Tokyo Edo open air museum.

well thats it folks, Cherry blossomb season is over for the blog, at least for this year. maybe there will be a bit more variety on here after this 😛

With my regular Japanese subject of the unofficial national flower having up and vanished on me, I finally had a chance to head off to somewhere not sakura related! So, google maps in hand I decided one morning to the Tokyo Edo open air Museum housed inside Koganei Park one of Tokyo’s most expansive open areas. (This is not to be confused with the similarly named and similarly superb Tokyo Edo Museum, located in central Tokyo) This is about an hour ride from my apartment and a further 20 minutes on foot or so.

I have decided to split this day into two separate posts as it was a long day with many photos and i don’t think most of you want to read close to 5000 words all in one sitting. the second half should come pretty promptly as i have already written about half of it.

One thing I have increasingly noticed in Tokyo is that while quite a few of the inner city residential areas are looking somewhat worn (“Surely not!” I hear you cry. “A city of more than 20 million people looking lived in? MADNESS!”) many of the outer regions are spotlessly clean well vegetated and very modern. With a lovely blue sky above it was nice to wander through quiet streets and sneakily gaze at peoples gardens as i passed. They also appear to have communal garden patches!

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A thirty minute ride from the heart of Tokyo lies a nice little vegie patch.

 

 

Tokyo Edo Open Air Museum was founded to house a variety of rare and unusual buildings from around the Tokyo area, saving many of these buildings from destruction in the face of modernisation, as well as ones once common place that are now all but non existent in the ever changing metropolis. Buildings included in the collection display many generations of building methods used in Japan, from traditional thatched roof constructs dating from the 16th century to Pre-Meiji restoration manor houses and many buildings from the 1920s. These latter buildings come from a largely forgotten piece of history, build in period of peaceful modernisation/westernisation sandwiched between the chaotic events of the Meiji restoration, and the rapid increase in militarism of the 1930s.

The grounds of the open air museum are expansive, providing a garden for every building so that they are shown in a context that fits their original purpose. Knowing the relative scarcity of such buildings in other locations, i decided to head to the western exhibition area first as it housed the majority of the early 20th century buildings. The first building i came upon was house of Koide, constructed in 1925 and designed by architect Sutemi Horiguchi, a major player in the Japanese modernist movement at the time. The building combines contemporary (at the time) dutch elements, of which he was fond of, and more traditional japanese elements including the frontal tatami rooms overlooking the garden.

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The house of Koide, The frontal tatami rooms are just visible through the lower windows. 

Inside the building is interesting. The majority of the rooms are fairly traditional for the period, however occasional you come across an impressively richly decorated western style room, which strongly juxtapose the simplicity and gentle colour palate of Japanese design with the the simplicity and soft shades of Japanese design with grand colours and textures entirely foreign to the island nation. The best example of this is the guest room, where the creams and browns of Japanese design make way for rich crimson velvet couches, heavy oak tables, deep red curtains and a thick, plush carpeted floor. the room was rounded off with a piano tucked away in a corner, and a large inbuilt western style hearth taking central place in front of the seating area. To round all the is grandeur off, the walls were coated in a textured gold coating.   There appeared to be more furniture in this one room than in all the Japanese rooms combined. Unfortunately with the curtains closed and the dark colouring of the room, I found once i got home that none of my photos of this impressive space actually came out. The majority of the house however was much more modest though still obviously built for someone of stature and significant wealth, with a great deal of detail worked into most rooms including an unusual dividing of ceilings into lattice like structures using wooden cross beams and a series of wooden boards skirting many rooms up to nearly hip hight, something not usually seen in Japanese houses. This latter detail amongst many others was apparently inspired by the architects experience with and interest in dutch architecture.

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Off the main entrance, note the wooden boards placed over the typical white walls. These were cut in an intentionally rough pattern to add texture to the room. 
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The front tatami rooms overlooking the garden.  the colours here matched beautifully. 
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A genuine 1920s Japanese toiletries cupboard door! I love the slightly imperfect textures on many surfaces in these older buildings and how they give the feeling of hand crafted care. 
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With the exception of its having been relocated. This house has not had any structural work done to it since being constructed over 90 years ago. All the wood in this building dates from that time and it appears to have worn the test of time extremely well. 

My next stop was at a similarly unusual house. One built during 1942, a period when construction materials were all but impossible to access in Tokyo and much of Japan. The building was constructed by Kunio Mayekawa for himself and though fairly modern in its layout, was simple and designed with a focus on utilising a minimum amount of materials.

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The house of Kunio Mayekawa.

Inside the house is dominated by a large, open central living room, including a small second floor, with a bathroom and bedroom off to one side, and a study off the other. I really liked this house for its simplicity and the feeling of relaxed spaciousness it gives, something rather missing in many other buildings in the collection. Of all the buildings here, i think this would be the one i would want to live in.

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The main living area, the high roof and simple furniture combined with subtle colours make it a very pleasant place to be. 

The study had been decorated with a small selection of war period and post was every day items, including a desk lamp, a small original Sony television set, a phone and clocks. The result was a room that felt lived in and used, like the owner had just wandered off and might return to complete his drafting work at any time. the inclusion of the antiques was a nice touch as many buildings here felt a little sparse.

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Apple Iphone, 1950s edition. 
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I wish my T/V had cool buttons and switches like this one. 
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The clock was well and truly wrong. 

Next visit was to the House of George de Lalande, who despite his very french sounding name, was a renowned  architect hailing from Germany. He expanded an existing structure to produce this rather grand three story western style house around 1910 and lived there for some time. He must have gotten nice and fit climbing all the stairs as the centrally located staircase and relatively narrow profile of the building means that despite its impressive stature, there isn’t actually a huge amount of room on each floor. From 1956 the inventor of the Japanese beverage “Calpis” (often renamed Calpico for English speaking markets) lived in this building.

The ground floor and terrace are now used as a small, rather classy looking restaurant. Waitresses wear period era clothing and most modern ameneties are well hidden, giving the whole operation a rather old worldy feeling. Despite the location and lovely decor, prices were reasonable, so i decided to take a quick break and have lunch here. Im glad i did because not only was the food rather good, but it came out with silver platter service and made me feel like a member of the landed gentry.

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The house of George de Lalande
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A rather swell spot to have a fine luncheon 

The last of the “modern” houses that i visited was that of Okawa in Denenchofu. This was constructed in 1925 and stood in the Ota ward of tokyo, then an outer suburb. This house was unusual for its being a western style building outside the central area of Tokyo. Unlike many of the other buildings on display from this period, this house had little in the way of Japanese design on display, and that which did exist was largely confined to things that would be required for every day life. The day i was there the outside of the building was being worked on, so i got no photos of the outside. However, please enjoy this stock photo i have blatantly plagiarised.

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The interior was similarly western, and looks lovely and quaint. It seemed a very livable house and felt very cosy, though rather cluttered compared to Japanese houses of the time.

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Would you know it was a Japanese House if i didn’t tell you?
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Most of the houses were strewn with “please don’t touch anything” signs. A bit of a pity for photos, but i suppose they need to do something to preserve these now extremely rare and largely irreplaceable buildings. 

Moving on from here, we get to the only none enter-able structure of on the grounds, the Jisho-in Mausoleum. Originally constructed in 1652, this building was constructed in the honour of Lady Ofuri at the request of her daughter, who married into the ruling family of the period. Crafted by some of the preeminent carpenters and artisans of the period, including the designers involved in Edo castle. Though buildings such as this were once not so uncommon, the vast majority of these structures were brunt to the ground during the firebombing campaign targeting Tokyo in 1945. As a result, this building has been listed as a special heritage asset of JapanDSC06714

From here i entered the area focusing on significantly older buildings, dating from the 1600s and featuring mainly thatched roofs.

The first was the house of the leader of the Hachioji guards. The Hachioji guards were retainers of the Tokugawa shogunate family who were posted to the Hachioji region in the early 1600s. I took a photo of the sign explaining the history of the building, so i will let you read that instead of explaining exactly the same thing myself.

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The exterior of the Hachioji Sennin Doshin is very simple in construction, and was in fact smaller than many of the farm houses that surrounded it. 
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Have a sign because I’m lazy!

The interior of this building is rather interesting. True to the fact that it is effectively a farm house design, the entrance is little more than a dirt floor where one removes their shoes before stepping onto the raised wooden floor of the house itself. This intermediate space is a form still used today in many buildings in Japan. Typically the initial entrance area to a house is considerably lower than the inhabited area and the difference in elevation is used as a visual stimulus to signal that the removal of footwear is required before proceeding. This is even  true of my apartment. Once inside the building, the lay out is fairly simple, with a set or two tatami matt floored rooms used for living areas, and a number of polished wood floored areas used for passageways, the kitchen and storage rooms amongst other things. The living areas can be divided or conjoined through use of sliding doors. There is a bare minimum of furnishings in the building, though every day items do remain. i find it rather amazing how little the people here use to live with, seeing as i have managed to make my apartment well messy with the contents of just one medium sized suitcase!

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The living area, located the furthest from the entrance way. 
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The entrance after removing one’s shoes. 
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Hallway to the back door. 

One of the most interesting things about this building was actually not the floor plan itself, but when one stopped and took the time to look up. The central spine of the building was made of a single tree trunk, retaining much or its natural shape, to which support beams for the rest of the structure were connected. The spanning beam structure shown below supported more than half the building, while the other half had a smaller tree trunk connected up in a similar way. Interestingly,very few of the beams appear to have been carved down to a uniform size and like the main beam retain their natural shape from their days as a tree. I don’t know a whole lot about carpentry, but i imagine it would take no small amount of skill to build this way, as opposed to using contemporary techniques using almost exclusively straight and uniformly sized lengths of wood. DSC06642.jpg

While i was here these older buildings were being manned by a number of older men who were volunteering their time for the preservation of these cultural artifacts. during the colder and wetter months, these men light fired in these thatched roofed buildings on a daily basis to drive away insects and kill off mould, vastly increasing the longevity of the roof itself. In this particular building one of these men approached me and gave me an explanation of the process, as well as a short description of why these buildings had two small alters in them, one for the native Japanese religion of Shinto, and one for the later imported religion of Buddhism. These two religions have been co-worshipped in japan for centuries and have become somewhat interlinked over the years. As such, most buildings of this era will have two small alters within them, one for each religion. Compared to most religions that take a much more “our way or the highway” approach to those of other beliefs, i find this idea of a population co worshiping two religions and their peaceful and symbiotic co-existence very interesting. This man also showed me a traditional grain grinder, seen below. grain is poured in the circular hole, and the top half rotated by hand, this grinds down the grain which is then deposited out a second hole in the lower half.

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This grain grinder was actually hidden from sight under a woven bamboo shroud, the nice man got it out to show me how it worked. judging by its weight you would get a rather impressive set of biceps using one of these one a daily basis. 

The next house from this period was largely similar in construction, though somewhat larger and more grand. I am including a photo of the information provided inside for visitors below. Inside this house i stopped by the fire for a chat with two of the volunteers who seemed eager to talk, we had a merry old time for about 20 minutes, and i can confirm that the fire would drive away insects, because once i was outside I discovered I smelt strongly enough of pine wood smoke to make me not want to be near myself either!

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Information about this building. 
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Super friendly and cheerful guys who i had a very pleasant time with. They will definitely need to wash those clothes then they get home though. 

below is the fireplace in the katte as described in the information page. As well as a detail photo of the connection between the interior and exterior spaces in this traditional building. I love tatami mats for the aroma they give off, as well as the feeling underfoot that they provide.

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Kitchen fireplace. 
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Detail work on the tatami, it’s the little details and textures that make Japanese spaces feel so special. 

 

 

 

 

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The long awaited (or perhaps just overdue) next post!!!!

Hi all, sorry its been so long since there was an update on here. I ran out of space on my computer to store images and had to wait for simulated pay day (I run a self enforced budget over here, where I get “paid” every fortnight on Wednesday) before I could buy another external hard drive to be able to store my stuff on.

Just quickly, a big hello to those of you who have picked up one of my cards from V-burger bar Floreat and made your way here. I hope you are all well and that the coffee and service there are as good or better now that I have gone. Thank you for visiting this page and I hope you enjoy seeing what I am up to. Sorry those cards are so spectacularly dark, they are poor enough that I am embarrassed by their quality. I got them printed internationally on the cheap and while the image looks fine on a computer screen, when printed like that it comes out significantly darker.

I have been up to quite a bit over the past few weeks, enough to mean I’m now talking about events almost two weeks old, so lets get started and I will see if I can clear the back log.

First, a picture to break up all this text!

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Wooden ladles used for the purification ritual at many temples before aproaching the buildings. I need to get someone to show me how to do this some time as I would love to learn the cultural and spiritual reasoning behind it. 

 

Friday before last I decided to make the most of the last few days of the Sakura season and headed off in an attempt to get a Sakura flavored image of my favorite structure in Tokyo, Tokyo Tower. You might remember from several weeks ago my trip to see Tokyo SkyTree, the recently constructed worlds tallest freestanding tower and most advanced broadcasting platform. Well some 50 years earlier, Tokyo Tower was similarly the Brand new iconic architectural highlight of the Tokyo skyline. Completed in 1958 and measuring in at 333 meters in hight, Tokyo Tower was the worlds tallest self supporting steel tower, a title it still holds to this day. Until the Skytree project nearly half a century later, this tower remained the single tallest structure in Japan. The significance of Tokyo Tower stretches far beyond its physical form though. It is a cultural landmark as much as a physical one, one that underscores a period in time that is still defining and shaping much of modern Asia. The construction of Tokyo Tower during the 1950’s, a period when much of Japan was still reeling from the effects of the war, was seen by many as a Phoenix project and turning point symbolising the rebirth of Japan as a modern society and nation. After decades of natural disasters, rule by brutal militaristic authoritarian regimes followed by utter devastation during the closing days of the second world war, the construction of Tokyo Tower symbolised the emergence of Japan as a thoroughly modern democratic society and economy. To this end, it was decided that some 30% of Tokyo Tower’s construction materials were to be made from former military hardware such as tanks, smelted down and recycled into an this iconic landmark. It’s physical function may have been as a broadcasting tower, however the socio-cultural significance of this structure as the premiere celebration of Japan’s miracle economy was, and remains to this day just as just as important as its practical purpose.

Plus, its a pretty sweet looking building all dolled up in air safety orange. It has to be that colour, because according to Japanese regulations all broadcast towers over a certain hight must be painted air safety orange and white, lest someone fly into the heavily illuminated building.

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Like most self supporting steel towers, Tokyo Tower is reminiscent of the Eifel Tower. Tokyo Tower however, as a virtue of being more modern, is slightly taller, weighs roughly half as much and is engineered to resist a magnitude 8 earthquake. 

Think think im just making up all this gobblety gook about its cultural status? I don’t blame you. It’s not the kind of thing that we often stop to think about, nor is it the kind of thing that is often explicitly stated (like this). However this often unspoken socio-cultural significance is most easily demonstrated in the way it repeatedly manifests itself in Japanese media. For example in post apocalypse settings, Tokyo Tower is time and again used as a metaphorical symbol of “the good old days,” depicted as a crumbling relic of better days gone by, or as a gleaming landmark of hope in the distance. Below are a handful of examples off the top of my head that i could easily get images for.

In a clockwise direction from the upper left.

1: Fragile Dreams. Long after the downfall of humanity Seto wanders through dilapidated city to reach Tokyo Tower, which gleams brightly in a world of perpetual twilight hoping to find other survivors. 2: Tokyo Magnitude 8.0. When Tokyo is struck by a large earthquake, the damaged state of the tower is used to visually convey the vulnerability of humanity to nature despite all our advancement since the last Kanto earthquake in 1923. 3: Always San-Chome. A Japanese Academy Prize winning film set in the late 1950s exploring the rapid development of Tokyo at the time and subsequent improved living standards of the population. Tokyo Tower is a frequent motif used to underscore the advancement of Japanese society and wealth at the time.

So yeah, while Japan is full of hundreds of mind boggling, centuries old buildings made all the more amazing for their construction without any form of nails/screws. I find tokyo tower the most relevant to japan as we know it today. It talks of the rise of the society and culture that I love about Japan and stands as a reminder of a period of great change in which modern Japan was forged. It is a building of far greater relevance than most realise. Its also pretty and orange!!!

Tokyo tower also has some mascots. Why? Because its Japan and apparently just about everything needs, or rather has, a mascot here. No spectacular feat of modern engineering would be complete without a few of whatever these are meant to be!!!!

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Mascots for Tokyo Tower. They are kind of cute, but i fail to see the point really… 

Tokyo tower is also semi surrounded by public parks. Most of Tokyo’s public and open parks seem to be have very little ground cover. I’m not sure if that’s because we are coming out of winter or not, but they have a tendency to look pretty bare in photos. Especially now with half of the trees looking dead. Still, this park just down the road from the middle of one of Tokyo’s busiest areas provides many people with a nice little escape from the hustle and bustle. I had lunch here looking up through the half sprouted canopy of leaves at the big orange tower. A crow stole someone else’s lunch because they tried to feed it next to a sign that says don’t. I found this most amusing

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The entrance to the garden. As I mentioned before, most paths are simple dirt tracks. They get mucky when it rains. 
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The burble of this stream was very calming, and easily audible despite the busy road only a dozen meters away. Japan must have magical noise blocking technology that they aren’t sharing. 

 

This day being fairly miserable and overcast with poor viability I decided not to go up Tokyo Tower, but it was really nice to go see the building again. I would have liked to have waited for a clearer day, taken more striking photos and have shown you the amazing views from the observation deck. but that can wait for another time. The reason I went this particular day rather than wait, was as I said before, because of the Sakura. By this stage warmer areas were almost completely finished and I knew I couldn’t wait any longer if I wanted majestic shots of Tokyo Tower with Sakura in the frame. In front of Tokyo tower, almost perfectly placed for photos together, is Zozo-Ji Temple. I don’t know a lot about Zozo-ji, there wasn’t a lot of information on display there so I will need to research it, however there were lovely views.

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The old, the modern and the natural all together. 
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The detail on old buildings is hard to beat. This is a smaller sub temple that’s part of the Zozo-Ji complex. 

Im very glad I came here when I did. The trees today were losing flowers at a phenomenal rate and I wouldn’t be surprised if someone told me they were completely bare the next day. The constant rain of petals made the gardens around Zozo-Ji temple particularly nice. I imagine they wouldn’t be much to write home about on a normal day, but this day with the dense pink matt of fallen flowers, they were beautiful.

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There is moss under the there…. somewhere…. I PROMISE!
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I take a lot of photos of stone lanterns, in case you haven’t already picked up on that. 

Around one side of Zozo-ji complex, is an area dedicated to unborn children. Here, countless stone statues of about a foot tall line walls to commemorate children lost to miscarriage, amongst other things. Many of these little graves have been decorated with small hats, jumpers, scarfs  and other still have small toys left with them. The result is a beautiful display of colour and a moving monument. Along with the presents for the child I am told there is often a small gift left for OJizo-sama, the Buddhist deity who watches over the souls of lost children. Others have a small mound of stones, which are said to ease passage to the afterlife. I feel strange including a picture of a grave yard, and I originally was going to leave this out as a result. However I love the way this is done and the feeling you get from being there. It feels to me to be a much warmer way to treat the deceased than I am used to in Australia and a part of culture here I would love to learn more about.

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The graves of souls not born. Bright and colourful, like i somehow feel they should be. 

A sunny day in Koishikawa-korakuen

Last Tuesday was a pretty sad day weather wise, quite cool and persistent on/off drizzle all day. With the weather man promising sunny happy days ahead, I took the opportunity to stay indoors and get busy learning the local lingo so i can communicate through means more efficient than interpretive dance. I truly feel sorry for anyone who encounters me at the moment so improving my language skills has become a high priority. That means that this could well be the last you see of the Sakura for this year as they are now almost completely gone from the inner metropolis of Tokyo and i haven’t had many more exciting outings since this one. Unless some remain on the outskirts I’m planning to visit tomorrow, then that could be it for the season.

However!!! Last Wednesday for the first time since i arrived, there was a blue sky! I decided to head off to one of the oldest parks in Tokyo, one that i had always meant to visit but never quite got around to, Koishikawa-korakuen. Built by the Tokugawa clan starting in 1629 it is considered one of the best preserved remaining examples of an Edo period clan garden, most having been destroyed during the fire-bombing campaign targeting tokyo in 1945. Koishikawa-Korakuen is a Japanese landscape garden, which typically aim to recreate the sights and sounds of far off places in miniature. In this particular case Inspiration for several sections of the garden was drawn from “West Lake” in China’s HangZhou region, while others are inspired by the Kiso valley, the main highway at the time for connecting Kyoto in the west with Tokyo in the east.  This variety makes the garden a very interesting place to meander through, and kept me much longer than i expected (a good 6 hours.)

My mode of transport for the day, as per usual, was by foot. Through the 6Km plus hike either way was not massively entertaining for its entirety, i did find quite a few little places along the way that grabbed my interest enough to stop me. including this, tucked away down a back alley off  minor suburban road.

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A old shrine tucked away in the center of the worlds largest megalopolis, from inside the grounds you wouldn’t believe it. (Note the gently falling Sakura petals.)

One thing i find odd about Tokyo is that it some how always manages to be significantly less noisy than it should. You would imagine that having 34 million people living in a geographical area not a whole lot bigger than Perth would lead to a perpetual deafening din, or at least a drone of activity wherever you go. But actually, step off a main street and into a side road like this one and all those people may as well be a world away. obviously places like Shibuya are crowded and noisy, that’s half their draw card, But outside of the entertainment and work districts peace and quiet is always only an alley-way away.

Anyway, after much walking i arrived at Koishikawa-korakuen and after handing over my 300 yen to a very friendly lady in a ticket booth, i headed into the gardens to be greeted by this.

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The central lake of Kioshikawa, said to be inspired by the famed West Lake of Hangzhou.
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Despite the garden not being famed for its Sakura, the late blooming trees that were here were at their best, and their relative scarcity made them feel all the more special. 
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“Please don’t feed the birds.”

Despite the plentiful signs asking visitors not to feed the birds (apparently its a “major risk to aviation safety”) this gentleman was having a right old time doing just that… right behind a sign telling him not to. This grounds keeper went over with the apparent intention of telling him off, but instead seemed to get drawn into a conversation lasting some 10 minutes. Afterwards as soon as she was out of sight, the old man pulled out more bread and continued as he was. what a mighty rebel!!!

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Old man’s still up to his shifty bird feeding, a true menace to the flight path!

I’m going to include a map of the garden so you can keep track of where i am. This seems easier than wordy descriptions.

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(Note, the above shots were all taken from just north east of the weeping cherry tree.) 

From here, i headed north east around the outskirts of the lake up to the rice patty area. I could tell you about the rice patty area… or i could just show you a picture of the sign i took, which is easier for both of us!

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I think we need more guys like this dude in our political class now days. Also, there seems to be a rule in Japan that no native English speaker may proof read signs before publication. This particular sign is pretty O.K. but others are far from great. 

The rice patties have a large Sakura at their western end, and now the warmer days have breathed a bit of green into the area, the scene was very picturesque.

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A single cherry tree stands at the western end of the fields, somehow i feel these trees are more striking when in small numbers, than grand quantities. 

In this area i was approached by a rather elderly gentleman intent on using his English. He, like me previously, was bemoaning the poor weather this year and warning me that today was likely to be the only good day of the whole Sakura season this year. Similar to him, i was intent on using my almost non existent Japanese. So, in reversed mother tongues we talked about the weather, how beautiful the Sakura are and what out favorite seasons are. His is spring, when the Sakura blossoms and foretells of the approaching warmer weather. Mine, despite all i have seen this year, is still autumn when the Momiji (maple) leaves turn intense reds and yellows. My trip in the autumn of 2011 left a lasting impression on me, and i’m looking forward to this year’s autumn season when i’m better equipped to follow those colours as they progress.

The sunshine and subsequent warmer weather today started to bring the abundant insect life i am used to back to life. Much like its strange semi silence, Tokyo has an amazing abundance of living animals within it for a place constructed almost solely out of ferro-concrete. This allowed me to photograph a few things i feel more capable of shooting than wide garden shots and busy street-scapes. I EVEN FOUND A JUMPING SPIDER!!!!

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Some form of hover fly. He was very patient while i photographed him. I guess he is still sleepy from the cold weather. 
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This guy was the variety of jumping spider that likes to jump on lenses and climb on their owners. It took some 15 minutes to get him off me / convince him to pose for me, and right after this he hopped back onto my lens. 

From here the trail traces the northern outskirts of the rice patties before heading through an area of well shaded by maples. This trail, up until the maples, was swarming with gardeners this particular day who were busily weeding, pruning and generally preparing the garden for summer. Because of the number of people in blue mulling about. i didn’t bother taking any photos. This was half because their bright clothing would have largely spoilt any shots, and half because i didn’t want any of them to think i was taking photos of them incase they might get grumpy. In hindsight i should have taken photos of them on purpose to show you all, because their uniform incorporates cool baggy pants and interesting flexible rubber boots with individual toes, both of which are highly unusual outside japan. Luckily the maples were pretty so you can look at those instead.

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The sign reads “irohamomiji”. i have no idea what iroha means, but Momiji is maple. 
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I love the way Japanese Maples layer. 

Following this the path doubles back and continues towards the central lake area, revealing sights that (after a bit of googling i realised) are more reminiscent of the west lake than those that are presented to you as you enter. There are also several small buildings in this area, including a small tea house. It seemed to be a popular picnic spot as despite the lack of cherry trees, there were several blue mats rolled out.

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The eastern side of lake’s island appears to be modled after the west lake in china. 

Following this, the path leads into a section of the garden modeled on the old Kiso trail which connected Kyoto and Tokyo through Japan’s middle ages. Having been to sections of the Kiso trail before, this certainly did remind me of it on a miniature scale, though a bit less vegetated. A small winding trail paved with stones threading its way around obstacles through a lush forest. If you ever are so lucky as to be in Japan, try and make time to visit the old post towns of Tsumago and Magomo which lie on this trail. Both separately are worth the trip, but the fact they are close enough together to walk between (with a bit of time) makes them a truly superb destination.

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A nice shady path on the first day it was warm enough to break a sweat. 

This path led me to a second lake area, one significantly smaller and more intimate than the first. By the time i arrived the area was a hum of activity with more than half a dozen men with tripods, cameras and lenses the size of a leg. It appears some kind of king fisher has made its home in this section of the garden and that these men were eagerly waiting for it to take flight in hopes of majestic shots of this (i assume) rare bird. Luckily this group was concentrated in one area and seeing as i had little interest in the bird, had very little effect on my time here. I was always aware of when the bird was flying though, because of the chorus of camera shutters flapping followed by the cries of excitement from those that had nailed a shot. The bird was quite a pretty little thing, and i can see why everyone wanted to grab a photo of it. it would have made a stunning shot. However i was just as happy snapping shots of his slower, more cooperative neighbours.

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Turtles are much more my kind of thing to photograph, because they are slow, like me. 
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The second lake area. Not as grand, but i feel nicer than the first. 

This area had several cherry trees close by, but by now these ones were well and truly past their best. I would imagine this being in the center of the tokyo metropolis that this would be one of the first places to see, and thus lose the flowers. Luckily this also meant much more green than i had seen previously in other places. There were several small trails leading off from the main path that took visitors to a landmark of interest before returning to the lake side, these points of interest included one of the cherry trees, as well as a small rest house and what appeared to be a small shrine. I had a grand old time exploring.

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A small rest house, tucked away up on a hill. 
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Almost no flowers were left here on this early blooming variety. By now it probably just looks like any other tree happy little green tree. 
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The up side of the closing days of the Sakura season, is that they decorate the area around them beautifully. 

From here i headed to the exit, or rather i was on my way there when another small trail past a tea house caught my eye. “I wonder whats down there” thought I, expecting it to be another small path with not much but a single point of interest down it. Expecting it to take a matter of minutes i decided to quickly head down it and see where it could lead. Turns out this was a good decision as it lead to roughly a third of the park which i had missed. Wandering past the tea-house i was met with another laked area, which i of course stopped to take a multitude of photos of, a winding path leading up the the site of an old lookout, a small temple built to house religious statues and a multitude of lovely paths winding through the hills between these. This has been a long post already, so i will spare you the details and let you read through images yet again.

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A lantern near the tea house which hides this splendid section of garden. I was very lucky to find both the Sakura and maple spilling over it. That’s both uncommon and fortunate. 
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The third and final lake area is much more enclosed than the other two. I was very lucky that the weeping cherry here is a late blooming variety and thus was still flowering. This was a lovely place to sit and let the world go by for a time. 
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As i mentioned before. Traditional Japanese gardens are often miniaturised impersonations of far off places. Rocks sticking out of the water like this are often used to symbolise islands in an ocean or great lake. 

Finally i stumbled upon what is apparently one of the most famous features of the garden, the Full Moon Bridge. This bridge is so named as it’s perfect hemisphere makes a full circle when reflected in the water below. It is a lovely structure and so well maintained its difficult to believe its almost 400 years old. Unlike many things in Tokyo, someone obviously gets a lot of employment preserving this historical icon.

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The full moon bridge doing its full moon thing. 

With this i checked the map and saw that, unlike earlier in the day, i had in fact covered the entirety of the park and decided it was about time to head home. After walking down and spending some 5-6 hours on my feet in the park, the idea of a 6 km walk home was not overly appealing, but i opened up my map to plan a foot bound route home none the less. Looking at the map i realised i was only about 1.5 km from Chidorigafuchi, the moats i visited the previous week with no batteries. I decided seeing as the weather was still being kind, to head back and see if i couldn’t take some better photos. If i felt it was a little crowded last week, i take that back, this particular day being the single day of good weather for the whole Sakura season this year in Tokyo, was especially packed. I was lucky i decided to be stingy and walk rather than catch the train, because there was a lengthy queue to to simply exit the station. Still, despite all that the experience was overall a very pleasant one. Slowly waddling with the crowd through the Sakura lined street was greatly improved by the sunshine and most people weren’t persistent enough to make it to the far end, where i really wanted to get to.

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Rental boats were much more popular today with the threat of sunburn at opposed to a sudden downpour. 
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But just like everywhere in Tokyo, if you are happy to go even slightly further than everyone else, you can always find a peaceful place. 

After this i turned tail and headed home via a 100 yen shop. Not much to report about that other than i still love 100 yen shops and would live in one if i could. I got a set of kitchen utensils, a towel, finger/toe nail clippers, body soap, washing detergent and a set of sponges for less than 10 dollars. Just don’t buy shampoo there…. its not shampoo…. its just acid.

More to come soon. Next stop, Tokyo Tower surrounds.

 

 

 

 

 

Days 5 and 6. Two nights of illuminations

Before we start!!!

For new readers please start at the bottom of this front page and work your way up. This site is organised in a counter chronological order so return readers can see if there has been an update.

For those of you with slow internet who have drawn to my attention the fact that having everything in one massive page takes longer than the average human lifespan to load, my apologies. I’m working on a way to have each post appear on this front page only as a clickable title which will open the post in its own page, but I’m not so good at driving WordPress and haven’t had any success achieving this yet. Hopefully soon i will sort this out. Until then, here is a screen shot of an internet speed test i ran in my ageing apartment block where the internet is included in the rent. I hope it makes you feel better… or makes you grumpy that wherever you are has crummy infrastructure… probably the latter.

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For reference this download speed is about 4-5 times faster than my Australian internet connection which is nice. HOWEVER! The upload speeds here are about 125 times faster than i got in Australia. Yes, over a hundred times faster. This means that uploading a single image to this site takes less than a second, as opposed to just under 2 minutes per item in Australia. This has major productivity benefits for the workforce here amongst other things.
Now, ON WITH THE SHOW!

After a Sunday spent for the most part studying in my apartment and hiding from the ominous but in the end harmless black sky, I decided to go for a short 5.6Km (each way) stroll down to Sumida River to see the park illuminated at night. Sumida for those of you who don’t remember, is the park i visited on Wednesday and is the first blog post on this site. Why walk so far in a city with perhaps the worlds most efficient public transportation system i hear you ask? Well, that’s because I’m cheap!!! I have close to unlimited spare time, but far from unlimited cash. Besides, who knows what i will find while I’m out waddling about. This particular night i found this, which amused me greatly.

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There appears to be a rule in Tokyo that if something is even mildly sporty, it must be riced!

I have next to no images from this night unfortunately. This is partly because i didn’t take my tripod with me (a decision i now regret) and the illuminations not being being bright enough to light the area enough for my mid level equipment, and partially because i have discovered that large swaths of white flowers mixed with sticks while spectacular in real life, don’t make the most appealing photos. If you are ever in the area around late march/early April you should definitely come see these illuminations. They are lovely, but either lug better low light equipment than i did with you, or don’t expect mad photo ops like i hoped for. Here is the best image from the night, sky tree looming over Sumida-Ku. Please believe me when i say it’s more impressive in real life.

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Skytree looking smaller than it actually is, as usual.

The following day i took a wander down the street to a small road i had seen several times when passing on the train. One that was lined with Sakura and even passing as a blur through the window looked quite a sweet little spot. These trees were in full bloom as i whizzed past them for the first time on Thursday, well and truly before the other trees i had seen and i wanted to get some photos before they started to shed their petals. luckily i was too late for that (yes, you read that right) and many of the trees were already half bare, leaving a beautiful scattering of paper thin soft pink petals lining the sidewalk and road. Even gentle gusts of wind would prompt a small shower of petals to slowly rain down and passing cars would make the slowly forming mat dance in their wake. I got some video footage of this, but don’t have the room to host it on this site, so we will have to make do with some photos and your imagination instead.

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Recently fallen petals like to chase cars and dance in the wind. Over time they make it impressive distances,  often more than 50 meters from where they originally fell.
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The cute little Sakura lined shopping street. Though the trees are technically past their best, i think it looks better now with its light dusting of flowers than it did at its peak.

I believe i spent most of the rest of this day either studying, writing the blog for Saturday’s outing, or working on photo’s. I forget which exactly. But sufficed to say, the day light hours were nothing overly exciting. The night however was a different matter. Having learned from last nights mistake i headed of to Naka-Mekuro river, armed with a tripod.

Naka-Mekuro river is, for 50 weeks of the year, nothing to write home about. Its a concrete walled drainage channel running through some of the most heavily developed regions of Tokyo. However, it is lined with literally thousands of Sakura trees, which come early April line the river with a sea of white and pink flowers. It apparently is spectacular during the day as well but is particularly famed for its night illuminations where local shops and restaurants lining the river support the festival with affordable take away street foods, alcoholic beverages and music (yes, people here are well behaved enough that you can give them unlimited cheap take away booze at a public festival and nothing goes wrong). The channel is several kilometers long to my knowledge and while i didn’t have time to explore it all, i saw more than enough to come away deeply impressed. As with many of the places i have visited this trip, especially places with large quantities of Sakura in a small area photos don’t do it justice, so i suggest you hop on a plane and see it for your self some day.

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Lanterns provided most of the illumination, with some assistance from shop and street front lighting. As with Sumida the day before, there wasn’t a ton of light about. but it made for a lovely atmosphere.
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There are many kilometers like this along the canal. Between each bridge the trees appear to have been pruned differently. These ones form a roof, while others spill over the sides like a big white hedge. It makes me wish i had a bit more time to explore.

As with all the famous Sakura sites in Tokyo, crowds were fairly heavy, but not unpleasant. Getting around was easy, but getting to a prime photo spot (IE, the exact center of a bridge, where the canal looks symmetrical) was overly time consuming as at most  informal queue had formed. I couldn’t be bothered competing with locals three times my age who had gone to the trouble of lugging dozens of thousands of dollars worth of medium format photo gear out to get perfect shots. I know for a fact they are more competent and dedicated to their cause than i am, so i took a close enough is good enough mentality. Luckily the place is impressive enough that it still looks pretty great despite my laziness.

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Lots of pretty white flowers!

The lights started going off at 11, so i headed home about the same time. Though i decided to beat the rush (or rather, let it beat me) by dropping in for some dinner before heading to the station to allow the hoards time to cram onto trains. I know first hand that one way of finding uncomfortable levels of crowded in Tokyo is to try and catch the same train as everyone else.

One of my favorite things about Tokyo is that everything is always open… O.k. that’s a lie, most things close sometime. However unlike in Perth where all the doors slam shut at 5Pm sharp, or 8:30-9 in the case of restaurants, chances are that any time of the day or night, you can get what you are after with only a short walk.  In my case i needed food and that’s never a difficult hunt any time of the day or night. 10 minutes and 400 yen (about 5 dollars) later i was sitting down to a piping hot stir-fry and a nice warm cup of complementary tea, which went a long way to defrosting my rigid fingers. I’m glad i stopped in for dinner, because not only was it tasty and cheap. I stumbled upon this on my way home.

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When you Z20, OEM is best EM.

This is a Z20, or a Toyota Soarer built between 1986 and 1991 for you normal humans who don’t memorise chassis codes. These are are rare as hens teeth in Australia. I certainly have never seen one, and given that japan has a biennial roadworthy inspection which makes keeping old cars like this economically questionable at best and stupid at the worst, i would guess that there aren’t many of these running around over here any more either. The thing that made me most happy about this particular find, was that it looked like it had just rolled off the showroom floor. Unlike most of the other sports cars i have seen here this car appeared completely original and was spotlessly clean (the latter isn’t unusual, the former certainly is.) I’m glad to see classics like this still rolling around given the Japanese auto industry’s continued abandonment of the sports car market in recent years. Its still early days so i wont bore most of you with too much car stuff just yet, but in the future you can expect a few auto related posts, especially when i start getting my language up to scratch and head out to icons of the Japanese automotive scene.

After this i went to bed and had an uneventful night while unconscious. But GOOD NEWS!!!! the SUN CAME OUT on Wednesday!!!! More on that next post, and PICTURES!

Day 4. Shinjuku-Gyoen.

On Saturday I got up bright eyed and bushy tailed and headed off for Shinjuku-Gyoen, one of Tokyo’s largest parks. Once again though the weather was not so bright nor bushy, having deteriorated further since the previous day.

Unsurprisingly, the line to get in was rather colossal. I forgot to take a photo of the in line in the morning, so have a photo of the out line evening instead , and just imagine that everyone is facing the other way. Yep, that greyish blueish roof you see in the center left is the ticket gate.

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Big big line. Which was dealt with with amazing expedience. 

Shinjuku gardens has a no alcohol policy (Alcohol consumption in public spaces in japan does not appear to be illegal, but don’t quote me on that.) and security guards were checking each individual bag briefly,  rejecting those  who were carrying such items (typically tourists who didn’t get the memo). Despite the crowds and these checks, the line progressed quite quickly, taking less than 10 minutes before it was my turn to hand over my 200 yen (about $2.20) and enter. Because of its size and abundance of cherry trees and despite its no alcohol policy, Shinjuku Gyoen is one of the most popular spots in Tokyo for Hanami parties (think Sakura viewing picnic). The central grassed areas are perfectly equipped for this, providing not only ample blossoming trees, but also enough room for just about everyone to find a decent spot.

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There appears to be some unspoken rule that Hanami blankets must be gross colours. 
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Enter a caption

I’m used to shinjuku park being all but deserted, so the sea of people and blue picnic mats (why do they have be such a gross colour? -_-) was definitely a change from my perspective. Despite the number of people, the park didn’t feel overly crowded, though getting photographs without humans in them was often impossible (i gave up on that BTW). The trees here seem to have been at their peak, with several of the earlier flowering varieties already losing their petals at a rapid rate, while late flowing varieties were well on their way to blooming. Most now have the green shoots of leaves poking through the bark, so by this time next week i should expect many of the trees to be all but bear of flowers.

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This tree is getting ready for some happy sunshine! 

Much like in Ueno the day before, I found that the central area, lined with abundant cherry trees, was not only the busiest area, but also one of the least photogenic areas, large swaths of trees (especially when surrounded by blue mats) typically don’t actually make for very good photographs.

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One last shot of the central English landscape area.

Shinjuku garden is actually split up into separate areas, each based off a different style of garden making. The central area, were everyone seemed to be content chilling under the trees, is the northern side of the English landscape garden section. Moving south from here gave relative relief from the crowds (though there were still plenty of people.) As well as a nice change of scenery.

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Southern side 0f the English landscape section.

Not much overly interesting happened down here, but the scenery was nice and without the crowds, the garden started to feel more like i remember it. Because i don’t have much interesting to write about this section have a few photos instead. Apparently they are worth a thousand words each.

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River dividing the north and south sections of the park.
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Sakura over the water. 

Moving further east, i found a section comprised mostly of maple varieties. Honestly, this is much more my jam than wall to wall Sakura. I love the cherry blossoms but as i have said before, i find them very difficult to take photos of. Trust me, they are much nicer in real life than i make them look on here. The lack of cherry’s in this area meant it was relatively unoccupied and peaceful. Still, under the shade of a centuries old Japanese maple its hard not to feel peaceful.

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Maples and water. A traditional Japanese recipe for relaxation. 

 

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Maple flowers may not be anywhere near as pretty as those on a cherry try, but come autumn the leaves will be just as spectacular. 

From here i moved on to explore the Japanese gardens section. This area was far more heavily populated than the eastern end of the park, but gave spectacular views contrasting the nature of the park with the looming monolith of the NTT DOCOMO building in the background.

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Entrance to the Japanese landscape gardens. (Feat. NTT Docomo)
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Even the latest blooming varieties of Sakura are well on their way to opening. 
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Despite the crowds and poor weather. The Japanese gardens still make a decent photo. 

Some of you who are familiar with the works of Makoto Shinkai may be feeling that some of these shots are familiar. That is because “The Garden of Words” his most recent work, was set primarily in Shinjuku-Gyoen. Shinkai San’s works are typically story boarded from real life photos of the setting location, which gives most frames much more realism than is typical of animation. Of course his films, amongst the most visually striking  animation to come out of Japan,  are usually far more beautiful than the original setting. I’m looking forward to the rainy season so i can return and try to recreate some shots from that film. Below is the tea-house, where the majority of The Garden of Words is set.

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The Garden of Words
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Taken from a different spot with a different lens, but there you have it. ANIME IS REAL!!!! (pro tip, Its not.)

From here i meandered around the eastern section of the Japanese gardens, following the stream of people and occasionally stopping to shoot a photo. While taking the shot below, i became aware of a Japanese couple nearby talking about me, though I couldn’t figure out what they might be saying. After taking the image and preparing to leave, they asked me if i could take their photo using their phone. I took a passible but fairly mediocre shot, the best i could do with a phone and the weather. Handing the phone back to them I asked them to check they were happy with the photo, not wanting them to return home to see a disappointing image. They assured me before checking it that it would be fine, “because i was a professional” I found this response most amusing, but insisted they check because i’m in no way a professional Photographer. They must have liked the photo though, because their reaction (after the obligitori “SUGOI!!!”) was to call over several of their friends for photos too. I soon had a hand full of smartphones and a small queue of people… I don’t think the image was that good. Decent yes, but not spectacular. I realised after the fact thought that I should have been charging 😛

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Chinese inspired building at the eastern end of the Japanese gardens. 
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An unreachable path. Just as well Because it makes for a good photo when no one’s on it!
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The Chinese observation house. 

That pretty much sums up the day. I went home, had some din dins and went to bed. though not before making a start on processing the grey cast out of my favorite images.

More updates to come soon, there is less of a back log now that Shinjuku park is out of the way, so hopefully it wont take me too long. Until then, enjoy the sunshine wherever you are! i wish i could get some!

 

 

Days 2 and 3.

So, I’m already falling behind on the blog! I have been so busy going out enjoying myself and taking photos that i forgot you all! Actually while the going out and taking photos part is true, the real hold up on the blog is the colossal amount of photo editing I’m having to do because of the poor weather. The weather has deteriorated further as the week has progressed. The increased cloud cover, lower temperatures and higher humidity have created a perpetual grey cast over the city of Tokyo, Parks included. This seems to deeply confuse my camera, which spits out rather poorly exposed and washed out images unworthy of the internet. I have a backlog of some 600-800 images to sort and edit. So i would imaging each post i make here for the next little while will be 2-3 days after the fact. With that in mind, ON WITH THE SHOW!

 

There Isn’t much to see from Thursday, the 31st of march.  I was busy organising a place to live for the next 2-3 months, and other than the fact that i found somewhere, and am now happily moved in, there isn’t much to report from that experience. The room I’m in is quite old and basic, no robo-toilets and fanciness for me, but it has a lovely view (for Tokyo) and is very conveniently located. I’m less than a minute walk from the nearest station, and a 10 minute walk from the JR Yamanote circle route line. There are a few convenience stores near by, and a 24 hour super market about 2 minutes walk away. All in all, i cant complain. I love the view, and the living space suits me just fine.

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My room with a view.

 

After settling in i headed off for my birthday dinner (the 31st of march is my birthday) at my favorite Japanese restaurant… which is actually a little Chinese stir fry place. Last time i was here was in 2011 and the owner was fairly scrawny, and appeared very shy. His mother did the waitressing. This latter fact was most amusing because she didn’t appear to have much mastery of the Japanese language (nor English) and communicated with customers Japanese and foreign alike, primarily through large smiles, loud friendly laughs, and lots of interpretive dance. This appeared to embarrass the chef no end, and was highly amusing and more than a little heartwarming.
This time things were fairly different. The chef has put on a fair bit of bulk (muscle mainly), he appears to run the shop by himself now, he has grown a beard and long hair he pulls back out of the way with a bandanna. This combined with his T-shirt sleeves being held up in a tank top style by safety pins gives him a kind of friendly Japanese pirate-y vibe. Unfortunately his mother doesn’t appear to work there any more. On the up side, the food is still as good and plentiful as i remember, and i staggered home ready to burst after ordering the smallest thing on the menu. I also made the “Mistake” of ordering a beer, which came via way of a 1 litre bottle 0_0.

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Birthday Din-dins. (Note. All objects are larger than they appear)

On the way home i wandered through the eastern streets of Nishi-Nippori, one of my favorite areas. Though being made of concrete and metal like the rest of Tokyo, the smaller winding streets, lower more homely buildings and ample greenery combined with the occasional wooden temple or house gives the area a much more old worldly  and friendly feel. there are a handful of traditional shopping streets, which make for ample photo opportunities as well.

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Nishi-Nippori.
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450Yen bento, the dinner of champions.

That Brings us to Friday, which i decided i would devote the day to Sakura hunting. The season is in full swing now, and most news shows seem to be showing plenty of sections on how Sakura spots in Tokyo are progressing. I decided to head to Ueno park in the morning despite the crowds and then continue on to Chidorigafuchi, a series of moats surrounded by thousands of Sakura trees. The latter is said to be the number 1 spot for Sakura viewing in Tokyo.

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Many many peoples.

Ueno park certainly was crowded, but as is usually the case in japan, not so badly one cant move. Despite the massive number of people there (mostly international tourists judging by the smorgasbord of languages being spoken) it was a comfortable experience to slowly waddle through the park along with the sea of people. The massive crowds made getting shots of the Sakura avenues difficult, but i guess i’m not rich enough to get them to shut down one of Tokyo’s largest parks park just for my photographic desires.DSC04845

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Cherry trees! Fun for the whole family!!!

Moving away from the central Sakura avenues, the crowds became much thinner. This was a blessing because most of the good photo opportunities i found in Ueno were actually away from that central human river. The weather is still quite dull, the overcast sky leading to flat and dull lighting, but its difficult not to find decent opportunities to get snaps in a place this beautiful.DSC04890

I plucked up all my courage and utilised the length and breadth of my limited Japanese skill to politely ask if i could get some photos of this young lady in front of the tea house (i think that what it was, correct me if i’m wrong. People were drinking tea inside it.) only to find out after the fact that she was in fact Korean, and had basically fluent English. That would have made communication during the shoot far easier, but it worked out well none the less.

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I still have basically no idea how to get good photos of Sakura, but i seem to fluke it from time to time, which is nice. something gives me the feeling that by the time i’m getting confident with it, the season will be over.DSC04816

After Ueno, i moved on to Chidorigafuchi. The crowds here at first seemed far lighter than Ueno, until i discovered i was looking at the dud end of the moats like a chump. Still, even the dud end was quite picturesque.

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Boats are available for hire so visitors can enjoy the Sakura from the water… and also so other visitors can enjoy the view of you paddling about on your cute spring date.

=

 

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Such Japan photo, many stereotype.

After exploring and photographing the dud end extensively, i went to check out the park inside the moat. Though not famed for Sakura they were pleasant none the less and far more reminiscent of my previous stays in japan, Characterised by the intense lush greens of summer.DSC05304

Unfortunately this stroll through the park all but emptied the remainder of my second and final battery for the day (pro tip, if you shoot Sony mirror-less cameras, get as many batteries as you can lay your hands on. They don’t last long). This meant that when i left the park and stumbled upon Chidorigafuchi proper, i couldn’t take photos with anything but my aged smartphone. Have a mad selfie (if you don’t already know this, i hate selfies, but i took one for the team, Happy?) and a few crummy phone shots instead.

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Interestingly, my phone deals with the adverse lighting conditions better than my camera at the moment.
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This may well be the only image you will ever see of me on this blog.
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The stream of sight seers under the trees.

After this i circumnavigated the entire imperial east garden complex on foot to see what there was to see see see, then had a rather dull evening studying in my apartment waiting for my batteries to charge again.

Next time there is something to report i will let y’all know, until then, here is a link to my Flickr album for Japan. (<<<<for those of you not good with the internet, if you click the blue text it will take you there) There will be many more images from today and the days to follow than i can host on this site, They will also be in significantly better quality. I hope you enjoy them.