Category Archives: culture

Tokyo Street-side Art

I’m not sure how unique this is, but I noticed it while walking to dinner with my family a while ago. Average looking power boxes by day, turn into unique street art by night (with the help of blacklight). Walking past them during the day wouldn’t make you think twice that they could possibly have a unique feature about them such as this, but later…

Wow.

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Kamakura

Last week there was yet another Monday public holiday, Health and Sports Day. The holiday commemorates the opening of the 1964 Summer Olympics held in Tokyo, and exists to promote sports and an active lifestyle.

With the day off from school and work, we headed for Kamakura. Kamakura is a seaside Japanese city about 50 kilometres (31 miles) south-west of Tokyo; about 90 minutes by train.

Formerly the political center of medieval Japan, modern-day Kamakura is a prominent resort town with dozens of Buddhist Zen temples and Shinto shrines. With so many options, we started by visiting Tsurugaoka Hachimangū. Built in 1063, this shrine is commonly regarded as the most important Shinto shrine in the city and the geographical/cultural center of Kamakura.

  
Our next stop was Zeniarai Benzaiten Ugafuku Shrine. In spite of its small size, this Shinto shrine is the second most popular spot in Kanagawa prefecture (after Tsurugaoka Hachimangū). Its popularity comes from the belief that the waters of a spring in its cave are said to be able to multiply the money washed in it. So, of course, we had to give that a try!

Our last stop of the day was Kamakura’s most recognizable landmark, the Kotoku-in Temple. This temple’s Great Buddha bronze statue was completed in 1252 and stands roughly 13 meters high (43 feet). The bronze Buddha statue was preceded by a giant wooden Buddha, which was completed in 1243 after ten years of continuous labor; but, was damaged beyond repair during a storm in 1248.

Kamakura is simply a beautiful and historic city, with plenty of shopping, dining, and activity…a place that is near the top of the list of day-trips from Tokyo.

Tokyo Yakult Swallows ~ 2015 Central League Champs!

So, as you may have deduced from previous posts, we are Yakult Swallows fans.

Just a few minutes ago, with 2 outs in the bottom of the 11th inning, the Swallows beat the Hanshin Tigers 2-1, giving them the 2015 Central League Championship!

  

It is their first Central League Championship since 2001. It will be there last in the historic Jingu Stadium (built back in 1926), which is scheduled to be torn down after the season ends in order for a new stadium to be built in time for the 2020 Olympic Games.

 
Now it is time for the playoffs and (hopefully) a Japan Series Championship. 

Go! Go! Swallows!

Walking Tour #1: Marunouchi and around the Imperial Palace

Quick history review: The Tokyo of today started out as a small, isolated bit of land in an almost completely encircled bay. It was a tiny village called Edo. In 1603, the ruling shogun, Tokugawa Ieyasu, took command of Japan and moved the center of civil and military control from Kyoto to Edo. He (and his sucessors) built a castle, moats, canals, walls to fortify his residence, and layed the groundwork for our modern day Tokyo.

To fund the growth of the city, the shogun had his inner and outer daimyo (weathly land owners) live for 2 years at a time in Edo, then they would cycle out and go back to their families and country farms. The difference between and inner and outer lords, were that the inner daimyo were loyal before the takeover, the outer ones figured it out too late. As a result, these most trusted inner lords had the more desirable locations in the new city– closest to the new castle, closest to the seat of power, in the area between the inner and outer moats.

The rule of the shogun ended in 1868, when Emperor Meiji came to power. Edo was renamed to To (east) Kyo (capital) and the daimyo were sent back to their home provinces. The land between the moats was used for government offices and military training grounds. 

Today, Marunouchi, is the financial center of Tokyo. 

Our first walk took us through the streets of Marunouchi, which literally translates to within the moats.

    

The Dai Ichi Insurance Building was built in 1938. Interesting note: at the end of WWII, General MacArthur had his Allied forces headquarters in this building from 1945-1951.

 Kusunoki Masashige was a 14th century samurai, a loyal defender of the Emperor.. 

Tatsumi-yagura, is a two-storey high keep at the easternmost corner of the Imperial Grounds, also part of the outer moat system.     

29 Walks in the World’s Most Exciting City

Tokyo is a complicated, multi-faceted city. It has taken us a couple of years to discover the basic layout and overall, general history. As we are beginning to dive deeper into discovering the wonders of this city, we discovered this book: Tokyo, 29 Walks in the World’s Most Exciting City which is described as “a walking guide full of facts and stories that empahsize the history, culture, architecture and spirit of the the city and it’s neighborhoods.”

  
We thought we would try out a walk or two and see how it goes…

Japan Golden Week ~ Part Five: Children’s Day

Japan Golden Week wraps up with Children’s Day on May 5. This holiday was originally established in 1948 as Boys’ Day. Girls’ Day was, and still is, celebrated on March 3; but, is not a public holiday.

Recently, however, the Japanese government decided that this national holiday would be better served to celebrate the happiness of all children (boys and girls) and to express thanks to their mothers and fathers. As such, the day was renamed.

On this day, families raise carp-shaped flags with one carp for the father, one for the mother, and one carp for each child.

  

Families also display a doll depicting Kintarō (a legendary child with superhuman strength) and the traditional Japanese military helmet, called a kabuto, due to their tradition as symbols of strength and vitality.

  

 

  

Well, that brings our mini-series special on Japanese Golden Week to a close. Just a teaser of things to come…this year (2015) the Japanese holiday stars will align in September to bring about a rare 5-Day “Silver Week”. You won’t want to miss that coverage!

Japan Golden Week ~ Part Four: Greenery Day

This one takes some explaining…

 

Let’s flash back to the Part Two post for a minute. You will recall that when Emperor Hirohito (the Showa Emperor) passed away in 1989, the official celebration of his birthday was eliminated. However, the people did not want to lose a “holiday”; so, Greenery Day was established and assigned to that same day (April 29). Then, in 2007, when the decision was made to again recognize the former Emperor’s birthday with Showa Day, they didn’t want to lose the Greenery Day holiday; so, it was moved to May 4.

 

Now, you may be thinking that this is quite the coup in order to get an extra holiday. However, in Japan there is a rule that converts any day between two established holidays into an additional holiday; referred to as a “Citizen’s Day”. A pretty good rule if you ask me. Anyway, since May 3 and May 5 were both existing holidays, May 4 was a public holiday by default. So, starting in 2007, the Citizen’s Day holiday on May 4 was converted to Greenery Day.

 

Greenery Day is basically a day to appreciate nature, acknowledge Emperor Hirohito’s love for plants without directly mentioning his name, and extend the Japanese Golden Week vacation.