Wabi-Sabi Sole

Finding Beauty with Imperfection

Category: Tokyo (Page 1 of 6)

You Had Me At Pagoda

As I planned out my month of June, I anticipated Dave being home this weekend in between work travel. Because of this, I didn’t schedule an English classes for Saturday morning. Due to unforeseen circumstances, Dave is still on travel and I didn’t have English class. This gave me an entire day to plan something. I decided to shoot for the moon today and do something completely off the beaten path. I read an article recently about the top five places to see hydrangeas in the Tokyo area. Two of the places are in Kamakura, Meigetsuin Temple (where I went on Friday) and Hase-dera Temple. Another temple that was mentioned in the article was Takahatasonko-ji Temple. Takahatasonko-ji Temple is west of Tokyo. Google Maps showed me it was about 1.5 hours away and four trains.

I left at 9:45 this morning and was cruising around the Temple grounds by 11:15. It was very easy to find once I was off the train. It was less than a five minute walk and there were plenty of signs pointing the way.

I wasn’t only drawn to the Temple because of the hydrangeas blooming. As I was reading about the Temple, I learned there was also a pagoda. Say no more. I must go! Just as beautiful as I imagined.

The grounds of the Temple are beautiful. There was a small pond with huge koi and hydrangeas.

There was also a small Inari Shrine. I truly love the fact that the Japanese accept all religions. (Temples – Buddhist, Shrines – Shinto – two separate religions) If only the rest of the world could be more accepting, we would definitely have less wars.

Also on the grounds of the Temple is a path through the woods. The path is highlighted with 88 Jizo statues. They are inspired by the Shikoku – 88 Temple pilgrimage. I love the idea of the pilgrimage, but I don’t have the time or drive to complete it. Instead, I enjoyed taking a walk through the woods in the early afternoon and enjoy hydrangeas! Here is the map I followed. The little red numbers represent the statues.

I think I was a little bit early to see the hillside covered in hydrangeas. Regardless, I wasn’t disappointed. Here are a few pictures of hydrangeas.

At one point along the trail, you have a vantage point of the pagoda.

I probably took 88 pictures of hydrangeas. However, I didn’t photograph all 88 Jizo Statues. I just took a few pictures to give you an idea of what they looked liked and how they were marked.

There were so many varieties of hydrangeas. Here are several pictures of what we’ve started calling “lace hydrangeas.” They don’t fully bloom like traditional hydrangeas. Instead they have a few blooms on the perimeter and then a cluster in the center that looks like lace.

The view from the top of the hillside was spectacular. Tokyo is way off in the background.

Here is the view from the other side. Guess what you could see on a clear day… Mt. Fuji. Unfortunately, not today.

As with all the hikes in Japan, the trail included a lot of stairs! It was so peaceful, it was worth every stair!

A few more hydrangea pictures. They truly were beautiful.

I enjoyed my day Temple and flower chasing. The sunny and less humid day was perfect for walking through the woods. Just when I was smitten with Sakura season, I’m falling bloom over bloom in love with hydrangea season! I live the blue ones!!

Kyu-Iwasaki-tei Garden

As I was looking at my list of things to do in Tokyo, I realized I still had one garden to visit from the article about finding wabi-sabi in Tokyo. I hadn’t had the chance to visit the Kyu-Iwasaki-tei Garden in Tokyo. The Kyu-Iwasaki-tei Garden is located on the north side of Tokyo, near Ueno Park.

It took about an hour and 20 minutes to get there on the train. With the rain gone, it was such a beautiful day, I was happy to be out and about.

The Kyu-Iwasaki-tei Garden was built in 1896. The main residence is a western style building that was owned by Iwasaki Hisaya, the third president of Mitsubishi. The entrance to the Garden leads directly to the western residence. Currently, scaffolding was covering the front of the residence.

The inside of the residence was spectacular. The route to explore the residence allowed visitors to go throughout the two floors.

There is a large two-story porch on the southern side of the house. The east side of the porch is enclosed.

The wallpaper in the house is valuable Japanese leather paper. I took a close up picture of the paper and the large stamping tool.

The western residence is connected to the Japanese residence. Only a small portion of the Japanese residence remains. Tatami mats covered the floors and intricate drawings adorned the walls. The views of the gardens looking out were so serene.

The third building within the garden is the Billiard Room. The Billiard Room is detached from the Western Residence. However, there is an underground passageway connecting the two buildings. The Billiards Room was designed and built like a mountain lodge found in Switzerland. Notice the high ceilings!

The grounds of the garden have been reduced to only a third of the original size. Urbanization has claimed the other two-thirds. The grounds are a blend of Japanese and Western styles. As I walked the grounds, it was easy to be transported away from the bustling city. The garden is distinctively Japanese.

My favorite structure in the garden was the gigantic lantern. It had to be at least 12-15 feet high.

Looking back at the buildings and viewing the large lawn, it is easy to see the western influence. Simultaneously, you can see how close the encroaching buildings are to the garden.

This picture might be my favorite from the day. I like it because it captures the eastern and western gardens and the western residence is in the background along with the urbanization of Tokyo. I think it nicely captures the wabi-sabi of the Gardens.

I imagine this garden isn’t visited very often, because of its proximity to Ueno Park. Most tourist want to visit the many attractions at Ueno – zoo, museums, etc. I have visited Ueno Park (during Sakura season) and honestly, I enjoyed the quiet and serenity of this park much more. I definitely found my wabi-sabi.

Time Out Tokyo

Jet lag worked in our favor for our Sunday plans. We planned to get out of the house early Sunday morning and begin our day at Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden. I wanted to share the beautiful Sakura in the National Garden with both Dave and the Thompsons. I also knew the garden would become very busy. We arrived about a half hour after it opened and there were already many people prepped for Hanami.

We enjoyed walking through the garden. Yet again, we were lucky with more beautiful weather.

As we walked, we enjoyed the opportunity to view so many Sakura still in bloom.

After leaving the gardens, we stopped for lunch and then caught the train to Harajuku. As many times as we have been to Harajuku, I have never it seen it so crowded. This was the train ride to Harajuku.

The girls made a brief stop to purchase cat ears. Because, Japan.

At one point, about half way down Takeshita Street, the crowd came to a complete standstill. We ended up having to push our way out and slip down a side street.

The crowd left us weary and in need of a break from the crowd. We decided to walk to Shibuya instead of riding another crowded train. It was actually an enjoyable and somewhat entertaining walk.

After the crowd at Harajuku, Shibuya didn’t seem too crazy!

From Shibuya Crossing, we took the train to Gumyoji. I wanted Jennifer (and everyone else) to experience Yozakura. It was yet again, a beautiful evening.

These two! Candy covered strawberries dipped in sugar.

We caught one last train home. It was a long day for the first day of a Julia tour. For the record, I think the kids won this round.

Sakura School Trip

On Friday, group of students and teachers from my English school attended a day trip to Tokyo to view Sakura. Our first stop was at Komatsugawa Senbonzakura, a park on the east side of Tokyo. I have never been to this area of Tokyo. I took a screenshot of Google Maps and the dropped pin. The park is saved with the pink heart on the right side of the photo.

To return to this spot would take about two hours from our house and at least three trains. I was glad it was part of the tour because, I definitely wouldn’t have gone on my own. As we walked around the park, one of my students told me the park was only about 15 years old. So, the trees were not very big.

Size certainly didn’t matter in this case. The trees were beautiful. The weeping Sakura was my favorite in this park. In the picture with me are two of my English students who attended the school trip.

It was fun to see so many people out enjoying Hanami.

Now that’s a playground! Complete with a net to climb and a roller slide!

The second stop was at Rikugien Garden. I visited Rikugien Garden this past November. We were a little too late to view the main Sakura attraction. The large Sakura tree had already dropped its petals.

There was still plenty to see in the garden. It was so quiet and peaceful. It’s always hard for me to believe I’m in the middle of a huge city when I visit gardens in Tokyo. There is very little city noise.

Our third stop of the afternoon was at the State Guest House of The Asakusa Imperial Property. The State Guest House is where national dignitaries are hosted when they visit Japan. We toured the inside of the property, but were prohibited from taking photos. The building was beautiful. Again, I was glad it was part of the tour because I probably wouldn’t have gone otherwise. I was able to take a few pictures of the garden. The fountain reminded me of the Buckingham Fountain in Chicago.

Our final stop was at Chidori-ga-Fuchi. Chidori-ga-Fuchi is a large moat surrounding the Imperial Palace. Visitors are permitted to rent row boats and paddle around the moat. The row boats and Sakura made for beautiful pictures in the afternoon sun.

The trip was planned in early March. There was no guarantee the Sakura would be blooming or the weather would cooperate. I think we were very fortunate to have beautiful weather and blooming Sakura.

Kombucha 101

One thing I’ve learned from my English students about the secret to a long life is to keep learning – it keeps your mind sharp. That’s why at 60+ years old, a couple are in their 80s, they are learning how to improve their English conversion. They were my inspiration to attend a Kombucha 101 brewing class in Tokyo.

Sonia found the course online through Best Living Japan and invited me to go with her. Sure! Why not? And by the way, what’s Kombucha?

Directly translated in Japanese, kombu means seaweed and cha means tea. However, that is definitely not kombucha. Kombucha is a detoxifier and a probiotic.

The drink has become very popular in the U.S. over the past few years. When prepared correctly, kombucha is a healthy and delicious beverage. It is said to improve your energy and intestinal health.

The drink is made using sweetened tea that has been fermented by a symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast (SCOBY). The SCOBY looks pretty gross. Here our sensei was cutting pieces of SCOBY into each of our starter teas.

I was a bit intimidated as I watched and listened to our sensei walk us through the process of preparing the kombucha.

The first phase requires you to brew the sweetened tea and add the starter tea and SCOBY. They are put together in a large glass container, covered with a cloth, and left to ferment for 7-10 days.

The second phase is when the fruit juice is added to the fermented tea. The fruit adds flavor and carbonation. The tea from phase one is strained, the SCOBY removed, and about two cups of tea are reserved as starter tea for the next batch. For each jar of tea, 10-20% is fruit juice and 80-90% is fermented tea. The jars are sealed and allowed to sit at room temperature for 2-4 days. After that time, the kombucha can be refrigerated and enjoyed within the next 7 days.

As part of the class, each student was given a jar with starter tea and a piece of SCOBY. This would allow us to make our own initial batch.

On the way home from Tokyo, Sonia and I stopped in Yokohama at the Daiso. We needed larger glass containers for the fermenting process and elastic to keep the towel covering the jar in place. I had plenty of sugar and oolong tea to make my sweetened tea.

After brewing my tea, I let it set until it cooled. I didn’t want to scald my SCOBY. Once the tea was cool, I mixed them into my new glass pitcher. I added my cover and will check back in 7-10 days.

I’m genuinely curious as to how this will work out. I think I’m going to make strawberry flavored kombucha for my first batch. The strawberries will add desirable sweetness and adequate carbonation. Perhaps, I will be more bold if the kombucha does indeed taste delicious. The two glasses we tried in class today were very good. She offered us guava and peach. A couple of my friends in America have told me about their brewing successes. If you have any tips to share, please let me know! I’ll keep you updated on my progress as the kombucha brews. Kanpie! Here’s to intestinal health.

PS. The other two things to a long life include taking a walk everyday and eating sushi.

Tokyo Tourists

Dave received an invitation to the Kanto Plain Seabee Ball. The ball was held on March 10, 2018 at the New Sanno Hotel in Tokyo. We decided to enjoy the weekend in Tokyo. Unfortunately, the New Sanno was full for the weekend. Instead, I booked us a room at the New Prince Hotel in Shinagawa. We arrived Friday afternoon and checked into our hotel. The room was on the club level. Being in the club level granted us permission to use the Club Lounge. Besides the amazing view, the Club Lounge provided breakfast, snacks, and alcohol beverages after 5:00 pm. We were happy we decided to make a stop for happy hour on Friday. Because who doesn’t love free snacks and beer with a great city view!

We spent the rest of the evening exploring the area around Shinagawa Station. You just never know what or who you will see in Japan!

The place where we stopped for dinner had a true local flare. Like tiny sardines in my grilled rice ball and the homemade Japanese pickles served with our beer.

When I attempted to order a second beer, some how I managed to order two – of different sizes. Clearly, there was a bit lost in translation. Fortunately, Dave helped me drink the extra beer. Team D for the win!

Saturday before the ball, we took the train to Shibuya to walk around and shop. It’s always fun to be tourists in Shibuya Crossing.

This cute puppy was outside a coffee shop. He was there with his owner for several hours. We passed him on both Saturday and Sunday morning. Kawaii!

The Seabee Ball on Saturday night was a blast. I had the chance to wear my favorite gown and Dave looked extremely dapper in his mess dress. I love fancy date night.

No ball in Japan is complete without a sake barrel to open.

And traditional music performance.

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We took a group picture of all those who represented SRF. Not too bad of a turn out and everyone looked amazing.

The rest of the evening included dinner, speeches, and dancing. Lots of dancing and so much fun! Kanpie!

Mori Art Museum

The rain arrived overnight as promised. This created the perfect day to visit the Mori Art Museum. The Mori Art Museum is located in Roppongi. It is actually in the same building as the Tokyo Sky View. Sonia and I planned a trip to the museum and then lunch. The Museum currently has an exhibition by Leandro Erlich – Seeing is Believing.

The exhibition was contemporary and unique. Several of the exhibits were interactive, creating an even more impressive experience. Here is a picture of the explanation of the exhibit. To truly understand his intentions of his art, please read the third paragraph. He creates art that challenges our perceptions.

The first exhibit was the floating boats. I didn’t read about it before entering. It took Sonia pointing out that there was no water for my brain to comprehend. Please note, the boats were also rocking adding to the impression that they were in water.

Here is the explanation.

The next group of artwork were of clouds shaped like countries. The exhibit stressed how we as humans try to make order out of the chaos. We seek to find images in clouds or create constellations in the millions of stars. The same can be said about country borders. Although they seem permanent, over time they also shift and change shape. Pretty poignant, huh? The images were created using ceramic ink on multiple layers of glass. Can you identify the countries?

If you said, Japan, France, United Kingdom, and Germany, you are correct!

One of our favorites was the changing room. It was a changing room design with a mixture of mirrored and non-mirrored walls. The non-mirrored walls allowed you to pass through. It was like a dressing room maze.

A couple of other pieces really spoke to me. I loved this one of the house with roots. The intent was to show how intertwined cities truly become with nature. To me, it was more personal. I reflected and thought it illustrated our life. That is our house that we create into our home wherever we move. Then with each move, we rip our home out of the ground. Most of our roots come with us, but we can’t help but leave some behind.

I also loved this piece illustrating the effects of climate change on buildings. It was constructed in Paris for the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Convention.

The main attraction of the exhibition was the mind bending building. It truly looks dangerous and gravity defying!

What in the world!?! How is this possible? With a huge mirror!

The art exhibit was one of best I have seen in a while. I truly enjoyed the experience. Afterwards, we went back down to the fifth floor and had an amazing lunch and even better conversation. Pretty good adventure for a rainy Thursday.

Tokyo Take Two

Thursday morning we woke up to a wintery mix. We took our time getting organized hoping the weather would break. The weather was still messy by the time we finished breakfast and checked out of our room. Oh, well. That’s one of my rules. “Don’t let the weather stop you.” Instead, we stopped at the closest Family Mart and invested in lightweight umbrellas. Perhaps, the best purchase of the day!

On our agenda today was exploring Asakusa. Asakusa is located on the NE side of Tokyo. We were in the SW corner. It took us about 40 minutes on the train to transit over.

Our first stop was to visit the Sensō-ji Temple. Sensō-ji Temple is the oldest temple in Tokyo. It is very significant and attracts 30 million visitors every year. Cindy and I accounted for two of those visitors today.

The Temple is huge. I was especially excited because I haven’t been to this temple in over a year. Last time Dave and I visited was during Tokyo marathon weekend. At that time, the pagoda was undergoing renovations. I was able to see the pagoda for the first time today!

The snow, the pagoda, and the temple made for a magical experience. Check out all the people!

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I’m so glad we made the trip over to see the Temple. It truly is a magnificent structure and the gardens are amazing even in the rain/ snow.

Cindy was able to have another stamp added to her book at the Senso-ji Temple and also at the Asakusa Shrine.

Since we were in the area, I wanted to take Cindy to see another of my favorite Shrines. The Imoda Shrine or Lucky Cat Shrine. It’s so cute and the coupled cats are said to bring good luck and love to marriages. Who doesn’t need a little extra of either?

My favorite thing to discover at certain Shrines is the “May Peace Prevail On Earth” signs. The sign coupled with the serenity of the Shrine and the beauty of gardens truly makes my heart happy. I can’t help but believe that every one of the wishes tied on the prayer wall are wishes of peace, goodness, and well being.

By this point in the day, we were starting to get chilly and wet from the winter mix. We worked our way back to the shopping area around Asakusa. We shopped for a few items and then worked our way to Shibuya. We had one shopping spot to visit before heading home. My favorite. Tokyu Hands.

The only thing holding us back while shopping was the reminder we still had to get back home with all of our purchases!

Today, without intention, I treated Cindy to a true wabi-sabi experience. The weather was definitely imperfect, but the opportunity to see the Temple and pagoda in a little bit of snow was pretty fun. Of the 30 million visitors, how many had a chance to experience it in snow? She was such a trooper. I teased her at one point and said I was glad she was my sister in law from Chicago – otherwise, we might not have left the hotel! To her, this was a messy winter day at home!

We worked our way home and enjoyed a cold beer and Garrett’s popcorn as an appetizer to the white bean chicken chili Dave made this morning in the crockpot. Ahhhh. After two days in Tokyo, there’s no place like home!

Tokyo Take One

After a much need night of sleep after making the long trip to Japan, Cindy and I were out the door early. We caught the 9:03am train to Tokyo Wednesday morning. Our first mission was to walk the Meguro Seven Lucky Gods pilgrimage. Before we left, I starred the 6 temples and shrines in Google Maps.

The entire walk took us about 2.5 hours. We had a couple of detours at the Daiso and Family Mart. Here are pictures of the first three temples. Cindy collected two Gods at the third temple. We also started her off with a temple book to document each temple / shrine visit.

The fourth temple is one of my favorite in Tokyo. There are so many statues.

Soon we were crossing the Meguro River and on our way to the last two temples. We found all seven Gods! Extra luck for us this year.

As we were walking, we had a few ume (plum) blossom sightings.

After our Lucky Gods adventure, we were ready for lunch. Nothing sounded more perfect on an overcast damp winter day than ramen. It hit the spot!

After lunch we worked our way to Shibuya Crossing. We saw the Hachiko Memorial and the Shibuya scramble. We decided to check it out from the second floor of Starbucks!

Dave made us reservations at the New Sanno for the night. After exploring and shopping through Shibuya, we decided to go check into the hotel and drop our stuff. After a short reprieve, we hit the streets for more adventures! We hopped the train and headed to Harajuku. The first place I needed to take my sister in law from Chicago was Garrett’s! We picked up a few samples of yummy goodness before heading to Hedgehog Harry’s, the hedgehog cafe in Harajuku.

Once I was able to get past my aversion to rodents, we enjoyed our time. We paid for 30 minutes and a snack to feed the hedgehogs. The hedgehogs were cute and sleepy.

When they finished their snacks and feel soundly asleep, we decided to make our exit. It was a fun and unique experience. We can now say we have been to the first hedgehog cafe in the world. Ha!

After visiting the hedgehogs, we stopped for a burger at Wolfgang Puck’s restaurant. The best part was sharing the experience of Japanese burger wrapper with Cindy!

After wandering around Harajuku a little more, we decided to work our way to Roppongi for one final experience. We went to Tokyo City View. It is located in the 52nd floor of the Mori Art Museum building. The night time view of the city was spectacular. Tokyo Tower is the bright building on the right. Tokyo Skytree is the faint very tall building in the background on the left.

I have never seen so many lights! This will definitely be on Julia’s nighttime Tokyo tour.

We were returning back to the room after 9 pm. We had a long day packed full of fun. Tomorrow we have even more planned to see in the city! But now, I must sleep!

Exploring Shinjuku

Katie and I have been waiting for a nice day to take a trip up to Tokyo to explore the area around Shinjuku station. We considered this a reconnaissance mission of sorts. We thought maybe this area would be good to take upcoming visitors and Katie’s kids. Shinjuku is about an hour and fifteen minute train ride from where we live. I marked several spots in blue on Google Map to guide our exploring.

Our first stop was to visit the lion statue near the Shinjuku East exit. The lion was built and maintained by the Tokyo Shinjuku Lions Club. The hole in his mouth is for donations. The Shinjuku lion is also a common meeting spot when meeting up with friends.

After our stop at the Shinjuku lion, we walked over to see the Mode Gakuen Cocoon Tower on the west side of Shinjuku station. The building is home to a very popular and highly prestigious Fashion School in Tokyo.

We worked our way back to the east side of the station and walked towards the Shinjuku TOHO building to see Godzilla.

The lighting is a little strange and makes the sky look very blue. The head is next to a hotel and you could visit the terrace. So, we did!

This sign made us curious.

Listen as Katie touches the black hole.

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After visiting Godzilla, we walked around the Kabukicho district. More commonly known as the red light district. Yes, even in Tokyo.

Kabukicho was pretty tame during lunchtime on a Tuesday. We were good with that. We took a few pictures outside the Robot Restaurant, Samurai Museum and of King Kong.

We decided to make our way out of Kabukicho and find some lunch. Katie used her amazing Google Maps skills and located us a conveyor belt sushi restaurant while I was shopping for lotion at The Body Shop. The color of the sushi plate identified the price.

I stacked our plates for a colorful effect. It was then I realized the delicious tuna I was grabbing was on silver plates! ¥520! No wonder it tasted so good!

After lunch we started working our way towards Shinjuku Gyoen (garden). However, we were sidetracked quickly when we saw the Tokyu Hands store. We decided to go shopping instead and save the garden for a warmer spring day when we have a better chance to see flowers blooming.

So, back to the main mission, reconnaissance. We did learn a good bit about the area. There are some good spots for tourist photos and shopping. I will definitely return this spring to visit the gardens. Or at night to see the view of the city from the Park Hyatt Tokyo (the hotel from the movie Lost in Translation). I’ll just be sure if we have kids with us to come during the day time and/or avoid Kabukicho!!

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