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.

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.

The central lake of Kioshikawa, said to be inspired by the famed West Lake of Hangzhou.
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. 
“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!!!

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.

(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!

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.

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!!!!

Some form of hover fly. He was very patient while i photographed him. I guess he is still sleepy from the cold weather. 
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.

The sign reads “irohamomiji”. i have no idea what iroha means, but Momiji is maple. 
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.

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.

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.

Turtles are much more my kind of thing to photograph, because they are slow, like me. 
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.

A small rest house, tucked away up on a hill. 
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. 
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.

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. 
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. 
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.

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.

Rental boats were much more popular today with the threat of sunburn at opposed to a sudden downpour. 
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.







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