Archive for the ‘Tokyo’ Tag

rikugien garden in tokyo   6 comments

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

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

Man on the train

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

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

stone lantern at Rikugien Garden

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

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

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

Shinsen-tei at Rikugien Garden

Gishun-tei at Rikugien Garden

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

Rikugien Garden

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

Rikugien Garden

Rikugien Garden

Rikugien Garden

Rikugien Garden

Rikugien Garden

Rikugien Garden

maple leaves

maple leaves

Rikugien Garden

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

pine cones at Rikugien Garden

pine cones

Rikugien Garden

Rikugien Garden

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

Togetsukyo at Rikugien Garden

polka dots

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

Tsutsuji-chaya at Rikugien Garden

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

Rikugien Garden

foliage at Rikugien Garden

reflections at Rikugien Garden

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

Horai-jima

Horai-jima at Rikugien Garden

Rikugien Garden

Rikugien Garden

Rikugien Garden

Rikugien Garden

Rikugien Garden

stone lantern at Rikugien Garden

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

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

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tokyo: akihabara electric town   7 comments

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

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

Akihabara Electric Town

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

Akihabara Electric Town

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

Akihabara Electric Town

Akihabara Electric Town

Akihabara Electric Town

Akihabara Electric Town

Akihabara Electric Town

Akihabara Electric Town

Akihabara Electric Town

Akihabara Electric Town

Akihabara Electric Town

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

 

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

Mister Donut treat

Akihabara Electric Town

Akihabara Electric Town

Akihabara Electric Town

Akihabara Electric Town

 

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

Akihabara Electric Town

Akihabara Electric Town

Akihabara Electric Town

Akihabara Electric Town

Akihabara Electric Town

Akihabara Electric Town

Akihabara Electric Town

Akihabara Electric Town

Akihabara Electric Town

Akihabara Electric Town

Crosswalk in Akihabara

Akihabara Electric Town

Akihabara Electric Town

Akihabara Electric Town

Akihabara Electric Town

Akihabara Electric Town

Akihabara Electric Town

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

trattoria Azzurri

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

Kagurazaka

Kagurazaka

Kagurazaka

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

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

Bishamonten Zenkoku Temple

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

wishes and ema at Bishamonten Zenkoku Temple

Bishamonten Zenkoku Temple

Bishamonten Zenkoku Temple

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

hydrangeas in Kagurazaka

Kagurazaka

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

Kagurazaka

Kagurazaka

French details in Kagurazaka

cafe in Kagurazaka

street art in Kagurazaka

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

red torri to Akagi Shrine

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

Akagi Shrine

ema at Akagi Shrine

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

Akagi Shrine

Akagi Shrine

Akagi Shrine

Akagi Shrine

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

a june cocktail hour at the family mart   7 comments

Friday, June 30:  Cheers!  Welcome to my third cocktail hour here in Japan. We’re meeting at the local Family Mart again tonight. I find it hilarious to meet here because it’s so ridiculous and unexpected.  Who would have thought of having a happy hour sitting out in front of a Family Mart (like a 7-11)?  Of course, I give credit to my Brit friend, Graham, because he’s the one who started the ritual. We always have a grand time here, so I think you’ll enjoy. 🙂

I only have three more weeks and one day of teaching, and four weeks on my contract. But… who’s counting?  After August 1, I’ll travel around Japan for one week, then I’ll head back to the USA on August 8.  If I have time for a July cocktail hour, I’ll be sure to send out an invite!

Please do tell me about your summer.  Have you traveled anywhere exciting over the summer months? Have you seen any good movies?  Watched any good TV shows or read any good books? Have you eaten fresh fruits and vegetables, or visited any pretty gardens?

June here was a long and tedious month, teaching 5 days a week with nary a break in sight.  At least in May, we had the Golden Week break, but in June, it was just work, work, work. On the weekends in June, I went to Fuji Five Lakes, Enoshima and Hasadera, Asakusa and Senso-ji, The Big Buddha in Kamakura and Hasadera again, and back to a neighborhood near Ueno.  I also went on a couple of shopping sprees because June is the rainy season and some of the weekend days were tainted by drizzle and downpours.

The biggest challenges I had to deal with at work this month were:  1) the tedious marking of 55 poorly written academic essays; 2) long and stifling days in the office because the university wouldn’t turn on the air-conditioning until after June 9, and then only when the temperature was over 28C; 3) general lack of motivation and ability of the students, 4) the infernal dust in my apartment, hard to get rid of because I have carpet and no vacuum cleaner.

Work is drudgery, not at all rewarding except in rare moments.  I feel like I have reached the end of my teaching-abroad career.  Though my teaching gigs abroad have given me many opportunities to live and travel in a country, to delve deep and to experience a culture, I simply no longer enjoy teaching non-motivated students who have little reason to learn English. As miserable as the adjunct teaching jobs in America are, at least the students want to study abroad in America and are motivated to succeed.  This is not the case for the students I teach when I’m abroad.

Monday, June 5:  Walking to work this morning, I had to take a picture of my favorite pink house with laundry hanging on the balcony.  My half-hour walks to work have generally been fine, but now that it’s getting hotter and more humid, I’m not thrilled to be dripping with sweat by the time I arrive at the office; as the office is not generally air-conditioned, I’m in misery even after I get to work.  Oh, how I hate the summer heat.  I am a cold-weather girl through and through.

laundry at the pink house

Thursday, June 8: I made my weekly stop at Kiyariya.  This time, the server presented me with a poorly translated English menu in addition to Kenji’s beautifully hand-written and changeable menu. I ordered the gyoza from the English menu. Of course I had the delectable eggplant and my draft beer. 🙂 Everything Kenji prepares is fabulous. 🙂  Not only that, but the atmosphere, the service and the music are delightful.

Gyoza at Kiyariya

As I left the restaurant this time, the server, who speaks a smattering of English, walked me to the front door and said, “See you next week!”

Tuesday, June 13: Tuesdays and Thursdays are my nights to eat out because I get off at 5:40.  On M-W-F, I get off at 6:30.  I never feel like going out on those late work nights.  This evening, I stopped again at Curry Naan and enjoyed the same meal I always have: vegetable curry and a huge piece of naan.  And of course my 100 yen beer. 🙂

I love listening to the music in both of the restaurants I frequent.  I don’t recognize most of the songs I hear at Kenji’s, but I like them very much.  Here, at Curry Naan, you won’t find Indian music of any kind.  Here it’s all classic rock, especially the Beatles. A favorite here seems to be Paul McCartney’s “Listen to What the Man Said:”

That people will find a way to go
No matter what the man said
And love is fine for all we know
For all we know, our love will grow – that’s what the man said

There’s John Lennon’s “Imagine” and “Stand by Me,”  along with his version of “Happy Xmas (War is over).” Then there’s a whistling song I’ve heard before; sadly, I don’t recall the name of it. What an interesting array of music for an Indian restaurant.

Vegetable curry at Curry Naan

Thursday, June 15:  This evening, Graham and I headed to the Family Mart for a couple of beers.  We found it hard to believe, but some Japanese guys were occupying our chairs!  We ended up going to a park on the other side of Fuchinobe Station.  I had never been there before, but it had a nice pond with three swans in it.  There was only one bench with a back, and we sat there and talked for quite a long while.  He’s of the same political beliefs as I am, so we had quite an involved political discussion – of course, it was an agreeable one. 🙂

Friday, June 16:  June has been all about the hydrangeas. I’ve made several weekend outings in search of them, and here are some I see on my way to work.

hydrangeas in the neighborhood

Sunday, June 18:  A month or so ago, I went to a Meetup in Hashimoto and met a nice Japanese lady named Reiko.  She added me on Facebook and we’ve been in touch through Facebook chat.  As we were chatting on Sunday morning, I mentioned that I planned to go shopping; after all it was forecast to rain that afternoon.  She said she’d meet me one metro stop away at Kobuchi, and she’d take me to her favorite discount stores.  We did just that, walking quite a distance to get from one place to another, and enjoying lunch together at one of the shopping malls. I had worn my favorite sandals with heels, but with all the walking, I regretted that decision.  My feet were killing me! Total steps while shopping: 10,326 (4.38 miles).  It was a fun day and I came away with too many tops and one pair of pants. 🙂

Monday, June 19:  Our lecture topic this week was Cultural Expectations in the Classroom.  To give the students a feel for American classrooms, I showed them the Key & Peele Substitute Teacher video from Comedy Central:

I reminded the students of my first days in class with them, when I couldn’t pronounce any of their names. I’m not sure the students got the humor, but I certainly enjoyed it. 🙂

Earlier I said I don’t generally go out to eat on Mon-Wed-Fri because of my late work hours.  However, this Monday, I felt like a treat so I stopped at Kiyariya.  Once again, I enjoyed the wonderful eggplant, and this time I ordered grilled fresh barracuda.  It was delicious!

my favorite eggplant dish at Kiyariya

Kiyariya

Kiyariya

Kenji’s artistic menu

Tuesday, June 20:  We continued the theme of Cultural Expectations in the Classroom, with today’s lesson focusing on discussions about the topic.  I promised the students I’d show some classroom scenes from great American movies, so I showed several episodes from The Dead Poet’s Society. After showing two preliminary videos for context, I showed my favorite scene.  My students laughed as I wiped away the tears in my eyes and told them I always cry at this scene.

Thursday, June 22: Thursday night seems to have become our night to stop at the Family Mart.  This time, Dee joined us.  You can see our cozy little spot below.

Dee and Graham at Family Mart

Friday, June 23: Today was a special Yukata day on campus.  Many of the girl and boy students wore yakuta on campus.  Yukata comes in cotton fabric and is worn during the summer season. On the contrary, a kimono comes in silk fabric. I took some photos of my rambunctious “I” class.

IMG_4996

my students from I class on yukata day

IMG_5001

my students from I class on yukata day

IMG_5003

my students from I class on yukata day

Tuesday, June 27:  On my way home from work tonight, I stop again at Kenji’s place, Kiyariya.  This time, they have an English menu and I choose a delicious shrimp dish from that.  Every time I leave the restaurant now, Natsumi, the server, walks out with me and says happily, “See you next week!”

IMG_5162

Shrimp with sauce at Kiyariya

Wednesday, June 28: Today my students presented their inventions.  As I only have my G class on Wednesdays, their inventions are shown below.  They had to do a sales pitch for their product, telling why people should buy it, and what it does.  They were really cute and inventive. 🙂

Click on any of the posters to see a full-sized slide show.

Thursday, June 29:  Today we had debates in class where the students had to prepare for opposing sides on the topic:  Single-sex schools are better than mixed-sex (co-educational) schools. I divided the class in two and gave them time to prepare.

It’s difficult to get Japanese students to speak aloud under any circumstances, but this was an exercise in futility.  For one, even though they had plenty of time to prepare, you’d think I just asked them a question on the spot, for as long as it took them to formulate and speak their arguments. Then, when they spoke, they all, without exception, spoke in katakana English; in this botched English pronunciation, they add an “o” sound to the end of words.  Even my best students, whose English pronunciation one-on-one with me is great, resorted to this botched English, which is typically spoken between Japanese students.  Sometimes, I think the good students don’t want to appear too smart or too capable of speaking English, and in a whole-class speaking session, they resort to katakana to fit in with their classmates. It drove me absolutely crazy, and I wanted to jump into the middle of the debate and call them on it right away.  I restrained myself during the debate session but resolved that I would speak to them about it the next day.

After work, Graham and I headed to the Family Mart, but again, we found our plastic chairs occupied by a couple of Japanese guys. Graham said that he has never found people occupying those seats except when he’s been with me; he said I’m jinxing our Family Mart gatherings!  Haha.  Anyway, we had no choice but to go to the park and sit on our bench.  We had a very enjoyable conversation about a variety of subjects from politics to books to relationships to everything bizarre and wonderful about Japan.  A cool front must have been moving in because it was breezy and comfortable, though still a little humid.

After one beer, I went to use the public bathroom at the end of the pond.  Japanese toilets have all kinds of flush mechanisms.  Some are buttons on the wall and others are on the back of the toilet.  There are also other buttons of unknown purpose; they are actually to call for assistance, but it’s hard to tell which is which.  Tonight I accidentally pushed the wrong button and a loud beep burst forth from the toilet stall, and it kept going and going!  As I hurriedly walked out of the stall, trying to be inconspicuous, a man from the office nearby came running toward the bathroom to see what the ruckus was about.  I bowed and said, I’m sorry!  I pushed the wrong button!!  I’m so sorry!  He probably had a good story to tell his kids that night. 🙂

Friday, June 30: When I asked a couple of my strong students why on earth they were speaking in katakana English during yesterday’s debate, they said they wanted to make sure their classmates could understand them.  I told them they are perfectly capable of speaking correct English and they should not cater to their classmates, but instead be an inspiration and a role model for correct English pronunciation. They apologized profusely.  Speaking to the whole class, I told them all to STOP with the katakana!!!  I said I’m going to be on them from now till the end of the semester because if they go on their study abroad in the fall and are speaking like that, no one will have a clue what they’re saying!

Happy July!  I hope to hear from you all soon. 🙂

tokyo: a stroll from yanaka to ueno   4 comments

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

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

Yanaka Ginza

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

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

shops in Yanaka Ginza

Yukata in Yanaka

Yanaka Ginza

produce for sale in Yanaka

produce in Yanaka

Yanaka Ginza

straw sandals

menus in Yanaka

Yanaka archway

bicycles in Yanaka

cute shop with bicycle in Yanaka

Yanaka Ginza

Yanaka Ginza

shop in Yanaka

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

Yanaka Ginza

exotic merchandise in Yanaka

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

Yuyake Dande, literally the “Sunset Stairs”

baskets for sale

shopfront in Yanaka

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

Yanaka-reien

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

Yanaka-reien

gate at Yanaka-reien

small shrine at Yanaka-reien

Yanaka-reien

Yanaka-reien

Yanaka-reien

Yanaka-reien

Yanaka-reien

Yanaka-reien

Yanaka-reien

hydrangea in the temple area of Yanaka

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

Yanaka temples

Yanaka temples

Yanaka temples

Yanaka temples

Yanaka temples

Yanaka temples

Yanaka temples

Yanaka temples

Yanaka temples

Yanaka temples

Yanaka temples

Yanaka temples

Yanaka temples

Yanaka temples

Yanaka

Yanaka temples

Yanaka temples

Yanaka temples

Yanaka temples

Yanaka temples

Yanaka temples

Yanaka temples

hydrangeas in Yanaka

temple area of Yanaka

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

pink house on the way to Ueno

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

Rinno-ji

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

Ueno Station

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

Vinul’s

Vinul’s

Vinul’s

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

tapas at Vinul’s

Vinul’s

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

Ameya-yokocho

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

Ameya-yokocho

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

Hawaiian shirts at Ameya-yokocho

seafood at Ameya-yokocho

Ameya-yokocho

fresh seafood at Ameya-yokocho

seafood for sale at Ameya-yokocho

produce at Ameya-yokocho

produce at Ameya-yokocho

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

Tokyo taxi

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

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

Total steps today: 15,754 (6.68 miles)

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

Sunday, June 11: After leaving Senso-ji, I continue my walk toward Kappabashi-dori, a street full of shops supplying the restaurant trade. These shops sell everything from knives and other kitchen utensils to mass-produced crockery, restaurant furniture, ovens and decor, such as lanterns and signs. The street also has some shops that sell plastic display foods (sampuru, derived from English sample) found outside Japanese restaurants.

“Shop Planing & Antique” on Kappabashi-dori

I drop into one shop that actually sells the plastic food items to tourists.

plastic foods on Kappabashi-dori

plastic foods on Kappabashi-dori

desserts: plastic foods on Kappabashi-dori

ice cream: plastic foods on Kappabashi-dori

plastic foods on Kappabashi-dori

plastic foods on Kappabashi-dori

pizza: plastic foods on Kappabashi-dori

sushi: plastic foods on Kappabashi-dori

snacks: plastic foods on Kappabashi-dori

plastic foods on Kappabashi-dori

plastic foods on Kappabashi-dori

plastic foods on Kappabashi-dori

I don’t buy any of these enticing but oddly unsatisfying plastic foods, although in retrospect, they might have made for some interesting gifts. 🙂

I continue my walk to the train station, stopping in briefly at Honzan Higashi Hongan-ji along the way.

Approximately 400 years ago, in 1651, the Tokyo Hongan-ji Temple was established in the city of Edo (modern Tokyo) under the patronage of Shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu by Kyonyo Shonin (1558-1614). It was then known as the Edo Gobo Kozuiji Temple. After a fire in 1657, Higashi-Hongan-ji Temple was moved to its current site in Asakusa and was called Asakusa Hongan-ji Temple. Then in 1965, Higashi-Hongan-ji Temple changed its name again to Tokyo Higashi-Hongan-ji Temple.

It is presently the headquarters of the Jodo Shinshu Higashi Honganji Sect with a following of some 400 temples.  The door to this living Buddhist temple is open to all races, nationalities and people of the world.

Higashi Hongan-ji

Higashi Hongan-ji

I continue my walk to the train station, admiring all the offerings of plates and crockery along the way.

dishes for sale

Total steps: 11,834 (5.02 miles) 🙂

tokyo’s oldest buddhist temple: sensō-ji {walking tour 8: part 2}   6 comments

Sunday, June 11:  After enjoying my conveyor belt sushi lunch, I head to Sensō-ji, Tokyo’s oldest and most popular temple.

According to legend, in the year 628, two Hamanari brothers, Hinokuma and Takenari, fished a statue of the Buddhist deity Kannon, the goddess of mercy, out of the Sumida River, and even though they put the statue back into the river, it kept returning to them. Consequently, Sensō-ji was built nearby for the goddess of Kannon. The temple was completed in 645, although most of its main buildings were rebuilt with concrete after they were burned down in World War II.

The temple’s first gate, the vermillion Kaminarimon Gate (Thunder Gate), boasts a huge paper lantern, or Chochin, which is illuminated at night.  Chochin are Japanese lanterns traditionally made with a bamboo frame covered in silk or paper;  that have been crafted in Japan since 1085.

Kaminarimon Gate

After the Kaminarimon Gate is a long shopping street called Nakamise-dori, the Inside Shops Street.  This shopping street is within the temple compound.  Lots of people come here dressed in yukata, mainly to take pictures of themselves on the temple grounds.

the yukata stroll

Nakamise Dori

Nakamise Dori

Nakamise Dori

Every sort of thing can be bought in the 150 shops that line this 984-foot-long street: masks, fans, Buddhist scrolls, combs, traditional sweets, woodblock prints, kimono and other robes, sandal socks, mobile phone straps, traditional sweets and meals.

masks on Nakamise Dori

fans on Nakamise Dori

fans on Nakamise Dori

what-nots on Nakamise Dori

socks on Nakamise Dori

Down one of the side streets, the Tokyo Sky Tree is visible, an ever-present reminder of a modern city encroaching on a traditional temple.

Nakamise Dori

painting at Senso-ji

At the far end of Nakamise-dori is the Hozomon Gate, the Treasury Gate, of the temple.  The upper level still stores some 14th century Chinese sutras (Buddhist scriptures).  A large paper lantern hangs in this impressive gate.

the Hozomon

the Hozomon & the crowds

To the Hozomon’s left is the five-story Asakusa Pagoda, which was rebuilt in 1973. The pagoda contains bits of Buddha’s bones, a gift from Sri Lanka.

the Goju no To five-storied pagoda and a corner of the Hozomon

the Hozomon

lantern in the Hozomon

I encounter a couple of monks playing tourist on the temple grounds.

monk at Senso-ji

lantern in the Hozomon

Between the Hozomon and the Hondo (Main Hall) is a large bronze incense burner.  People stand around the incense sticks burning in the burner and, with their hands, waft the smoke toward afflicted parts of their bodies.  The smoke from the incense is said to have curative powers.

The Hondo (Main Hall of Senso-ji

Bronze incense burner with curative powers

I even do some wafting of the incense smoke, even though I don’t have any ailing parts to my body. 🙂

The Hondo

lantern in the Hondo

The temple is also known as the Kinryusan Senso-ji, the Golden Dragon Mountain Asakusa Temple, due to the legend of the dragon’s descent on the finding of the small golden Kannon.  Because of this, a dragon has been painted on the ceiling of the Hondo, the work of Kawabata Ryushi, while the angels and lotus flowers surrounding it are by Domoto Insho.

Dragon painting by Kawabata Ryushi

Angels and lotus flowers on the ceiling of Senso-ji, by Domoto Insho

The Hondo (Main Hall) of Senso-ji

Honda of Senso-ji

the five-story Asakusa Pagoda

Hozomon Gate

the yukata stroll

On the backside of the Hozomon Gate are two oversized straw sandals, a gift from a provincial village to the temple.

giant straw sandals made to fit Deva Kings

monks in front of the pagoda

the Hondo

It’s fun to watch all the Japanese men and women here who are wearing the yukata, a casual summer kimono usually made of cotton or synthetic fabric, and unlined.  Yukata are worn by both men and women.

beautiful yukata in front of a food vendor

Yogodo Hall is where Buddhist divinities who support Kannon Bosatsu are enshrined.

grounds of Yogodo Hall at Senso-ji

Yogodo Hall at Senso-ji

Little shrine

Inside Yogodo Hall

Yakushido Hall, built in 1649, is dedicated to Yakushi Nyorai, a Buddhist divinity of medicine.

Yakushido Hall

Awashima-do is the shrine of the guardian deity of women; this deity attends to female ailments.  Women often bring dolls to shrines such as this, which have proliferated all over Japan, so their dolls can serve as substitutes, taking on the donor’s ailment.  Eventually the dolls are burned in a religious ceremony in order to offer up prayers for relief from the ailment that has been transferred to the doll (Tokyo: 29 Walks in the World’s Most Exciting City).

another small shrine

a yukata gathering

colorful yukata

Tokyo Sky Tree

the five-story Asakusa Pagoda

The Asakusa Shrine is dedicated to the two fishermen brothers, Hinokuma and Takenari Hamanari, and their master, Hajo-no-Nakatomo.  The Honden, or Spirit Hall, is said to hold the spirits of the two brothers who found the Kannon image and their master, who enshrined the image.

Asakusa Shrine

ema at Senso-ji

Shafu are seen dashing down roadways pulling large carts behind them, usually with a tourist or two along for the ride. These rickshaw-pullers in Japan, usually slim muscular men who have to run long distances each day with passengers in tow, are considered appealing by many young Japanese women, according to the Japanator: Japanese ladies love them some rickshaw-pullers.

Shafu, rickshaw pullers in Japan

In front of Asakusa Shrine, a young lady in a hat and yukata is selling some fruity gelato bars.  I help myself to one of them and sit on a bench to enjoy.

ice cream for sale near Asakusa Shrine

the Hondo of Senso-ji

the Hozomon at Senso-ji

Two large bronze images of Bodhisattvas (enlightened beings who postpone entering nirvana so as to help those still living) sit on the temple grounds near the end of the Nakamise shops.  They were a gift from a rice merchant in honor of his deceased master in 1687.

Two Bodhisattvas

I am in awe of this shrine and the people who have flocked here to visit. Though it is one of Tokyo’s major tourist sites, it also seems to be a place of active worship and a symbol of tradition.

I leave the temple to explore a bit more of Asakusa, stopping at Kappabashi-dori and the street’s purveyors of plastic foods. 🙂

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