Praying at Suitengu shrine for safe delivery

Some shrines in Japan are famous for the benefit of safe baby delivery. Since ancient time many pregnant women have been visiting such a shrine at the dog day (in the twelve signs of Chinese zodiac) within their 5th month of pregnancy for safe delivery.

In Tokyo Suitengu shrine is a shrine famous for such a benefit. Unlike other shrines the shrine is covered with concrete walls. So it perfectly fits with surrounding urban environment.

Even though we visited the shrine just after a big typhoon had passed Tokyo with strong wind and rain, there are so many people inside since it was the rare dog day on Sunday.

In order to handle so many people in the shrine the procedure to pray is very systematic. After we paid prayer fees, we could wait in the waiting room air-conditioned well. And we could find our turn in the TV screen on the wall. It helped us who came to the shrine in extreme hot summer.

The prayer at the dog day is not an only famous stuff in the shrine. There is also a popular pair of statues of a mother dog and a child dog surrounded by 12 small hemispheres representing the twelves signs of Chinese zodiac. It is said that women may be able to get pregnant when they touch the hemisphere representing their own sign.

In Japan worldly benefits prayed in shrines still take deep root among ordinary people.

Fireworks viewing from a distance

Fireworks are one of symbols of summer in Japan. Japanese have been enjoying fireworks since the 17th century.

However, you need to be careful when you visit big fireworks events. The spots close to the places where fireworks are launched are so crowded, so sometimes you end up with seeing people only instead of fireworks.

So we try to find little-known hot spots where you can enjoy fireworks with less people around, even though there is more distance from fireworks. Let’s see how it works.

Adachi Fireworks is a popular fireworks event in northern Tokyo for which fireworks are launched from sandbank of Arakawa river. And spots around Kita Senju station, which is the closest station to the event, are so crowded every year. So this time we went to Adachi Odai station of Nippori Toneri Liner along Arakawa river with a little distance from the event.

It was true that there were less people than the spots in Kita Senju. Moreover you can enjoy viewing fireworks sitting on the bank of Arakawa river.

You are maybe concerned that fireworks are visible but too small. Don’t worry. Japanese fireworks are big enough to be viewed well from a distance.

By the way the beauty of fireworks is not only a fun on such an event. You might want to enjoy viewing fireworks while eating food and drinking bought at festival stall stands. Unfortunately there were no stall stands around Adachi Odai station.

In such a case you can visit a supermarket or a convenience store around the station. The supermarket we visited sold alcohol beverages at room temperature only. However many people including us bought cans of alcohol beverages and ice so that we could enjoy making beverages “on the rock” while viewing fireworks.

When you plan to visit a firework event, why don’t you search a little-known spot with a distance?

Unknown exiting trail in Mt. Fuji

The season to climb up summer mountains has come in Japan! And Mt. Fuji, highest mountain in Japan (3,776 meters) is filled with so many people this summer as usual. Among 5 trails to the summit of Mt. Fuji, Fuji-Yoshida trail and Fujinomiya trail are two famous trails to both climb up and down. And even though two trails have a lot of mountain huts as well, we need to sleep in very tiny space at night like a photo below.

Nevertheless it’s necessary to stay at such a hut and to climb up in midnight and early morning so that you can see beautiful sunrise from the summit.

But after the sunrise you may feel it’s not exiting to climb down the same trail pushing many people who are climbing up. In such a case I recommend you to climb down Gotenba trail.

Gtenba trail is the longest trail among 5 trails, so it’s not recommendable for first visitors to climb up. But it’s a big fun to climb down the trail. On the latter half part of the trail you can enjoy literally “run” down the trail. The latter part is called as Osunabashiri meaning in Japanese “run in big sands”. As per the name the trail is filled with deep sands and your legs automatically move down even if you don’t put power on legs.

The trail looks as another planet. The trail is covered with volcanic ash created on the latest eruption of Mt. Fuji about 300 years ago. The eruption created another smaller mountain called Mt. Hoeizan.

More surprisingly Mt. Fuji is the active volcano even today. When I saw a crater yesterday, it looked very stable.

But we cannot be too optimistic. It has already taken more than 300 years since the last eruption. When you run down Gotenba trail, please think about the dynamism of nature.

Consider tides when you visit Itsukushima shrine

Itsukushima shrine is the shrine in Hiroshima prefecture in Japan registered as one of world heritages of UNESCO. Even though you have not visited there, you might see an image of a guard frame of shrine sinking in the sea like below.

Many buidlings of Itsukushima shrine were built by a famous samurai in the 12th century in Japan, Kiyomori Taira. Kiyomori was the leader of a samurai group, Heike family at their peak of the family, although the family was beaten by another samurai family, Genji at the end of the 12th century. In the main building they worshiped three goddess of Munekata welknown as protectors of sea.

The shrine is still worshiped by local people. If you are lucky, you can see a local couple having Japanese traditional wedding.

But you need to be careful. The water which makes the scenery of the shrine beautiful changes in accordance with tides. If you visit the shrine at low tide, the shrine looks less photogenic.

But you don’t have to worry. Around the shrine there are many places you can kill time until the tide becomes high. At first you can play with deer living around the shrine.

Furthermore around the shrine there are many restaurants serving local famous food. One of the local specialties is rice bowl of conger eel, Anago-Meshi. Another local specialty is Okonomi Yaki in Hiorishima way. Okonomi Yaki is thin, flat pancake with various ingredients. And the cake in Hiroshima prefecture is unique to include noodle and local seafood.

Now you get a lesson. When you visit Itsukushima shrine, please make a schedule considering the tides.

Coffee shop serving coffee from East Timor

In Japan American chain coffee shops such as Starbucks and Tully’s Coffee are very popular as well. But there is one interesting coffee shop chain which import all coffee beans as fair trade.

At the end of April in Tokyo it is too hot like early summer. In Ikebukuro, an area in north west of Tokyo popular among young people, many people enjoy sunshine in the park.

Such hot climate makes us thirsty. But taste of coffee at regular coffee shops is not satisfactory. Don’t worry. At east end of Ikebukuro there is a peculiar coffee shop named Moriva coffee.

This coffee shop imports all the coffee beans from developing countries such as Rwanda, Mexico and East Timor. Furthermore they import the beans from these countries as fair trade by co-working with local NGOs.

Among these countries which are poor and troublesome in different ways, East Timor is the country not so known by Japanese, although it’s located in Asia. But the coffee shop serves iced coffee made by beans from East Timor. And it gives us a good opportunity to learn about the country.

East Timor is the new country located east to Indonesia which became independent in 2002.  Coffee industry was their main industry for export. But due to confusion after independence the coffee industry seriously declined.

Zensho, a Japanese company which run the coffee shop started importing from East Timor in 2007 when the country was still unstable. They bought the beans as fair trade and used the fund created from the trade to support local bean producers and develop local infrastructure for coffee industry.

The fact that Zensho run the coffee shop of fair trade impressed me much because this company is more known by me (and most of the Japanese) as the company run the chain restaurant of beaf rice bowl (Gyu-don in Japanese) named Suki-ya. But even as the Gyu-don restaurant  Zensho is known as unique and various menus of Gyu-don. For example the photo below is their Gyu-don with cheese, which would attract Americans!

I’m proud of Zensho’s creativity and their vision to create better world through their food business.

Flower festival in Nishi Arai Taishi temple

In Tokyo Senso-ji temple in Asakusa is famous among foreign visitors as a temple popular for ordinary people. But Asakura is not only a place for such temples. Nishi Arai located in the north part of Tokyo has another popular temple for ordinary people named Nishi Arai Taishi.

Nishi Arai Taishi is the temple established by a famous monk in the 9th century, Kukai. When Kukai visited this place, he saved local people who suffered from diseases thanks to a miracle by a Buddist saint.

In April and May Nishi Arai Taishi hold a flower festival. And the temple is surrounded by a lot of beautiful flowers. Among these flowers the temple is famous to have a lot of kinds of peony, Botan in Japanese.

In the temple not only peony but also wisteria trellises are in bloom in late April(Fuji in Japanese).

But for many ordinary people rather than flowers in bloom sweets might be more attractive. (In Japan there is a proverb saying Hana Yori Dango meaning (people) like sweet dumpling more than flower. Don’t worry. In front of temple there are several shops of sweet dumpling and green tea.

When you come to Tokyo, why don’t you visit many temples to see how the temples are liked by local people.

Great Sakura Spot in Tokyo, Rikugi-En

Now at the end of March, the season of Sakura (cherry blossom) in full boom has come in Tokyo. While there are many famous spots for Sakura in Tokyo, Komagome, an area in Northern Tokyo is a little known great spot for Sakura in Tokyo.

When you come to Komagome station, trees of Sakura welcome us.

This Sakura is a species called “Somei-Yoshino”, which derives from a gardener who had started selling a pot plant of Sakura in Komagome in the 19th century. Still in the 21st century in Komagome there are many trees of Sakura.

Meanwhile the most famous Sakura in Komagome is another species called “Sidare-Zakura” which derives its shape of branches hangings from a trunk. And a park in Komagome, Rikugi-En is famous for a big tree of “Sidare-Zakura”.

Rikugi-En is a traditional Japanese park made by Mr. Yoshiyasu Yanagisawa, a sakurai in the 17th century in Japan. Mr. Yoshiyasu Yanagisawa tried to reproduce 88 beautiful scenery in Japan within this small park.

But in Japan in the season of Sakura cherry blossom is not an only amusement. In Japan there is an old proverb saying “Hana Yori Dango”, which means (I like) sweet dumpling more than cherry blossom. Even in the 21st century we like to enjoy eating sweet dumpling in front of Sakura.

In the season of Sakura in bloom there are many places with beautiful Sakura but too crowded. But Rikugi-En is one of a few places where you can enjoy Sakura in quiet atmosphere.

A road famous due to a novel and a song

Izu is a peninsula in central Japan which is famous for various attractive sightseeing locations such as Atami and Ito. But compared to places along with the ocean, places in central Izu are less famous.

Mr. Yasunari Kawabata is a Japanese novelist who received Nobel Prize in Literature in 1968 wrote a short novel about a road in central Izu, “the Dancer of Izu” based on his own experience there.

Yasunari Kawabata, when he was a 19 year old student, made a short trip to central Izu and met a young female dancer (Odoriko in Japanese) and her family. They spent some days together along Amagi road visiting several places with hot springs and the young man’s feeling changes little by little. 9 year later his experience made him create a world famous novel.

This is the story liked by Japanese in almost 100 years. And the hot springs in Amagi road still preserve their atmosphere in those days. For example Fukuda-ya is a hotel with hot spring in Yugano opened in 130 year ago. Yasunari Kawabata and characters in the novel stayed in the hotel several nights. Now in 2018 the hotel’s wooden bath is almost same as the bath at that time.

It was not only Yasunari Kawabata who made Amagi road famous. 70 year later from the time of Kawabata, a song of Enka, Japanese traditional style ballad, “Amagi-Goe” made Amagi road famous again. It was a love song sung by Sayuri Ishikawa, a famous Enka singer, referring many places in Amagi road. Among those places on the song, a waterfall, Joren fall, is the fall familiar to most of generations of Japanese in present times thanks to this ballad song.

So if you want to know lyrical atmosphere of Izu, why don’t you make a further step from seaside hotels to inland hotels with hot spring?

You might be afraid that you cannot enjoy fresh seafood as specialty of seaside Izu. Don’t worry! The hotel in central Izu also serves fresh sushi.

Can you find out what’s this? This is a sushi without fish. It is a sushi of Wasabi, specialty of central Izu! It was served in the hotel with hot spring in Yugashima in central Izu.

Central Izu still stimulates imagination of local people.

Exhibition of urban guerrilla, Tadao Ando

Tadao Ando is one of world famous Japanese architects. However do you know how he got his own style of architecture?

Tadao Ando, born in Osaka Japan in 1941, at first became a professional boxer when he was a high school student. At the same time he learnt architecture on his own. When he was at 24 years old, he traveled many countries in Europe, Asia, Africa and America. And on one day during such a travel,  he reached to an idea that a life is to fight and to stick to the value he believe in. After returning to Japan, he started his career as an architect and as an “urban guerrilla”.

Roppongi is an area of Tokyo where there is one of buildings designed by Tadao Ando. 21_21 DESIGN SIGHT (a photo below) designed by Tadao Ando was built in 2007 as a facility specialized for design.

His design is well known as exposed concrete and frequent use of geometrical patterns. In this 21_21 DESIGN SIGHT big triangle eaves well show his features.

Now in the National Art Center in Roppongi Tokyo they have an exhibition of architectures by Tadao Ando. It shows a lot of drawings, models and other resources of his architectures. But the highlight of the exhibition is that they reproduced his masterpiece, Church of the Light in a site of the museum.

Church of the Light was built in Osaka, Japan as a Christian church in 1989. Although it’s a very simple design, we cannot forget it once we see the cross expressed by its slit window at the bottom of the building. It also well features Ando’s peculiar design of exposed concrete.

Now there are architectures designed by Tadao Ando not only in Japan but also all over the world. And our second home, Texas also has one. In Fort Worth TX, there is Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth as a museum with a lot of masterpieces of American modern art in the 20th century. The exposed concrete of geometric Y shape designed by Ando perfectly matches with water in inner court and create a home of  these masterpieces.

Indeed there are a lot of architectures designed by Tadao Ando in Japan. When you see a building of exposed concrete, it might be another masterpiece of him.

Several styles of Soba noodle in Tokyo

In this blog, I have once written that Soba, Japanese traditiontal noodle made from buckwheat flour, was a fast food in Edo era (17th to mid 19th century) in Japan.

http://howdyjapan.com/2016/05/11/soba-japanese-fast-food/

However, it doesn’t mean soba noodle is just a simple food without any sophistication. In the contrary in Tokyo in Edo era many master chefs of soba noodle had been making continuous efforts to cook the better soba and such efforts reached to 3 different cooking styles of soba noodle. Now in Tokyo, there are still some soba noodle restaurants which keep each traditional style.

Minowa is an area in northern Tokyo where traditional shopping street are still well used by local people. And at a corner of the street there is a soba noodle restraurant Sunaba-Souhonke whose building was built in 1912.

Sunaba is one of 3 styles of cooking soba noodle in Tokyo (the others are Sarashina and Yabu). And it is said that Sunaba is the oldest style stemming from the location in Osaka to build Osaka castle for a famous Shogun Hideyoshi Toyotomi in the 16th century. Once we enter the restaurant, we can feel such tradition even from the interior of the restaurant.

In each traditional soba styles, chefs make soba noodle from buckwheat flour manually. And each process to cook soba noodle is slightly different among each styles. But in common soba noodle in Tokyo styles are known as long length of each noodle and crisp feeling on month.

Traditionally people in Tokyo have been enjoying sucking in such crisp soba noodle making a big noise. Differently from Western culture, it’s never rude to make a noise but an appropriate way to enjoy feeling the noodle into mouth and down throat.

To be honest, I as a person from a country side of Japan like Inaka Soba (country style soba noodle) better, which has a feature of more chewy mouth feeling and stronger flavor of buckwheat. But when I see local people in Tokyo eating Tokyo traditional soba making a big noise, I would feel a sense of “Iki” (sense of sophistication in old Tokyo).

When you have time, you can enjoy not only soba noodle but also Tempura. In the centuries, Tempura has been considered as one of the best matches with soba noodle.  It’s also cool to drink Sake little by little while eating soba noodle and tempura.

When you think to eat some traditional food in Tokyo, why don’t you consider soba noodle as an option. Although it looks simple, it has a long tradition for chefs as well as people to eat it.