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Bunkyo Azalea Festival at the Nezu Shrine

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Bunkyo Azalea Festival At The Nezu Shrine

From late April to mid May, the garden of the Nezu Shrine bursts into life, as thousands of azalea bushes bloom, dabbing the green hills with their rainbow-colored foliage. This garden is over three hundred years old and contains a hundred different species of azalea. Nezu’s Azalea Festival is a highly-anticipated event, and when the flowers are in full bloom, the garden can get extremely crowded. Whether cherry trees or azaleas, it seems nothing drives Tokyo crazier than blossoming flowers.

Location on our Map

Our Article About the Cherry Blossom Season In Tokyo

Bunkyo Azalea Festival At The Nezu Shrine
Bunkyo Azalea Festival At The Nezu Shrine
Bunkyo Azalea Festival At The Nezu Shrine
Bunkyo Azalea Festival At The Nezu Shrine
Bunkyo Azalea Festival At The Nezu Shrine
Bunkyo Azalea Festival At The Nezu Shrine
Bunkyo Azalea Festival At The Nezu Shrine
Bunkyo Azalea Festival At The Nezu Shrine
Bunkyo Azalea Festival At The Nezu Shrine
Bunkyo Azalea Festival At The Nezu Shrine
Bunkyo Azalea Festival At The Nezu Shrine
Bunkyo Azalea Festival At The Nezu Shrine
Bunkyo Azalea Festival At The Nezu Shrine
Bunkyo Azalea Festival At The Nezu Shrine
Bunkyo Azalea Festival At The Nezu Shrine
Bunkyo Azalea Festival At The Nezu Shrine
Bunkyo Azalea Festival At The Nezu Shrine
Bunkyo Azalea Festival At The Nezu Shrine
Bunkyo Azalea Festival At The Nezu Shrine
Bunkyo Azalea Festival At The Nezu Shrine
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July 12, 2014 at 4:32 pm Comment (1)

The Beckoning Cats of Gotoku-ji Temple

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The Maneki Neko, or “Beckoning Cat,” is one of Japan’s most iconic images. Thought to bring luck and prosperity to their owners, these cats are frequently found outside businesses and within homes. And in the neighborhood of Setagaya, we found the Gotoku-ji temple, where the Maneki Neko plays a starring role.

The Cat Temple In Tokyo

Japan’s most famous cat has a few origin stories, one of which is set in Setagaya. Long ago, a lord who had been travelling to Edo was starting to feel weary. As he passed the Gotoku-ji temple, a cat caught his attention and seemed to beckon him inside. As soon as he followed the cat into the temple, a thunderstorm broke out and lightning struck the ground, exactly in the spot where he had been standing. He was so happy with his good luck, that he donated a small fortune to the Gotoku-ji and had it made into his family temple.

Worshipers at the Gotoku-ji often bring a Maneki Neko statue to leave for good luck at one of the shrines. The result is surreal, with hundreds of cats sitting atop a set of shelves. Except in size, they’re are all identical, exactly the same model with the same paw raised and the same beatific expression on their faces. Cats which don’t fit the strict criteria are removed by the temple’s staff.

Location on our Map

Buy One Of The Cat Photos From This Temple As Framed Art

The Cat Temple In Tokyo
The Cat Temple In Tokyo
The Cat Temple In Tokyo
The Cat Temple In Tokyo
The Cat Temple In Tokyo
The Cat Temple In Tokyo
The Cat Temple In Tokyo
The Cat Temple In Tokyo
The Cat Temple In Tokyo
The Cat Temple In Tokyo
The Cat Temple In Tokyo
The Cat Temple In Tokyo
The Cat Temple In Tokyo
The Cat Temple In Tokyo
The Cat Temple In Tokyo
The Cat Temple In Tokyo
The Cat Temple In Tokyo
The Cat Temple In Tokyo
The Cat Temple In Tokyo
The Cat Temple In Tokyo
The Cat Temple In Tokyo
The Cat Temple In Tokyo
The Cat Temple In Tokyo
The Cat Temple In Tokyo
The Cat Temple In Tokyo
The Cat Temple In Tokyo
The Cat Temple In Tokyo
The Cat Temple In Tokyo
The Cat Temple In Tokyo
The Cat Temple In Tokyo
The Cat Temple In Tokyo
The Cat Temple In Tokyo
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July 7, 2014 at 4:33 pm Comments (4)

Sengaku-ji and the 47 Ronin

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On a wintry night in 1703, the 47 loyal retainers of Lord Asano fought their way into the home of Lord Kira and struck him down. With the decapitated head of their enemy in tow, they marched slowly back through the streets of Edo, headed for Shinagawa and the Sengaku-ji temple, where they would lay Kira’s head at the foot of Lord Asano’s grave. Their mission of revenge complete, the ronin would soon take their own lives.

Sengaku-ji Temple & 47 Ronin

The true story of the 47 Ronin, or the Chōshingura as it’s known in Japan, has become the country’s most beloved legend. Everyone likes a good tale of honor and revenge, and this is as good as they get.

Lord Asano Naganori had been asked by the Shogun to receive emissaries from Kyoto. It was a delicate task, and Asano first had to be trained in proper court etiquette by Edo official Kira Yoshinaka. A corrupt and arrogant man, Kira despised having to deal with Asano, whom he considered a country bumpkin, and constantly berated and insulted him. Asano bore the abuse as long as possible, but eventually became so enraged that he snapped, striking a glancing blow with his katana across the back of Kira’s neck. Unsheathing one’s sword in Edo Castle was absolutely forbidden, and punishable by death. Honorable Asano recognized his crime and committed the ritualized form of suicide known as seppuku.

The 47 samurai who had been under the charge of Asano now became ronin, meaning “masterless samurai,” and they swore to take revenge on the man who had brought about the death of their lord. On January 30th, 1703, the ronin stole through Edo and fought their way into Kira’s house. They killed sixteen guards and, after finding Kira hiding in the courtyard, hacked off his head with a dagger.

As they returned to Shinagawa with Kira’s head, the ronin were hailed by the townspeople on the streets as heroes. Kira had been a reviled figure, and the story of Lord Asano’s death was familiar to most of Edo at the time. On arriving at the Sengaku-ji, they washed Kira’s head in a fountain and laid it on Asano’s grave. The ronin fully understood what the punishment would be for the premeditated murder of a court official and, like their master, met their fate honorably by committing seppuku. Also like their master, they were buried in the Sengaku-ji.

Today, you can visit the graves of both Lord Asano and his loyal samurai in a small cemetery on the temple grounds. The Sengaku-ji itself is a lovely place of worship, and its central role in one of Japan’s most historic tales makes it even more special. Standing before the tombstones of the ronin, all of them equal in size and shape, it’s nearly impossible not to feel moved.

The tale of the 47 Ronin is a popular subject of Kabuki theater, and has been brought to film a number of times, most recently in 2013, with Keanu Reeves starring as a fictional half-English ronin named “Kai.” This rendition was savaged by critics, and the best film treatment of the story remains Kenji Mizoguchi’s 1941 version.

Location of the Sengaku-ji on our Map

Read All About The 47 Ronin

Sengaku-ji Temple & 47 Ronin
Sengaku-ji Temple & 47 Ronin
Sengaku-ji Temple & 47 Ronin
Sengaku-ji Temple & 47 Ronin
Sengaku-ji Temple & 47 Ronin
Sengaku-ji Temple & 47 Ronin
Sengaku-ji Temple & 47 Ronin
Sengaku-ji Temple & 47 Ronin
Sengaku-ji Temple & 47 Ronin
Sengaku-ji Temple & 47 Ronin
Sengaku-ji Temple & 47 Ronin
Sengaku-ji Temple & 47 Ronin
Sengaku-ji Temple & 47 Ronin
Sengaku-ji Temple & 47 Ronin
Sengaku-ji Temple & 47 Ronin
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June 20, 2014 at 4:15 pm Comment (1)

Nagatacho, Ark Hills and the Hie Shrine

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Nagatacho is the administrative center of the Japanese government. Ark Hills is a massive complex combining condominiums, shopping and entertainment. And the Hie Shrine is a peaceful place of worship on a wooded hill. We visited these three adjacent, but completely different, spots during one long day in south-central Tokyo.

Nagatacho, Ark Hills and the Hie Shrine

We had been excited about Nagatacho, but picked the wrong day to visit. It was April 29th, Showa Day, a holiday on which the Japanese are encouraged to reflect on their government. And since Nagatacho is the location of most of Japan’s national legislative bodies, we assumed that it would be lively. But except for a couple joggers and security personnel, it was a ghost town. Showa Day is not among the celebrations for which the Japanese go wild, at least not in Nagatacho.

We wandered about the empty streets for a while, looking at our map. “So this is the Ministry of Finance. There’s the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.” It was dull. The National Diet Building (Parliament) is nice to look at, but it’s nothing you’re going to remember for the rest of your days. You can walk past the entrance gate to the Prime Minister’s residence, but you can’t really see it. If you’re Japanese, these places might have some meaning to you, but as a foreigner, and especially on Showa Day, Nagatacho was underwhelming.

Nagatacho, Ark Hills and the Hie Shrine

So when we first got to Ark Hills, it felt like a breath of fresh air. There were people and cafes and things to do! But the novelty soon wore off. This modern complex was built for Tokyo’s richest residents and it’s exactly the kind of place we tend to dislike. There’s a concert hall, an upscale mall, Italian restaurants, loads of Western faces, and even a helipad, so the good people of Ark Hills can get directly to the airport without ever having to step foot outside their comfort zone.

Nagatacho, Ark Hills and the Hie Shrine

By the afternoon, we were miserable. The day had been a complete bust, and a busted day in Tokyo is frustrating, since there are so many awesome things which we could have done instead. Unwilling to give up, we decided to search out the Hie Shrine, and it’s a good thing we did. At the top of a tall hill, accessed by a staircase covered in a hundred torii gates, this shrine isn’t the biggest or most impressive we’ve ever seen, but it was lively (unlike Nagatacho) and genuine (unlike Ark Hills). Its museum displaying swords that belonged to the Tokugawa Shoguns was closed (grrr… Showa Day!), but we still enjoyed the short time we spent here.

Locations on our Map: National Diet Building | Ark Hills | Hie Shrine

List of over 500 Hotels in Tokyo

Nagatacho, Ark Hills and the Hie Shrine
Nagatacho, Ark Hills and the Hie Shrine
Nagatacho, Ark Hills and the Hie Shrine
Nagatacho, Ark Hills and the Hie Shrine
Nagatacho, Ark Hills and the Hie Shrine
Nagatacho, Ark Hills and the Hie Shrine
Nagatacho, Ark Hills and the Hie Shrine
Nagatacho, Ark Hills and the Hie Shrine
Nagatacho, Ark Hills and the Hie Shrine
Nagatacho, Ark Hills and the Hie Shrine
Nagatacho, Ark Hills and the Hie Shrine
Nagatacho, Ark Hills and the Hie Shrine
Nagatacho, Ark Hills and the Hie Shrine
Nagatacho, Ark Hills and the Hie Shrine
Nagatacho, Ark Hills and the Hie Shrine
Nagatacho, Ark Hills and the Hie Shrine
Nagatacho, Ark Hills and the Hie Shrine
Nagatacho, Ark Hills and the Hie Shrine
Nagatacho, Ark Hills and the Hie Shrine
Nagatacho, Ark Hills and the Hie Shrine
Nagatacho, Ark Hills and the Hie Shrine
Nagatacho, Ark Hills and the Hie Shrine
Nagatacho, Ark Hills and the Hie Shrine
Nagatacho, Ark Hills and the Hie Shrine
Nagatacho, Ark Hills and the Hie Shrine
Nagatacho, Ark Hills and the Hie Shrine
Nagatacho, Ark Hills and the Hie Shrine
Nagatacho, Ark Hills and the Hie Shrine
Nagatacho, Ark Hills and the Hie Shrine
Nagatacho, Ark Hills and the Hie Shrine
Nagatacho, Ark Hills and the Hie Shrine
Nagatacho, Ark Hills and the Hie Shrine
Nagatacho, Ark Hills and the Hie Shrine
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June 16, 2014 at 7:28 am Comments (5)

Fukagawa’s Fudo-do Temple and Tomioka Hachiman Shrine

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By lunch, the historic neighborhood of Fukagawa had already provided us with a surprisingly entertaining day, and we still had a couple things to visit after eating. The Fudo-do Temple dates from 1703, and the nearby Tomioka Hachiman Shrine is famous for its connection to the world of sumo.

Fukagawa’s Fudo-do Temple and Tomioka Hachiman Shrine

We passed through a red torii gate to gain access to the Fudo-do Temple, which is dedicated to a scowling, fang-toothed deity named Fudōmyō. There’s no mistaking the god’s importance to the people who worship here. Along with his giant wooden representation in the center of the temple, there are nearly 10,000 miniature statues of Fudōmyō enshrined in the walls of an interior passageway.

The temple is big, and there is a lot to see here, including an upstairs gallery dedicated to various Buddhist deities and relics. And it was crowded, mostly with Japanese tourists less interested in worship than snapping pictures. Unfortunately, we weren’t in time for one of the Fudo-do’s famous rituals, during which priests pound on huge drums and burn sticks of cedar called goma.

Fukagawa’s Fudo-do Temple and Tomioka Hachiman Shrine

Across the street from the Fudo-do is another interesting place of worship: the Tomioka Hachiman Shrine, dedicated to the Japanese god of battle. This is believed to the birthplace of modern sumo tournaments, having been the location of the first official tournament, in 1684. The shrine is beautiful, set in a small wooded park through which a stream runs. Toward the back you can find the Sumo Stones, where the names of the most highly-decorated wrestlers have been inscribed.

Locations on our Map: Fudo-do | Tomioka Hachiman

Our High Res Images From Tokyo

More Photos from the Fudo-do
Fukagawa’s Fudo-do Temple and Tomioka Hachiman Shrine
Fukagawa’s Fudo-do Temple and Tomioka Hachiman Shrine
Fukagawa’s Fudo-do Temple and Tomioka Hachiman Shrine
Fukagawa’s Fudo-do Temple and Tomioka Hachiman Shrine
Fukagawa’s Fudo-do Temple and Tomioka Hachiman Shrine
Fukagawa’s Fudo-do Temple and Tomioka Hachiman Shrine
Fukagawa’s Fudo-do Temple and Tomioka Hachiman Shrine
Fukagawa’s Fudo-do Temple and Tomioka Hachiman Shrine
Fukagawa’s Fudo-do Temple and Tomioka Hachiman Shrine
Fukagawa’s Fudo-do Temple and Tomioka Hachiman Shrine
Fukagawa’s Fudo-do Temple and Tomioka Hachiman Shrine
More Photos from the Tomioka Hachiman
Fukagawa’s Fudo-do Temple and Tomioka Hachiman Shrine
Fukagawa’s Fudo-do Temple and Tomioka Hachiman Shrine
Fukagawa’s Fudo-do Temple and Tomioka Hachiman Shrine
Fukagawa’s Fudo-do Temple and Tomioka Hachiman Shrine
Fukagawa’s Fudo-do Temple and Tomioka Hachiman Shrine
Fukagawa’s Fudo-do Temple and Tomioka Hachiman Shrine
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June 14, 2014 at 9:34 am Comments (0)

Zojo-ji and the Shiba Garden

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Today, it’s hidden in the shadow of the Tokyo Tower, but the temple of Zojo-ji was once among the grandest in Japan. This was the Tokugawa clan’s favored place of worship, and the resting place of many shoguns. We visited the temple on Buddha’s birthday and, afterwards, took time to check out the nearby Shiba Detached Palace Garden.

Zojo-ji

The fact that we were visiting the Zojo-ji on Buddha’s birthday was a coincidence. (Until Buddha accepts my friend request on Facebook, I can’t be expected to remember his birthday.) But we lucked out: April 8th is one of the few days in the year when the temple opens the doors to the Tokugawa Mausoleum, where six shoguns are buried. It’s always fun to enter a place that’s normally off-limits, so it hardly mattered that we couldn’t read the names on the tombstones.

When the Meiji Empire came into power, the Zojo-ji found itself in a precarious position, thanks to its importance to the hated Tokugawas. The new emperor began promoting Shinto over Buddhism, and forced the temple to relinquish over 90% of its land, dispersing thousands of the monks who lived there. In a brazen show of disrespect, the bones of the buried Tokugawa Shoguns were disinterred and moved to a tiny plot in the corner. Furthermore, the temple was targeted by newly-empowered Shinto hardliners, who set fire to many of its buildings.

But although the Zojo-ji has lost its former grandeur, it still manages to impress. The main hall, a 1972 re-construction of the original, is massive and minimalist, with a beautiful golden shrine in the center. Behind the hall, there’s a cemetery which has the Tokyo Tower for a backdrop. And to the side, in front of the Tokugawa Mausoleum, are hundreds of Jizo statues lined up in a row. Decorated with bonnets, flowers, toys and even winter coats, these are dedicated to unborn children.

Takeshiba Pier And Shiba Gardens

After scarfing down a quick lunch of noodles from one of the stands which surround the temple, we walked down the street, past the World Trade Center, and into the Shiba Detached Palace Garden. Like the nearby Hama Detached Palace Garden, this was private land until the Meiji takeover and the fact that it’s been preserved in the middle of an area of such transformative growth is remarkable. After paying a small entrance fee, we walked along the park’s looping path, past an archery range, around a pond and over a couple hobbit-like hills.

Takeshiba Pier And Shiba Gardens

The Shiba neighborhood of Tokyo has a lot to recommend it, and a carefully-planned day spent here can be rewarding. Atago Hill and the NHK Broadcast Museum in the morning. Then Tokyo Tower, after which you’ll have time to get to your lunch reservations at the tofu restaurant Tofuya-Ukai. After a tour of Zojo-ji and the Shiba Gardens, you’ll be tired, but perhaps you can manage a quick jaunt to the Takeshiba Pier to see the boats leaving for the Izu Islands. Finally, you can take in the sunset from the World Trade Center’s observation deck. That sounds to me like a perfect day in Tokyo.

Locations on our Map: Zojo-ji Temple | Shiba Detached Palace Garden

Framed Tokyo Photos

More Photos from the Zojo-Ji
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More Photos from the Shiba Gardens and the Takeshiba Pier
Takeshiba Pier And Shiba Gardens
Takeshiba Pier And Shiba Gardens
Takeshiba Pier And Shiba Gardens
Takeshiba Pier And Shiba Gardens
Takeshiba Pier And Shiba Gardens
Takeshiba Pier And Shiba Gardens
Takeshiba Pier And Shiba Gardens
Takeshiba Pier And Shiba Gardens
Takeshiba Pier And Shiba Gardens
Takeshiba Pier And Shiba Gardens
Takeshiba Pier And Shiba Gardens
Takeshiba Pier And Shiba Gardens
Takeshiba Pier And Shiba Gardens
Takeshiba Pier And Shiba Gardens
Takeshiba Pier And Shiba Gardens
Takeshiba Pier And Shiba Gardens
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May 27, 2014 at 1:22 am Comment (1)

Atago Hill and the NHK Broadcast Museum

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There was a time when one could see the entirety of Tokyo, or Edo as it was then known, from atop Atago Hill. Today the view is obscured by a wall of skyscrapers, but climbing the steep hill is still worth the effort, thanks to the presence of the Atago Shrine and the adjacent NHK Broadcast Museum.

Atago Hill and the NHK Broadcast Museum

I’m not a religious person at all, and not affiliated with any sort of church. However, if there were some sort of Global Anti-Atheism Law which forced me to choose a religion or die, Shintō would be a contender. I decided this while strolling through the gardens of the Atago Shrine. All I’d have to do is occasionally visit a beautiful park like this, wash my hands, and clap a couple times? I might already be a convert!

Atago Shrine is nice enough to make anyone a believer. A tiny oasis of peace in the middle of the city, it’s the kind of place whose existence hardly seems possible. At the bottom of the stairs, there’s Tokyo, with its attendant traffic, noise, and stress. And at the top, another world. There are woods, fountains, guardian statues and, in the koi pond, hilariously frantic carp crawling over each other in pursuit of food.

Thanks to the view it once commanded, Atago Hill has seen its share of history. It was here that the Tokugawa Shogunate peacefully surrendered to the Meiji Empire. The looming war was likely unwinnable, and looking out over his threatened city prompted the shogun to raise the white flag. “Honor in the face of defeat” would prove a popular mantra at Atago. After Japan’s capitulation in World War II, ten military commanders chose the hill as the site for a ritual suicide.

Atago Hill and the NHK Broadcast Museum

Having finished up at the shrine, we turned our attention to a more modern religion: television. NHK, the Japanese Broadcasting Corporation, runs a free museum in the building where the country’s first television broadcasts went out. Spread across four floors and focusing on the early days of the technology, it was more entertaining than we expected it to be, with interactive displays and frequent appearances by Domo, NHK’s lovable mascot.

Locations on our Map: Atago Shrine | NHK Broadcasting Museum

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Atago Hill and the NHK Broadcast Museum
Atago Hill and the NHK Broadcast Museum
Atago Hill and the NHK Broadcast Museum
Atago Hill and the NHK Broadcast Museum
Atago Hill and the NHK Broadcast Museum
Atago Hill and the NHK Broadcast Museum
Atago Hill and the NHK Broadcast Museum
Atago Hill and the NHK Broadcast Museum
Atago Hill and the NHK Broadcast Museum
Atago Hill and the NHK Broadcast Museum
Atago Hill and the NHK Broadcast Museum
Atago Hill and the NHK Broadcast Museum
Atago Hill and the NHK Broadcast Museum
Atago Hill and the NHK Broadcast Museum
Atago Hill and the NHK Broadcast Museum
Atago Hill and the NHK Broadcast Museum
Atago Hill and the NHK Broadcast Museum
Atago Hill and the NHK Broadcast Museum
Atago Hill and the NHK Broadcast Museum
Atago Hill and the NHK Broadcast Museum
Atago Hill and the NHK Broadcast Museum
Atago Hill and the NHK Broadcast Museum
Atago Hill and the NHK Broadcast Museum
Atago Hill and the NHK Broadcast Museum
Atago Hill and the NHK Broadcast Museum
Atago Hill and the NHK Broadcast Museum
Atago Hill and the NHK Broadcast Museum
Atago Hill and the NHK Broadcast Museum
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May 18, 2014 at 11:29 am Comments (2)

The Temples of Meguro

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We only visited Meguro because of its reputation as a great spot to view cherry blossoms. But while there, we figured we should see more, and embarked on a walk that took us to four of the neighborhood’s temples.

Daien-ji Shrine Tokyo

On the eastern side of the Meguro River, we encountered the Daien-ji, which has the dubious honor of being where the Great Meiwa Fire of 1772 sparked to life. The second of the three “great” fires of Edo, the Meiwa blaze resulted in thousands of deaths, and the utter destruction of a huge percentage of the city. To honor the dead and perhaps by way of atonement, the temple commissioned 520 stone statues, each individually carved with a different expression, to be placed within its grounds.

Gohyaku Rakan-ji Tokyo

Across the river, we came upon a similar set of statues in the Gohyaku Rakan-ji, whose name means “500 Arhat Temple” (an Arhat being a Buddhist who has achieved enlightenment). Beginning in 1691, a single priest hand-sculpted 536 wooden Arhats, 278 of which have survived into the present day, preserved in two grand halls at the Gohyaku Rakan-ji. These are much larger than the statues of Daien-ji, and more intricate. Legend has it that if you pray personally to each figure, you’ll be granted the ability to look into the afterlife and commune with your dearly departed.

Ryūsen-ji  Meguro Fudo

Continuing west, we found ourselves at Meguro’s largest temple, the Ryūsen-ji or Meguro Fudo, founded in 808. The old city of Edo had long been protected by five guardian deities, or Fudō-Myōō, each with eyes of a different color. The black-eyed one, or Meguro Fudō, was placed here, providing the neighborhood with its name. The grounds of this temple are expansive, and during our visit, they were resplendent in cherry blossoms.

One final temple awaited us, and although the Tako Yakushi (Octopus Temple) had the most intriguing name, it was the smallest of the day and rather boring. Neither of us cared much, though, since we’d already had our fill of temples. Besides, it was way past lunchtime and there happened to be an excellent tempura restaurant adjacent to the Tako Yakushi.

In between slurping soba and scarfing fried veggies, we talked about the day and the number of shrines and temples we had seen. We visited four, but had walked past many more. Given the abundance of places to worship, it was surprising to learn that Japan is among the world’s least religious countries, with up to 80% of the population professing no belief at all. This does, though, explain why Tokyo’s temples are so quiet, considering the suffocating crowds everywhere else. The fewer believers, the more peaceful the temples. Probably not what the country’s religious leaders are hoping for, but we like it.

Locations on our Map: Daien-ji | Gohyaku Rakan-ji | Ryūsen-ji | Tako Yakushi

Framed Photos From Tokyo

More Photos of the Daien-ji
Daien-ji Shrine Tokyo
Daien-ji Shrine Tokyo
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Daien-ji Shrine Tokyo
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Daien-ji Shrine Tokyo
Daien-ji Shrine Tokyo
More Photos of the Gohyaku Rakan-ji
Gohyaku Rakan-ji Tokyo
Gohyaku Rakan-ji Tokyo
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Gohyaku Rakan-ji Tokyo
Gohyaku Rakan-ji Tokyo
Gohyaku Rakan-ji Tokyo
Gohyaku Rakan-ji Tokyo
Gohyaku Rakan-ji Tokyo
Gohyaku Rakan-ji Tokyo
Gohyaku Rakan-ji Tokyo
More Photos of the Ryūsen-ji
Ryūsen-ji  Meguro Fudo
Ryūsen-ji  Meguro Fudo
Ryūsen-ji  Meguro Fudo
Ryūsen-ji  Meguro Fudo
Ryūsen-ji  Meguro Fudo
Ryūsen-ji  Meguro Fudo
Ryūsen-ji  Meguro Fudo
Ryūsen-ji  Meguro Fudo
Ryūsen-ji  Meguro Fudo
Ryūsen-ji  Meguro Fudo
Ryūsen-ji  Meguro Fudo
Ryūsen-ji  Meguro Fudo
Ryūsen-ji  Meguro Fudo
Ryūsen-ji  Meguro Fudo
Ryūsen-ji  Meguro Fudo
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Ryūsen-ji  Meguro Fudo
More Photos of the Tako Yakushi
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May 13, 2014 at 2:53 am Comments (2)

The Meiji Shrine

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Directly across from one of Tokyo’s craziest areas (Harajuku) is one of its most serene. Built to guard the spirits of Emperor Meiji and the Empress Consort Shōken, the Meiji Shrine is tucked away in a large evergreen forest, which neither the city’s noise nor stress can reach.

The Meiji Shrine

Emperor Meiji was largely responsible for bringing Japan into the modern age. After wresting power from the Tokugawa Shogunate and re-establishing the empire in 1868, he instituted a series of political, economic and cultural reforms meant to make Japan competitive with the West. Meiji died in 1912, followed shortly thereafter by the Dowager Empress Shōken, and plans were immediately drawn to honor them with a Shinto shrine.

The forest north of Yoyogi Park was a favorite escape for the couple, who would rest from their imperial duties by taking long walks through fields of irises. Back then, the forest was quite far from the city. But Tokyo has grown a lot, and today, Meiji Park is right in the middle, within easy walking distance of Shibuya.

Entrance to the park is gained by passing under an enormous torii, the traditional gate which is typical of Shinto shrines. The torii seems to signal passage into another world. Having just left the city and the cosplay-attired girls of Harajuku behind, it was surreal to see the broad trail leading slightly downhill into a woods thickly populated with towering old-growth forest.

The Meiji Shrine

The path to the shrine is long and full of distractions. For example, we encountered an enormous wall of barrels filled with French wine and sake, left as a tribute to the Emperor. There was also a pictorial commemoration of the Empress Consort Shōken, who dedicated her privileged life to helping those less fortunate. We were also delayed by the presence of a large Japanese garden hidden within the forest. Toward the north of the park, we spent time watching students practicing judo inside a classic dojo, and then paid entrance to a small museum which holds some of the Emperor’s treasures.

So by the time we actually made it to the center of the park, the shrine felt almost like an afterthought. “Oh yeah, that’s why we’re here!” Dependably surrounded by bowing worshipers, photo-snapping tourists, solemn monks, and wedding parties, this shrine was completed in 1920 but had to be totally reconstructed after WWII. It was crowded during our visit, but the atmosphere was festive and enjoyable, and I couldn’t help but think that the spirits of Meiji and Shōken would be pleased by its popularity.

Location on our Map

Beauty Gadgets From Japan

The Meiji Shrine
The Meiji Shrine
The Meiji Shrine
The Meiji Shrine
The Meiji Shrine
The Meiji Shrine
The Meiji Shrine
The Meiji Shrine
The Meiji Shrine
The Meiji Shrine
The Meiji Shrine
The Meiji Shrine
The Meiji Shrine
The Meiji Shrine
The Meiji Shrine
The Meiji Shrine
The Meiji Shrine
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April 22, 2014 at 6:53 am Comments (3)

Sensō-ji Temple

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Tokyo’s oldest temple is the Sensō-ji, constructed in the year 645. Like almost everything else in this city plagued by earthquakes and fire, it’s been rebuilt multiple times, but has always been an important place of worship.

A visit to Sensō-ji begins through the Kaminari-mon, a large gate protected on either side by wooden representations of the gods of thunder and wind. Past these formidable guardians is the Nakamise-dōri Shopping Street. The vendors of this teeming market sell every kind of souvenir imaginable, from key chains to ninja costumes, as well as a wide variety of traditional sweets, treats, teas and ice cream.

It may seem strange for the path leading to an important temple to be so secular and commercial, but that’s because the rulers of Tokyo haven’t always looked upon Sensō;-ji with deference. During the Meiji Restoration, officials made a concentrated effort to reduce the influence of Buddhism, and encouraged the city’s seedier elements to set up shop in Asakusa, and particularly along Nakamise-dōri. The street became a home to prostitution and gambling, which wasn’t entirely troubling to the temple’s monks, many of whom reportedly enjoyed exactly such vices.

Nakamise-dōri has cleaned up its act considerably. Today, the most sinful thing being sold here are taiyaki, delicious fish-shaped cookies filled with chocolate. It’s not a bad idea to eat a few, because you’ll need the energy while visiting Sensō-ji. The temple is huge, with grounds that include multiple shrines, the Hondo (main hall), a five-story pagoda, statues, gates, a museum and even a Japanese garden.

Let’s have a word about that garden. After an hour spent walking around the Sensō-ji, we’d had enough of incense and crowds and were preparing to leave. But then we saw a sign advertising the “Temple Museum with Attached Japanese Garden,” in a building near the western exit. Having just completed a comprehensive exploration of the temple, we agreed there was simply no space for a garden. “It’s going to be a few plants in the corner… max.”

The museum was magnificent, much better than expected, with wood carvings and scrolls, along with paintings of samurai and strange demon gods. And then we emerged into the garden. I still don’t understand it. The place was huge… a real park! A long circular path led past a pond, a tea garden complete with monk serving tea, into a forest (a forest?!), and over hills. By the laws of reality, this park should not have been possible. It’s like we stepped out of the museum, into some sort of pocket universe.

Lending credence to my outlandish theory was the fact that, although the crowd in the temple had been borderline outrageous, and despite this being the Sensō-ji’s most beautiful corner, the garden was nearly empty. It can’t have been the museum’s extremely reasonable entry fee scaring people off. No, the likeliest answer remains a disruption in the space-time continuum. Good luck finding the garden yourself, because it might not really exist.

Location of Sens?-ji on our Map

Weird Kit Kat Flavors From Japan

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April 3, 2014 at 3:04 am Comments (3)

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Bunkyo Azalea Festival at the Nezu Shrine From late April to mid May, the garden of the Nezu Shrine bursts into life, as thousands of azalea bushes bloom, dabbing the green hills with their rainbow-colored foliage. This garden is over three hundred years old and contains a hundred different species of azalea.
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