On a beautiful Saturday in March, we decided to visit General Nogi's house and its attached Shinto shrine. The General was a count who was involved in the battle for Port Arthur, losing many of his men in the process. Apparently, he sought permission to commit ritual suicide to atone for the defeat, but his emperor refused. A decade or so later, as the emperor's funeral cortege was leaving the palace grounds, the general and his wife killed themselves. Their devotion to the emperor and each other was honored by creating a shrine particularly devoted to happy marriage. We wandered around, simply enjoying the beauty of the site. The landscaping was so exquisite, with many sakura and other ancient trees and tremendous use of moss and shrubbery to delineate various areas of the grounds. After we'd looked at the house and stables, we went down the hill to the shrine itself and were incredibly fortunate to find that a wedding was about to take place. The bride and groom were posing for traditional photographs as we arrived, but shortly thereafter they each went to be dressed in special clothing. A shrine attendant swept the granite walk with a twig broom. Then there was the sound of a taiko drum, which marked the beginning of the procession -- other musicians, the groom and his attendants followed by the bride with her parents, a factotum dogging her footsteps in order to keep a large red parasol over her head. A large party of what were presumably family members tagged along behind the group. The guests had been instructed to stand on either side of the walk and clap as the bridal party passed, but so many of them were taking photographs that the applause was tepid. (Wasn't I fortunate to have Mishu with me to translate all this? It made for such a rich experience!)
I'll say more about Japanese wedding traditions when I write about the Meiji Jinju.
Shrine visitors write their wishes on these wooden plates and then leave them at the shrine in the hope that their wishes come true. Most people wish for good health, success in business, passing entrance exams, love or wealth. You may write in any language from English, Chinese to Japanese.
Before you entering a shrine in Japan, you must get yourself clean before doing the prayer. Refer to my cutie face picture you will know what should you do before you entering. You can find this on every entry of the shrine....is a Japanese culture. Found near the entrance, the water of these fountains is used for purification. You are supposed to clean your hands and mouth before approaching the main hall.
High School Girl are equally as `Yamanba'.
Having this type of make up on face is to appeal to the world that she is already stepping in the world of adult. Mostly high school student do this, they tan their skin or mainly just the face into deep dark brown, then draw the white line like on their eyes like a little clown on the circus, besides, she has to wear a pair loose socks like `pig legs' to state that she got freedom.
We were missing our pets back home when we got out of the station at Shibuya, and found the statute of Hachiko, the "most loyal dog in Japan" -- an akita whose master was lost in the war, but who waited patiently for his return. The statue is a great place for meeting people in case you get separated! As an aside, Richard Gere was recently in my home state, Rhode Island, filming a movie about Hachiko. I somehow doubt it will resonate! The surrounding district is full of shops, many youth-friendly restaurants, and interesting sights.
Rice is consummed in Japan for more than 2000 years. Even the word used for "rice" means also "meal". Well..everyone is familiar with rice, the only difference in Japan it's quite sticky, but from the other hand it's easier to pick it up with chopsticks. Please never pour soy sauce into the rice, it's not japanese tradition, it's chinese. Also when you eat sushi, better before dumping it into soy sauce turn it upside down, that keeps the rice from crumbling.
. This tradition continues to live in modern Japan, with the grand annual celebration centering on Meiji Jingu, the shrine dedicated to him. Of everybody's interest would be the demonstration of traditional Japanese archery near the shrine's Treasure Museum and the yabusame archery on horseback show in the vicinity of the Shibaike along the shrine's western approach.
One recent Sunday, I was wandering around the city and I ended up in the neighborhood of Shibuya, which is maybe not quite a high-end as Ginza, but it is more neon and more popular among the young crowd.
While wandering around Shibuya, I heard whistles, drums, and chants, so I had to check it out. I wandered over to one of the side streets, and there was a mob of Japanese men and women, all dressed in similar shirts carrying a gold shrine, kind of like the ark of the covenant. I watched until it passed, then a few minutes later, I saw another similar group, also hauling a little shrine. Of course, little is a relative term, the shrine itself was probably five feet by five feet at the base and perhaps five feet tall, supported on four 20-foot poles resting on about 40 people's shoulders. I wanted to get a good photo, so I got close, just as they stopped for a quick break.
I hung out for a few minutes snapping photos, until I noticed one of the guys in the crew was a westerner. After verifying that he was an English-speaking westerner (an Australian to be exact), I asked what was going on. He said the shrines, called mikoshi, carry the spirits of a Japanese deity who was worshiped at a local Shinto temple. He said the shrine weighed about 400 kg (almost 900 pounds), but again this spread out among about 40 people at any one time. In a casual Australian way, he said to me, "would you like to give it a go?" I kind of looked at him funny, especially after he said I would have to remove my shoes to partake. He offered me his cotton happi coat (that is really what it's called; Google it), and I handed him my backpack now loaded with my shoes. He said the break would last just another few minutes, then we had a 20 minute trek up the hill to one of the love hotels. He also offered me a towel that he used to pad his shoulder (which was very important, though I still ended up with a bruised and sore shoulder).
I grabbed one of the positions on one of the outer beams, and dozens of people crowded around to help lift the shrine. The up and down motion of the group kind of forced us to slowly jog in place as we moved the shrine around town. During our journey to the love hotel (rest 3000 Yen, all night 5000 Yen), we stopped occasionally to point the shrine at various business and homes, as if to bless the buildings and their occupants. Finally, we made it to the love hotel, where they set out wooden saw horses in the middle of the street to park the shrine. Parking turned out to be quite an ordeal, and the drill sergeant made us back up and realign on the horses a number of times before we was satisfied. He blew his whistle and clapped his wooden blocks together to let us know we were in place. The front was slowly lowered, all of the people under the middle of the mikoshi scurried out, and we lowered the back on another saw horse. Next we did the ritual clapping (clap, clap, clap…. clap, clap, clap… clap, clap, clap… clap!), then I exchanged the happi coat for my shoes, and I enjoyed a beer provided by the sponsor business. They also had soup, noodles, corn on the cob, soft drinks, and candies. This was really a family event, both wives and children in tow, though a few of the women even helped carry the shrine.
My next challenge was finding my way out of the love hotel district and back to Shibuya Crossing.
It is possible to see women wearing tradtional clothing wandering the streets of Tokyo. In fact, if you want, you can even buy kimonos in stores (see me shopping tip). That's because many Japanese people still will wear traditional clothing on ceremonial or festive occassions. I saw these two women in line for something appararently important in Asakusa. Even though it was a Saturday morning, all of the men were in suits and a few of the women were in kimonos (others were dressed very nicely). In the Ginza, you can see other traditionally-dressed women whose mployment might require it -- maybe they're geishas! However, if you want to see real geishas with their faces painted while, Kyoto's Gion is a better place.
The 7th birthday marks an important year in a girls life, according to Japanese tradition, and no better place exists in Tokyo than the Meiji Shrne for observing this. Apparently, the seventh year can be dangerous for young girls, so they should visit a shrine to pray for protection during the next 365 potentially hazardous days. Some girls do their best to ensure this protection by dressing in elaborate kimonos and have their picture taken by various family members (as well as passing tourists like me!). It's quite a colorful sight!
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