Archive for the ‘Western Tokyo’ Tag

an afternoon at the nezu museum: irises & the rinpa collection   10 comments

Sunday, May 7:  Though I intend to go straight home after Kameido Tenjin’s Wisteria Festival, I see while I’m on the Hanzomon Line that if I hop off the train at Omote-sando Station, it’s only a 7-minute walk to the Nezu Museum.  I also see that a special exhibition, Irises and Mountain Stream in Summer and Autumn, is due to end next Sunday.  My Japanese Instagram friend Yukie several days ago visited and posted beautiful pictures of the rabbit-ear irises that bloom earlier than other irises.  With all these enticements, I couldn’t resist disembarking at Omote-sando.  Though I am tired, I don’t regret stopping at this fabulous museum.

The Nezu Museum has one of the most delightful gardens I’ve encountered in Tokyo. Strolling through it, I find a teahouse as well as a variety of stone lanterns and other objects.

According to the museum’s website, Nezu Kaichirō I purchased this land, which he liked for its hills and dales, in 1906. The original garden, designed in the shinzan-yūkoku, “deep mountains and mysterious valleys style,” included rustic buildings and a teahouse. It burned during the bombing of Tokyo in World War II. Since then, it has been restored, little by little, to reach its present state. The goal of the museum is to create garden scenes of nature.

stone face at Nezu Museum Garden

elephant lantern at Nezu Museum Garden

an artist at work

irises at Nezu Museum Garden

irises at Nezu Museum Garden

irises at Nezu Museum Garden

irises at Nezu Museum Garden

irises at Nezu Museum Garden

reflections

reflections in the pond

a lady in kimono at Nezu Museum Garden

stone figure

stone lantern

stone lantern

stone lantern

a peek through the maples

another stone lantern

ponds at Nezu

moss-covered lantern

irises at Nezu Museum Garden

irises at Nezu Museum Garden

irises at Nezu Museum Garden

tea house at Nezu Museum Garden

pretty pond

boat at Nezu Museum Garden

Buddha

Kitano Tenjin enshrined at Hibaishi

maple leaves

lantern

The special exhibit inside the museum is the Rinpa Collection.  The Rinpa school of painting refers to a range of artists who spanned the 17th to 19th centuries. According to the exhibition catalog, the period begins with Hon’ami Kōetsu and Tawaraya Sōtatsu, two artists active in Kyoto’s merchant class culture during the first half of the 17th century, then follows with Ogata Kōrin and his younger brother, the potter Kenzan, who were born of high-ranking clothing merchants in Kyoto.  They were succeeded in 19th century Edo by Sakai Hōitsu, who created his own elegant painterly world from his longing for Kōrin’s aesthetic, and then Hōitsu’s principle student, Suzuki Kiitsu.

The Rinpa Collection

I’m told by Yukie that photography is not usually allowed in Japanese museums.  That of course is a bummer for me, but at least I can buy the postcards or the exhibition catalog.  This time, I buy both.  And, since necessity is the mother of invention, I take photos of the postcards to share!

postcards from the Rinpa Collection

Rinpa artists worked in various formats, notably screens, fans and hanging scrolls, woodblock printed books, lacquerware, ceramics, and kimono textiles. Many Rinpa paintings were used on the sliding doors and walls of noble homes.  The stereotypical standard painting in the Rinpa style involves simple natural subjects such as birds, plants and flowers, with the background filled in with gold leaf. (Wikipedia: Rinpa school)

One of my favorites in this exhibition is Mountain Streams in Summer and Autumn by Suzuki Kiitsu. A stream flowing between boulders set in a Japanese cypress grove links two six-panel screens, ranging from a summer scene of mountain lilies to an autumn scene of a few lingering red leaves on cherry trees.

Mountain Stream in Summer and Autumn (detail) by Suzuki Kiitsu

Of course the postcards and the photos from the exhibition catalog don’t do justice to these magnificent and huge screen paintings; seeing them in person actually brings tears to my eyes as they are so vivid and stunning.

Mountain Streams in Summer and Autumn by Suzuki Kiitsu

Mountain Streams in Summer and Autumn by Suzuki Kiitsu

National Treasure Irises by Ogata Kōrin is another amazing painting.  Clumps of irises, painted solely in shade of blue and green against an overall gold ground, conjure the Yatsuhashi (eight-plank bridge) of Mikawa, a famous site for irises described in The Tales of Ise.

National Treasure Irises (detail) by Ogata Kōrin

National Treasure Irises by Ogata Korin

Summer Flowers by Ogata Kōrin features close to 30 varieties of flowers and grasses of late spring to summer.

Summer Flowers (detail) by Ogata Kōrin

Summer Flowers by Ogata Kōrin

Flowers in Four Seasons by I’nen Seal features about 70 varieties of plants and grasses arranged in bouquet-like groupings with their upper sections fanned out in a wide array.  The flower groups work from right to left across the two screens in a spring, summer, autumn, winter progression.

Flowers in Four Seasons by I’nen Seal

Poet Bo Juyi (Hakurakuten) by Ogata Korin was inspired by the Noh play Hakurakuten, based on the legend of the Chinese Tang dynasty poet Bo Juyi (Japanese: Hakurakuten) who encountered an old fisherman manifestation of the Shinto deity Sumiyoshi-Myojin upon his arrival in Japan.  Sumiyoshi informed Bo Juyi that Japanese waka poetry was superior to that of the Chinese and summoned divine winds to blow the poet’s boat back to China.

Poet Bo Juyi (Hakurakuten) by Ogata Kōrin

Wisteria by Maruyama Okyo

The Tale of the Heike Painting Album Kogo

Cherry blossoms at Yoshino and Maple Leaves at Tatsuta (detail) Japan 17th century

All information about the Rinpa collection is from the exhibition catalog, unless otherwise stated.

This is one of the most fabulous museums I’ve visited in all my travels.  Between the breathtaking exhibition of Rinpa paintings and the museum’s garden with its blooming irises, ponds, hilly terrain and stone features, it ranks near the top of my most moving and satisfying travel experiences.  I highly recommend visiting this museum when traveling in Tokyo. 🙂

Total steps today: 11,669 steps (4.95 miles).

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

Wednesday, May 3: For my first day off during Golden Week, I decide to visit the Meiji Shrine as part of Walking Tour 18 in Tokyo: 29 Walks in the World’s Most Exciting City. The walk includes Harajuku, Omotesando and Aoyama, but I am only able to do part of it today. It’s very crowded, as I expected it would be because of the holiday.  That is one thing I hate about being a teacher — we get the same holidays as everyone else in a country does; thus whenever we travel, we have to contend with huge crowds.

As soon as I get off the metro, I see a huge three-story Gap store, with “Everything 50% off!” for Golden Week.  The crowds are already thick, despite the early hour.  I walk away from the shopping district to visit the Meiji Shrine, built in 1920 to enshrine the spirit of the Emperor Meiji and his wife, the Empress Shokun.  It was built eight years after the emperor died and six years after the empress died.  Though destroyed in World War II, the shrine was rebuilt shortly thereafter.

Emperor Meiji was the first emperor of modern Japan. He was born in 1852 and ascended to the throne in 1867 at the peak of the Meiji Restoration when Japan’s feudal era came to an end and the emperor was restored to power. By the time Emperor Meiji passed away in 1912, Japan had modernized and westernized to join the world’s major powers (JapanGuide.com: Meiji Shrine).

I take the bridge over the railway to the Harajuku-mon (Harajuku Gate).  I’m visiting only the Inner Garden today; it consists of 178 acres with over 120,000 trees of 365 species from all over Japan.

the Harajuku-mon (Harajuku Gate) of the Meiji Shrine

After walking along the path, I come to this fabulous display of sake barrels wrapped in straw.

During the Meiji Period, Emperor Meiji led the industrial growth and modernization of Japan by encouraging various industries and supporting technological development.  These sake barrels are donated every year to these enshrined deities by members of the Meiji Jingu Zenkoku Shuzo Keishinkai (Meiji Jingu Nationwide Sake Brewers Association), which has made offerings of sake for generations. as well as other sake brewers around Japan wishing to show their deep respect for the Emperor and Empress. (from a sign at the shrine)

sake barrels

I love these barrels, with their artistic displays of flowers, Japanese landscapes and calligraphy.

sake barrels

sake barrels

sake barrels

The Meiji Period was an enlightened period during which a policy of “Japanese Spirit and Western Knowledge” was adopted, in the hopes of learning from the best of Western culture and civilization, while keeping Japan’s age-old spirit and revered traditions. Emperor Meiji promoted modernization by embracing many features of Western culture in his personal life, such as donning Western attire. He also set an example by taking Western food and enjoying wine with it.

The barrels of wine to be consecrated at Meiji Jingu have been offered by the wineries of Bourgogne in France, to be consecrated in the spirit of world peace and amity, and with the earnest prayer that France and Japan enjoy many more fruitful years of friendship.

wine barrels offered by wineries of Bourgogne in France

Past the sake and wine barrels is the O-torii, the Great Torii. This 40 foot tall torii is the largest torii in Japan, created from cypress trees said to be 1,500 years old.  Because no cypress trees large enough for the design of this torii could be found in Japan, the Japanese turned to Taiwan to provide the large tree.

the O-torii, the Great Torii

Many celebrations and performances are in store today at Meiji Shrine, but I always seem to be in the middle of shows, and never actually catch one in progress.  I do see these scholarly looking men marching ceremoniously down the path.

some kind of procession

O-torii, the Great Torii

The temizuya water pavilion consists of a water basin and ladles, but is not a place to drink water. It is there to perform misogi, a ritual to purify the body and mind with water before proceeding to stand in front of the deity. Originally this ritual was performed in the nude at special misogi locations like the ocean or a river, but today the ritual has been simplified to rinsing your hands and mouth at the temizuya. The idea is to wash away impurities of the heart as well as from the physical self (Into Japan: The Official Guide: Shrines and temples).

purificaiton at the “temizuya” water pavilion

Finally, I reach the Kita-mon, the North Gate, which opens onto the Honden.

the Kita-mon, or North Gate

The Honden contains the enshrined spirits of the imperial couple.  Built in 1915-1920, the shrine burned down during a 1945 air raid and was reconstructed in 1958.

the Honden

tapestry on the Honden

A path leading to the left would take me to the Imperial Treasure House at the far rear of the Inner Garden. This holds personal belongings of the emperor and his consort.  I bypass that in the interest of visiting the Meiji Jingu Goen.

a gate out to the left of the shrine, toward the Imperial Treasure House

I take this photo of the Honden from inside the courtyard of the shrine.  The large shrine is presently covered in scaffolding for renovation and doesn’t make for a good picture.

The Honden

Returning down the same path on which I entered the grounds, I decide to stop at the gardens I passed earlier.  I pay an entrance fee of 500 yen to go into Meiji Jingu Goen.  I’m happy to pay an entrance fee if it reduces the crowds!

First, I pass the Kakuun-Tei, or Tea House.  According to a sign on the grounds, “The former building of Kakuun-Tei was built by the order of His Majesty the Emperor Meiji for Her Majesty the Empress Shokun in 1900. As the building was burnt down by the war damage, so in the autumn of 1958, the present building was reconstructed.”

Kakuun-Tei (Tea House)

Kakuun-Tei (Tea House)

The South Water Lily Pond is a tranquil place, but this isn’t the season for water lilies to be in bloom.

Minami-ike – the Water Lily Pond

Minami-ike – the Water Lily Pond

Minami-ike – the Water Lily Pond

glossy leaf in the Meiji Jingu Goen

The Jingu Nai-en Iris Garden is expected to bloom in mid-June.  It still looks quite pretty, even if the field isn’t blossoming in purple yet.

The Jingu Nai-en Iris Garden

The Jingu Nai-en Iris Garden

The Jingu Nai-en Iris Garden

I follow the Azalea Path, but I’m too late for most of the azaleas, which already bloomed.  I do manage to catch a few remaining blossoms from the season.

Azalea path

last of the azaleas

azaleas

azaleas

After enjoying the paths around the gardens for some time, I leave the grounds of Meiji Shrine and head next door to Yoyogi Park.  As soon as I reach the entrance, I see it isn’t the kind of park I will enjoy.  It’s filled with screaming children and loud music — just the kind of park I hate; it reminds me of many Chinese parks I visited.

Instead, I head into the commercial district looking for the famous Takeshita-dori, a narrow street of more than a hundred boutiques in a sort of fashion heaven for teenage girls.  Before I head down that street, I of course have to stop at Gap, where I buy a couple of items to take advantage of their 50% off sale.

Back outside on Takeshita-dori, people are jammed into the narrow street, and I’m carried right along with them.  Once I’m caught in the crowd, there is no turning back; I have no choice but to slide down the street with hordes of people; we’re all like flies stuck in slow-flowing honey.

Takeshita-dori

There are a lot of strange things to see (or NOT see over the heads of all the people around me), but I’ll just the let the pictures tell the story.

Takeshita-dori

buttons on Takeshita-dori

Takeshita-dori is one of those places that makes me think, yes, this is the Tokyo I’ve always imagined!

Takeshita-dori

Takeshita-dori

Takeshita-dori

Takeshita-dori

Takeshita-dori

Finally, the crowd is regurgitated out at the far end of the narrow street and I can breathe again!  I turn left at Meiji-dori and walk a few blocks, where I find some serenity at Togo Shrine, which deifies the navy’s leading admiral in the Russo-Japanese War.  Admiral Togo Heihachiro defeated the Russian fleet in the Tsushima Straits in the 1904-1905 war, so he was one of the leading heroes of the early 20th century in Japan.

entrance to Togo Shrine

lion at Togo Shrine

Togo Shrine

ema at Togo Shrine

Togo Shrine

pond at Togo Shrine

pond at Togo Shrine

pond at Togo Shrine

After leaving Togo Shrine at nearly 2:00 p.m., I’m starving.  The only thing I can think about is finding a place to eat.  Whenever I’m in downtown Tokyo, I like to take advantage of the many international restaurants that the city has to offer.  I live so far on the outskirts of Tokyo, that most of the restaurants in my neighborhood, except a few, are solely of the Japanese variety.

Today I find Guzman y Gomez, where I get a taco dish with two tacos: one vegetarian and one fish. They are so good!  This restaurant is in a  big shopping mall, much different from shopping malls I’m used to.  It’s modern and upscale and has many shops hard to distinguish because there are no walls between them.  Usually the malls are multi-storied and have shops I’ve never heard of, although I do see some familiar ones such as Gap and Zara.

After lunch, as I head back to the train station, I can’t help but pop into Zara, where I buy a couple of T-shirts.  One thing that is very clear about Japan is that it’s definitely a consumer culture.  Everyone is into fashion and fine things, and everything that you’d ever want to buy is offered here.  I also notice that Japanese people are not as small as the Chinese, so I can actually find clothes to fit here.  When I was in China, I rarely bought anything, because everything was too small.  So, I must admit, I’ve bought more things than I should be buying. 🙂

Japanese trends this year are baggy capri-length culottes and baggy tops with cute bell sleeves, flutter sleeves, or balloon sleeves.  I’m not into the culottes because they make me look like a balloon on the bottom (plus they’re too tight around my waist), but I do like the tops.  Everything is in plain colors or subdued delicate flowers.  Because I often buy clothes with patterns on them, my clothes don’t fit in here at all!  I normally like my style, but here, I stand out as the Westerner I am.

Below is how I got to Meiji Shrine this morning. Fuchinobe > Nagatsuta > Shibuya > Harajuku (1 hour 4 minutes).

Total steps today: 16,363 (6.93 miles).

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

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

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

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

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

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

Arrival at Shinjuku Gyoen Garden

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

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

lusciousness

cherry blossoms with yellow blooms

dangling blooms

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

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

The Mother and Child garden

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

Cypress area

cypress

more delicacies

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

the gnarled path

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

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

an arched bridge and weeping willows

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

a bridge too far

umbrellas on a bridge

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

tea house under pink

a Japanese tea house at Shinjuku Gyoen

Walking around the many ponds is a wonderful treat.

I love wandering out and about in the Japanese garden.

a pretty little scene

another stone lantern

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

view from the Kyu Goryo-tei Pavilion

view from the Kyu Goryo-tei Pavilion

view from the Kyu Goryo-tei Pavilion

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

another sakura-lined pond in the Japanese garden

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

blossoms leaning into the pond

lounging blossoms

sakura!

textured scene

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

canopy and carpet

soft and sharp

mystical forest

blossoms all around

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

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

gnarly trees in a row

The English Garden

The English Garden

a line of spiky trees

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

jubilant twins

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