These things that I have done

08Jun12

The main yard of the Meiji-jingu Shrine in Tokyo.

I’ve been getting out more. Putting on pants and everything.

Last weekend Lisa and went shopping in the Shimokitazawa District. It’s where all the cool kids buy ironic T-shirts and hang out in coffee shops. That is a story for another time.

Mostly I have been going to the Garage Bakery which is just down the road from our apartment. It is not a garage, but it is a bakery, and its pastries are delicious. The shopkeep and I have formed a bond. I walk in and he hands me a tray and pair of tongs.  I pick out my pastries and hand the tray back to him to tally my order. As the final number appears on the register, I recite the figure in Japanese. For instance, today’s cost was 825 yen, so I said out loud, “hoppyaku-ni-ju-go en.” And he nods and hands me my sack of pastries with a pleased smile. It is a simple, reassuring relationship.

And like I said, the pastries are delicious. Each one contains a surprise inside. Of course, they wouldn’t be such a surprise if I could read Japanese. But some have ham and cheese inside, some have raspberry jam, some have chocolate. One day, one of the pastries had pineapple and cream cheese inside, and the next day an identical looking pastry had chocolate. I was flabbergasted!

Anyway, enough about the Garage Bakery. The past two days I actually visited some sites of note in Tokyo.

The eastern gardens of the Japanese Imperial Palace. This is the former site of the Edo Castle built in 1457. It was the residence of the shogun and was the military capital of Japan.

Edo Castle

Yesterday (Thursday, June 7, 2012. I have to remind myself of these things because I still have trouble remembering what day it is.) I met Lisa and two of her colleagues for lunch in downtown Tokyo. We went to the Brasserie D & Sweetroom near Lisa’s office at the Bank of  Japan. I had the steak and mashed potatoes and green peas. It was delicious, though the “steak” was the size of what we called “Salisbury steak” back in the elementary cafeteria.

Ninomaru Garden at the Imperial Palace

After lunch everybody else had to go back to work. All dressed up with nowhere to go, I decided to do a little sight-seeing. One of my favorite places to visit is the grounds of the imperial palace, which is home to Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko. The grounds are open to the public and you can trounce around with no care in the world. Which is what I did yesterday afternoon.

I traipsed through the front gate – there is no cover fee – and I wandered around with the rest of the tourists. Except they were better prepared for the hike in their khaki shorts and sensible shoes. I was in my Brooks Brothers slacks and Steve Madden loafers. They held up well, but weren’t ideal for the situation.

I only toured one half of the grounds,

The Hyakunin-bansho Guardhouse. One hundred samurai guardsmen had their quarters here. Their spirits speak to me.

the eastern half, and didn’t actually make it to the palace. There were some old guardhouses and tea rooms, and the best gardening in the entire world. If you ever plan to spend good money on your home landscaping, visit Japan first to get some ideas. Right now the irises are in bloom, and everybody is out taking pictures, and painting pictures, of the irises. Including me.

The highlight of my trip was assisting a group of elderly Japanese women take their picture. There were 10 of them, and they were in the iris garden forming a group photo. After each picture, the lady taking the photograph would join the group, and another lady would stand up and take a picture with her camera. So I strolled up and said “Sumimasen,” and held up my hands in the universal sign for camera. They were ecstatic and so thankful. It warmed the heart.

I completed the loop(s) in the eastern gardens and headed to Tokyo Station. I had planned to spend some time touring the station, which recently completed a massive renovation project, but the crowd was hectic and my dogs were barking, so I took the train home, feeling good about what had transpired that afternoon.

The giant torii at the entrance to Meiji Jingu Shrine. The Shinto shrine is dedicated to the souls of Emperor Meiji, who died in 1912, and Empress Shoken who died in 1914.

Meiji Jingu Shrine

Today I made the long trek to Meiji-Jingu Shrine. As I mentioned in a previous post, I discovered a walking/biking trail that leads from our neighborhood to Meiji-Jingu, 4.1 km one way. That’s 2 and 1/2 miles for those of you who never ran cross country.

It is a healthy walk, and the trail is surprisingly well maintained and manicured. I prepared myself a little better this time, and

The tearoom in the iris garden of Meiji Jingu. There were girls being trained in the Japanese art of tea service, but I was too cowardly to get close for a good picture.

wore my tennies, Phillies cap and plenty of sunscreen. I also was insightful enough to bring a water bottle and my tunes. I will link some of the songs throughout the rest of the post so you can feel like you were there with me.

We are supposed to be in the rainy season in Tokyo. What that means I’m not sure, but I do know that you aren’t supposed to leave wet clothes in the washing machine or else they grow mold. However, it hasn’t been that rainy, and today was a beautiful Friday.

An artsy shot of the back entrance. Always going through the back door.

So after hanging the laundry, I hit the dusty trail. It took about 45 minutes to reach the back entrance of Meiji Jingu.

Founded in 1920, Meiji Jingu Shrine is dedicated to the divine souls of Emperor Meiji and his consort Empress Shoken (their tombs are in Kyoto) (That is the description from the website, not mine). People donated 100,000 trees from all over Japan and from overseas, and they voluntarily handplanted each tree to create this forest smack dab in the middle of Tokyo.

Like all other shrines and gardens in Japan, this forest is immaculately cared for. I have visited here before, always on New Year’s Day.

The shinko, or treasure house in the shrine courtyard. The original buildings were all destroyed during the air raids of WWII and were rebuilt in 1958.

It is Japanese tradition to visit the Shinto Shrine on New Year’s Day to pay honor to your ancestors, as Shinto, in the simplest explanation, is ancestor worship. Lisa and I visited Meiji Jingu along with throngs of other Japanese on New Year’s Day.

Today was the first time I visited when there was less traffic, and when the weather was perfect. I was able to tour around a little more, and for the first time was able to visit the Yoyogi Gyoen (Imperial Garden), which predates the shrine. It first belonged to Lord Kato during the Edo Period.

The iris garden in Yoyogi Gyoen. The brochure says it is “just an oasis in the center of the noisy city.”

The imperial garden includes the iris garden and the Well of Kiyomasa. The iris garden is littered with azaleas, wisterias, yellow roses, and of course, irises. There is also a pond inhabited by hungry carp and a huge turtle.

While Meiji-Jingu Shrine is free, it costs 500 yen (approximately $5) to enter Yoyogi Garden. My allowance is running low, so when I left the park, it inhibited my purchasing opportunities on the way home. I passed by a little cafe featuring lunch and beer specials that I know Lisa would never want to patronize, and this might have been the perfect chance to belly up with some of the locals.

Alas, it wasn’t in the budget today, and hopefully I can make it back sometime. After all, I needed to stop by the Garage Bakery on the way home and pick up some pastries. One of the pastries, shaped like a bow tie, had a whole green olive in each end. Simply transcendent, I tell you!

Getting all artsy with my photography today. Here is an outside look at the inside of Meiji-Jingu Shrine.

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