Magic Puddles at Meji

Japanese garden

Tokyo’s Meji Shrine is not that far from the Gyoen’s (The National Garden in Shinjuku), Sendegaya gate, but heavy rain might hamper your ability to navigate there correctly on foot. It will be particularly difficult if you’re holding a tiny Japanese umbrella over two people, and trying to navigate using your smartphone’s apps at the same time.

You have had fair warning.

9:00 am: We had begun the day at the Gyoen National Garden, a photographer’s dream, well before any rain started.

If you want to know more about visiting that spectacular Garden, click here.

We worked out that taking a wrong turn isn’t always a bad thing, in Japan. Some of the streets are really quite interesting and surprisingly devoid of traffic. Which is really unexpected in a city of 38 million people.

Going to the wrong way out of Meji

1pm: After the wrong turn or two, we spotted the enormous Torii gate which signals the entrance to the Meji shrine. Having advanced knowledge that the Shinto shrine is located well inside Yoyogi Park, and given it was raining heavily, we looked for temporary cover before entering in the hopes the rain would abate.

It didn’t.

Shinto shrine Torii gate Japan
The Torii Gate – or entrance, to Meji Shrine in Tokyo

Our vain attempt to shelter under the eave of the guard’s box at the entrance was met with howls of protest from the guard himself, that I interpreted as, “No standing here, – you must keep moving.”

And move we did, passing through the Torii gate and taking the long, now dismal, walk up to Meji. This is normally a pleasant ten minute stroll through Yoyogi park when the sun is shining, but can be a miserably cold trot if it is teeming with rain, and it was teeming with rain.

Despite the inclement weather, I noted that the gardeners was highly focused on the task at hand, which was commendable, but I pondered if it might have been a religious penance of sorts to continue sweeping the leaves with a primitive straw broom amidst a torrential downpour?

Just keep sweeping..

In any case, I admired his resilience and fearless immunity to discomfort, despite the heavens opening up. No down time for outdoor workers in rainy Japan, it seems. And we complain about poor working conditions here…. gulp.

history

The Meji Shrine, itself, dates from 1920 and being a Shinto shrine it is considered the resting place of the souls, but not the earthly remains, of Emperor Meiji, and his empress.

The Meji period marked the beginning of Modern Japan, transitioning as it did, from a feudal power to centralized control under the Emperor, and therefore this shrine is significant, in Japanese history.

It is also worth mentioning the surrounding Yoyogi park contains over 100,000 trees that originated from donations from throughout the whole of Japan.

tips on visiting Meji Shinto Shrine in Japan

We were later to learn that it is customary to purify your hands and face prior to entering a Shinto shrine.

What every tourist needs to know:

After washing your hands and face, be sure to let the dirty water drain outside of the stone basin and tip the blessing bucket up so that clean water runs down the handle, so that it is clean for the next person.

This is Japanese custom but also altruism and thoughtfulness.

Respect for others. I like that.

shinto shrine cleansing fountain

You do not want to pollute the clean water in the vessel…….

How to Purify Yourself at a shinto shrine

  1. Take the wodden dipper in your right hand and scoop up some water. …
  2. Wash your left hand. …
  3. Change the dipper to your left hand, and wash your right hand. …
  4. Change the dipper into your right hand again, and rinse your mouth with your left hand. …
  5. Wash the handle of the dipper. …
  6. Put the dipper back on the basin, scoop side down.

Meji Shrine 1:30 pm:

Like the many other tourists caught in the downpour with or without umbrella, we sat for over 60 minutes, waiting again for the rain to abate, as we were sure it would. It didn’t.

We sat meditating;, watching the cleaner; watching the white zig zag shaped streamers fluttering in the breeze wondering of their significance; watching the rain; watching a wedding couple posing for pictures; watching the rain; watching the other tourists sitting and waiting for the rain to stop. We were patient. We watched and meditated 🙂

The rain Gods were not happy with us.

The deluge became heavier.

Another tip: There’ s not a whole lot to do at Meji Shrine, once you have taken some happy snaps and checked out the shrine. No cafe on site, No souvenir shops. That is a good thing, I think, however not such a fortuitous thing, if you are waiting for rain to stop.

A roving street vendor would have made a killing that day.

shinto shrines

Meji Shrine 2.25 pm:

There were some beautiful blossoms to admire whilst the rain fell. I got some great pictures.

We also got up close and personal with the cleaner going about his sweeping.

I noted he had updated his broom – a modern design, this time.

Meji Japan

An hour and a half later, we decided the rain wasn’t going to stop.

Meji Shrine 2.45pm:

The rain continued. We decided to make a run for it.

It rained all the way back home to the hotel. About 3 kilometres.

Later than night, I researched the Shinto zig zag streamers that we had seen hanging at the Shrines. Their purpose was to encourage the Shinto Nature spirits to, of all things, bring a plentiful rainfall to ensure a good rice harvest. Rice needs so much rain….

No wonder it was raining at Meji. The Zig zag streamers were hanging everywhere.

At least the shinto gods were swiftly responsive. After that day, there was one thing I was sure about – there’ll be no shortage of rice this year in Japan.

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Something to Ponder About

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Shuffling through Shibuya

It doesn’t take long for the uninitiated to get their head around the rather logical Japanese transport system, however it’s negotiating the myriad of entrances and exits, at the stations themselves, that can be daunting for the novice traveller.

Entering the wrong one, can leave you lost or disorientated.

Where am I

I found Google maps worked really well in getting in and out of some of the busiest stations in japan, as it gives you directions and even platforms numbers.

There are also various apps that are useful, such as MapswithMe, (can be viewed when offline) and Hyperidia, or you can go old school with a free tourist map, but remember it is essential you have 20/20 vision to read the small print and they are hard to read at night.

Shinjuku station, seen below, which is really five stations in one, has over 200 exits.

Just one of the exits from Shinjuku station

3.5 million people pass through Shinjuku station daily.

shinkjuku
Another entrance to Shinjuku station – a bit different from the above picture

Shibuya in Tokyo, is renowned for being the busiest pedestrian crossing in the world, and that was where we were headed – if Google was leading us correctly. Following a sign leading up from the Shibuya station platform that indicated the Hachiko exit, we ended up in a large and busy shopping mall, so when I spotted a large window, I looked out to see just where we were:-

Exiting Shibuya station towards the crossing

It looked like we were headed the correct way – I could see the famous Shibuya Starbucks.

And here we are taking it all in, not yet game to cross. Looking this way and that.

Sometimes Japan can give the traveller sensory overload. But in the nicest way.

Everyone in Japan, is so polite and respectful.

Are you ready to cross Shibuya? Here we go….

That wasn’t so bad at all…….

And a view from the top – kind of magical really!

Do you use Google maps or some other navigation app?

Which ones have you found useful on your travels?

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Something to Ponder About

Monday Murals

Street Murals – Provocative, Clever, Creative but always interesting.


And another favourite mural here in Melbourne.

graffitiart (Small)

Street art makes the boring neighbourhood scene fun even if a little creepy.

Murals at a fish and chip shop and railway subway

I found Sami’s blog and her Monday Mural linky party via Suvi today – funny how I cyber travelled via Suvi in Finland to find another Australian blogger on the other side of my country.

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Something to Ponder about

Heavenly Gardens of Shinjuku Gyoen – Japan

Bolstered by the large and eventful breakfast, which I wrote about here, and visiting Tokyo in Crimson Leaves Season, we were keen to explore a traditional garden, on our first day in Japan. At the top of our list was the Gyoen National Garden, a green oasis that is completely amidst the busiest commercial district in Shinjuku, Tokyo.

Garden
Gyoen National Garden, Shinjuku, Tokyo

Background

Originally a residence for one of Japan’s feudal Lord during the Edo period, the Gyoen National Garden fell under the control of the Imperial family in the twentieth century. Although much of the garden was then destroyed during World War II; you would never know it, as Gyoen is nothing short of a tranquil, well tended masterpiece of Japanese horticulture.

Traditional Japanese Garden Design at Gyoen

With the NTT Docomo building towering stoically above Gyoen’s tree line like an old world Imperial Guard, it is easy to remember the Shinjuku-Shibuya metropolis is never far away. However, the hard concrete lines of modernity are significantly softened by the more natural lines of the leafy foliage and traditional Japanese garden fixtures.

Very photogenic.

NTT Docomo Building from Gyoen

The Gyoen Guide Map offers us the chance to fully comprehend the scale of the park and orientates ourselves to ensure we see all the individual gardens and differing botanical features contained therein. Entrance, (with guide map in English), costs 200 Japanese Yen.

We don’t want to miss anything!

Gyoen’s Shinjuku Entrance Gate

chrysanthemum shows

The small fee we pay to enter the garden is truly value for money, as the day we visit there is also a special floral display of cultivated chrysanthemums, which attracts the attention of many Japanese citizens.

How glorious are these?

Light rain only enhances the organic beauty around us, as the raindrops linger on the leaves. This delights my daughter as it makes for excellent photographic opportunities.

And we have the ubiquitous, clear-plastic umbrella to shield us. Very Japanese.


“Maple trees can be seen in large numbers around the Japanese garden and Momijiyama (maple mountain) on the [Gyoen] park’s eastern side. The colors typically appear from mid November to mid December. “

Tokyo Tourist Guide
One small Maple tree showed its Crimson coat. In a few weeks time, the others would too.

Our arrival is a week or so early to see the majority of crimson leaves in Tokyo, for the temperatures are unusually warm. Despite this, I find the trees are magical and remind me of a medieval Northern forest, or a scene from a Lord of the Rings novel.

The leaves are still golden and green, but soon to be crimson red.

Pavilion

Each path within the garden invites in us, a different mood, vista and experience.
You can see hanging bouquets of chrysanthemums in the display in the background.
Despite the overcast conditions, the Pavilion was a place of tranquility and reflection, in more ways than one.

The carp pond

No Japanese garden could be complete without a Carp pond – and Gyoen has one.

Again the city reminds you it’s not far too away.

Carp pond – Gyoen National Garden
A serene spot to reflect, meditate and rejuvenate in Gyoen. Lucky Carp fish.

Autumn avenue awesomeness

However, for this sub-tropical Australian resident, the ultimate heavenly experience is yet to come when I discover the avenue of Sycamore trees, a feast for local photographers. It is such a delight for me. I truly am in awe of these trees and their burst of colour.

Photography
What photographer wouldn’t want to capture this?

This is Autumnal earth, resplendent in shades of sienna, brown, rust, bright yellow and green, all coalescing in an intense and harmonious collection of wholesome organic beauty.

The child in me wanted to run and kick up the fallen leaves, throw them in the air, rake them into a pile and jump on top of them. An Autumnal experience that exists only in my dreams.

Gyoen national park is a Japanese treasure, particularly if you visit at Crimson Leaf Season
Stunningly picturesque

Never before had I seen an avenue of trees that captivated me in such a way and I didn’t want to leave. [You have to remember we don’t have such deciduous trees in my home zone, so I’m super excited.]

sendagaya gate

Reluctantly, after several hours exploring and a gazillion photographs taken, we walk towards the park’s Sendagaya gate and find yet another magical path through the trees.

There is a special light through here. It is hard to define and see in the photo, but it is there.

Gyoen National Garden – A perfect spot to sit and ‘Ponder About Something.’

Linking to Friendly friday photo walk a challenge hosted by me and Snowmeltssomewhere

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 #aroundtheworldWP

A Little Polish Never Goes Astray

My new years resolution is to learn a little of the Polish language. Why? Because the culture, food and language of Poland, has pretty much intrigued me as soon as I stepped off the plane in Krakow. But this post is not about Krakow, but rather, it is about somewhere a little further south – in the Tatra Mountains and a delightful walk I took through a town called Zakopane.

Rural Poland and the Tatra Mountain Ranges

It has been well over a year since I walked through Zakopane, in Poland. Yet the memory of that day still haunts me in the very best way. [And I am still learning Polish.]

Krupowki Street, Zakopane

Zakopane is a town in Southern Poland, about a two hour drive from Krakow, lying close to the Slovakian border, in the Tatra Mountain range. Communication between Zakopane and other towns was difficult for many years due to the mountainous terrain, and so the locals developed their own dialects, songs, architecture and traditions.

If you are a fan of gabled timber architecture, you’ll have come to the right place. Come and walk with me down the main street of Zakopane.

If you are too tired to walk, there is always a horse and wagon option that will take you to the Funicular station.

These beautiful horses wait for the chance to take you for a carriage ride

Cafes in Zakopane feature seating carved with traditional designs from Lower Silesia.

I found plenty of things to tempt me to open my purse in Zakopane and prices a pleasant surprise.

If you didn’t want trinkets, you can always try some of the delicious local foods from the many street vendors along the way. A specialty in this region is Sheep’s cheese.

If you have ever tasted Haloumi cheese, the Sheep’s cheese has a similar texture, but also a delicate smoky flavour. So very delicious. I could eat it every day if I could. Yum!

Norm’s Thursday Doors fans would appreciate the work in this door along Zakopane’s main street.

Walk through the door to gawk at the ornately decorated church, clearly loved by the community.

The interior of the church

Poised above the town of Zakopane is the summit of Gubałówka. This is my next stop.


That Yellow are in the photo below is the summit and we are going to get there in a mountain cable car. You can find the entrance to the funicular at the end of the main street.

Especially lovely in Summer, the summit lookout is frequented by skiers in winter as Zakopane is a hugely popular ski resort. Here I am enjoying the breathtaking view over the Zakopane Valley.



Time to explore more at the top of the mountain.

Can anyone read Polish? Is it 5 zloty to feed or pat the sheep?
Some traditional huts for smoking sheep’s cheese perhaps?
These bundles are so cute, they look like Cousin It from the Addams family.


The return cable car journey gave me a different perspective on the Zakopane valley.

Ready, Set, Here we go.

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Linking to Jo’s Wonderful Monday Walks