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?

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.

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.

Urban trail around Nippori Tokyo

It’s one of highlights of travels when you walk through trails which are conditioned well in nature or in a country side. However, in Japan, a railway company, Japan Railway East provides events named “hiking from stations” on which we can enjoy exciting urban trails in Tokyo. And this weekend they provided the trail from Nippori station close to our house. Now let’s walk through the trail together!

After we left Nippori station, we headed to the east to Nippori Fabric Town. For those who like sawing, Nippori is well known as a center of small fabric retailers.

Then we went down to the south through Yanaka cemetery and several temples up to Ueno park. Ueno park is a huge park where there are several museum and a zoo. But one of these museums, National Museum of Western Art, attracted big public attention last year since it was registered to UNESCO World Heritage, as one of masterpieces build by a French architect, Le Corbusier.

We turned to the west for a while and came to Shinobazu Pond. The area including Ueno park and this Shinobazu Pond was parts of Kanei-ji temple ‘s land in Edo era from the 17th to mid 19th century. When Edo Shogunate started at the beginning of the 17th century, they tried to build a center of Buddhism corresponding to Enryaku-ji temple and Biwa-Lake in the Western Japan. Now in the 21st century well grown lotus leaves shows the beauty of Buddhism culture.

When we came west up to the corner of Tokyo University, we turned to the north and walked along the wall of the university. In 10 to 15 minutes we arrived at Nezu shrine. As I introduced in this blog in the past, Nezu shrine is famous for azalea flower in bloom in April.

When we walked to the northeast for a while, it’s almost the end of the trail. But we had another amusement before the end. On Yanaka shopping street you can enjoy a variety of sweets which cure your fatigue after the walk.

How was the trail? It’s about 11km and 3 hour walk by walking slowly while enjoying the places on the way.

If you come to Shitamachi, traditional area in Tokyo, please don’t take taxi all the time from one place to another. But please take a walk some time to know how places are connected to each other.

A cafe with passion of young artists

Close to our home there is an area called Yanaka where old and small buildings built in the middle of 20th century still remain. Such scenery let us imagine the beautiful days when Japan was poor but everyone was enjoying their life. And now the area attracts a lot of visitors.

However those who have been living there long felt that even this area changed. And they experienced the situation that a shop or a public bath they had visited one day disappeared in the next day.

Hagiso could have been one of such buildings. It was built in 1955 as a wooden apartment building. And since 2004 it had been used as a shared house by students of Tokyo University of the Arts nearby. But when the big earthquake hit eastern Japan in 2011, the owner of  the building decided to dismantle it due to deterioration.

But for the young artists who lived there it was a place filled with their memory. They asked the owner to let them have an art exhibition in the building as their last memory of the building. Then the exhibition received a lot of  visitors and the owner decided to renovate it as a cultural space, “Hagiso”.

Now the first floor is open to everyone as a cafe “Hagi Cafe” connected to an art gallery “Hagi Art”. At the cafe we can have a good time seeing a well preserved wooden building and works created by young artists.

Such a space makes me feel that a building, a space engraves its history in itself. And the history is a kind of the arts.

When it comes to history in Japan, old cities like Kyoto and Nara attracts foreign visitors. But Tokyo is also a city where creating its own history. I hope the building attract more artists and visitors, and then have more history.

Hydrangea is in bloom in Tokyo

Even though Mr. Trump decided to withdraw from the Paris climate agreement claiming that it’s not clear how human activities effect on climate change, I, living in Tokyo Japan, feel each season of Japan became more vague than that in the past.

Late June and Early July is a rainy season in Japan called “Tsuyu” in Japanese. However, this year we didn’t have so much rain yet, rather there were several hot days when we felt summer had come without Tsuyu.

Nevertheless we still have a symbol of our rainy season. It’s a flower, hydrangea (“Ajisai in Japanese”).

In Nippori, the area we live, we see beautiful hydrangea close to temples and shrines. For example on the way from Suwa Jinja, small shrine in the area to Nishi Nippori station, a flock of hydrangea flower is in bloom in the contract to trains.

Ueno Park, a big park close to our home, is famous for flowers in each season, especially cherry blossom in Spring. It also has hydrangea, while the size of flower is smaller than others as long as we found.

The origin of hydrangea is Japan but had been exported to Europe and America as an ornamental flower. The pH of land effect on the color of hydrangea. Acid land turn it blue, while alkaline land turn it red. However even blue hydrangea turns gradually red as it ages.

In the short rainy season the flower makes us enjoy its changing beauty.

Halal food in Nippori and Halal Navi

Nippori is an area more diversified than other areas in Tokyo. And there is a certain amount of Muslim population.  For Muslim it’s very important to know if a restaurant or a shop serves halal food or not. Halal means that the food is allowed to eat in accordance with the Islamic law.

There are several restaurants to serve halal food. For example Cous Cous is a Tunisian restaurant which serves halal food. A photo below is cous cous in Tunisian style, which is one of  popular menus.

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Among south Mediterranean cuisines there is much diversity. In Tunisia it’s allowed to drink alcoholic beverage. For example this is Cedratine, sweet and strong distilled beverage made from citrus fruits and produced in Tunisia.

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Halal food is served not only in restaurants but also in shops. Around Nippori station there are many shops to sell halal food. For example, the shop owned by Nepali sells Asian halal food.

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In accordance with such an increasing potential demand of halal food, ROI, a startup in Japan started an smartphone application called Halal Navi to search halal restaurants in Japan.

Halal Navi

On the other hand it’s true that Islamic culture is not understood well in Japan and some Muslim people feel difficulty to live in Japan. I hope the service such as Halal Navi will help them to get accustomed to the life in Japan.

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