Kyoto – Bamboo Forest, Kinkaku-ji, Fushimi Inari Taisha

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I’m combining day four and five, covering the Bamboo Forest, Kinkaku-ji (Golden Pavilion) and Fushimi Inari Taisha.  This wasn’t my plan, but day four’s schedule had a hiccup.  Day four was going to be Katsura Imperial Villa and Arashiyama Bamboo Forest.  Owing to my fantastic planning, I assumed Katsura Imperial Villa could be visited as easily as Kyoto Imperial Palace.  Not so!  Another reason for combining these days is because I’ve missed all the other bits and pieces for each day in the previous post.  So, following this post I’m going to do one on the food, people, theatre, Gion and Geishas.

Returning to the subject of my hiccup on day four, it was my fault.  Taking a small detour to see Katsura Imperial Villa as my first stop of the day.  Going against my better judgement, I did find it peculiar when leaving Katsura station there were no signs to the Imperial Villa.  As a result of the lack of signage (and me not looking at my Google Maps properly ?), I took a detour finally getting to the entrance.  When I finally got there, a very polite lady told me I needed to book a ticket in advance…with a minimum 3 week waiting list!  There was a small possibility that if I came back the next day, I may have been able to get a ticket if someone cancelled.  That would mean me getting there at 10:00 and waiting till 14:00.  Hmmm, that wasn’t going to happen.  So, I dragged myself back to the train station and headed to stop number two, which became stop number one.

Arashiyama / Storm Mountain

One and a half hours of the day wasted made me mildly disappointed whilst heading to Arashiyama. I was going to Arashiyama to see the Bamboo Forest.  You only need to Google the bamboo forest and you will see why I wanted to go.  That, and many Japanese movies like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon have scenes in bamboo forests had me sold.  There is a lot more to see in Arashiyama which I didn’t because I didn’t know about, much like Uji.  Well, that’s not totally true.  My Kyoto map covered the city and surrounding towns sites extensively.  Like I’ve said before, it’s just not possible to see everything so you just have to prioritise.  Sometimes I’ve been luck, other not, but overall, I’d say I’ve been very lucky throughout my travels.  Considering how long I spent there I’m still surprise (only a little) by how little I saw – I’ll explain shortly.

Popular or famous picturesque sites are often very different in reality!  Of course, you can wake up before the birds start singing to be first in line just so you can get that perfect photo.  That’s just not me, nor do I travel and take photos just to get “that” shot.  If I was a professional photographer sure I’d only want the perfect photo, but I’m not.  I want experiences and my photos are for my memories.  Yes, I have woken up before the crack of dawn, but never with the sole purpose of an obligatory picture.  I want the experience of the moment to be the dominant factor not the social media reaction.

Arashiyama

Taken from the Togetsukyō Bridge; Mt. Arashi on the left with Ōi River – Arashiyama, Kyoto

Arashiyama

Traditional flat-bottom boat on the Ōi River, Mount Arashi behind – Arashiyama Kyoto

Arashiyama

Mount Arashi on the left, with a little house/temple/shrine hidden in the forest – Arashiyama, Kyoto

Bamboo Forest

Bamboo Forest

Bamboo Forest – Arashiyama, Kyoto

Needless to say, the zen like pictures of the bamboo forest on Google/Instagram etc. are not what you see in reality…like so many other places.  Walking five to six abreast most of the time in a looooong queue!  It goes without saying, the bamboo forest is beautiful, interesting and different.  Would I have gone if I knew it would be that busy?  Honestly, likely not.  You couldn’t even hear the wind rustling through the treetops with so many people.  Such a place (in my opinion) should be quiet and serene, where you feel more in touch with nature.  Not where you wish you brought your headphones.  You may have already guessed, I was disappointed with the visit ?!

For that reason, I didn’t spend much time at the bamboo forest nor Arashiyama.  Just to clarify, I didn’t storm in and out leaving in a huff.  After walking through the bamboo forest, I wondered about the area following the troves of people.  Following people as if on a conveyor belt passing lots of places that would have tickled my fancy.  Here I’d be interested along with thousands of others (a sure way to wane my interest and curiosity).  Queuing up wasn’t high on my list, so I headed back to the train station.  I really don’t want to deter anyone from visiting the bamboo forest.  My suggestion would be to go early or very late.  Either way I cannot promise solitude.

All in all, I spent a few hours in Arashiyama, hence my surprise about how little I saw, or paid attention to.  Therefore, I ask you to please excuse the lack of “WOW” photos!  As I alluded to, I have none of the clichéd pictures you see online.  That really was most of my day, which drove my decision to include the next days’ stops into this post.  On the agenda would be two locations on opposite sides of Kyoto, well worth it!

Bamboo Forest

Bamboo Forest – Arashiyama, Kyoto

Bamboo Forest

Bamboo Forest – Arashiyama, Kyoto

Bamboo Forest

Bamboo Forest – Arashiyama, Kyoto

Fushimi Inari Taisha

Famous for its torii paths entwined up Mt Inari, Fushimi Inari Taisha is located in South East Kyoto.  It took me less than 30 minutes to get there from my hotel (short walk and train).  Nezu Shrine in Tokyo was my introduction to torii paths, but Fushimi Inari Taisha is on an industrial scale by comparison.   With my usual lack of foresight, I decided to go without much research about the place…the pictures on the net look cool, so that was thorough enough research for me. The visited ended up being excellent, despite my first impressions being reminiscent of the bamboo forest.  My litmus test, would I go again, definitely!

Arriving at Fushimi Inari Taisha, I was taken aback; to say the place was busy is a serious understatement – far busier than the bamboo forest!  Yes, I was disappointed.  Oh well I was here, so why not fall in with the crowd, spend a little time there then head off… oh ye of little faith!  The entrance was packed, that’s no lie nor exaggeration!  Like zombies scuffling aimlessly to an unknown destination, you have a choice or two paths to take at the bottom of the hill – both full of people.  Either way they are the same path, the one is the beginning of the other’s end.  The paths twist through, around and up the Mt Inari like a vermilion serpent.  About half way up the two paths join, from there on wards the crowds dissipate more and more the further up the hill you go.  That is why I say the visit started off disappointingly but ended very well.

Fushimi Inari Taisha

One of the temples at the base of Fushimi Inari Taisha – Kyoto

Fushimi Inari Taisha

At the base of Fushimi Inari Taisha starting the ascent of Mt Inari. Loads of people! – Fushimi Inari Taisha, Kyoto

History and background

  • Fushimi Inari Taisha is the head shrine to the god Inari
  • Inari is the god of rice, and the benefactor of business. I guess rice was the main industry hundreds of years ago, so seems a natural evolution.
  • The shrine dates to the Heian Period, the earliest structures dating to 711
  • “Ina” is the Japanese word of “rice”
  • All 10 000+ torii were donated by businesses – this practise started in 1603
  • Mt Inari reaches 233m above sea level
  • There are around 30 000 Inari shrines throughout Japan
  • During the 3 day celebrations of the Japanese New Year the shrine gets over 2 million visitors
Fushimi Inari Taisha

Fushimi Inari Taisha – Kyoto

torii

Senborn torii, one of the many torii tunnels – Fushimi Inari Taisha, Kyoto

Foxes and Fushimi Inari Taisha

Throughout the entire complex you cannot escape the image of the Fox.  Foxes are a common attribute of Inari shrines, often with a key in their mouth, representing the key to the rice granary.  It’s not only keys they grasp in the mouths, sometimes is a jewel, a sheaf of rice or even a cub fox.  I’m guessing they all symbolise the same thing, though I don’t know if this definite. The foxes are messengers and represent a kindred spirit of Inari Okami. There are foxes that roam Mt Inari, but they have nothing to do with the metaphorical invisible foxes.  They call these revered kindreds “byakkosan” (white foxes).  The fox can also symbolise both benevolence and malevolence.

Fushimi Inari Taisha

One of the many shrines up Mt. Inari with byakkosan” (white foxes) holding jewels in their mouths – Fushimi Inari Taisha, Kyoto

Fushimi Inari Taisha

A byakkosan (white foxes) drinking fountain at one of the shrines on Mt Inari – Fushimi Inari Taisha, Kyoto

Torii

If it’s torii you like, then Fushimi Inari Taisha would be your heaven.  Rows of torii are known as Senborn torii, and Mt Inari is the personification of this.  Something I hadn’t known until writing about this is the significance of vermilion red.  I’d seen the colour used throughout my time in Japan, from palaces, temples and shrines but it hadn’t crossed my mind to ask why.  Vermilion red has mythical powers and used as protection against evil forces.  At Fushimi Inari Taisha it also represents a bountiful harvest.

Getting back to my visit, the first half was frustrating and a little irritating.  It’s like trying to enjoy the Mona Lisa with a 7 foot tall person standing in front of you.  The loop around Mt Inari is about 5km and can take anything between 2-3 hours to complete, including stopping for pictures.  It’s an easy walk/hike, but there are lots of stairs and I saw many people huffing and puffing, most only go halfway…their loss.  Actually, I take that back, most of the paths are flat and paved, even when going uphill.  Nevertheless there are a reasonable amount of stairs (nothing like Petra, Portugal etc.), so not everyone’s cup of tea.

Fushimi Inari Taisha

Going up Mt Inari at Fushimi Inari Taisha, much quieter the further up you go – Kyoto

Fushimi Inari Taisha

Senborn torii – Fushimi Inari Taisha, Kyoto

Fushimi Inari Taisha’s torii path (the second half ?) curves and winds gently up and around the mountain.  Walking through the tunnels of torii is almost hypnotic, the continuous repetitive red vermilion occasionally broken by a concrete torii.  Leaving the crowds below I finally found the solitude I was craving.  Nothing but the sound of nature around me, walking through these tunnels of red like Alice down the rabbit hole.  The higher I went the more content I became, forgetting to take photos, forgetting the hustle and bustle at the base of the mountain.  These torii, standing individually become one with each other, all standing firm with a sense of permanence and purpose.

I’m not going to pretend I had some spiritual experience, not at all. However, it was the soothing experience I had been missing over the past few days.  From a morning that started out with low expectations, it turned out to exceed my expectations.  My 5km (maybe a little less) loop, up and around Mt Inari was done.  Although the crowds were still at the bottom when I got there, this time round it didn’t bother at all.  Next stop would take me to the North West of Kyoto, about an hours’ journey to Kinkaku-Ji also known as the Golden Pavilion.

Fushimi Inari Taisha

Patience paid off, it got quieter and quieter as I ascended up – Fushimi Inari Taisha, Kyoto

Kyoto

Fushimi Inari Taisha – Kyoto

Fushimi Inari Taisha

Yes, more Senborn torii, couldn’t help myself taking so many pictures – Fushimi Inari Taisha, Kyoto

Kinkaku-ji / Temple of the Golden Pavilion / Rokuon-ji

It wasn’t that easy getting to Kinkaku-ji from Fushimi Inari Taisha; a walk, train, bus and short walk again.  Only reason for this was because of my starting point and making sure I got on the correct bus…on the right side of the road.  Something I didn’t do when I left Kinkaku-ji heading back to my hotel.  Enough about that.   Officially known as Rokuon-ji, Kinkaku-ji means Temple of the Golden Pavilion and it is as picturesque as you could possibly want.  Even with the sky clouding over in dark grey and the imminence of rain, nothing couldn’t tarnish such a vivid temple.

Golden Pavilion

Kinkaku-ji with some of the representative islands – Kyoto

History and background

Kinkaku-ji is a Zen Buddhist Temple, but started out as a villa called Kitayama-dai owned by Saionji Kintsune, a statesman.  The Temple of the Golden Pavilion dates from 1397 when the villa was bought by shogun Ashikaga Yoshimitsu, who turned it into the Kinkaku-ji complex.  Ashikaga Yoshimitsu was the grandfather of Ashikaga Yoshinari (Ginkaku-ji Temple / Temple of the Silver Pavilion).

As expected in Kyoto, Kinkaku-ji has not escaped untouched by fire in its history.  During the Ōnin war everything in the complex except the pavilion was burnt down.  You would think that was the Golden Pavilion’s lucky break, not so.  It eventually succumbed to fire when a junior monk burnt it down in 1950, after which he tried to commit suicide.  He was sent to jail, due to mental health illnesses he was release not long afterwards.  In 1955 Kinkaku-ji was rebuilt.

Kinkaku-ji

Kinkaku-ji on the edge of the Kyōko-chi (Mirror Pond) – Rokuon-ji, Kyoto

Golden Pavilion

Some interesting facts about Kinkaku-ji:

  1. It is 12.5 meters high
  2. The 1955 reconstruction has a lot more gold leaf than the original
  3. The word “Kinkaku” is derived from the gold leaf used to cover the pavilion
  4. Gold has a symbolic meaning of purifying any negative thoughts and feelings towards death
  5. Ground floor is called The Chamber of Dharma Waters, designed in the shinden (Shinden-zukuri) style
  6. First floor is called The Tower of Sound Waves, designed samurai (buke-zukuri) style
  7. Second floor is called Cupola of the Ultimate, designed in the zen (zenshū-butsuden-zukuri) style
  8. Kyōko-chi (Mirror Pond) is the name of the large main pond
  9. The islands on the pond represent famous Chinese and Japanese places, the largest represents the islands of Japan
  10. Kinkaku-ji is used to house relics of the Buddha (no one was allowed inside when I visited)
  11. Rokuon-ji Temple’s name comes from Rokuon-in-den; the name given to Ashikaga Yoshimitsu for the next world after his death
Kinkaku-ji

Kinkaku-ji with the Daimon-ji hill behind – Kinkaku-ji, Kyoto

Kinkaku-ji

Kinkaku-ji – Kyoto

Back to my visit

Lets just say my calm demeanour from Fushimi Inari Taisha carried through to the Temple of the Golden Pavilion.  Yes, it was bloody busy!  The photos may not show how busy it was, but I’ll take that as a sign of my improved photography skills ?.  But seriously, the place was busier than Fushimi Inari Taisha; not as a total number of people, obviously the area is much smaller but certainly less personal space.  Even so, I would go back many times over.

If someone told you about a gold leafed temple you might think kitsch, ostentatious or pretentious, at least that’s what I would think.  This, however, is a Japanese Zen Temple.  Shimmering gold on the edge of a pond, surrounded by gardens, still, not a hint of extravagance nor pomp.  Kinkaku-ji is a beautiful building, with gardens that compliment and accentuate the temple and vice versa.  In my opinion the setting of Kinkaku-ji is perfect, with all that perfection reflecting off the mirror pond. Manicured gardens of what I’ve come to call giant bonsai, look picture perfect down to every leaf.

Kinkaku-ji

Just one of the many beautifully manicured trees at Kinkaku-ji – Kyoto

Kinkaku-ji

Kinkaku-ji – Kyoto

An additional separate pond sits behind and above Kinkaku-ji, with a White Snake Pagoda perched in the middle of a solitary island.  I’ve included the link to the story of the Legend of the White Snake (White Snake Pagoda) – a Chinese mythological story dating back hundreds of years.  Another thing I spotted along the main path, is a tree called Rikushu-no-matsu.  It’s not just any tree, it’s a 600 year old pine tree which has been shaped since planted whilst Ashikaga Yoshimitsu lived at Kinkaku-ji.  Manipulated into what they call a dwarf tree, it has been fashioned into the shape of a boat.  Such patience, care and skill let alone the continuity of these traits for 600 years!  Traditions like these and the commitment to Zen are exemplified in this unique living sculpture.

Kinkaku-ji

The White Snake Pagoda – Kinkaku-ji, Kyoto

Kinkaku-ji

Rikushu-no-matsu, the 600 year old dwarf pine tree in the shape of a boat – Kinkaku-ji, Kyoto

Kinkaku-ji

Rikushu-no-matsu, dwarf pine tree sculpted and cared for over 600 years – Kinkaku-ji, Kyoto

As a final point, I hope you like the photos and I hope they do it justice.  Next post will be a mix of the little things I didn’t include in the previous posts about Kyoto, including Gion and Geishas.  That will be followed by my last two post on Japan, Himeji Castle and Hiroshima, then on to Sydney etc. etc.  If you are reading this, and like reading my blog you can sign up to email alerts on my home page.   Thank for reading.

Kyoto – Temples, Beautiful Gardens, Zen

I had a busy first full day in Kyoto (my second day in the city), visiting the Heian Shrine, Konkaikōmyōji (also known as Kurodani Temple), Ginkaku-ji, Philosophers Walk and Hōnen-in Continue Reading →

Tokyo – my last day in a great city – Part3

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Last day in Tokyo, a busy one!

My last day’s itinerary for Tokyo would be Senso-ji Temple, Denboin Gardens, Nezu Shrine, Meiji Shrine, Shibuya and Shibuya crossing.  Yes, yesterday’s hiccup with the overcharge took up most of the day.  Even so, it didn’t deter my enjoyment of my short saunter in Tokyo (Tokyo Part 2).  PS. After more emails, there was still no resolution grrrrr!

After a quick breakfast, I needed a caffeine boost to help kickstart the day.  The day before I had found a great coffee shop around the corner from the hotel.  I realised the following day it’s actually a hostel…a hostel which happens to have a great coffee shop.  Cool place, with an industrial décor, and military precision-made coffee.  What really impressed me was their meticulous approach to making the coffee; they weigh the ground coffee to ensure the precise amount is used to achieve consistency for every cup.  One of the best cups of coffee I’ve ever had.  If you ever happen to be in the area its worth visiting Berth Coffee, I’d even make a short detour.

Tokyo Skytree, Asahi Beer Hall and Asahi Flame

Tokyo Skytree, Asahi Beer Hall and Asahi Flame, the last two are part of the Asahi Breweries headquarters – Tokyo

 

Sensō-ji / Senso-ji Temple

My day commenced fuelled by rocket strength caffeine, I was moving with gusto and purpose!  First, the Buddhist temple Senso-ji, the oldest in Tokyo.  To me, temples/shrines conjure up thoughts of zen like places.  A place of meditation, reflection or simply a place for peace and quiet to escape the world.  Not so here…I’ve been to music festivals with less people!

Senso-ji is at the end of a circa. 100m walkway, shouldered with shops on either side.  These shops aren’t a recent construction for tourists, they were specifically constructed as shops early in the 18th century.  Selling arts, crafts and temple related goodies along with sunglasses and tacky stuff…anything really.  If you like trinkets this place is your jackpot, but you need to wade through a sea of people.  It may be better if you visit very early or late, that would be my recommendation.  Consequently, even the most stunning of places can lose their sheen when packed full of people.  It’s the same throughout the world, pity.

Sensō-ji

The long corridor with shops as you enter the Sensō-ji / Senso-ji Temple complex – Sensō-ji / Senso-ji Temple

Sensoji Temple

Sensō-ji / Senso-ji / Sensoji Temple

Senso-ji became an independent temple not long after World War II, prior to this its association was with Tendai of Buddhism.  In fact, temple Sensoji Kannon main temple (Bodhisattva of compassion), is said to be the most visited spiritual site in the world – 30 million people per year!  Hmmmmm…explains why it was so busy, wish I knew that before visiting.

Sensoji Temple

Beautifully painted ceiling of the Sensoji Temple – Tokyo

Tokyo

5 Story pagoda in the Sensō-ji / Senso-ji Temple complex – Tokyo

With the first temple constructed in 645 AD, it followed a prior shrine dedicated to Kannon dating back to 628.  Included in the grounds is Sensoji Kannon, a five-story pagoda, Shinto shrine and the Asakusa Shrine – that’s not all it has, with 10 temple/shrines in total.  Can’t say much else about the main area, I got to frustrated navigating through the people….so I didn’t.   Moving on, I can’t say the visit to Senso-ji Temple was enjoyable, the noise and congestion irritated me.  As a result I found myself taking photos for the sake of doing so – I hate that.

Sensoji Temple

Bronze Hokyoin-to cast in 1761 – much bigger than it looks at 8m high.  Within the grounds of the Sensoji Temple Complex

 

Denboin Garden

I lost my ticket to Denboin Garden sometime during my travels, it wasn’t expensive that’s all I do remember. Funny, even though it’s not a temple the environment is akin to one.  Denboin Garden is adjacent to the Senso-Ji complex, an inconspicuous entrance hidden away.  Looking for relief from the crowds I found it by mistake (glad I did).  My timing was perfect (lucky), because it’s only open to the public between mid-March till early-May ?.

Tokyo

Denboin Garden with the 5 story pagoda in the background – Tokyo

Keeping on the topic but going off on a tangent.  Without a doubt Japanese gardens are the most beautiful I have ever seen.  Tokyo gardens and parks are stunning, but pale in comparison to what I would see in Kyoto.  Gardens are manicured down to the blades of grass (that’s no metaphor, I saw this in Kyoto).  Still, with such pride and skill put into these pristine gardens they somehow manage to feel natural.  For this reason, some gardeners are revered in the same light as artists, Denboin Garden is a great example of this.

Denboin Garden is attributed to Kobori Enshu (1579 – 1647); an artist, celebrated garden designer and master of the tea ceremony.  A large pond filled with koi is the focal point of the garden, with a walk path around it.  Like taking a walk around a lake set in a little forest.  Within the grounds is one of the original lodgings where the monks working at the Senso-ji temple used to lived – you can see it but no entry.  It was great to get away from the hordes of people, but my time was limited, I had to a schedule to keep.  Nezu Shrine would be my next stop of the day.

Denboin Garden

Denboin Garden with the koi filled pond and the 5 story pagoda in the background – Tokyo

Tokyo

Old meets new, they do have a similarity. 5 story pagoda at Sensoji Temple and the Tokyo Skytree

 

Nezu Shrine

Visiting Nezu Shrine is secondary if you go in early April to early May, why, because the Azalea Festival is on.  WOW!  My brief time in Tokyo was a Yin Yang metaphor. Not knowing the Azalea Festival was on, because I didn’t know it existed.  Completely distracted by the vivid lush display of the garden, paying little to no attention to the Nezu Shrine.

Before I get into the Nezu Shrine (and garden!), I regret not taking more pictures on the walk from the station.  Particularly when walking passed traditional Japanese restaurants well-known for Fugu; Japanese word for the dish prepared with puffer fish.  Many chefs and staff in traditional dress standing outside, all stern looking.  My guess was it must have been their breaktime.  Sadly, I did not see this sort of thing again, hence my regret not taking photos.  For this reason, don’t be shy to take pictures if something catches your eye!  Another lesson I learnt the hard way.

Nezu Shrine

The Honden, the main shrine at the Nezu Shrine – Tokyo

 Background information; building the Nezu Shrine began in the beginning of the 18th century in Ishi-no-ma-zukuri style of Shinto architecture.  Considered of great cultural importance, it is old, famous along with being one of the oldest places of worship in Tokyo.  It is most well-known for its gardens…I’ll get to that very shortly.  At first it was located further North, “that” shrine was founded in the 1st century.  It was moved in 1705 to the current location by Tokugawa Tsunayoshi (1646–1709), by the fifth shōgun of the Tokugawa dynasty.

Nezu Shrine

The Romon at the Nezu Shrine – Tokyo

The temple complex consists of three main areas:

  • Honden – the main temple building
  • Romon – An elaborately decorative archway, a standalone structure. In this instance it acts like a gateway to the Honden
  • Torii – Look like elegant doorframes placed in many multiples to create a passageway. Mostly in red or deep bright orange

Yes, these are vague and basic descriptions – I’ll add more details about these are I post about my time in Japan – no, I won’t forget.

Torii at Nezu Shrine

My first bit of detail is about the torri.  I guess most people have seen these tunnel-like structures when looking at pictures of Japan, I certainly had.  Here would be my first opportunity to see them up close.  Their visual impact intrigues and lures you further down the rabbit hole as you walk through/under them; following the lay of the land, like a snake laterally undulating its way through the garden.

Torri

Torii tunnel at the Nezu Shrine – Tokyo

Torii come in various sizes, some are huge!  Not all are red/orange (vermillion to be precise) either.  Maybe it’s just my experience, or bad memory, but I cannot recall any small/short torii that weren’t vermillion.  At the entrance of some shrines/temples torii can me stories high, then usually make of massive timber &/or concrete.  The larger are normally singular structures, the shorter/smaller, as is the case at the Nezu Shrine are in multiples.  During my time is Kyoto I would see torii of a different kind, laid out in their thousands!

Azalea Festival

I’m not going to make stuff up about the Azalea Festival.  Like I said, I didn’t know anything about it!  That aside, you don’t need to be a horticulturalist to appreciate the beauty and colour on display.   Comparative to puffy clouds of green, red, pink, orange, purple and a sparing dash of white.  This river of colour, running through undulating gently rapids, large trees on its banks casting scattered shadows.

Nezu Shrine

Azalea Festival at the Nezu Shrine with the tunnel of torii – Tokyo

Azalea Festival

Azalea Festival at the Nezu Shrine – Tokyo

Bright vermilion torri dulled by the florescent colours emanating from millions of flowers.  From a distance the colour a solid blanket, like one massive flower ball – up close, thousands of dainty petals packed tightly together.  If your parachute didn’t open this is where you would wish to land, on a mattress made of flowers.  Just looking at it made me want to “bush-dive” onto them, it looked so soft and inviting…obviously I didn’t, nor am I advocating doing so ?!

Nezu Shrine

Nezu Shrine garden during the azalea festival, the repetitive torii below – Tokyo

Azalea Festival

Balls of azalea flowers like puffy clouds – Azalea Festival at Nezu Shrine in Tokyo

Azalea Festival

The few dashes of white against the green, pinks and reds at the Azalea Festival, the gardens of the Nezu Shrine – Tokyo

Considering Tokyo is one of the most densely populated cities, though not equally polluted nor dirty.  Nezu Shrine with its garden, is without doubt a sanctuary – a sanctuary of colour, flowers, nature and bliss, even when filled with people.  Coupled with me being mildly preoccupied about the hotel overcharge (it hadn’t been resolved), I left Nezu Shrine on cloud nine.  Walking back to the metro with effervescent floral bouquets still fresh in my nostrils and vivid in my mind.

….I hope my pictures do it justice!

Yoyogi Park

Moving on, I made my way to Shibuya to see the famous Shibuya Crossing, arriving earlier than planned.  I could have gone straight there then head back to the hotel.  Instead, taking a look on Google Maps, Yoyogi Park was less than 100m away.  Why the hell not kill time and go check it out.  Yoyogi Park combined with the grounds of Meiji Shrine may as well be the same thing.  Though large parts are, some of Meiji Shrine has separate paid entrances and fenced off.

Entering Yoyogi Park from Harajuku station is the largest wooden torri I’d seen (possibly the largest wooden one I’d see throughout my whole time in Japan).  Expecting small park paths after the torri, I couldn’t have been more wrong.  I use the word “path” loosely, I’ve seen narrower motorways!  A gravel path/road, 6 cars wide easily, leading to the Meiji Shrine.

Yoyogi Park

The huge torii at the entrance of Yoyogi Park heading to the Meiji Shrine – Tokyo

Yoyogi Park

The pedestrian “pathway” in Yoyogi Park / Meiji Shrine grounds heading to the shrine – Tokyo

Stereotypical to Japanese custom, the walk along the road was quiet despite the train of people in both directions.  A gentle crunching sound filled the air with a subtle hum coming from the grinding of gravel under foot.  Additionally, one thing stood out to me as I walked, the Japanese people don’t like to make eye contact at all.  They don’t just dim their eyes downwards, no, they dip their whole head.  In Japan this is a sign of politeness, in many other cultures it would perceived as negative.  During my short visit I found Japanese people to be very reserved and respectful, this can be misconstrued as being aloof.  However, when you do get to speak to anyone (hotel, train station, shop etc.) they are exceptionally friendly and willing to help – even if you ask a stranger on the street.

Sake

Almost forgot to tell you about the sake barrels!  These barrels add a colourful display and uniformity against the backdrop of the evergreen forest.  It goes without saying, the sake barrels are not solely there to attract tourists, Japanese don’t do things that way.  Uniquely sake and Shinto shrines have had an intrinsic relationship for hundreds of years.  Called (the sake barrels) kazaridaru when displayed near a Shinto shrine they are decorative barrels, and empty…imagine if they weren’t! ?).  Considering the ancient Japanese word for “sake” is “miki”, which in turn is a combination of the word’s “god” and “wine”.  It explains why sake is seen and used as a conduit between the gods and people.

kazaridaru

Sake barrels (kazaridaru) in Yoyogi Park heading to Meiji Shrine – Tokyo

 

Meiji Shrine

A forest surrounds Yoyogi Park and the Meiji Shrine, the latter grounds alone are 70 hectares. In fact, the park is the most visited park in Tokyo. I’ll explain shortly, why the Meiji Shrine has great significance to the Japanese.  For Edokko (meaning “people of Edo”, the term commonly used for people from Tokyo), it is the most visited shrine for hatsumōde; meaning the first Shinto shrine visited for the Japanese New Year.

torii

Another huge torii not far from the entrance to Meiji Shrine – Tokyo

Meiji Shrine is in honour of Emperor Meiji and his wife, Empress Shōken, both are deified.  However, it is not their burial site, that is just South of Kyoto. Emperor Meiji played a large role in the Meiji Restoration (Part 1) this is in large part the reason for his veneration.  After the Emperor’s death in 1912 construction started, taking 6 years to completed (1915-1921).  It’s gardens however took an additional 5 years, finishing in 1926.  During WWII Tokyo was heavily bombed destroying much of the city and the shrine.  The shrines’ rebuild was finance through public funding and concluded in October 1958.

Meiji Shrine

The Romon to the Meiji Shrine – Tokyo

Meiji Shrine

Part of the wedding procession, the bride and groom in the background – Meiji Shrine, Tokyo

Unsurprisingly, the shrine was busy when I got there.  Owing to a traditional wedding taking place, access to most of the shrine was closed to the public.  The bride and groom must either be wealthy or have high social status, that is my guess.  Personally, I think your average Joe could arrange nor afford a wedding at such a venerated shrine, maybe I’m wrong.  My rationale for this, not everyone can get married at St. Pauls, Westminster Abbey etc.  I’ve been to many weddings, this is by far the most sombre and austere.  Whoever they are I wish them longevity and happiness.

Shibuya

Back to my day, people seemed to be enjoying the weather and parks, the whole area a hive of activity.  Everything from ball games, picnics to musicians busking on the pavements, everywhere had a jovial atmosphere.  During my walk I came across a unique street performance of Japanese rockabillies between Harajuka Station to Shibuya station.  Rockabillies clad in denim, hair gelled back with high quiffs and wearing cowboy boots they danced to classic Rock ‘n Roll.  Notably their boots a testament to how much dancing they do; soles worn through, held together by layers of duct tape.  These rockabillies seemed so out of place in Tokyo, yet somehow fitting.

Central Shibuya mixes Akihabara and your bog standard shopping district, with distinctive Japanese flavour.  Including a few anime and manga places, but Shibuya isn’t known for that.  Strolling around is interesting, even with may Western brands dotted about its unmistakably Japanese.  I like Japanese signage, though I can’t explain exactly why.  It’s bright, bold with lots of colours and there is so much of it.  Creating a shockwave of light with no uniformity in size and positioned perpendicular to the buildings.  Looking down the roads it’s a kaleidoscope of colour and light, adding to the vivacious energy of Shibuya’s bustling streets.

Shibuya

Shibuya, Tokyo

 

Shibuya Crossing

It’s not often you can say going to a traffic intersection is your list of things to see, or a tourist hotspot!  Shibuya Crossing is just that, a large intersection next to Shibuya train station and it’s a tourist hotspot!  Added to the fact it’s not the biggest intersection I’ve ever seen, not by a long shot. Shibuya Crossing is somewhat a metaphor for Tokyo and the Japanese; discipline on a mass scale.  The place was packed when I got there.  Some videos themselves joining the crowds whilst crossing the road, others climbing up lampposts to get a better vantage point.  Starbucks offers one of the best views…with a long queue “buying coffee” to get a window seat to watch and watch people crossing the street – in an orderly and Japanese way.

I had no such luck in the Starbucks, nor was I willing to wait in the queue.  Instead, I found an OK spot inside Shibuya station.  Not the best of views, but away from the rugby scrum down below.  Whatever your fancy, this is an oddity of a tourist spot.  Only spending about 25 minutes at Shibuya Crossing, most of it taking up looking for an elevated position.  I was expecting more, actually, I don’t know what I was expecting…it is after all a traffic intersection.  In all fairness I wasn’t there during peak time, you wouldn’t think so judging by the amount of people.  Still, it was nice walking around Shibuya, with Shibuya Crossing simply part of the fabric of the area.

Well, that was it for Tokyo.  I was really beginning to enjoy Japan now, still no resolution on my hotels.com overcharge.  Kyoto would be my next stop.   Obviously, I’ll get into more details of why I chose Kyoto and how I got there etc.  Now, writing this post in New Zealand while visiting my brother and sister-in-law again…that’s a whole new story in itself.  Over the past month I’ve been out of kilter with my routine, totally off track with my writing too.  That in turn has demotivated me a little, but now I’m beginning to feel near normal again.

Putting some perspective on what’s yet to come; I haven’t even started on writing about my time in Sydney, New Zealand South island, Peru (some awesome archaeological sites), Bolivia (some of the most diverse and beautiful scenery), Bogota, New York, Switzerland, Munich, Italy and Greece…..LOADS more to come.  I hope you enjoyed this final snippet of Tokyo and enjoy what’s yet to come.

PS. I’ve tried a different approach/technique with my writing, you may or many not notice.  I’d be grateful for any feedback.  Thanks for reading.