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. 

Zōjō-ji Temple (Tokyo, Japan)

Zojo-ji Temple

It was our fourth day in Tokyo and, after breakfast at the hotel, we visited the San’en-zan Zōjō-ji (三縁山増上寺), a Jōdo-shū Buddhist temple located in the Shiba neighborhood of Minato.  The main temple of the Jōdo-shū (“Pure Land”) Chinzei sect of Buddhism in the Kantō region, it was founded in 1393 as the sect’s eastern Japan seminary.

Daimon Main Gate

During the Edo period, Zōjō-ji, together with Kan’ei-ji, were notable for their relationship with the Tokugawa clan, the rulers of Japan.  Zōjō-ji was the Tokugawa‘s family temple and six of the 15 Tokugawa shoguns were buried in the Taitoku-in Mausoleum in the temple grounds. Kazu-no-Miya ChikakoTokugawa Iemochi’s wife, is also buried in Zozo-ji. Tokugawa Ieyasu had the temple moved, first to Hibiya and then, in 1598, at the time of expansion of Edo Castle, to its present location.

Approaching the Sangedatsumon

With the fall of the Tokugawa shogunate, the grounds took on the character of a public park. Parts of the former grounds of the temple are now occupied by a park and two hotels. The 65-hectare Shiba Park, Japan’s oldest public park (designated as such in 1873), is built around the temple, with the Tokyo Tower standing beside it.

Shiba Park

At its peak, the temple grounds covered an area of 826,000 sq. m. and contained 48 subsidiary temples, over 3000 priests and 150 temple schools but, following the decline of Buddhism during the Meiji period (1868-1912), the temple’s original buildings, temples, mausoleums and the cathedral were destroyed by fire, natural disasters or burned in air raids during the Bombing of Tokyo in World War II.

Tokyo Tower

After the war, reconstruction began.  In 2015, a Treasure Gallery was opened on the underground level of the Daiden.  Currently, it houses paintings of Kanō Kazunobu and a model of the Taitoku-in Mausoleum. Additional graves are located in the cemetery behind the Daiden.

A concrete myojin-style torii just to the right of the daibonsho

From our hotel, we walked to the nearby Akasaka-Mitsuke Station and took the short, 12-min train ride to the Hamamatsucho Station on the JR Yamanote and JR Keihin-Tohoku Line. The temple was a 10-min. walk from the station. It is the first indication that we have reached Zojo-ji Temple is the Daimon Gate, the concrete reconstruction of original main gate of Zojo-ji destroyed during World War II. As it is now located along a street, cars pass underneath it.

Sangedatsumon

About 200 m. past the Daemon Gate is the temple’s  famous, 21 m. (69 ft.) high, 17.6 m. deep and 28.7 m. wide, 2-storey Sangedatsumon (仏殿), which serves as the inner main gate.  San means “three,” gedatsu means moksha or liberation/freedom, and mon means “gate.” Dating from 1622, it is the temple’s only original structure to survive the Second World War and is, therefore, the oldest wooden building in Tokyo. It has been designated an Important Cultural Property.

Entering the temple via the Kuromon (Black Gate)

The majestic and magnificent, vermilion lacquered gate was designed in three sections to symbolize the three stages that one must pass through to achieve nirvana. If someone passes through the gate, he can free himself from the three passions of greed (貪 Ton), hatred (瞋 Shin) and foolishness (癡 Chi).

Bryan, Grace, Jandy, Kyle and Cheska at the Ji-unkaku Hall

On the upper floor of the gate are enshrined an image of Gautama Buddha (Shakyamuni), flanked by Samantabhadra and Manjusri (two attendant bodhisattvas), and statues of the Sixteen Arhats (disciples of the Buddha), all created by Buddhist image sculptors of Kyoto when Zojo-ji was built.

Image of Shoso Shonin

We entered the temple via the  Kuromon (Black Gate) which dates back to the mid to late 17th century. Immediately to the left is the Ji-unkaku Hall.  It has a multi-purpose hall on the ground floor.  A long flight of stairs brought us to the Kaisando on the second floor.  It enshrines an image of  Shoso Shonin, the founder of Zojo-ji.

Daiden (Main Hall)

The Daiden (Great Hall), rebuilt in 1974, is a blend of traditional Buddhist temple architecture and modern architecture. It enshrines the main image (honzon)  of the Amida Yosai Buddha which was made during the Muromachi Period (1336-1573).  To the right of the Amida Buddha is an image of Great Teacher Shandao, who perfected China’s Jodo (Pure Land) Buddhism), while at its left is an image of Honen Shonin (who founded Japan’s Jodo Shu).

The author beside the Shoro (Bell Tower)

Other structures within the grounds include the Ankokuden, the Kyozo (Sutra Repository), the Shoro (bell tower), Enko Daishi Hall and Koshoden. The Enko Daishi Hall enshrines Enko-daishi, another name of Honen, who is the sect founder of Jodo Buddhism.  The Dai-Nokotsudo (or Shariden), made with stone in 1933, is where the bones of the deceased are stored.

Bryan, Kyle and Cheska at the Dai-Nokotsudo (Shariden)

The Koshoden, a lecture hall and seminary for “cleansing soul and fostering the vigor to live,” has a coffered ceiling features pictures of flowering plants, donated by 120 pious Japanese artists and fitted into coffers.

Ankokuden Hall

The Ankokuden, located to the right of the Main Hall of  the temple, was built in 2010.  It enshrines the Black Image of Amida Buddha, a Buddhist image deeply worshiped by Tokugawa Ieyasu which brings victory and wards off evil.

Interior of Ankokuden Hall

The hall is also used as a prayer hall. The image is shown to the public 3 times a year (January 15, May 15 and September 15).

Black Image of Amida Buddha

The Kyozo, built in 1613 with financial aid from Tokugawa Ieyasu, serves as a storehouse where sutras (important cultural documents) are stored on red, octagonal-shaped revolving bookshelves at its center. It has a thick wall to resist fire and its door is usually closed. The Kyozo has also been designated as an Important Cultural Property by the Tokyo Metropolitan Government.

The Kyozo

The Shoro, just inside the grounds on the right after you enter the Sangedatsumon gate, houses the daibonsho, a huge 15-ton bell completed in 1673 (after repeating casting work as many as seven times).

Daibonsho

With a diameter of 1.76 m. and a height of 3.33 m., it chimes the hours and is tolled twice a day (six times each in the early morning and in the evening).  Renowned as one of the “Three Great Bells of the Edo Period,” it serves to purify the 180 earthly passions (bonno), which lead people astray, through an exhortation, repeated six times a day, to profound equanimity.

The Himalayan cedar tree planted by Gen. Ulysses S. Grant

Himalayan cedar tree, between the Daibonsho bell and the Sangedatsumon gate, was planted by General Ulysses S. Grant, the 18th president of the United States, when he visited the temple as a guest of the nation in 1879.

Sentai Kosodate Jizo (Unborn Children Garden)

The Sentai Kosodate Jizo (Unborn Children Garden), in one particular garden at the cemetery, has rows of 1,000 jizou stone statues of children representing unborn children (miscarriedaborted, or stillborn), lined up about 30 m. long and each wearing a red knitted hat and holding a small colorful windmill that spin around as the wind blows, creating a beautiful scenery.

Prayer Wall

Here, parents can choose a statue in the garden and decorate it with small clothing and toys. To ensure that they are brought to the afterlife, the statues are usually accompanied with a small gift for Jizō, the guardian of unborn children. Occasionally, stones, meant to ease the journey to the afterlife, are piled by the statue.

Incense Burner

Annual events held in the temple are Hatsumode (New Year’s visit) in January; Kurohonzon Prayer Ceremony on January 15; the Setsubun Tsuina-shiki/Nehan Ceremony (Nirvana Day) in February; the Spring Higan Ceremony in March; the Gyoki Ceremony/Buddha’s Birthday (Flower Festival) in April; the Kurohonzon Prayer Ceremony on May 15; the O-bon/Kaisan-ki/Bon Odori in July; the Peace Prayer Ceremony in August; the Autumn Higan Ceremony/Takigi Noh in September; the Kurohonzon Prayer Ceremony on September 15; the Juya Hoyo (Ten Nights of Prayer) in November; and the Jodo Ceremony (Bodhi Day)/Butsumyo Ceremony/Joya no Kane (New Year’s Eve Bell Ringing) in December. Monthly events include the Sutra copying, on the 14th (except July and August) of each month and the Betsuji Nembutsu on the 24th of each month.

Gate of the Tokugawa Mausoleum

In popular culture, the Zōjō-ji Temple was depicted multiple times, during the 1920s and 30s, in the art work of the Shin hanga artist Kawase Hasui.  It was also shown in several ukiyo-e prints by Hiroshige, in particular twice in his famous One Hundred Famous Views of Edo series from 1856–1858.

Zojo-ji Temple as seen in the movie Wolverine (photo: www.tokyofox.net)

Rila Fukushima (Yukio) and Hugh Jackman (Wolverine) – photo (www.tokyofox.net)

In the 2013 movie ‘‘The Wolverine,”  Zojo-ji Temple’s mail hall was used for Logan’s (Hugh Jackman) old friend Mr.Yashida ‘s (Hal Yamanouchi) funeral. Though badly damaged in World War II, Zojo-ji still retains the air of a major temple.

Cemetery at the back of the temple

Zōjō-ji Temple:  4 Chome-7-35 ShibakoenMinatoTokyo 105-0011, Japan.  Tel: (81)3-3432-1431. Website: www.zojoji.or.jp.  There is no admission fee for visitors to enter the temple complex. Treasure Gallery Museum Admission: JP¥700. Though the temple grounds are always open, the temple itself is only open from 6 AM to 5:30 PM. While not immediately obvious, the temple grounds are somewhat wheelchair accessible if entering from the side street instead of the main gate. The best time to visit the temple is late March or early April (for the beautiful cherry blossoms) or autumn (for the colorful leaves). In the evening, you can admire the temple with an illuminated Tokyo Tower in the background.

How to Get There: The entrance is at a 10-minute walk from Hamamatsucho Station on the JR Yamanote and Keihin-Tōhoku Lines, a 6-min. walk from Daimon Station on the Toei Asakusa and Toei Oedo Lines, a 3-min. walk from Onarimon and Shibakoen Stations on the Toei Mita Line, and about 500 m. from the Shibakoen exit of the Shuto Expressway. If you are getting there from Daimon Station, there is a big gate of the Zojo-ji Temple, located in front of the station, which will lead you straight to the front gate of the temple.

The Kabuki-sa (Tokyo, Japan)

Kabuki-za (Kabuki Theater)

The fifth building on the site, it was first built as a wooden structure in 1889 but this was destroyed by an electrical fire on October 30, 1921.  Reconstruction began in 1922 but had not been completed when it again burned down during the 1923 Great Kantō earthquake.

Rebuilding was finally completed in 1924. Destroyed once again by the 1945 Allied bombing during World War II, the theater was restored in 1950, preserving the style of 1924 reconstruction.  It was, until recently, one of Tokyo’s more dramatic and traditional buildings.

The author

In the spring of 2010, the 1950 structure was demolished, due to concerns over the building’s ability to survive earthquakes as well as accessibility issues, and rebuilt over the ensuing three years. The new theater complex was opened on March 28, 2013 and staged its first performances on April 2, 2013.

Grace and Jandy

The new structure, designed by Japanese architect  Kengo Kuma (whose works include Tokyo’s Suntory Museum of Art and the Nezu Museum), kept the style of the 1924 structure which was in the Wafu-Momoyama style (with its signature extravagant façade), an ornate Baroque Japanese Revivalist style meant to evoke the architectural details of Japanese castles as well as temples of pre-Edo period.

The Kabuki-sa Tower looming over the theater facade

While the theater still looks much the same as in 1924, it now has the attached 29-floor Kabukiza Tower office block looming over it. The office building’s fifth floor gallery displays Kabuki costumes and props that have been used in actual performances as well as other culture-related exhibitions.

The theater’s ticket booth

The theater, consisting of three floors, has 1,808 seats, three height-adjustable stages, of varying sizes, as well as an even larger height-adjustable stage and a new revolving stage. Performances are held most days of the month.  If you aren’t sure about committing to an entire show, you can purchase single-act tickets (Hitomaku-mi) for  ¥1,000-¥2,000.

Kabukiza Theater: 4 Chome-12-15 Ginza, Chūō, Tokyo 104-0061, Japan. Tel: 03-3545-6800.  Website: www.kabuki-bito.jp.

How to Get There: The theater is a short walk from Higashi-Ginza Station Exit 3 on the Tokyo Metro Hibiya Line or the Toei Subway Asakusa Line.

Lake Ashino-ko (Hakone, Japan)

Lake Ashino-ko

We just finished our late lunch at Izumi Restaurant at Gotemba and we all had to rush back to our bus for the 30-min. drive to the Hakone area of Kanagawa Prefecture if we were to catch the last 4:30 PM ferry tour of Lake Ashinoko (芦ノ湖). It was still rainy when we left the restaurant. The lake is located on the Tōkaidō road, the main link between Kyoto and Tokyo. The bus made it just in time to Togendai-ko Harbor, the sightseeing boat pier at the lake’s northern shores.

Togendai-ko Harbor

The scenic Lake Ashinoko, also referred to as Hakone Lake or Lake Ashi, is a crater lake 720 m. above sea level that lies along the southwest wall of the caldera of Mount Hakone, a complex volcano that last erupted in 1170 CE at Owakudani. The name Ashinoko means “lake of reeds” in Japanese – ashi (芦) means “reed” while ko (湖  means “lake.”

Victory

The lake, situated some 723 m. above sea level, is the largest lake in Kanagawa prefecture.  With an area of 7 sq. kms., it extends 7 kms. from north to south and has a circumference of 19 kms. It is known for its views of Mt. Fuji, its numerous hot springs, historical sites and ryokan (inns).

Vasa docked acrossed from Victory at Togendai-ko Harbor

Royal II docked at Hakonemachi-ko Harbor

At Togendai-ko Harbor, we all boarded the Victory  (modelled after the 18th century British warship, the HMS Victory) one of three ships inspired by the design of sailing warships (the other two are Royal II, a replica of the 18th century French warship, the Royal Louis, and Vasa, a replica of the 17th century Swedish warship) of Hakone Sightseeing Boats, one of two companies (the other is Izuhakone Sightseeing Boats), that operate pleasure boats that traverse and cruise the gorgeous lake between four ports (Moto-Hakone and Hakone-machi and Togendai and Kojiri) at the lake’s northern end.

The passenger cabin of the Victory

It stopped raining when we left the pier but the skies were still overcast. The boat cruise from one end of the lake to the other takes roughly 30 minutes. The lake, with Mount Fuji in the background, is the symbol of Hakone. However, as with our tour of Mt. Fuji, clouds and poor visibility block our view of the mountain. Visibility tends to be better during the colder seasons of the year than in summer, and in the early morning and late afternoon hours.

Still, the view and cool breeze from the wide open-air decks, with plenty of comfortable viewing spots, was still scenic, with small towns in the east and north and a couple of lakeside resort hotels lining the shoreline framed by the nearby mountain range that includes the famous Mt. Fuji. Legend has it that Lake Ashinoko was home to a nine-headed dragon which is presented with an offering of traditional red rice at the Hakone Shrine Lake Ashi Festival on July 31 every year.

Hakonemachi-ko Harbor

Our tour ended at Hakonemachi-ko Port, at the lake’s southern shore, where our bus waited for us.  On our way back to Tokyo, our bus made a short stopover at Odawara Shinkansen Station where a number of passengers took the super fast shinkansen bullet train back to Tokyo.

The author with Kyle at Hakonemachi-ko Harbor. In the background is the Victory and Royal II

Outside the west exit of the station is a bronze equestrian statue of Hojo Soun (1432-1519), first head of the Later Hojo clan, one of the great powers of the Sengoku period.   It shows him with flaming torches tied to his oxen and fooling his opponents that his troops were three times more than what he actually had.

Odawara Station

Back on our bus, we continued on our long haul drive back to Tokyo. Once in Tokyo, we made a number of stopovers at a number of hotels to drop off passengers before being dropped off at the Akasaka Excel Hotel.

The equestrian statue of Hojo Soun

Lake AshinokoHakoneHakone-machi, Ashigarashimo-gun 250-0521, Kanagawa Prefecture.

How to Get There:  Frequent buses connect Odawara, via Hakone-Yumoto, with Moto-Hakone and Hakone-machi. The trip from Odawara takes about 50 mins. From Hakone-Yumoto, it takes about 35 mins. The Hakone Free Pass is valid on Hakone Tozan buses (bus line H) but not on Izuhakone buses (bus line Z).

There is also a frequently served Hakone Tozan Bus line from Odawara via Hakone-Yumoto to Togendai  (bus line T). The trip also takes about 50 mins. and is also covered by the Hakone Free Pass. From Hakone-Yumoto it takes about 35 minutes.

A slow and scenic way of approaching Lake Ashinoko, from Odawara or Hakone-Yumoto, is taking the Hakone Tozan Railway to Gora, followed by a cable car and ropeway ride to Togendai. From Togendai, you can continue to Moto-Hakone or Hakone-machi by sightseeing boat . The whole journey is covered by the Hakone Free Pass.

Shibuya Crossing (Tokyo, Japan)

Shibuya Crossing: A Must Do for first time visitors to Tokyo

Fashionable  Shibuya , a major commercial and business center and a special ward in Tokyo, is famous for its famous, unique and extremely busy Shibuya Crossing  located in front of the popular Hachikō exit of Shibuya Station, one of the busiest stations in Tokyo.

Bryan, Kyle, Cheska, Jandy, Grace and the author at Shibuya Crossing

One of the icons of Tokyo, here vehicles stop in all directions to allow large crowds of pedestrians, who walk between the various stores and shopping centers near the crossing, to inundate the entire intersection, making for an impressive sight in a confined space. Here, five roads meet in one of the busiest parts of the most populous city in the world.

View of Shibuya Crossing from Shibuya Station

Here are some of the interesting trivia regarding this famous Tokyo attraction:

  • It is the busiest pedestrian crossing in the world.
  • The iconic crossing scene is frequently used to depict how busy Tokyo
  • Per green cycle, up to 3,000 pedestrians use this crossing.
  • Also referred to as the Shibuya Scramble Crossing, the Shibuya Crossing allow pedestrians to walk in all directions (scramble) through the intersection as the traffic is stopped in all directions. Additional terms for this style of pedestrian cross are diagonal crossing or exclusive pedestrian crossings.
  • Three large TV screens, mounted on nearby buildings overlooking the crossing, as well as many advertising signs, can be seen from the crossing.
  • The iconic video screen, featured in the movie Lost in Translation (with its ‘walking dinosaur’ scene) as well as other movies, was taken down for a period of time and replaced with static advertising. It resumed operation in July 2013.
  • The Starbucks store at the Q Front Bldg., overlooking the crossing, is the busiest in Japan and one of the busiest in the world. It is also one of several publicly accessible raised vantage points where you can obtain an overview of the crossing. However, the much sought after prime position at the second floor window, looking out the crossing, can be challenge as the wait can be very long, especially at peak times.
  • Hachiko Statue, a very popular meeting place next to the crossing, commemorates Japan’s most famous dog who used to visit Shibuya Station every day for over ten years to wait for his master to return from work.  A station exit was also named after him.
  • Shibuya Crossing is often featured in Hollywood movies (Lost in TranslationThe Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift, Resident Evil: Afterlife and Retribution), music videos and  television shows, which take place in Tokyo, as well as on domestic and international news broadcasts.
  • Carl Randall, a contemporary British painter  who spent 10 years living in Tokyo as an artist, depicted the area in his large artwork ‘Shibuya’ which was exhibited at the National Portrait Gallery in London in 2013.
  • During the 2016 Summer Olympics closing ceremony, the crossing was featured to promote the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo.
  • Its heavy traffic and inundation of advertising have led to it being compared to the Times Square intersection in New York City and Dundas Square intersection in Toronto.
  • Julian Worrall, a Tokyo-based architecture professor, has said Shibuya Crossing is “a great example of what Tokyo does best when it’s not trying.”

Check out “Hachiko Memorial Statue

For first time visitors to Japan like us, it is an excellent place for travelers who want an introduction to Tokyo’s more energetic side as well as see what an organized mega city looks like.

A rite of passage begins for the author as he makes the crossing …..

We arrived at the crossing by late afternoon when the crowds were at their maximum.  When we made our first crossing, we well expected chaos, with the thousands of people walking in different directions.

Jandy, Grace and Kyle follow suit …….

However, we realized how cool it really was as the pedestrian flow was surprisingly generally smooth as Tokyo residents are used to walking in crowded places (crossing a road with hundreds of other people seems to be just part of their daily routine) and they were very polite and efficient.

Bryan. Kyle and Cheska join in …..

The traffic lights at the crossing have a 2-min. cycle and, during that short waiting time, each little corner of the intersection steadily fills up and, just as the people begin to spill out into the street, the crosswalk lights turn green again and the crossing starts all over again.

Shibuya Crossing at night……

Photographers and videographers were everywhere, constantly searching for the best vantage point to take the best shots.

It was less hectic than we expected as everyone stuck to their own path. We did the crossing, not just once, but several times as we finally were able to really experience the Shibuya Crossing vibe and feel the Tokyo spirit, all in one single square.

Come evening, the crossing came alive with all the color and light coming from the massive advertising, neon signs and jumbo screens. After midnight, the crowds finally thin out when the Shibuya stations closes.

 

Hachiko Memorial Statue (Tokyo, Japan)

Hachiko Memorial Statue

It was now late in the day when we finished our late lunch inside our airconditioned hotel room and, as many museums close by 5 PM, we decided to just visit Shibuya Crossing and the nearby famous Hachiko Statue.  From the Akasaka Station, it was just a short 10-min. train ride to Shibuya Station.

The bronze memorial statue of the loyal dog Hachikō, between the train station and the intersection, is a common meeting place and, thus, was crowded. Hachikō, was, during his lifetime, held up in Japanese culture as an example of loyalty and fidelity.

This Akita Inu (a Japanese breed from the mountains of northern Japan) dog was born on November 10, 1923 in a farm near the city of ŌdateAkita Prefecture. In 1924, Hachikō was taken as a pet by Hidesaburō Ueno, a professor in the agriculture department at the Tokyo Imperial University, who brought him to live in ShibuyaTokyo. Professor Ueno would commute daily to work, and Hachikō, at the end of each day, would leave the house to greet him at the nearby Shibuya Station.

This daily routine continued until May 21, 1925 when, while he was giving a lecture,  the professor suffered a cerebral hemorrhage and died without ever returning to the train station in which Hachikō waited. Still, each day for the next nine years, nine months and fifteen days, Hachikō would still await Ueno’s return, appearing precisely when the train was due at the station and thus attracting the attention of other commuters, many of whom frequented the Shibuya train station and had seen Hachikō and Professor Ueno together each day.

Hirokichi Saito, one of Ueno’s students who developed expertise on the Akita breed, also saw Hachiko at the station and followed him to the home of Kuzaboro Kobayashi, Ueno’s former gardener, where he learned the history of Hachikō’s life. He returned frequently to visit Hachikō and, over the years, published several articles about the dog’s remarkable loyalty. On October 4, 1932, an article about him in Asahi Shimbun (Asahi News), placed Hachikō in the national spotlight, making the dog a national sensation. People started to bring Hachikō treats and food to nourish him during his wait.

His faithfulness to his master Ueno’s memory impressed Japanese people as a spirit of family loyalty to which all should strive to achieve and teachers and parents also used Hachikō’s vigil as an example for children to follow. Throughout the country, a new awareness of the Akita breed grew. Eventually, Hachikō’s legendary faithfulness became a national symbol of loyalty, particularly to the person and institution of Emperors.

Hachikō died on March 8, 1935, at the age of 11, from both terminalcancer and a filaria infection, and his remains were cremated and his ashes were buried in Aoyama CemeteryMinato, Tokyo, resting beside those of Professor Ueno, Hachikō’s beloved master. His fur, preserved after his death, was stuffed and mounted and is currently on permanent display at the National Science Museum of Japan in Ueno, Tokyo.

A statue based Hachiko’s likeness was first sculpted by well-known Japanese artist Teru Ando and erected at Shibuya Station (35°39′32.6″N 139°42′2.1″E) in April 1934, with Hachikō himself present at its unveiling. During World War II, the statue was recycled for the war effort.

L-R: the author, Kyle, Grace and Jandy

In 1948, Takeshi Ando, son of the original artist, was commissioned by the Society for Recreating the Hachikō Statue to make a new second statue which was erected in August 1948.  It still stands and is a popular meeting spot. The station entrance near this statue, one of Shibuya Station’s five exits, is named the Hachikō Entrance/Exit (Hachikō-guchi).

L-R: Cheska, Kyle and Bryan

Hachikō’s devotion is honored on March 8, each year, with a solemn ceremony of remembrance at the Shibuya railroad station, attended by hundreds of dog lovers who want to honor his memory and loyalty. Well after Hachiko’s death, the dog continues to be remembered in worldwide popular culture, with statues, movies, books, and appearances in various media.  In 1987, the story of Hachiko was depicted in the Japanese film,  Hachikō Monogatari (ハチ公物語,The Tale of Hachiko). The 2009 British American drama film Hachi: A Dog’s Tale,  which starred Richard Gere, Joan Allen and Sarah Roemer, is a remake of the Japanese film. 

Plaque of statue

Hachiko Memorial Statue: 1 Chome-2 Dōgenzaka, Shibuya-ku, Tōkyō-to 150-0043, Japan.  Tel:  +81 3-3463-1762.

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.