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Tokyo – Daimon March 13, 2012

Posted by Dru in Japan, Kanto, Tokyo, Travel.
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Author’s Note:  Dru’s Misadventures has moved to HinoMaple.  Please venture on over there to read “Tokyo – Daimon” complete with photos.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-Mz

Daimon is an area that is fairly unknown to a majority of tourists in Tokyo.  It is better known as Hamamatsucho or even Shiba.  Being Tokyo, many neighbourhoods are so close to each other that it can be difficult to distinguish between the different areas.  This is one such area.  Stretching from the east side of Hamamatsucho Station all the way to Tokyo Tower, the Daimon area is not the most entertaining areas but one of the secret gems of Tokyo.  For those with little time, there is no real reason to visit, to be completely honest, but if you have the time, you will be rewarded with beauty and tranquility that is not found outside of the area.

Daimon itself is a very bland area.  It is a modern symbol of how most of Japan’s cities look.  It has the appearance of being a small city in Japan with rows of boring rectangular buildings.  In all directions you look, you will find it difficult to tell where you are unless you can see Tokyo Tower.  Adding to the blandness is the fact that the area around Hamamatsucho is very busy transfer point as it is the end station of the Tokyo Monorail which runs to Haneda Airport.  The east side of Hamamatsucho is the home of the Kyu Shiba Rikyu Gardens but unfortunately I haven’t visited that area yet but I hope to do so in the near future.  The garden is considered the most beautiful in Tokyo and must be worth a visit.  I often just head straight from Hamamatsucho Station to Zojoji which is just a few minutes on foot.

Zojoji is a very beautiful Buddhist temple located near the foot of Tokyo Tower.  It is a large complex that houses one of the most tranquil temples in Tokyo.  I have visited many temples and shrines but Zojoji is one of the few inviting temples that encourage people to go inside and pray.  In some temples and shrines, the prayer area can feel a bit strange as the doors may be closed, or the setting can feel a little less inviting.  It is worth the time to just sit down and soak up the atmosphere inside the temple itself.  It is a very quiet atmosphere where you can only hear the various prayers people make as they throw their money into the collection boxes.  As I mentioned in a previous post about the best temples and shrines in Tokyo, Zojoji is one of the most picturesque.  With Tokyo Tower in the background, you can really get a good sense of history and modernity.  The surrounding grounds are also interesting with a small hall adjacent to the main one.  Behind the small hall is a mausoleum for some of the members of the Tokugawa shogunate, one of the first shogun clans to rule Japan.  They are revered in Tokyo and I would say one of the most, if not the most important clan in Japanese history.  Unfortunately you do have to pay a small fee to enter the mausoleum grounds itself.

To the south of Zojoji is Shiba Park.  It is not a very popular park and very often overlooked by most people.  Most tourists will cut through Zojoji to head directly to Tokyo Tower.  I prefer a small stop in Shiba Park as it is somewhat of a unique park in Tokyo.  The entrance makes the park look like a very small park.  It is an open field with trees in the back.  What is hidden is a large mound with stairs heading up the mound at the back of the open field.  Few people, aside from the locals visit this area.  It is a wonderfully quiet area with mostly local tourists exploring the area.  There are a few monuments in the area but for those longing for some nature, specifically a forest like feeling, this area is perfect.  With trees blanketing the entire hill, you will be hard pressed to find a lot of natural sunlight as the trees filter out most of the sunlight.  There are a lot of interesting corners of the park that can be explored.  It won’t take a long time to explore the entire park but it is worth it if you have the time.

Flanking Zojoji are two hotels.  The Prince Park Tower is located to the south of Zojoji on the west side of Shiba Park.  It is a tall modern tower that is a nice hotel to stay in, albeit somewhat less convenient than many other hotels.  There is a small open field located next to the hotel that is a nice way to cut through to Tokyo Tower rather than going through the main route next to Zojoji.  On the north side of Zojoji is the Tokyo Prince Hotel.  This is one of the most written about hotels in Tokyo.  Various novels that are set in Tokyo often use the Tokyo Prince Hotel as one of their locations.  While it is often referred to in various novels, it is also well known for its swimming pool.  In the summer, the pool is open to the public for a fee and it is one of the most popular swimming pools in the city.  This is mainly due to the good views of Tokyo Tower next to the hotel itself.  Unfortunately, for a regular tourist, this is probably not an important place to visit and the building itself is architecturally boring.  The area itself is more important than the hotel but for the curious, there is no harm visiting the hotel itself.

Aside from Zojoji and being a way to access Tokyo Tower, Daimon is not really an important place for tourists to visit.  I feel that it is a very nice hidden gem in the city and worth a visit for Zojoji alone.  It doesn’t take a long time and you can easily visit Tokyo Tower at the same time.  Combining it with an afternoon trip to Roppongi can help as well, and Tokyo Tower is pretty well connected to other areas of Tokyo via the Tokyo Metro System.  It can be difficult to choose but if time is on your side, make plans to visit the Daimon area.

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Temples of Tokyo – Part II [Meiji-jingu & Zojoji] February 16, 2010

Posted by Dru in Japan, Kanto, Tokyo, Travel.
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Author’s Note:  Dru’s Misadventures has moved to HinoMaple.  Please venture on over there to read “Temples of Tokyo – Part II [Meiji-jingu & Zojoji]” complete with photos.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-gk

Once you finish with Sensoji, you can make your way across town to visit Meiji Jingu.  This is much more tranquil than Sensoji.  There are far fewer people here, and there isn’t any shopping within the shrine grounds.  The first thing you must do is venture to the main shrine.  This is, in itself, a difficult task.  It can take roughly 10 minutes to walk there.  The walk itself is very nice, as you are walking within a natural forest.  The various torii gates are also magnificent as they tend to blend in with the surrounding trees.  The entire walkway leading to the temple is also very spacious.  This is mainly due to the crowding during the New Year celebrations.  If you have a little money and want to see a garden, you can have a nice walk around the private gardens of the shrine.  I doubt that this garden is that beautiful, so it’s easy to skip.  You will also run into a row of large barrels with various writings on it.  These are sake casks.  Inside each one, it is filled with sake.   They are donated to the shrine by various sake breweries and companies for various reasons.  It makes for an interesting photo opportunity.  The shrine itself is pretty interesting.  The main courtyard is situated in such a way that you cannot really see any buildings in the surrounding areas.  This makes it a sort of oasis within Tokyo.  You can also see the inner buildings from the entrance way, but don’t expect a full walk through.  Like most of the other temples and shrines, there is a public area, and a private area.  Overall, the private area is nothing special.  They usually hold weddings and other ceremonies inside the various halls.  There isn’t much in the way of statues or things worth photographing.  Temples tend to have more interesting things behind the closed doors.  After you finish with the main court yard, you will be greeted by the fortune area of the shrine.  Shrines tend to make more money selling fortunes than anything else.  Do you want to have a child?  Do you want to do well on a test?  Go to the priest, tell them, and they’ll make a fortune for you.  It’s valid for only one year.  After that, you have to return it, or go back to recharge it.  When that is over, you can make your way back to Harajuku station.  On the way out, you can visit a small museum dedicated to Emperor Meiji, but do note that the cost to enter is probably not worth the visit.  I heard that there are only pictures inside, and very few artefacts.

If you have the time, visiting Zojoji before Meiji Jingu is recommended.  Zojoji, as I mentioned, is not very famous outside of Tokyo.  It is relatively small compared to Sensoji and Meiji Jingu.  The approach from Daimon station isn’t very interesting either.  You can do everything you want to do at Sensoji and Meiji Jingu, so visiting Zojoji isn’t necessary.  However, the experience of Zojoji is very unique.  Just outside the main entrance, there is a very major street.  It’s bustling with traffic all day long.  In fact, it can be extremely noisy.  However, once you walk into the temple grounds, the noise seems to disappear.  All around the temple, you’ll see various trees planted by various dignitaries, such as George W. Bush.  There are various statues, and a unique cemetery located in the temple grounds which also helps make it more unique.  You can see a large bell that is rung to signal the start of the New Year.  The major draw for this temple will be the ability to take a picture of the temple near the foot of Tokyo Tower.  It’s a great picture to show friends, and it truly shows the mix of traditional Japanese culture with modernism.  The other main draw, on a personal note, has to be entering the temple’s main hall.  While Sensoji allows you to only enter the entryway, Zojoji allows you to enter, sit, and meditate.  It is a nice cool place to relax on a hot afternoon, and the smell of the incense is very calming.  If you are lucky, you can see one of the monks performing a prayer.  It is, without a doubt, one of the best temple experiences I have had in Japan, and the best one in Tokyo.

Temples and shrines in Tokyo vary from large and extravagant, to small and unnoticeable.  Meiji Jingu is one of the large ones, but if you are walking along a side street, you might see a small shrine no bigger than a pay phone.  It’s impossible to truly recommend only three temples to visit in Tokyo.  It’s even more impossible to recommend three in all of Japan.  Each one has their own unique layouts, unique statues, and unique festivals.  If you are lucky enough to be living in Tokyo, be sure to visit other temples, especially your local temple.  You never know what interesting things are going to happen.

Note:  Other notable temples and shrines include Yasukuni Shrine (infamous for worshiping battles in the name of peace) and Sengakuji (famous for being the resting place of the 47 Ronin).

This is Part II of a two part series.  To read more, please head over to Part I.

http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e2059.html (About Shrines)
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Meiji_Shrine (Meiji Jingu)
http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e3002.html (Meiji Jingu)
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zojoji (Zojoji)
http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e3010.html (Zojoji)

このblogは英語のblog。もし私の英語は難しい、日本語のquestionは大丈夫。

Temples of Tokyo – Part I [Sensoji] February 9, 2010

Posted by Dru in Japan, Kanto, Tokyo, Travel.
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Author’s Note:  Dru’s Misadventures has moved to HinoMaple.  Please venture on over there to read “Temples of Tokyo – Part I [Sensoji]” complete with photos.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-gh

When people think of Japanese temples, they think of Kyoto.  Not everyone has a chance to go to Kyoto.  If you only have a week in Japan, sometimes you can’t afford the time to go to Kyoto.  While it can be done in a day using the shinkansen, sometimes it’s much better to just relax and visit a few temples around Tokyo.  That way, you can take your time and save a lot of money on train fares.  In Tokyo, most tourists will only visit two temples; Sensoji in Asakusa, and Meiji Jingu in Harajuku.  Technically, Meiji Jingu is not a temple, but a shrine dedicated to the Japanese religion of Shinto.  Often overlooked is the temple called Zojoji.  It is much smaller than the other two, but due to it being left off most major tour books, it’s a great place to see a temple without the hustle and bustle of the other two tourist spots.

The first things to know when talking about temples and shrines are, what is a temple, and what is a shrine?  In a few simple words, a temple is dedicated to Buddha and a shrine is dedicated to a Shinto god.  It can be very difficult to know which is which, but in Japan, the easiest way to tell the difference is to look for the torii.  If there is a torii gate, a wooden archway near the entrance, it’s a shrine.  If there is a pagoda, or a huge statue of a Buddhist deity, it’s a temple.  In reality, there is no easy way to distinguish one from the other without research or looking at everything extensively.  Generally speaking, once you see a few of the temples and shrines, you tend to understand what the others will look like.  After visiting the these three temples in Tokyo, you don’t have to visit Kyoto, but as always, things are always slightly different, or they might have that one unique factor that makes it stand out.  Kyoto is still a very important place in Japan, and it’s still highly recommended.  If you don’t have time to make it out there, don’t feel too sad, but if you do have time, I would always recommend heading there.

Sensoji is probably the most visited temple in Tokyo, and the oldest.  When arriving at Asakusa station, it’s very easy to get disoriented.  They have finished some remodelling of the station to make it easier for people to find their way to the temple, but once you are on the street, you can still be a little disoriented.  Finding your way to Nakamise Shopping Street is the best way to get to the temple.  There is a large Buddhist style gate called Kaminarimon, with two large wooden statues inside protecting the temple.  This is the start of the shopping street, and the approach to the temple itself.  The shopping street is great for the usual souvenirs that you’ll need when you go home, so be sure to buy everything here.  Other areas of Tokyo don’t always offer this type of touristy garb.  You can easily buy rice crackers and yukatas, along with other cheesy Japanese stuff.  Do note that most Japanese people will only buy food, and rarely, if ever, buy the other stuff.  The temple itself is beautifully bathed in red paint.  Being a big tourist attraction, you can buy an “Omikuji”, which is a fortune.  They generally include English.  First, put your money into the donation box; then shake a large metal tin.  After shaking, turn the tin upside down and shake it until you get a stick.  This stick tells you which drawer to open to get your fortune.  It’s pretty simple and once you are there, you can watch others do it first and just copy them.  They should have English on the reverse of the fortune, or a translation somewhere nearby.  Do note that if you get one with okay, or bad luck, you are supposed to tie it to a post so that it doesn’t follow you.  If you have good luck, you are supposed to keep it in your wallet for one year.  Next, you can enter the temple itself.  There really isn’t much to see.  When you enter, you can only stay in the front entrance portion of the main hall.  Here, you can toss some money into the donation box and pray for whatever you like.  Also note that it’s better to throw a coin with a hole in it as it’s considered lucky.  5 and 50 yen coins are the only coins to have a hole in them.

This is Part I of a two part series.  To continue reading about the Temples of Tokyo, continue to Part II.

Information:

http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e2058.html (About Temples)
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sensō-ji (About Sensoji)
http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e3001.html (More about Sensoji)

このblogは英語のblog。もし私の英語は難しい、日本語のquestionは大丈夫。

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