Nakamise-Dori (Tokyo, Japan)

Nakamise-Dori

After our visit to Senso-ji Temple, we proceeded to the approximately 250 m. (880-ft.) long Nakamise-dōri (仲見世通り), the best place in Tokyo to buy souvenirs.  One of Japan’s oldest streets, this shopping street leads, from the gorgeous Kaminarimon (“Thunder Gate”), to Sensō-ji temple itself.  Items sold here range from outrageously cheesy items to authentic and useful souvenirs.  For centuries, Japanese pilgrims and tourists who visit Sensō-ji every year flock here to shop at its small stores.   This stone-paved pedestrian street, retaining the feeling of old downtown Edo and the cultural florescence of the Meiji era, started during the Genroku and Tempo periods of the Edo era when horse carriage operators were granted the right to set up shops next to the east side of Niomon as compensation for cleaning the temple compound through forced labor.

Shops near the Kaminarimon Gate of Senso-ji Temple

In the early 18th century, Nakamise-dōri (translated as “inside street”) was said to have come about when neighbors of Sensō-ji were granted permission to set up shops on the approach to the temple. However, on May 1885, the government of Tokyo ordered all shop owners to leave but, on December of that same year, the area was reconstructed in Western-style brick. During the 1923 Great Kantō earthquake, many of the shops were destroyed.  In 1925, the shops were rebuilt using concrete, only to be destroyed again during the bombings of World War II.

The surrounding area had around 89 small traditional shops, many of them run by the same family for many generations.  I admired the shutters painted with different seasonal vistas. Stores sold traditional Japanese items such as chopsticks, yukatageta, wooden combs, maneki neko cat statuettes (a traditional good luck charm), hair accessories, elegant fans of all colors and sizes; handmade umbrellas; geta (traditional footwear), masks, folding fans, ukiyo-e (woodblock prints); kimono and other robes; samurai swords; and Buddhist scrolls.  You can also shop here for Godzilla toys, t-shirts and mobile phone straps. The shops at both sides of the last stretch near the temple sell official Senso-ji merchandise – omamori amulets, scrolls, incense to burn at the huge burner in front of the temple’s stairs, books about the temple (in Japanese) and o-mikuji fortunes.

 

Nakamise-Dori is a good place for visitors to try tabearuki (“walk-and-eat”) and enjoy Japanese street food such as tempting traditional kibi dango (sweet and soft rice cakes in a stick covered with millet flour), oden, (a winter snack), imo yokan (sweet potato jelly), odango (a sweet snack), kaminari okoshi (sweet puff rice crackers), colorful candies sold in beautiful traditional patterned cases; ningyo yaki (little sponge cakes filled with red bean paste and shaped like dolls, birds and the famous Kaminarimon, Asakusa’s symbolic lantern), deep-fried manju (a bun stuffed with red-bean paste), kibidango (a millet dumpling), freshly toasted sembei crackers, juicy fried meat croquettes, sweet melon pan bread, cooling matcha green tea ice cream and other green tea-flavored treats.

Trying out vanilla ice cream in a melonpan at Asakusa Sakura

Vanilla ice cream in a melonpan bun

There are also eating places that feature traditional dishes (hand-made noodles, sushi, tempura, etc.). For lunch, we dined at Tatsumiya Restaurant. Here, we were seated in a traditional Japanese setting – no shoes and on low tables with mats.

Check out “Restaurant Review: Tatsumiya Asakusa

Dining, Japanese style, at Tatsumiya Restaurant

During the holidays, the arcade is decorated with seasonal trappings – silk plum blossoms and kites during New Year’s Day, bright foliage during fall and cherry blossoms in spring. Running perpendicular to Nakamise-Dori is Shin-Nakamise (“New Nakamise”), a covered shopping arcade lined by various shops and restaurants.

Shin-Nakamise (New Nakamise)

Nakamise-Dori: 1 Asakusa, Taitō-ku, Tokyo, Japan. Open daily, typically from 10 AM to 7 PM but hours depend on the individual shops.

How to Get There: Nakamise-Dori, a 2 minute walk from Asakusa Station, is served by the Tokyo Metro Ginza Line, Toei Asakusa Line and Tobu railway lines. It is also a 10-min. walk from Tawaramachi Station on the Ginza Line. Take A3~A5 exit for Nakamise. This shopping street is traditionally approached via the Thunder Gate.

 

Asakusa Shrine (Tokyo, Japan)

Torii (Japanese gate) leading to Akasusa Shrine

The Asakusa Shrine (浅草神社 Asakusa-jinja), one of the most famous Shinto shrines in the city, is also known as Sansha-sama (Shrine of the Three gods, san means “three” and sama means “shrine”). The shrine. popular among the public, stands only a few dozen meters to the left of the main hall on the east side of Sensō-ji Temple, down a street marked by a large stone torii.

Akasusa Shrine

Part of a larger grouping of sacred buildings in the area, the shrine honors the three men who founded the Sensō-ji. According to legend, on May 17, 628, two fishermen brothers, named Hinokuma Hamanari and Hinokuma Takenari, picked up a bosatsu Kannon statuette of Sensoji Temple caught in a fishing-net in the Sumida River.  Hajino Nakatomo, the third man, was a wealthy landlord who, upon hearing about the discovery, approached the brothers.

Shrine Pavilion

He delivered an impassioned sermon about the Buddha to the brothers who were very impressed and subsequently converted to the Buddhist religion and devoted their lives to preaching the way of Buddhism. Nakatomo consecrated the Kannon statue in a small temple. These three men are worshiped here as Sanja Gongen.

The shrine, commissioned by Tokugawa Iemitsu, the third shogun of the Tokugawa dynasty, was built in 1649 during the Edo Period.  It was integrated with Sensoji Temple until the Edo period.  However, when the Gods and Buddha separation ordinance was promulgated in the Meiji period, it was separated from Sensoji and renamed Asakusa Shrine. Its beautiful, vermillon-lacquered shrine pavilion was built in the same style as the Nikko Toshogu, in the gongen-zukuri style of Shinto architecture.

Statue of Lion-Dog (Kumainu)

Unlike many other structures in the area, including the Sensō-ji Temple, the shrine, along with the Nitenmon Gate, where the only two buildings in the area to survived the  World War II Tokyo air raids of 1945.  In 1951, because of this rich and long history, both were designated as an Important Cultural Property by the Japanese Government.

Nitenmon Gate

The Niten-mon Gate, located to the east of the main hall and to the right of Asakusa Shrine, was erected in 1618 (the current gate was said to have been rebuilt in 1649) as a shrine gate, with statues of Toyoiwamado no Mikoto and Kushiiwamado no Mikoto placed on either side.

Ablution Fountain

The gate was left standing after the deity enshrined in Toshogu was moved to Koyozan, inside of Edo Castle. After the separation of the Buddhist and Shinto religions during the Meiji Restoration, Shinto deities were removed to Asakusa Shrine. In their place, a statue of Tatenmon was enshrined, but this has subsequently been lost. This massive, 8.13 m. wide (at the beam) structure has 8 pillars and was built in the mitsumune zukuri style with a tiled roof in built in the kiritzuma zukuri style.

Prayer Wall

The shrine‘s annual,  popular Sanja Matsuri festival, one of the Three Great Festivals of Edo (the old name of Tokyo), is held in late spring for 3 days (Friday to Sunday) every third weekend of May. which takes place over 3–4 days .  During the festival, the surrounding streets are closed to traffic, from dawn until late evening.  Well known for the “soul swing,” the festival vividly demonstrates the traditional Edo style, depicted in the old saying “fights and fireworks are Edo’s flowers.” During the festival, portable shrines called mikoshi are wildly swung around in a wild parade, reaching a climax when three mikoshi called ichi-no-miya, ni-no-miya and san-no-miya leave and return to Asakusa Shrine.  The procession includes 120 mikoshi from a total of 44 parishioner associations affiliated with Asakusa Shrine, making it Tokyo’s most spectacular festival.

A mikoshi (portable shrine) on display at Asakusa Station

Asakusa Shrine: 2-26-1, AsakusaTaitō-ku, Tokyo 111-0032, Japan. Tel: 03-3844-1575.  Website: www.asakusajinja.jp/english/

How to Get There:  The shrine is a 7-min. walk from Asakusa Station (Toei Asakusa Line, Tokyo Metro Ginza Line, Tobu Isesaki Line, Tsukuba Express.

Sensō-ji Temple (Tokyo, Japan)

Senso-ji Temple

It was our last day in Tokyo but we still had time for sightseeing before departing on our evening flight back to Manila, so we visited the Sensō-ji (金龍山浅草寺 Kinryū-zan Sensō-ji) Kannon temple, an ancient Buddhist temple dedicated to Kannon Bosatsu (the Bodhisattva of compassion who is believed to take away the people’s suffering and make their wishes come true).

Jinrikisha (Ricksaw)

“Senso” is an alternative reading for Asakusa and “ji” means temple. Asakusa (浅草) is the center of Tokyo‘s shitamachi (literally “low city”), one of Tokyo’s districts.  Here, an atmosphere of the Tokyo of past decades is said to survive. From our hotel, we walked to the nearby Akasaka-Mitsuke Station and took the train to Asakusa Station. The trip took all of 30 mins.

Strolling into Asakusa

Outside Asakusa Station was a number of jinrikisha (literally “man powered vehicle”). A 30-min. tour, for two persons, on board these rickshaws costs around JP¥9000.  The temple was a short 10-min. walk from the station.  Surprisingly, even for a Monday, there were lots of people on the street.  Adjacent to the temple is a five-story pagoda, a Shinto shrine, the Asakusa Shrine, as well as many shops with traditional goods in the Nakamise-dōri. Some visitors buy the charms sold at the temple.

Check out “Asakusa Shrine

The author at the temple grounds

The temple’s official name is Kinryuzan (Mountain of Golden Dragon), but it is also known as Asakusa Kannon and the residential building is called Denpo-in.  During the 10 March air raid on Tokyo in World War II, the temple was bombed and destroyed but was rebuilt later.  Today, it is a symbol of rebirth and peace to the Japanese people. In the courtyard there is a tree that is a similar symbol to the temple itself.  During the air raid, it was hit by a bomb but has regrown in the husk of the old tree.

Residents in traditional kimonos

Here are some interesting trivia regarding this temple:

  • Founded in 645 AD, it is Tokyo’s oldest temple and one of its most significant. In the early years of the Tokugawa shogunateTokugawa Ieyasu designated Sensō-ji as tutelary temple of the Tokugawa clan.
  • According to legend, two fishermen, the brothers Hinokuma Hamanari and Hinokuma Takenari, found a statue of the bodhisattvaKannon (Avalokiteśvara) in the Sumida River (Miyato River) in 628. Hajino Nakamoto, the chief of their village in Asakusa, recognized the sanctity of the statue.  To enshrine it, he remodeled his own house into a small temple so that the villagers could worship Kannon.
  • Formerly associated with Hiezan Enryakuji, the head temple of the the Tendaisect of Buddhism, it became independent as the head temple of the Seikannon sect after World War II.
  • With over 30 million visitors annually, Sensoji is the second most widely visited spiritual site in the world after the Vatican.
  • In the New Year, it ranks among the top 10 temples in Japan for the number of visitors.

Kaminarimon Gate

Dominating the entrance to the temple is the vermillon Kaminarimon (“Thunder Gate.”)  In 942, it was built as the main gate of Sensoji Temple by Kimimasa Taira in Komagata, rebuilt in 1635 but burned down in 1639. In 1649, Iemitsu Tokugawa donated the main hall, Niomon Gate (Hozomon), the five-story pagoda, and Kaminarimon Gate. Over the years, Kaminarimon Gate was destroyed by fire several times, the last time in 1866.

Nakamise-Dori heading towards Kaminarimon Gate

The existing gate dates from 1960. Konosuke Matsushita, a founder of Panasonic Corporation, contributed to its reconstruction.  An imposing Buddhist structure, its official name is Fujin- Raijin Gate.  It features a chochin, a massive paper lantern dramatically painted in vivid red-and-black tones, suggesting thunderclouds and lightning. When facing front, on the left is the statue of Rajin-sama, the god of thunder and lightning, while on the right is the statue of Fujin-sama, the god of wind. Facing the rear, on the left is the statue of Tenryu while on the right is the statue of Kinryu, both dragon gods in human form.

Hozomon Gate

Beyond the Kaminarimon is Nakamise-dori, with its shops, followed by the two-storied, dynamic Hōzōmon  which is bigger than Kaminarimon Gate and provides the entrance to the inner complex. The Hozomon, called Niomon Gate since the olden days, was destroyed by fire in 1631, rebuilt by Iemitsu Tokugawa in 1636 but burned down in the massive air raids of 1945.  In 1964, it was rebuilt with a donation from the late Eitaro Otani, third chairman of the Asakusa Tourist Federation.

Check out “Nakamise-Dori

Cochin of Hozomon Gate

It houses a pair of Ni-Ou figures in front, both guardian deities. It is said that the models for these fierce looking deities where 1960’s sumo wrestlers Kitanoumi (on the left) and Myobudani Kiyoshi (on the right).

Ni-Ou

The chicken wire keeps people from touching the statues.  The gate’s upper storey houses the temple’s Buddhist sutras that include Hokke-kyo (Lotus Sutra), which is designated as a National Treasure, and the Issai-kyo, a complete collection of Buddhist scriptures that is an Important Cultural Property. This is why the gate is called Hozomon Gate (“Treasure House Gate”).

O-Waraji (Straw Slipper)

At the back of the gate is a huge, 4.5 m. high pair of o-waraji (traditional straw slippers) weighing 2,500 kgs. Symbolic of the power of Ni-Ou, they are charms against evil. Before visiting the Main Hall, cleanse your hands and mouth at the ablution fountain of the Omizuya (generally called as Chozusha). It has a bronze statue of Sakara, the King of Water, designed by Kotaro Takamura.

Ozimuya

Within the precincts are a stately, eye-catching five-storey pagoda (Gojunoto) built, together with a lecture hall, in the new toinzukuri style in 1973; and the main hall (Hondo, also called Kannondo), devoted to Kannon Bosatsu.

Five-Storey Pagoda

The 53.32 m. tall pagoda is the second highest in Japan after the 56-m. high pagoda of Toji Temple in Kyoto. The original pagoda, built in 1648 on a different site, was destroyed by an air raid in 1945. The top of the pagoda houses Buddha’s ashes ceremonially transferred from a temple in Sri Lanka. You can’t go inside the pagoda as it is a graveyard that contains memorial tablets of thousands of families and individuals.

Main Hall (Hondo)

The impressive Main Hall, with its high-pitched roof, enshrines a principal image of Buddha, known as Kannon Bosatsu (Kannon Bodhisattva). Built in 1644, it was destroyed in 1945 and rebuilt with the same design as the old one in 1958.

Jokoro, the main incense censer, is a large bronze vessel filled with sand and ash. Bundles of incense sticks, about 2 cm in diameter and 15 cm long, are lit here. Pilgrims stop here to wave the cleansing smoke, “the breath of the gods,” over their face and body.

Giant vase with a gold Buddhist manji cross.  It is the reverse of the right-facing German swastika.

On the west side of the Main Hall is Yogodo Hall where Buddhist divinities who support Kannon Busatsu are enshrined.  At the left side of the hall is a hexagonal building (Rokkakudo), the oldest wooden structure (it was built in the 16th century).

Yogodo Hall

The Yogodo’s quiet contemplative garden, kept in the distinctive Japanese style, features an old stone bridge, the oldest in Tokyo (it was built for the Asakusa Toshogu Shrine in 1618), that spans a small pond stocked with colorful koi and fed by a rushing stream.

Stone bridge (the oldest in Tokyo) over a koi-filled pond

At many places on its approach and within the temple itself are o-mikuji stalls where, for a suggested donation of JP¥100, visitors may consult the oracle and divine answers to their questions.

Maigo-shirase Sekihyo (Mark Stone for Lost Child). Carved with “Namu Daijihi Kanzeon-bosatsu Mayoiko-no Shirube,” it had been used for exchanging information about lost children in the Edo period.

Querents shake labelled sticks, from enclosed metal containers, and read the corresponding answers they retrieve from one of 100 possible drawers.

An 8 m. high, bronze Hokyoin-to, a tiered tower or pagoda, was cast by Fijiwara Masatoki in 1761. The largest one left in Tokyo, it was damaged during an earthquake in 1855 but was restored in 1907 to commemorate Japan’s victory in the Russian – Japanese War.

Saibutsu Itabi, raised from the late Kamakura period to the early Muromachi period, measures 217.9 cm. high and 46 cm. wide. It is the largest Aoishi Toba (blue stupa) in Tokyo.

Statue of Amitabha Tathagata

The Tori No Ichi Fair, held for over 300 years in front of Sensoji on the days of the rooster in November (according to the Chinese zodiac calendar), is an interesting special event held to sell kumade bamboo rakes which are supposed to be lucky for business.

Seated bronze statue of Kannon Bodhisattva, attendant of Amida Buddha, sitting on lotus pedestal.

The Clock of Peace, a gift of the Lions Club International, originally had a square Seiko clock mounted on the pagoda but has been replaced by an ordinary National Panasonic clock.

Attracting a large number of local small business owners, when a rake is sold, the buyer and seller perform a tejime (a ritual hand clapping ceremony) together.

Hato Poppo Song Monument. Hato Poppo, is a children’s song written by Rentaro Taki and Kume Higashi. Kume came up with the lyrics for the song as she observed children play with pigeons on the grounds of Sensoji Temple. In 1962, a monument was raised at Sensoji in honor of this famous Japanese nursery song. The monument is inscribed with the words and the score for the song, with lifelike bronze pigeons resting on top.

Sensō-ji Temple: 2-3-1 Asakusa, Taitō-ku, Tokyo, Japan. Open daily, 6 AM to 5 PM (6:30 PM, October to March).  Admission is free.

How to Get There: The temple is a 10-min. walk from Asakusa Station which is served by the Tokyo Metro Ginza Line, Toei Asakusa Line and Tobu railway lines. It is also a 10-min. walk from Tawaramachi Station on the Ginza Line.

Meiji Jingu Shrine (Tokyo, Japan)

The Meiji Jingu Shrine

As we delved deeper into Yoyogi Park, we soon came across the entrance to the Meiji Shrine. Located directly in front of the entrance to the shrine was the temizuya (font), a cleansing station where visitors used wooden ladles to spiritually cleanse themselves by pouring water over their hands (left before right) and rinse mouths with their left hand.

The temizuya (hand wash pavilion)

The Meiji Shrine (明治神宮 Meiji Jingū), the largest and one of the Japan’s most popular Shinto shrines, is dedicated to the deified spirits of Emperor Meiji (the shrine, however, does not contain the emperor’s grave, which is located at Fushimi-momoyama, south of Kyoto) and his wife and consort, Empress Shōken.

Torii (Japanese gate) at the entrance of the Meiji Jingu Shrine.  Devotees usually bow once here upon entering and exiting the shrine.

After the emperor’s death in 1912, the Japanese Diet passed a resolution to commemorate his role in the Meiji Restoration, choosing an iris garden, in an area of Tokyo where Emperor Meiji and Empress Shōken had been known to visit, as the building’s location. The building of the shrine, a national project, mobilized youth groups and other civic associations from throughout Japan, who contributed labor and funding. In 1915, construction began under Itō Chūta.

The Minami-Shinmon Gate

The shrine, built in the traditional nagare-zukuri style, primarily uses Japanese cypress and copper. On November 1, 1920, eight years after the passing of the emperor and six years after the passing of the empress, it was formally dedicated and completed in 1921.  Its grounds were officially finished by 1926. Until 1946, the Meiji Shrine was officially designated one of the Kanpei-taisha (官幣大社), meaning that it stood in the first rank of government supported shrines.

The author at Minami-Shinmon Gate

During the Tokyo air raids of World War II, the original building was destroyed and the present iteration of the shrine was funded through a public fund raising effort and completed in October 1958. The shrine has been visited by numerous foreign politicians, including U.S. Pres. George W. Bush, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle.

Kyle, Grace and Jandy in front of the Honden (Main Hall)

The entrance to the shrine complex, marked by a massive torii gate (one of the largest in Japan) in the Myojin style, constructed from a more than 1,500 year old hinoki (Japanese cypress from Taiwan), leads through the Jingu Bashi bridge. Upon entry into the shrine grounds, the sights and sounds of the busy city are replaced by a tranquil forest and Meiji Jingu’s buildings, at the middle of the forest, that have an air of tranquility distinct from the surrounding city.

A lady worshiper praying at the Main Hall. In front of her is an offertory box where coins are dropped

Visitors to the shrine can take part in typical Shinto activities – making offerings at the main hall, buying charms and amulets, writing out one’s wish on an ema (piece of paper) and tying them on a prayer wall, etc. On the first days of the New Year, Japanese usually visit a Shinto shrine to prepare for the Hatsumōde (初詣), the year’s first prayers, and the shrine is the most popular location in Tokyo for this, regularly welcoming more than three million visitors. During the rest of the year, traditional Shinto weddings can often be seen taking place there.

Visitors shopping for omamori (lucky charms, talismans and amulets for all kinds of occasions) or ofuda (emblems bearing the name of the shrine or enshrined deities distributed by the shrine)

The shrine itself is composed of two major areas – the Naien and the Gaien. The Naien, the inner precinct, is centered on the shrine buildings, dating from 1958. The buildings, all great example of Japanese Shinto architecture, are made from Japanese cypress wood from the Kiso region of Nagano (regarded as the best in Japan) with green cooper plates used for the roofs.

Interior of the main hall

It consists of the honden (The Main Hall, the main shrine building proper and the innermost sanctuary of the shrine), noritoden (The Prayer Recital Hall where Shinto liturgy is recited), naihaiden (The Inner Shrine Hall), gehaiden (The Outer Shrine Hall), shinsenjo (the consecrated kitchen for the preparation of the food offerings) and shinko (The Treasure House).

A prayer wall where ema are hung on hooks. An ema is a wooden tablet, obtained at the juyosho (amulet offices), where wishes are written.  There are two main types of ema – Kigan-Ema (bear the crest of the shrine on their front and the word Kigan on their back) and the Eto-Ema (depicting this year’s Eto  or zodiac).

The Treasure House, at the northern end of the shrine grounds, was built in the Azekurazukuri style one year after the shrine was opened.  It displays many interesting personal belongings of the Emperor and Empress, including the carriage which the emperor rode to the formal declaration of the Meiji Constitution in 1889. The Museum Annex Building, just to the east of the main shrine buildings, displays temporary exhibitions.

Kaguraden (Hall of Shinto Music and Dance). Goshuin (Meiji Jingu Memorial Seal), to remind you of your visit to Meiji Jingu,  are stamped and hand-painted here.

The quite beautiful, simple and classic Minami-shin Mon, the main shrine gate to the inner precinct, was built in 1921.  Made entirely of Japanese cypress, it has a copper plate roof. You reach it upon passing the final myojin torii gate. This gate and one of the amulet offices (shukueisha) were the only constructions in Meiji Shrine not destroyed by the World War II raids.

The reception and registration area of the Kaguraden Hall

The Kaguraden (Hall of Shinto Music and Dance), built to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the establishment of Meiji Jingu, was started in 1990 and completed in October 1993. This 3-storey building (one floor is above the ground and the other two floors below ground level) follows the traditional Irimoya-Nagarezukuri architectural style The front entrance, with the reception and registration area, is slightly below ground level. One flight of stairs leads down, and another flight of stairs leads up to the waiting area and the hall for ceremonies.

The Gaien, the outer precinct, includes the Meiji Memorial Picture Gallery (housing a collection of 80 large murals illustrative of the events in the lives of the Emperor and his consort); a variety of sports facilities, including the National Stadium (Meiji Jingu Gaien Stadium and later, since 1956, on the same site, Tokyo Olympic Stadium); the Meiji Kinenkan (Meiji Memorial Hall).  The latter, originally used for governmental meetings (including discussions surrounding the drafting of the Meiji Constitution in the late 19th century), is now used for Shinto weddings as well as meeting rooms for rent and restaurants services.

The Meiji-jingu Gyoen (Inner Garden), a large area of the southern section of the shrine grounds, becomes particularly popular during the middle of June when the beautiful irises here are in bloom. Kiyomasa’s Well, a small well located within the garden visited by the Emperor and Empress while they were alive, was named after a military commander who dug it around 400 years ago. The well has become a popular spiritual “power spot.”

Meiji Shrine: 1-1, Kamizono-chō, YoyogiShibuya-kuTokyo 151-0053.  Open daily, from sunrise to sunset.  Admission to the shrine precinct is free. The Inner Garden, open from 9 AM to 5 PM, requires an entrance fee of JP¥500 to enter.

How to Get There: From JR Tokyo Station, get on the Yamanote Line and get off at the busy Harajuku Station on the JR Yamanote Line or Meiji-jingu-mae Station on the Chiyoda and Fukutoshin Subway Lines. It is about a 25 minute train ride. The approach to Meiji Shrine starts a few steps from Harajuku Station.  The main complex of shrine buildings is a 10-min. walk from both the southern entrance near Harajuku Station and the northern entrance near Yoyogi Station.

Yoyogi Park (Tokyo, Japan)

Yoyogi Park

Yoyogi Park (代々木公園 Yoyogi kōen), adjacent to the Meiji Jingu Shrine, is located in a forest within the densely built-up city.  A popular Tokyo destination, it covers an area of 54.1 hectares (134 acres).  The park is covered by an evergreen forest that consists of 120,000 trees of 365 different species, which were donated by people from regions across the entire country when the shrine was established.

The author under the park’s massive, 40 ft. high torii (Japanese gate)

This popular Tokyo destination stands on the site where, on December 19, 1910, Capt. Yoshitoshi Tokugawa made the first successful powered aircraft flight in Japan. Later, the area became an army parade ground. From September 1945, during the Allied occupation of Japan, the site housed “Washington Heights,” the military barracks for U.S. officers.

In 1964, the area was used for the Tokyo Olympics, housing the main Olympic village and the distinctive Yoyogi National Gymnasium (designed by Kenzo Tange, it hosted the swimming and diving, with an annex for the basketball). On October 20, 1967, most of the area north of the gymnasium complex and south of Meiji Shrine was turned into Yoyogi Park.

On Sundays, the landscaped park, with its picnic areas, bike paths, cycle rentals and public sport courts, is especially busy when it is used as a gathering place for Japanese rock music fans, jugglers, comedians, martial arts clubs, cosplayers and other subculture and hobby groups. During hanami, thousands of people visit the park to enjoy the cherry blossoms.

Street performer at Jingu Bashi Bridge

Rock band performing at same bridge

The forest is visited by many as a recreation and relaxation area in the center of Tokyo and the spacious shrine grounds offer walking paths that are great for a relaxing stroll.

Cheska and Bryan admiring the colorful karadizu, wrapped in straw and having wonderful unique graphics, containing sake

Along the path to Meiji Shrine is a great wall of colorful kazaridaru (which means “decoration barrels”) containing saké (Japanese rice wine), all wrapped in straw and having wonderful unique graphics. These sake barrels, offered every year to the enshrined deities at Meiji Jingu Shrine, were donated by sake brewers from around Japan. The sake is used for shrine ceremonies and festivals.

Across are barrels of wine to be consecrated at Meiji Jingu.  These have been offered by the celebrated wineries of Bourgogne in France on the initiative of Mr. Yasuhiko Sata, Representative, Hourse of Burgundy in Tokyo, Honorary Citizen of Bourgogne and owner of the Chateau de Chailly Hotel-Golf.

Provenance of the Bourgogne Wine for Consecration

Yoyogi Park: 2-1 Yoyogikamizonocho, ShibuyaTokyo 151-0052, Japan.  Tel: +81 3-3469-6081.

How to Get There: The park is located near the JR Line’s Harajuku Station or Yoyogi Station, or Tokyo Metro’s Meiji-Jingumae Station. 

Tokyo Here We Come!!!

Our first clear view of the Japanese countryside from our plane window

Our direct Cebu Pacific (5J-5054) flight to Tokyo left Manila’s NAIA Terminal 3 by 6:15 AM and our flight took us nearly four-and-a-half hours.  We had a pre-ordered breakfast on board our plane.  Our plane landed at Narita International Airport by 11:30 AM (Tokyo time which is one hour ahead of Manila).

Narita International Airport

Grace, Bryan and Cheska exiting the plane

Kyle, Jandy, Cheska and Bryan now inside Narita International Airport

After gathering our luggage and passing through Airport Immigration, Cheska booked all of us on an Airport Limousine Bus that would bring us, from the airport, to Akasaka Excel Hotel Tokyu which was near the hotel we were to stay in for four nights – Centurion Classic Akasaka.

Check out “Hotel and Inn Review: Centurion Classic Akasaka

Airport Limousine bus

Fare was ¥3,100 per adult (¥15,500 total for me, Grace, Jandy, Cheska and Bryan) and ¥1,550 for my 6 year old grandson Kyle.  We could have taken the Metro and save more than half what we paid, but we decided against it as we were traveling with heavy and bulky luggage. Taking the taxi or Uber would have been more expensive as we would have to board two vehicles.

On board…..

Our airconditioned limousine bus soon arrived and, after our luggage was loaded, we took our seats inside the bus which left promptly at 1:30 PM. Normally, travel time from Narita International Airport to Asakasa (59.7 kms. away) takes just a little over an hour but our bus trip took 30 mins. longer as the bus made a number of stops to drop off passengers at different hotels.  We arrived at the Akasaka Excel Hotel by 3 PM and made the short 5-min. walk to our hotel.

Alighting from the bus at Excel Hotel Akasaka Tokyu

Walking towards our hotel

After checking in at our 5th floor room (Room 509) and freshening up abit, we again went down to the hotel lobby and walked to a nearby 7-11 convenient store where we bought packed lunches, sandwiches and 1-liter bottled water.  That done, we gain walked back to our hotel and had our first meal in Tokyo in the airconditioned comfort of our room.

Centurion Hotel Classic Akasuka

Centurion Classic Asakasa: 107-0052 Tokyo Prefecture, Minato-ku Akasaka 3-11-8, Japan.  Tel: 1-866-599-6674.

Return to Wawa Gorge (Rodriguez, Rizal)

Wawa Gorge

The day after my grandson Kyle’s 6th birthday, I together with the rest of my family joined employees of E. Ganzon Inc. in distributing relief goods to residents of Sitio Wawa in Rodriguez (formerly Montalban, it was renamed after Eulogio “Amang” Rodriguez Sr., Montalban’s first mayor and Senate president, in 1982) in Rizal. Last August 11-13, the area was hit by flash flooding that also destroyed the bridge that connects Sitio Wawa with Sitio Sto. Niño.

Sitio Wawa

This wasn’t my first visit to this area.  The first time I was in Wawa was way back in 2004 when I was a guest in a demonstration tour, for teacher representatives from 9 different schools, hosted by Lakbay Kalikasan. At Wawa Gorge, we engaged in the adrenaline-pumping sport of rappelling at the gorge’s metal footbridge.

Check out “Rapelling at Wawa Gorge

Sitio Wawa lies is in between the 426 m. high Mt. Pamitinan and 424 m. high Mt. Binacayan.  Its abandoned reservoir is visited mostly by hikers as the jump-off point for the trek to either beginner-friendly mountain, two of three mountains in the well-loved trilogy hike (the other is 517 m. high Mt. Hapunang Banoi). Guide fee is Php500 per group.

Mt. Pamitinan

The two mountains form a scenic view that appears like a portal to the sky, hence the name wawa, the Dumagat term for “entrance.” Sitio Wawa is a habitat of the Remontado Dumagat, mixed-blood offspring of lowlanders, who fled the Spanish colonizers, and of Negritos, the original setters in the area.

Mt. Binacayan

Legend has it that a giant of extraordinary strength named Bernardo Carpio (our version of Hercules or Atlas) who, in olden times, was trapped by an enkanto (enchanted creature) between Mt. Pamitinan and Mt. Binacayan. He caused earthquakes, landslides and flooding in nearby villages every time he struggles to free himself from his chains or keep the boulders from crushing him or from colliding.

Parking lot for visitors

José Rizal was said to have made a pilgrimage to Montalban to pay homage to Bernardo Carpio, a versatile symbol of freedom. In recent times, Lavrente “Lav” Diaz has used the legend as organic symbol in his 2016 historical fantasy dram film Hele sa Hiwagang Hapis (“A Lullaby to the Sorrowful Mystery”). The riverbed is said to have a boulder with a hollow that forms what look like a gigantic footprint, attributed by locals to Bernardo Carpio.

The E. Ganzon, Inc. group. The author is at left

Historically, the site was used as a hide out by the revolutionary leader Andres Bonifacio who made one of Pamitinan’s caves as the Katipunan’s secret headquarters.  Here, Bonifacio and eight of his men entered the cave on Palm Sunday and came out on Good Friday. Here, they declared independence from Spain on April 12, 1895, over a year before the Revolution started.

The children of Sitio Wawa

Some 500 meters of narrow passage away from the mouth of Pamitinan Cave is the bulwagan (“hall”), a cavern over 50 ft. high and about 50 ft. in radius.  Inscribed on the cavern wall, in what looks like charcoal (possibly soot from a torch), are the words Viva la Independencia.  The Pamitinan pilgrimage is held here in April.

A currently closed hanging bridge

In 1943, the cave was turned into a Japanese armory. Mary Japanese died here from American fire. In 1977, a concrete marker commemorating them was fixed on the cliff wall over the cave’s mouth, above which is a metal plate, inscribed with Japanese characters with English translation, that reads: “Give them eternal rest, O Lord, and let them share Your glory.” In 1985, the cave was declared a National Geological Monument.

The narrow paved trail. along a ridge, leading to Wawa Dam

It is closed for rehabilitation until further notice.  In 1996, the area was declared a Protected Landscape managed by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) and the Department of Tourism.

A waterfall emanating from a cave

After lunch at one of the area’s eateries, we decided to make the 500-m. trek, along a ridge, to Wawa Dam, the prominent landmark of Sitio Wawa. Along the narrow, paved trail are stores selling organic vegetables (eggplant, squash, gabi, takway, puso ng saging, pandan leaves, etc.), river shrimps, crabs, eels, carp, charcoal, assorted fruits (bananas, papaya,) etc., snacks and beverages to tourists.

The author at the steel footbridge near the dam

On Tuesdays and Fridays, foot traffic is heavy on the trail, with young men carrying sacks of fruits and vegetables.  After crossing a metal footbridge, we reached the slightly arched dam.  Coupled with the beautiful landscape of 80-160 feet high white rock walls, limestone crags and marble boulders, the dam was perfect for photography.

Wawa Dam

Wawa Dam, also known as Montalban Dam, is an 85 m. 9279 ft.) long  and 12 m. (40 ft.) high gravity dam constructed over the Marikina River. The slightly arched dam is situated in the 360-m. (1,180 ft.) high Montalban Gorge or Wawa Gorge, a water gap in the Sierra Madre Mountains, east of Manila.

Kyle, Grace and Jandy with the dam in the background

The waters of the Upper Marikina River basin, its headwater said to be in Quezon province, runs through the gorge and descends to the lowlands of the neighboring town of San Mateo and Marikina Valley. During summer, cottages are built at the foot of the dam but, as it was the rainy season, they remove the cottages because of the heavy impact of water.

The old, roofless American-era watchtower flanking the dam

The dam was built in 1904, during the American colonial era, started operating in 1909 to provide the water needs for Manila. It used to be the only source of water for the greater Manila area but it was closed in 1962 due to deterioration and lack of water supply and abandoned when it was replaced by the La Mesa-Ipo-Angat watershed system.

The sparsity of its water was most likely due to the logging and quarrying in the mountains. However, due to insufficiency of water supply for Metro Manila, there is now a strong clamor to reuse the dam. Wawa Dam is also pictured in their official seal of the local government of Rodriguez.

The reservoir behind the dam

For those who are not fans of mountain hiking, Wawa Dam’s has picnic spots. If you don’t want to bring your own food and beverages, sari-sari stores, food stalls and a wet market are available in the place. You can rent a bamboo cottage (Php150-500) and toilets are Php10 per use (bring your own toiletries or buy them at the sari-sari stores).

The roofless interior of the old watchtower

Wawa Dam: M. H. Del Pilar Street, Sitio Wawa, Brgy. San Rafael, Rodriguez, RizalPhilippines.

How to Get There:

By Car: Despite the usual traffic, the fastest route to Wawa is via Commonwealth Ave., then take Payatas Road going to Rodriguez Highway until you reach M.H Del Pilar Street. Inside Wawa Village, there’s a parking space where the locals look after your car for any amount. Travel time is around 1.5 to 2hrs.

By Public Transportation: In front of Jollibee, Farmers, Cubao, Quezon City, there’s a UV Express Terminal where you can take the van going to Rodriguez (fare: Php50 per head).  Drop-off at Montalban Terminal.  Here, you can ride a tricycle going to Wawa Village (fare: Php20 per head). From  SM North/Trinoma, you can also ride a UV Express van (fare: Php50) going to Eastwood Montalban and drop off at Eastwood Ministop. Then, ride a jeep going to Wawa (fare: Php8). From the parking lot, you have to walk for 5-10 minutes. Alternatively, from Cubao/SM North/Trinoma, you can ride a bus or jeepney going to Litex and, from there, ride a jeepney going to Montalban Town Center and another jeepney to Wawa. This is much cheaper but a bit of a hassle.

The Fountain at Okada Manila

The Fountain at Okada Manila

The Fountain at Okada Manila, tagged as the world’s largest multicolor dancing fountain, was unveiled last March 31, 2017 in a star-studded launch featuring Miss Universe 2015 Pia Wurtzbach as host, German-Filipino classical crossover singer Gerphil Flores (performing classical music with the 40-piece Manila Philharmonic Orchestra as accompaniment) and American singer-songwriter Robin Thicke (behind the hit “Blurred Lines”) as the main act.

This iconic destination attraction of the Philippines, capable of moving in rhythm with music and lights, draws guests not only around the country but from the world over. The US$30-million fountain has an area of 9.2 hectares, reportedly taking up a third of the property’s land area. In terms of size, it is bigger than the 3.4-hectare Bellagio Fountain of Las Vegas. Like the Bellagio, The Fountain at Okada Manila was designed by WET Designs, a renowned Los Angeles-based water-feature design firm.

WET team of  fountain choreographers infused a local touch to The Fountain’s twofold design inspirations – the festive traditions of the Philippines, and the sampaguita, the country’s national flower.

The fountain, a spectacular show of lights and sounds, is equipped with 739 high-power water nozzles (which can shoot water beyond the height of the Okada Manila hotel building), including WET’s proprietary underwater robots, 2,611 colored lights and 23 high-fidelity speakers. The water in The Fountain can also fill 50 Olympic-size swimming pools.

The Fountain Show, a gift of Okada Manila Chairman Kazuo Okada to the Philippines, is available for free to guests of all ages who watch the show from 6 PM onward. Before the show begins, the peaceful fountain takes the appearance of a manmade lake from the ground. When the show starts, water jets soar high at the centre of the lake, allowing for the projection of abstract videos from two sides.

The water nozzles and colored lights work together to create a sensory experience like no other.  The fountain’s movements, dazzling as it danced in sync to the tune of classics and modern songs, features jets of water racing and spurts twisting and twirling with the feathery grace of a dancer with water blossoms budding, unfurling and forming the eight petals of a massive sampaguita.

Both sides of The Fountain also feature projections during spectacular water shows. A permanent yet invisible performance stage installed in The Fountain’s lake enables performers to give the illusion of being able to walk on water, interact with the water features, and amaze the audience with an enthralling, unforgettable show.  Accompanying this are two other immersive shows: LED Mapping and World of Wonders.  Joining the ranks of Manila’s most iconic landmarks and a bold take on creating a global icon, The Fountain of Okada Manila’s grandeur and accurately choreographed water, light and music performances will rival those in Dubai’s Burj Khalifa and Las Vegas’ Bellagio. Truly, it is a sight to behold.

Okada Manila: New Seaside Drive, Parañaque City, 1701 Metro Manila.  Tel.: (02) 888 0777.

Fountain Show Schedules: Mondays to Thursdays, one song at the top of each hour (6 PM to 10 PM); Fridays to Saturdays, two songs at the top of each hour (6 PM to 12 AM); and Sundays, two songs at the top of each hour (6 PM to 11 PM). Every 8 PM, from Friday to Sunday, the World of Wonders will be performed on the floating stage. A projection mapping show, meanwhile, will be held from Friday to Sunday from 8:30 to 9:30 in the evening.

Church of St. Isidore the Farmer (Labrador, Pangasinan)

Church of St. Isidore the Farmer

The town’s first church and convent, built with wood, was started in 1771 by Fr. Domingo de San Joaquin and finished in 1776. By 1865, after renovations, it measured 57.4 m. in length and 16.5 m. in width. In 1952, the church underwent repairs of World War II damage.

The church’s interior

AUTHOR’S NOTES

The church’s single level, Baroque facade, topped by a plain triangular pediment, has a semicircular arched main entrance flanked by massive square pilasters topped by urn-like finials, and semicircular arched windows.

Above the entrance is a small niche with the statue of St. Isidore the Farmer flanked by semicircular arched windows.  The square bell tower, on the church’s left, is probably a modern addition.

The main altar and retablo

Church of St. Isidore the Farmer: Lingayen-Labrador Road, Poblacion, Labrador 2402. Tel: (075) 549-5055. Feast of St. Isidore the Farmer: May 15.

How to Get There: Labrador is located 359 kms. from Manila.  Within the province, it is located 12.6 kms. from Lingayen, 10.5 kms. from Bugallon and 7.3 kms. from Sual.

Kampana Museum (Lingayen, Pangasinan)

Kampana Museum, probably the only one of its kind in the country

The Kampana (“Bell”) Museum, probably the only museum of its kind in the country, is housed within the compound of the Cathedral of the Epiphany of Our Lord.  It displays an array of six old bells (some dating back to the 1800s) of different sizes (four of them still with their wooden yokes) of the parish on a raised concrete platform within a fenced in, shed-type enclosure.

Check out “Cathedral of the Epiphany of Our Lord

The array of six bells, a number of which are coated with verdigris

During the term of the first Team Ministry (when the “Three Kings” Parish was renamed “Epiphany of Our Lord Parish” in 1965) of the parish (composed of Fr. John R. Palinar, Fr. Jose S. Estrada, Fr. Manuel S. Bravo and Fr. Victor Z. Embuido), these church bells were replaced by new ones (sourced through donations from civic-spirited citizens here and abroad).

 

Bell inscribed with “Isaias Edralin,” probably a parish priest

These old church bells were, in turn, housed in a museum built during the term of the second Team Ministry (composed of Fr. Alberto T. Arenos, Fr. Camilo Natividad and Fr. Jovino Batecan).  The museum was inaugurated on March 31, 2002.

Bell inscribed with “Francisco Treserra,” probably a parish priest

AUTHOR’S NOTES:

Inscriptions on the bells oftentimes indicates the bell’s date of casting, its weight, the name of the saint (San Juan Bautista, Sta. Teresita, Jesus, Maria y Jose, etc.) to which it was dedicated; the name of the town (Lingayen) for which it was commissioned; the name of the parish priest (Francisco Treserra, Isaias Edralin, Felix Sanches, etc.), bishop (Cesar Ma. Guerrero, on February 22, 1929), pope (Pope Pius XI ); when it was cast; and even the name of the bell caster.

A bell inscribed with the names of Lingayen Bishop Cesar Ma. Guerrero and Pope Pius XI

I noticed one bell was cast in 1874, a second in 1883 and another in 1928. One bell is inscribed with “Fundicion de H. Sunico” possibly referring to metalsmith Hilario S. Sunico who cast 176 bells, dated 1872-98. His last known bell was dated 1937.

A bell inscribed with the year “1883”

Many of the bells are wrapped in a blue-green patina due to chemical reaction with air and sea water, over time, that causes copper, brass and bronze to form verdigris.The verdigris layer, which gives the bell its fragile beauty, actually protects the underlying metal from corrosion and degradation, which is why these bells are so durable.

A bell inscribed with “Jesus, Mary and Joseph”

Cathedral of the Epiphany of Our Lord: Poblacion, Lingayen, 2401 Pangasinan.  Tel: (075) 542-6235.

How to Get There: Lingayen is located 227 kms. (a 4.5-hour drive) from Manila and 94.9 kms. (a 3-hour drive) from Baguio City (Benguet).