Imperial Palace East Garden

These are some photos from M’s camera that we took way back in April but completely forgot about in all the excitement. A part of the Imperial Palace was open for the first time in 70-odd years so we went along to have a look, saw the queues, and went to the East Garden instead, which was probably just as nice anyway.

There were some gorgeous cherry blossoms out in full bloom:

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As well as many other kinds of wildflowers. It’s a great place for a lunch.

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There was also this guy:

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Imperial Palace

From Shinjuku, I walked all the way across Tokyo to the Imperial Palace near Tokyo Station. It’s quite a nice walk, basically a straight line and not nearly as far as you might think. Central Tokyo is actually more long and narrow and you can get from one side to the other in about an hour’s walk. The Imperial Palace is the site of the former Edo Castle, once the biggest in the world, of which the moat, some of the stone walls and guard houses still remain. It is now the official residence of the Imperial family and comprises a huge park and gardens in the very centre of Tokyo, although only the outer gardens are accessible to the public. At one stage during the bubble years of the 1980s, the real estate value of the Palace grounds was put at more than all of California.

The moat around the Imperial Palace:

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Sakuradamon Gate:

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Palace gardens:

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Nijubashi Bridge:

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Shinjuku-gyoen

It was the heaviest snowfall in 45 years on Saturday so on Sunday I went to check out the Japanese garden in Shinjuku Park (along with all the other old guys with huge cameras!). After all the snow it was a beautifully warm day with clear blue skies:

The park itself is huge, with Japanese, French and English gardens:

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Some kind of blossoms near the entrance:

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The Japanese garden:

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Snowman, called 雪だるま(yukidaruma) in Japan after their resemblance to Daruma dolls:

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Getting away from it all:

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Looking out towards Aoyama:

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高水三山 – Takamizusan-zan

This was a short day-hike we did back in May but hadn’t got round to looking at the pictures. The course traverses three peaks (三山 means ‘three mountains’) in the Okutama range west of Tokyo and there are some nice views (well, from two of them anyway). It’s not a very difficult hike – basically a walk through the woods – but hey it’s not concrete (mostly) and it’s quite pleasant. The official course goes from Ikusabata Station to Mitake Station but we went the other way – rather than start with a long slog up a concrete slope we ended by coming down it. It’s much nicer to plunge straight up the mountain when you are still fresh and can really enjoy it.

This is the start from Mitake Station:

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The course then quickly rises and continues through the forest:

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Mountains have always been considered sacred places in Japan and you often small shrines dedicated to them:

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The view from the second peak (the first one didn’t have much of a view at all):

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The third peak:

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A well-protected bus-stop on the way down:

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There was some kind of F1 race on as well:

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Mt Gongen/ Mt Kobo

This was a short hike near Yokohama up Mt Kobo (弘法山) and across to Mt Gongen (権現山), starting from Hadano Station and finishing at Tsurumaki Onsen. It’s a very easy hike but it’s always nice to get away from the concrete for a while!

Enjoying the sunshine:

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View of Fuji from Mt Gongen:

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Cherry blossoms along the way:

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Japanese ‘nature’ perfectly disected by the trail:

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At the top of Mt Kobo:

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Wildflowers on the trail:

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Near Tsurumaki Onsen:

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An ivy-covered house near Tsurumaki Onsen with lilac blossoms:

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Nikko Toshogu

The day after Kirifuri, we went to the main Toshogu Shrine complex up from Nikko station. In his will, the first Tokugawa shogun, Ieyasu, requested that he be enshrined in Nikko (before he died, Ieyasu was so fat he was unable to mount a horse unaided!). At first relatively modest, the shrine and grounds was embellished and extended by the third shogun, Iemitsu, who also had himself enshrined here (the second shogun is tucked away in Ueno, Tokyo). The whole complex is now a World Heritage Site and is justifiably one of the most impressive sights in Japan.

The red bridge marks the boundary between the city of Nikko and the Toshogu:

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The entrance to the complex:

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A dragon welcomes:

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The main torii entrance to Ieyasu’s shrine:

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The Yomeimon gate:

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The famous three monkeys:

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Carvings beside the gate:

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The inner shrine:

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Dragon on the inner shrine:

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We didn’t go up to the actual tomb of Ieyasu because it cost extra.

Kanda Festival

The Kanda matsuri was held in Tokyo on Sunday for the first time in four years. The main festival is held every odd numbered year but was not held in 2011 due to the earthquake that year so this year it made a welcome return. It is one of three the largest festivals in Japan and on the Sunday locals carry mikoshi, portable shrines, through the streets around the Kanda Myoujin Shrine.

Keeping a stern eye on things:

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Getting things ready:

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It’s all a bit much for some:

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Some of the mikoshi are quite lavish:

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Some are pulled on carts:

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But most are hoisted onto shoulders:

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Happi coat:

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For young and old:

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All the mikoshi go through the main shrine:

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And are paraded in front of the main hall:

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To receive a blessing:

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Enjoying the show:

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The mikoshi are then taken out to their local areas:

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