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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Yushima Tenjin

We went to Yushima Tenjin shrine near Ueno in Tokyo on the weekend for their annual plum-blossom festival. It’s been so unusually cold in Japan this year that even though the festival is supposed to finish at the end of this week the blossoms are only about 40% open. The shrine was originally established in 458AD and is now dedicated to a 神 (kami – god/spirit) of learning so often school children come before entrance examinations.

As usual, there are lots of food stalls in front of the shrine:

Yushima Tenjin - Main Hall 1

The main hall:

Yushima Tenjin - Main Hall 2

Before the exams, children (or often the parents!) come to give an offering for success. People write their wishes on small wooden boards, called ema, which are later burnt:

Yushima Tenjin - Ema 1

There’s also a tradition that if you make 1000 paper cranes then your wishes will come true. Here you can see long colourful strings of cranes:

Yushima Tenjin - Ema 2

There was also a stage set up with performances of traditional music:

Yushima Tenjin - Festival Girl 1

The taiko drumming requires a lot of concentration:

Yushima Tenjin - Festival Girl 2

There was also traditional dance:

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We weren’t the only ones enjoying the festivities:

Yushima Tenjin - Pigeon

The highlight was display of plum blossoms, even if it was still a bit early:

Yushima Tenjin - Ume with Shrine

There is a small garden in the shrine which is quite pleasant (if of course crowded!) to stroll around with a cup of hot amazake:

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Yushima Tenjin - Ume with Rock

Yushima Tenjin - Ume with Bridge

Yushima Tenjin - Ume with Dots

Yushima Tenjin - Ume with Black

Kyu-Furukawa Teien

At the Northern end of the Yamanote Line in Tokyo, near Komagome station, is Kyu-Furukawa Teien house and gardens. The house was built in 1917 by Josiah Conder, a British architect who worked in Japan and a big influence on Japanese architecture, and has an English style rose garden. Below that, is a Japanese garden laid out by a famous designer from Kyoto. After all that was razed during the war and the subsequent building frenzy of the 1960s and 70s, it’s nice to see that some old buildings remain.

This is the approach down to the Japanese garden:

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Admiring the Autumn colours:

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There is a small lake (pond?) at the centre of the garden:

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Autumn berries:

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The house:

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And rose garden:

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Hakone Glass Forest & Owakudani

This was a trip down to the mountains of Hakone, a famous hot-spring area about 100 km south of Tokyo. It’s a wonderfully relaxing place just a couple of hours away from the bustle of the city.

First we went to the Hakone Glass Forest (箱根グラスの森), a kind a Venetian-themed attraction that has a collection of over 100 pieces of Venetian glassware as well as a laid-out garden with glass sculptures:

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And then caught the cable car up to Owakudani (大涌谷), currently closed due to volcanic activity and sulfuric gasses:

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Okayama Pt 2 – Kibi Plain

One of the most famous children’s stories in Japan is momotaro, the peach boy. Together with a dog, a monkey and a pheasant, he travelled to the demon’s island of Onigashima and, after defeating the demon, carried back a treasure to his village. The story is thought to be based on the (possibly legendary) Prince Kibitsuhiko, who defeated an ogre and pacified the region for the Yamato Kingdom. The Kibi Plain in Okayama prefecture is said to retrace his journey and can be easily cycled.

Kibitsuhiko Shrine:

Wedding at Kibitsuhiko:

 Kibitsu Shrine, where the Prince is said to have battled the ogre:

Archery at Kibitsu Shrine:

Bitchu-Kokubunji Temple:

Garden at Bitchu-Kokubunji Temple:

Okayama Pt 1

This is Okayama, on the Shinkansen line between Osaka and Hiroshima. It was an important castle town during the Edo Period (1604-1868) and quite a few historical sites remain throughout the area. The castle, however, is a reconstruction from 1966:

This is the view over the town from the top of the castle:

The big attraction of Okayama city is the garden, Koraku-en, reputed to be one of Japan’s top three gardens (the others being Kenroku-en in Kanazawa and Kairaku-en in Mito):

The garden is famous for it’s spacious grass lawns, something of a novelty in Japan (though personally, I thought it just looked a good place for some backyard cricket):

 I was a little more interested in the rickety old restaurant nearby I must admit:

Hikone, Shiga

Half-way between Kyoto and Nagoya, on the shores of Japan’s largest lake, Biwa, is the castle town of Hikone. The castle is one of the few remaining original castles left, completed in 1622, and was the seat of the Ii family, one of the most important daimyo families in the Edo period. The daimyo were the feudal lords who controlled the provinces on behalf of the Edo bakufu government and were required to travel to Edo (Tokyo) every second year. This arrangement not only kept them under close watch but also, by imposing a huge financial burden (their travelling retinues numbered in the hundreds), kept them subservient to the central government.

The town is fairly small and makes for a very pleasant and relaxing day-trip away from the bustle of Japan’s larger cities. The shopping street that leads up to the castle is lined with shops, cafes and restaurants that have been designed in keeping with the period of the castle which gives it a nice feudal atmosphere.

Just before the castle itself is Genkyuen garden, laid out in 1677, that (to my mind at least) rivals a lot of the more famous gardens:

The approach up to the castle:

The castle:

Close-up:

 Close close-up