeeper about the bus back to the station, she walks out to the sidewalk with me, pointing out the bus stop.  I see the bus is just pulling up to the stop.  At the spur of the moment, I decide I’ll run for the bus and jump on.  I’m too hot and exhausted to walk around Kawagoe any more.  Oh, how I hate the summer heat!

It’s about 10 minutes to the train station, and another 1 1/2 hours to get back to Fuchinobe, but I’m relieved to be sitting on the cool train for a good long while. When I get home, I stop at Chiyoda sushi and buy some take-out sushi.  I don’t want to eat anything hot tonight, so sushi will be the perfect refreshing end to the day.

Later, when I write to my Instagram friend Yukie about my HOT day in Kawagoe, she says, “Omg Cathy… Kawagoe is famous for its hot weather during the summer! It’s one of the places where the temperature goes the highest in Japan sometimes…”

I write her back, “Oh gosh! I wish I had known.  I almost felt like I was going to faint at times.  I had to keep stopping into shops for the AC and drinking lots of water!”

At the same time I send her these messages, I also send her my wish list of all the places I still want to see before I leave Japan and ask if she’d like to join me for an outing.  She suggests we meet on Sunday, July 16 to see an exhibit by Yoshida Hiroshi at the Sampo Japan Nipponkoa Museum of Art.  I tell her I may also want to see Kabukicho, so she’d be welcome to come along if she’d like. I’m so excited to finally be able to meet her!

Total steps today: 17,143 (7.26 miles).

Most of the information about Kita-in Temple is from a pamphlet prepared by the Kawagoe-Salem Friendship Society, a grassroots group formed in 1986 to promote international understanding and goodwill especially between the two sister cities Kawagoe and Salem, Oregon, USA.

 

kawagoe: an edo-era town   4 comments

Saturday, July 8:  I arrive at Kawagoe Station after taking the Yokohama Line to the Hachiko line to the Kawagoe Line, a train trip of about one and half hours north of where I live near Sagamihara that meanders through mostly small towns and rural areas.  I disembark in Kawagoe only to have to take a taxi ride for about $12 to the Kurazukuri Zone of Kawagoe, also known as the Old storehouse zone.

Kawagoe enjoyed political and military importance during the Edo period (1603 – 1868) as it offered northern protection for Edo Castle.  Today, the preserved main street of Kura no machi (Old Town) Ichibangai Street is a long row of preserved buildings from that period, modernized and converted to cute what-not and souvenir shops, as well as old-time sweet shops.  The streets of Koedo (Little Edo) offer a glimpse back into a bygone era.

Today is particularly hot, humid, and frankly, miserable. I feel discomfort immediately upon leaving the station.  At noon, the taxi drops me, as requested, at the Yamazaki Museum of Art, at the southern end of the Old storehouse zone. I hurry in to escape the heat.  Sadly, I’m told no photography is permitted except in one room.  This museum contains mainly works by Hashimoto Gaho, born on July 27, 1835.  His works were family heirlooms bequeathed to the museum by Yamazaki Yutaka (1830-1912).

Here are two items at the museum.  Sadly, I don’t even know what they are!

I go back out into the heat to walk down Kura no Machi (Old Town) Ichibangai Street, where traditional architecture can be enjoyed; it is designated as an Important Preservation District for Groups of Historic Buildings. On this hot Saturday in July, the street is packed with tourists.

Kura no Machi (Old Town) Ichibangai Street

Japanese homes once had strong buildings called “Kura” for on-property storage of household tools.  Since these buildings were fire-resistant, they developed into residential buildings and stores in Kawagoe.  This zone is considered a culturally significant area where the atmosphere of a town 100 years ago can be experienced.

creatures in the Old Town

displays in the Old Town

I stop into a small temple, Choki-in Temple.

Choki-in Temple

Jizo statues at Choki-in Temple

Choki-in Temple

Choki-in has a Gandhara-style statue of the fasting Buddha.  The story behind this statue is that Prince Siddhartha Gautama renounced his privileged life and traveled around trying to extinguish mind and body to become enlightened.  Siddhartha questioned many holy men as he traveled across northern India; these yogis forced themselves to do extreme penance “such as gazing into the sun until their eyes dissolved away, sitting or standing in rigid positions until their limbs became immobile, or starving to the point of death” (Asian Art: Fasting Buddha).

Over about a five-year period, Siddhartha tried fasting to a point where he became weak and ill, although his spirituality evolved; eventually, after a milkmaid offered him a bowl of milk, he drank it, then ate some food and began to feel strong again.  He then adopted the “middle way,” eating what was needed but no more, and focusing on calm meditation.  Eventually, he gained what he called ‘enlightenment.’ Following this experience, he was called Buddha, meaning “The Enlightened One.”

Fasting Buddha statue at Choki-in Temple

Choki-in also has a pleasant lotus garden, a quiet cemetery, and some small shrines.

lotus blossoms at Choki-in Temple

cemetery at Choki-in Temple

torii at Choki-in Temple

shrine at Choki-in Temple

small shrine at Choki-in Temple

water purification at Choki-in Temple

roof of the gate at Choki-in Temple

door at Choki-in Temple

gate at Choki-in Temple

I continue to walk down  Kura no machi (Old Town) Ichibangai Street, looking especially for a place to have some lunch, but all I see are shops selling sweets or souvenirs.  The few restaurants I do see have lines in front of them.  I pop into an adorable two-story shop selling all kinds of enticing goodies.  I linger in here for quite some time, enjoying the air-conditioning and the goods for sale.

a cute shop on Kura no machi (Old Town) Ichibangai Street

a cute shop on Kura no machi (Old Town) Ichibangai Street

a cute shop on Kura no machi (Old Town) Ichibangai Street

Painting of Old Edo

a cute shop on Kura no machi (Old Town) Ichibangai Street

I decide to follow the map, leaving the Old storehouse zone, and head for the Kawagoe City Museum, which is quite a distance away.  Along the way, I stop at a coffee shop which happens to sell sandwiches; there I sit upstairs in the air-conditioning for a bit while I enjoy lunch, cool air, and a cold drink.

It’s so hot today I feel like I’m going to faint while I’m walking outside.  I have to keep drinking water, as I feel dehydrated within minutes outdoors.  I figure I will make it to the museum, and then I will wander around inside until I stop sweating and don’t feel faint any more.  By the time I arrive at the museum, it’s 1:30 p.m.

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Kawagoe City Museum

The Kawagoe City Museum was built to provide life-long education for the citizens of Kawagoe and people from other regions who want to learn about the history and culture of Kawagoe. Kawagoe began to deepen the connection with Edo (present day Tokyo) from about the 17th century.  The museum examines the cultural heritage of the Edo culture on Kawagoe.

One part of the museum is dedicated to the Primitive and Ancient Times, where displays show the people from the primitive society to the society just before the feudal one (from 30 BC to the 11th century) through relics found or excavated within the city.

The Primitive and Ancient Times

One section of the museum is devoted to the Early Modern Times.  During this period, some leading feudal lords who supported shoguns of the Edo era became the lords of Kawagoe Castle. Therefore, Kawagoe was an important castle town for the Edo shogunate. For that reason, political, economic, and cultural ties were promoted between Edo and Kawagoe.  The model of the castle town, armor of the lords, and tools and instruments of civilians and merchants are displayed in this section.

To the south of Kawagoe spreads the Musashino Plateau, which used to be covered in forests and fields. It had been so difficult to get water there that the area had long remained undeveloped and uninhabited. In the middle of the 17th century, the then Lord of Kawagoe began to develop this area and many new villages were born.

models of houses with walls of soil

Kawagoe houses

painting in the Kawagoe City Museum

ship in Kawagoe City Museum

Buddha image

Archbishop Tenkai, having won the respect of Tokugawa Ieyasu, the first shogun, served three generations of the Tokugawa shoguns. The Kita-in Temple, where Tenkai served as the chief priest, was once the head temple of  theTendai-shu sect of Buddhism in the Kanto area.

When the remains of Tokugawa Ieyasu were carried to the holy place in Nikko, Tenkai stopped the funeral procession at the Kita-in Temple, and held a grand memorial service for him. To commemorate this, Archbishop Tenkai built the Toshogu Shrine in the grounds of Kita-in in 1633. The shrine was worshiped faithfully by the successive lords of Kawagoe Castle from then on.

Archbishop Tenkai and the Buddhist Temple of Kitain – The Toshogu Shrine

The Early Modern Times

Another section of the museum is devoted to The Early Modern and the Modern Times.  In the Edo era, Kawagoe was called “the kitchen of Edo.”  Many merchants with great economic power participated actively in the city.  In this section are model houses made of soil with straw, as well as dioramas showing the economic activities of the town.

Exhibition corner of the Early Modern and the Modern Times

economic activity in Kawagoe

The Kawagoe family was such an important vassal of the Kamakura government that a daughter of the head, Kawagoe Shigeyori, became a wife of Minamoto-no Yoshitsune, a brother of Shogun Minamoto-no Yoritomo’s. Later, however, the relationship between the Shogun and his brother grew worse. When the brother was killed by the Shogun, Kawagoe Shigeyori was also executed because of the kinship. The next generation of the Kawagoe family won an important position again, but later rebelled against the Muromachi government and was destroyed completely.

In the Folklore section, one can see the craftsmanship and skills of the Edo era craftsmen, as well as their tools and instruments.

In the past, Japanese cities consisted almost exclusively of wooden buildings, which made them vulnerable to fires. Kurazukuri construction was used both to make a structure fireproof and to secure it against intruders. They were expensive to build, as their construction involved making thick walls consisting of several layers. Thanks to the prosperous trade with Edo, the merchants of Kawagoe flourished, and many showed their wealth by building as good-looking a structure as they could afford (japan-guide.com: Warehouse District).

the process of building the Kurazakuri houses and the craftsmen

the process of building the Kurazakuri houses and the craftsmen

I enjoy the display of ceremonial masks.

Festivals related to the agricultural production are also displayed.

Kawagoe City Museum

I dread going back out into the heat again, but I must because now I’m quite a distance east of the historic district and I want to go to Kita-in Temple and the Gohyaku Raka (500 disciples of Buddha), which are further southeast.  All are long walks with no relief.  I really hope after visiting Kita-in that I will have time (and energy!) to return to the historic district to see several things I missed while looking for a lunch spot, namely the Toki no Kane (Time Bell Tower) and the Kawagoe Festival Museum, as well as Kaskiya Yokocho (Penny Candy Lane).

Onward to Kita-in Temple!

 

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