Tokyo (2015) Day 3 – Part 2 – Hama-rikyu Gardens, Shibuya Station & Shopping

Naturally, we were interested in seeing other sections of the city so once again, we made our way “downtown” to the Ginza area where some decorations from the Tanabata Star Festival were in evidence.

Festival Decorations Above the Street

Our group remained intrigued by the large street crossing at Shibuya Station (reportedly the third busiest station in Tokyo and sometimes noted as the world’s busiest street crossing*) which hosts crowds waiting to cross in many different directions.

Shibuya Station Crosswalk

Shibuya Station Interesting Note

There is an underground river running under the station, to the east and parallel to the JR tracks. Unlike most other Japanese department stores, the east block of Tokyu department store (which constitutes the east exit of the station) does not have retail space in the basement because of this. An escalator in the east block built over the river stops a few steps above floor level to make space for machinery underneath without digging. Rivers are deemed public space by Japanese law, so building over one is normally illegal. It is not clear why this was allowed when it was first built in 1933. [emphasis mine ]

(Article based on Go Japan article/Wikipedia and used under the GNU Free Documentation License

As we watched the crowds, we saw that umbrellas were often used as parasols to shield the sun.

Shibuya Station Crosswalk

Below is an elevated view from inside Tokyu department store.

Shibuya Station Crosswalk - Elevated View

Also at the Shibuya Station is a park-like area where people can sit and rest in a relatively shaded area.

Shibuya Station Park Area

This park, however, is noted more for a famous statue of a dog. Hachi (Hachikō) was a very loyal Akita who so loved his owner that even after the death of his master, he remained vigilant for his return at this station each day. The people of Japan were so impressed with this display of loyalty, they erected a statue to honor his spirit.

Shibuya Station Park - Hachi Statue

You can read more about the story of Hachi at Wikipedia.

There is also a movie based loosely on the story, Hachi: A Dog’s Tale (2009)

Shortly after our stop at the crossing, we headed for the Shinbashi, district of Minato in Tokyo where we came across the curious Nippon TV Tower Building made so by the ornate sculpture(below) attached to its side. It may be difficult to determine what this is, but the Nittere Ohdokei is the world’s largest animated clock.

Nippon TV Tower Building

Below is a YouTube Video of the animation:

Another short walk brought us our third city area garden, the Hama-rikyu Gardens, but this one had a special treat in store!

Hama-rikyu Gardens near entry

The park was once an active duck hunting pond which is commemorated by this statue.

Hama-rikyu Gardens Statue of Hunter

With this history one would expect interesting and beautiful water features.

Hama-rikyu Gardens pond area

As we strolled past the lawn and shrub areas…

Hama-rikyu Gardens shrub and lawn area

we could see “the treat” (a quaint old-style building) in the distance.

Hama-rikyu Gardens Old-style building

It was a traditional Japanese Tea House. Yama, our guide, explained the rituals associated with having tea in this setting.

Hama-rikyu Gardens Tea House

As you can see below, this was green tea, very green tea!

Tea House Green Tea and Cake

The tea was not bitter, but it was far from sweet. The cake served with it, however, was very sweet and when eaten with sips of the tea, proved palatable although our western tastes were not accustomed to the nuances.

Some patrons dressed in a more traditional garb.

Woman dressed in traditional Japanese garb

Woman dressed in traditional Japanese garb

A view from the outside deck of the tea house was a reminder of the city location of this tranquil venue.

Cityscape seen from the gardens

A very intriguing feature of the garden is this pine tree which was planted in 1709 and thus more than 300 years old.

300 year old pine tree

A short walk from the garden was a building I was very interested in examining, the Nakagin Capsule Tower designed by architect Kisho Kurokawa. This was a very innovative building for its time. (seen in the middle of the picture below with the stacks of cube-like blocks.)

Nakagin Capsule Tower

The building was designed to enable the compartments to be detachable, replaceable and connectable to accommodate various needs.

Closer look at the Nakagin Capsule Tower individual cubes

The building has been quarantined as there are asbestos and other structural issues although it was my understanding that it is still used by a few people.

Closer look at the Nakagin Capsule Tower individual cubes with netting

Tokyo has many new buildings that are beautiful as well as functional. The modern architecture provides a strong contrast to the older buildings and long history of the city.

Modern building in Tokyo

Of course what would a visit to a special place be without a souvenir or two (or even three)? So off we went to another city area for some shopping. The scene pictured below was typical.

Typical street view of a Tokyo shopping area.

Many of the young girls appeared to be more “dressed up” for a trip to the city area and often wore hats. This is another example of a small umbrella serving as a parasol.

Young Japanese woman carrying an umbrella parasol

In preparation for our visit, we read that Japan had artistic sewer covers.

Intricate Japanese sewer cover

In America, we have so many commodities from Japan, that this sign advertising pork “raised from high quality grain from fertile American soils” appeared noteworthy.

Train station ad featuring American fertile soil

After a rest at the hotel and dinner, there was some exploration of the area to be had this evening of our last day in Tokyo!

Evening scene near the Keio Plaza Hotel Tokyo


Read more about our trip to Japan in 2015: originally published this post

Tokyo (2015) Day 3 – Part 1 – Shinjuku Gyoen Garden and Harajuku St.

For our third day in Tokyo, arrangements were made for a personal guide. Her name was Yama which she explained meant mountain in Japanese. She was delightful and very knowledgeable and it was much fun to share the day with her. The first stop on this day was the Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden and one of the first sightings was the old, quaint-looking Groundskeeper’s Cottage.

Grounds Keeper's Cottage

As we walked along the path, Yama related some of the history of the garden which originated in the Edo period and has undergone many revisions. One indication of the age of the garden was the size of the tree trunks.

Large, old tree trunk with moss

As Better Homes and Gardens indicates, “Japanese gardens combine the basic elements of plants, water, and rocks with simple, clean lines to create a tranquil retreat.**”, and this garden had a number of water features. The turtles are also a cultural symbol of longevity and they were in evidence as we strolled along the ponds.

Swimming Turtle

Strategically placed arched bridges allowing for reflections are also a common feature in Japanese gardens.

Bridge over narrow area of pond

Large bridge over wide area of pond separating two garden areas

Another popular feature is the lantern or Tōrō that we described in our previous posts.

Tōrō  or Japanese lantern near water feature

As we wandered along we were reminded from time-to-time that we were still within a large city.

Modern buildings loom above the garden

Skyscrapers visible above the trees

This pagoda-like structure, a traditional tea house, provided a very nice stopping point and offered numerous photo opportunities.

Traditional Tea House close view

Traditional Tea House, wider view

As we were circling back to the area from which we entered, we came across a group of young girls seemingly preparing for a more formal event or celebration.

Girls Dressed Up in the Park

Before we left the garden, we stopped at the visitor’s center to cool off a bit and to use the amenities. I noticed a vending machine which appeared to be offering meals of many varieties which could be selected from the charts to the right!

Meal Vending Machine

We appreciated that we were on vacation while others needed to attend to their rituals of daily living as evidenced by this young girl presumably with her dad perhaps going to, or coming from school.

Young girl with dad

Next, it was off to the subway

Subway map

The subways had several unique features. The yellow squres are actually imprinted walkways with raised dots. The raised areas could be felt through shoes and are used to guide the visually impaired.

Yellow pathways for the visually impaired

We also noted caretakers cleaning the various structures.

Subway worker cleaning

This young man was dutifully waiting in a designated line to enter a specific train car or area. Notice the blue and white lines which I understood indicated where different train sections/cars would align. Standing closer to the tracks than this area is discouraged.

Man standing in line for train

Exiting the subway, we were only a short walk away from the famous Harajuki St. where the young and trendy congregate. (So what was I doing there?)

A main entrance to Harajuki St

It was crowded.

Crowds in Harajuki St.

This shop is indicative of the type of apparel that was for sale.

Clothing Store on Harajuki St.

Of further appeal to the younger crowd were the popular Japanese anime style banners which has also attracted the appreciation of some of the older groups.

Anime Banner

And what trendy area would be without a Starbucks?

Starbucks at Harajuki St.

To be continued…


Read more about our trip to Japan in 2015: originally published this post

Tokyo (2015) Day 1 – Wrapping Up

NOTE: This is part of a serialized narrative of a 2015 Japanese vacation. Please see below for links to previous postings.

Our group had a very busy first day in Tokyo especially considering the traveling involved the day before. To wrap up our day, we strolled a bit through the Ginza section of Tokyo.

On the way, we passed this modern-looking clock/sculpture portrayed here in a black and white image of Taro Okamoto’s Young Clock Tower.

Okamoto's Young Clock Tower

We walked through the Ginza Mitukoshi department store where a master craftsman metal artist was creating a teapot as we watched.

Teapot craftsman

Teapot craftsman

We noted some of the intersections had a multitude of crosswalks and once the traffic stopped, people walked across the street in many directions including diagonally. Look at all of the crossing lanes in the picture below!

A Multitude of Crosswalks Even Diaagonally

The unique building below is a Koban or Japanese “Police Box” (as they are some times called) located at the Sukiyabashi Traffic Square. When it comes to “Police Boxes,” this is sometimes referred to as the Jewel of the Ginza Strip because of its location and probably the cost of the real estate upon which it is built! One article suggested that there are 6,509 koban throughout Japan (see this link)

Sukiyabashi Traffic Square Police Station - Koban

It was a long day and our troop was very tired, but happy and full of wonder as we pondered all that we had seen and done. We were a little rag-tagged, but were heading back to the hotel to rest and prepare for the next day.

Here was the scene from our hotel window upon our late afternoon return. The Tokyo Sky Tree has a prominent place at the rear!

Looking East from our Hotel Window in the Afternoon

…And a sneak peak at the sunrise the next morning!

Tokyo (2015) Day 1 – Meiji Shrine

Tokyo (2015) Day 1 – Imperial Palace East Gardens

Tokyo (2015) Day 1 – Sensoji (Asakusa Kannon) Buddhist Temple originally published this post

Tokyo (2015) Day 1 – Imperial Palace East Gardens

After we visited the Meiji Shrine in Tokyo, we boarded the bus and headed for the Imperial Palace East Gardens.

The Imperial Palace East Garden (Kokyo Higashi Gyoen Garden) stands on part of the former grounds of the Edo Castle and has been open to the public since 1968. The Imperial Palace is the official home of Japan’s emperor and imperial family.

Close to the Ote-mon Gate entrance to the garden is a statue of a Fire Fish (Shachi) which is used as a talisman to ward off dangers from fire. Edo, now Tokyo, had numerous fires and is sometimes known as the “City of Fires.” Fire Fish can be traditionally found on rooftops or near entrance ways.
Fire Fish to ward off fires

Remnants of the ancient stone wall used to protect the castle and which also served as part of original foundation now stand as the outer perimeter of the palace and castle grounds.

Stone wall surrounding the garden grounds

Stone wall surrounding the garden grounds

One of the guard houses on the garden/palace grounds.
Guard House

Decorative roof tiles atop the guard house.

Guard's quarters roof tiles

An ornate lamp post reminds us of the artistry of times since passed.

Ornate lamp post

The shades of light and dark pink stood in contrast to the palette of greens.

Garden grounds with flowering shrubs

Many Japanese gardens contain a tōrō or “light basket.” These traditional lanterns can be made from a variety of materials such as wood or stone. Stone lanterns found their way to Japan from other oriental cultures and were originally used in temples and shrines as votives or to light pathways, but have since found a place as a more general purpose decoration.

Stone Japanese Lantern

The beauty of the garden grounds, even on this overcast and rainy day, brought artists to the park.

Artists working in the garden

Another artist sits in harmony with the solitude of the pond.
Solo artist drawing by the pond

Nearby, koi could be seen swimming in and around a walking bridge.
Koi swimming in the pond

The Suwa no chaya is a tea house that was reconstructed in its original location in 1912 and moved to its current location when the East Garden was developed.

East Garden reconstructed tea house

Among the gardens was a stand of bamboo.

Stand of bamboo at the garden

A closer view reveals the variety of colors and textures.
Bamboo close up

A groundskeeper’s bicycle with an old-fashioned broom, still used to sweep the grounds in many of the Japanese parks, awaits the trip hoome.
Groundskeepr's bicycle with a switch broom

As we were leaving the garden grounds, I took a picture of the city area of Tokyo in which the Imperial Palace is located and which shows part of the moat that served to protect the Edo Castle.

Tokyo city area near the East Gardens originally published this post

See previous post about The Meiji Shrine

Tokyo (2015) Day 1 – Meiji Shrine

Last summer my wife and I were part of a group of friends who traveled to Japan together. We stayed three plus days in Tokyo and then boarded a cruise ship for other ports of call in Japan.


Waiting to Board the Plane to Tokyo

We were excited to be going to a country where the culture is reported to be significantly different than our American way of living and to be sharing this experience and time away with dear friends.

The flight was long, needless to say, and the day after we arrived we were anxious to get an early start. Unfortunately, the weather was a bit dreary. This is the view out of our window at the Keio Plaza Hotel, Tokyo that day. The hotel was a beautiful, modern facility that provided superb service and was very welcoming to westerners.

First day view from the Keio Plaza Hotel,Tokyo

Notice the tall structure way in the back. That is known as the Tokyo Sky Tree built in 2010 which is a broadcasting, restaurant and observation tower. There is a bit of confusion because Tokyo has another tall structure called the Tokyo Tower which is an older (1958) communications and observation tower located more centrally (but more about that in another post).

Decorated personal fan on the bus

We boarded a bus to begin our adventures. First up was the Meiji Jingu Shrine (Shinto). Because this was the summer, nearly every bus had personal fans to be used by the passengers until the air conditioning “kicked in” or in the event it just wasn’t cool enough.

Like any metropolitan area, there is usually something interesting to see along the way while looking out the window. This modernesque motorcyclist stopped alongside us as we waited for a red light to change.

modern motorcyclist

Along the way we passed some interesting and quite different construction barriers.

Interesting construction barriers

Although the day was just getting started, some on our bus, like this young fellow being comforted by his sister, were a bit tired.

Younger brother sleeping on sister's lap

The first impressive sight one sees as they approach the shrine’s park area is the torii (gate) from of an old cypress and which marks the entry to the shrine grounds. Torii are used to signify a sacred area.

Torri gate to the shrine park entrance

As we walked the pathway toward the main building, the rain became more plentiful, but did not detract from the beauty of the area.

water and leaves flowing in the drainage area making a pretty picture

I appreciate the design elements used in various countries like the top of this light post along the path.

Lamp post top shaped like a small house

Approaching the main shrine area, visitors encounter colorful, stacked sake barrels. These are donated by the various sake brewers in Japan to honor the deities and underscore the use of sake as part of some of the religious ceremonies.

Colorful sake barrels on display

a closeup of colorful sake barrels on display

Across from the array of sake barrels is an impressive line up of wine barrels. Emperor Meiji was interested in embracing some aspects of western culture such as enjoying wine with his food. The wineries of Bourgogne, France have gifted barrels of wine to the shrine in the spirit of promoting world peace and friendship.

Wine barrels given to Japan from France as a token of friendship

There are several large trees in the courtyard as one approaches the main shrine entryway. These two trees have a rope strung across them with paper cutouts hanging from the rope.

Large tree used for ceremonial purposes

Shimenawa rope is used for ritual purification in the Shinto religion and is often decorated with zig-zagged shaped paper (Shide) resembling lightning bolts. These elements mark a sacred place.

Closeup of rope and paper shapes used in purification rituals

In the courtyard visitors can purchase ema which are wooden placards containing wishes or prayers of those who visit or worship at the shrine. These need not be too serious and some may contain messages asking for forgiveness from a loved one, etc.

Wooden prayer or wishing placards

Notice how many of the placards are shaped in the form of a house with a slanted roof.
Wishing placards are shaped like little houses

Another torii at the entrance to the Meiji Shrine complex.

Torii at the entrance to the Meiji Shrine complex

The main building of the Meiji Shrine

main building of the Meiji Shrine

Our guide explained that this wooden post has many small nicks on it, which show as black marks, caused by coins being tossed at it during some of the ceremonies held at the shrine.

Wooden post with ceremonial nicks from coins hitting it

Carved wooden door medallion detail

More interesting design elements:
Above – A carved medallion that adorned this wooden door.
Below – An ornately designed light on the outside of the main hall.

Decorative lamp with gold elements

Many of the attractions and places of interest in Japan draw large numbers of people and thus each docent needs a way to enable visitors to keep an eye on them or to locate them in these crowded areas. The guides usually have a telescoping rod or long pole to which they attach a personal token. As we returned to the parking lot, our guide was raising her stuffed bear aloft for us to see.

Personal token used to allow tourists to watch for their guide

We boarded the bus and headed for our next adventure this day, The Imperial Palace East Garden. Watch for more posts about our trip to Japan!

Photographers Note: Because of the rain this day, most of these pictures were taken with my very old Canon PowerShot A590 IS, 8 MP point and shoot; mainly jpegs. originally published this post