Tour Report on December 24, 2017 in Asakusa

Thank you for spending your time and joining our tour on Christmas eve,December 24 in Asakusa. In fact it was our last official tour this year. The number of the guests was three from America and Israel. I hope you enjoyed with us.

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Now that 2017 is coming to an end, the new year is quickly approaching. As soon as the clock strikes 12:00am midnight on December 31, the doors of the main hall of Sensoji Temple opens and tens of thousands of people waiting outside make traditional new year’s wishes for the coming year. The temple precincts will be packed with the visitors during the first three days of the year.

The first visit of the year to a temple or shrine is called Hatsumōde which is actually not a long tradition. It started about 140 years ago in the Meiji period. Hatsumōde became popular along the development of rail transportation. People were curious to take a train and visited the distant famous temples and shrines during the new year holidays. Now 80 % of the Japanese people is believed to do hatsumōde. During the Edo period the new year’s activity was generally not uniformed. Some people stayed at home and others went up a nearby hill to worship the first sunrise of the year.

Hatsumōde is followed by shopping. The first sale is another feature of the new year. Fukubukuro, a lucky bag is a bag containing goods to be sold at department stores and shops. This new year custom is thrilling because you buy something you don’t know. Nevertheless fukubukuro is very popular since contents are sold at a substantial discount. The most notable fukubukuro is Shibuya 109 in Tokyo famous for brand items of young women’s fashion such as shoes,clothing and accessories. Thousands of young women,therefore,line up well before the shops are open. What will they do with the items they don’t want? Not to worry. They can trade with other people outside the building. They wave the items from their bags and swap them with other shoppers. Fukubukuro is really one of the new year aspects.
First tour of the new year will be the East Gardens of the Imperial Palace and Meiji Shrine/Harajuku on January 6 and 7, respectively. We will be looking forward to seeing you then. On behalf of TFWT I wish all of you a very prosperous and happy new year.

(posted by Yoshi)

Tour Report on 20 December 2017 Wednesday, the East Garden of the Imperial Palace

We thank 13 guests who joined this year’s last tour to the East Garden of the Imperial Palace. The guests were from Austria, Australia, Greece and USA. We divided into 3 groups.

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It was clear but very cold day. The East Garden will be closed from Saturday 23 December, Emperor’s birthday until opening in 2018. So no more open on Saturday this year. That is why we held the weekday tour.

Unlike regular Saturday afternoon tour, the station and the East Garden were very quiet and much less crowded. Now the year end is near. You might wonder what we do in the year end period, how we are going to pass 2017 to 2018. Do we have anything like “Dinner for one” show for Europeans?

Yes, we do. We have a singing show on national broadcasting station titled “Red and White Singing Contest” on New Year’s Eve. Red and white are colors of Japan’s national flag. Popular singers in a show that red group are female, white group are male sing one by one and at last all of contestants sing Japanese version of “Auld Lang Syne”, which we call Hotaru-no-Hikari  (Light of Firefly) in chorus, which is imported from Scotland, but the lyrics is not translation. Another chorus is Beethoven’s “Symphony Ninth”, which is also an imported western custom like Christmas.

What we do traditionally is towards the end of year, clean-up entire spaces of residences including corners and behind shelves. It is to remove all the dusts and garbage collected in order to make a clean start in the new year.

On New Year’s Eve, people listen to ringing of the bell from Buddhist temples, 108 times, the same number of human’s earthly desires to be removed. In passing of the two years, many people eat buckwheat noodle, called Toshikoshi Soba. Eating noodle means cutting the bad fortune line from the past.

We thank thousands of guests who took part in our tours of this year. Next tour to the East Garden of the Imperial Palace is scheduled on 6 January 2018.

We wish to meet many more guests from the globe at Marunouchi Central Gate of TOKYO STATION in the HAPPY NEW YEAR 2018.

Please remember we still have one more tour in Asakusa, this coming Sunday morning, 24 December 2017, the very final tour of this year. Please join if you want to feel traditional year-end atmosphere since Asakusa site is combination of Buddhist temple and Shinto shrine.

Tour Report on 17 December 2017, Meiji-Gingu Shrine and Harajuku-Omotesando district

Many thanks to the guests joining this tour! That was the fifth and last tour to the Meiji Jingu Shrine and Harajuku-Omotesando district this year. In the morning we welcomed 5 guests from Russia, New York, and Singapore.

It was so clear that from the rooftop of the building you could view Mt. Fuji, whose height is 3776 meters and which is 100 kilometers away from Tokyo. But it was very cold.

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In this tour, you could find Meiji-Shrine, very traditional Japanese building and see traditional ceremonies such as Shinto wedding.

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But outside of the shrine is very much westernized so that you could view very beautiful Christmas illumination on the Omotesando Street. 1500 illuminated trees light up the shopping street which big-name brand shops line up along the trees until Christmas day.  Some shops decorate their show-windows with Christmas trees. French people living in Tokyo call the street, Mini-Les Champs Elysees. In fact, it looks like that especially at night. Omotesando is as famous as Ginza, the biggest shopping district in Tokyo.

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That matter is related to late Meiji Emperor enshrined in the shrine because he was enthusiastic in modernizing Japan by importing western cultures to His nation. Preserving tradition is very important but at the same time, learning great things from foreign nations is very important as well to develop the nation, He and elites of His time thought. That is why Japan turned to be most westernized nation in Asia. Interestingly enough before Meiji Emperor’s era, Japan banned Christianity.

In Meiji Emperor era, we imported western date and calendar system like Mon through Sun. Sunday is not a day for church attendance but just holidays. In feudal time, New Year started around February of current calendar like Chinese New Year, but that was adjusted.

As for Christmas, it is neither traditional nor religious for most Japanese. Only 1 % of the population is Christian. Most of us enjoy Christmas as a party or festival, not attending church sermons. In West Christmas is thought to be time for family-gathering, whereas we take it as friends or lovers gathering. Great time to enjoy illumination or cakes. Family gathering is common in New Year days. Christmas Eve is more pleasant time than Christmas day. It sounds very commercial. So December 25 is not holiday in Japan. But two days before Christmas, 23 of December is national holiday because it is the birthday of current Emperor, grand, grand son of Meiji Emperor.

Anyway,  “Merry Christmas! Joyeux Noël ! С Рождеством Христовым! Frohe Weihnachten! Feliz Navidad ! Feliz Natal! Buon Natale! ” 

P.S. We only scheduled 2 more tours during the rest of this year. Next tour is scheduled on 20 December, Wednesday, to the East Garden of the Imperial Palace. From 23 of December, the East Garden will be closed until opening of the new year in 2018. Last tour will be held on 24 December, Sunday in Asakusa. Please check the schedule carefully.

Tour Report on 16 December 2017, the East Garden of the Imperial Palace

We would like to show our appreciation for those joined our tour on 16 December, 2017. We welcomed total 26 guests from around the globe including Australia, Malaysia, USA, Austria, Canada, Ukraine, Latvia, Singapore, Germany and Ecuador! The weather was fairly good and it was unusually warm despite the fact it was in the middle of December. Thanks to the perfect whether, both guests and guides enjoyed strolling around the East Garden of the Imperial Palace or former Edo Castle.

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Although the place had a lot of historical attractions, you might notice only a few buildings or structures are remained from the Edo period (1603 – 1868) when the Shoguns resided there. In addition, the absence of Tenshu building or the Donjon makes us even more difficult to imagine those days when the place was politically and militarily centered of Japan. Edo castle is not the exception. Unfortunately, Tenshu buildings in most Japanese castles have been disappeared and today we only have 12 Tenshu remain intact.
If you want to explore existing Tenshu, we would recommend you to visit Matsumoto castle in Nagano. You can take an express train “Super Azusa” from Shinjuku station which takes around 2.5 hours to get to Matsumoto station, the nearest train station to the Matsumoto castle. The Matsumoto castle was built in late 16th century and its Tenshu building is one of the oldest of those 12 remaining Tenshu buildings . It also boasts its imposing appearance with five structures / six stories in the mood of the Sengoku era (The Japan’s warring state period before advent of peaceful Edo period made by the Tokugawa shogunate). The castle was designated as Japan’s national treasures in 1952. If your time allows, why don’t you visit the magnificent castle in Matsumoto?
Our next tour in the east garden of the imperial palace in Tokyo will be on 20 December and it will be our last tour there in 2017. Wish you all Merry X’mas and Happy New Year!
(Kenta.F)

Tour Report on December 10, 2017 in Asakusa

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Thank you for joining our Tokyo Free Walking Tour in Asakusa areas.
With the sunny and occasional cloudy weather, we welcomed around ten people from different parts of the world like Germany, Singapore, U.S.A., and Canada.
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After the brief introduction, we went to Asakusa Information Center to look at the breathtaking view of the historical site from its rooftop.
Then, we went through Kaminarimon Gate, or Thunder Gate and proceeded to Nakamise Street.

Nakamise street is the shopping road and the approach to Sensoji Buddhist temple, which have been main landmark in Asakusa for a long time.
When we arrived at the commercial street, it was already crowded with tourist while walking through the prominent street.
A lot of sign boards hanging above this lovely street truly display the atmosphere associated with the new-year season in Japan.

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Another interesting topic that we talked about the upcoming New Year is “Shichifukujin”
Shichifukujin it is a compound word made up of the words “Shichi” which means “seven” and “fukujin” that translates to “lucky gods” in English.

These gods are believed to have arrived aboard a ship full of treasures and their tasks are to bring people good fortune when it comes to life and business.
Each lucky deity has his or her own characteristic feature to give people comfort and prosperity in life.
For instance, Ebisu, often depicted holding a fishing rod, is the god of fishing, commerce and agriculture.
On the other hand, Daikokuten, who is described to be standing on bags of rice, wielding a lucky hammer on one hand, and carrying a big sack on the other, is also the god of agriculture.
Likewise, other deities are also respected and celebrated as gods of longevity, marriage and academic achievements, alike.
In fact, during New Year’s season, many Japanese people visit shrines and temples that house some of these lucky statues.
This is because they want to welcome the new-year with an ideal perspective in life and business, with the help of these majestic deities. They also want to ask favors from the deities to continue granting them good fortune.
Interestingly, the name and image of Shichifukujin have been used for commercial purposes. Fukujinnzuke, a brand of pickles, which uses “SEVEN” vegetables in its products, is associated with the number of the Shichifukujin.
This brand has been deemed suitable and adds perfect flavor to curry and rice.
Why don’t you visit Shichifukujin deities in these historical areas?

(By Arac)

Notice : Weekday Tour on Wednesday, December 20, “ The East Gardens of the Imperial Palace”

Date/Time : Wed. Dec. 20, 2017 ( 10:0012:00 )

Meeting Place : Tokyo Station Marunouchi Central Gate (ground floor)

We leave at 10:00. Please take care to arrive on time !

Participation Fee : Free

Reservation : Not required

Participants : Foreign tourists and residents, and their accompanying

  Japanese friends, families, etc.

 

For more information on our tour please visit our website, facebook,

And TripAdvisor page. We are looking forward to seeing you soon! 

Tour Report on 9 December 2017, the East Garden of the Imperial Palace

Thank you for joining our tour on this day. We welcomed over 25 guests from UK, Malaysia, Canada, USA, Germany, Argentina, Australia, Taiwan and Singapore.

We divided into 5 groups. The weather was cold but very clear so the sunshine was strong.

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It was a historic tour since it was the first time in 10 years of our guide history that the square in front of Tokyo Station became fully open. So no more fences and no construction yards that blocks straight-forward tour route to get out of the station. When we launched this volunteer tour, renovation construction was already underway. Guides and guests had to gather in a narrow space surrounded by fences. We now have bigger spaces to gather after the completion of renovation.

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On one corner of the station square, a statue was placed. It is the statue of INOUE Masaru, which had been displaced for years due to the renovation construction.

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This man is called “Father of Japan’s railways”, who was a minister of railway and contributed to establishment of  Japan’s railway network from late 19th  to early 20 th century. That was a time Tokyo Station building was established. He studied railway management in England in 19th century as Japan had thriven towards industrialization.

Thanks to him, we can travel anywhere from anywhere in Japan by getting on a train except some islands. Every day 400,000 passengers use this station for commute or travel. In such winter season, most recommended travel is ski resort with natural hot bathes. Good thing is from Tokyo station you can do that on a day trip. Suppose you are an advanced or intermediate skier or snowboarder who happens to visit Tokyo and just comes up with an idea of going skiing or snowboarding next day, but you have no more than a day to spare. What you should do is go to the travel agency office in the station building. There is one for foreigners at the Marunouchi North Entrance.

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You can buy a day trip package to Echigo-yuzawa Station in Niigata prefecture including round-trip Joetsu-Shinkansen (Bullet train) tickets and a lift ticket in a ski area for about 12000 yen. Next morning around 7:30 AM, you get on a bullet train and you can reach there around 9 AM. After a tunnel is the snow land!

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As for skis or snowboard, wears and goggles, you can rent ones at a rental shop near the station. Shops get used to renting things to foreigners. The cost is around 5000 yen for a day.

Then they take you to a ski area by car. The most recommended in terms of scale and location is Kagura-Mitsumata. It is high on the mountain and open from November because of much snow in the highland area. The ski area is open until May. In April helicopter ski tour is held, which skiers get on a helicopter to higher altitude spot which is normally closed and then slide down on a mountain.

After enjoying the snow sports, they will pick you up there and take you back to the station or natural hot spring bath (1000 yen or less including renting of bath towels) near the station so that you can refresh and get warm. After the bathing, the return train departs around 7 PM. Then you can come back to Tokyo in the evening.

Another recommended day-trip ski or snowboard plan from Tokyo station is GALA-Yuzawa, where the station is annexed to the ski area. The facility includes restaurant, rental shop and natural hot bath. That will start operation later this month. There are many foreigners skiing or snowboarding in Japanese ski slopes. Some resorts offer English lessons by English speaking instructors. Snow sports have become major attraction in Japan’s tourism since it snows very heavily in winter. Bullet train is important for snow sports travel.

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As for traveling around Japan, foreigners are recommended to buy a Japan Rail Pass, you can travel around Japan by train as much as you want once you purchase that. For example bullet train ride between Tokyo and Kyoto is about 3 hours or less. You can even do a day trip to Kyoto. Tokyo Station is center of Japan’s railway network.

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That is why Tokyo Station is the very place to meet you! Not only guiding to the imperial palace but we can guide you the travel of Japan. Please ask us any question regarding traveling around Japan. We wish you Happy Travel in Japan!

P.S.  We only scheduled 2 more tours to the East Garden of the Imperial Palace this year. December 16 and 20 (Wednesday). The East Garden will be closed from 23 of December. Then no more tour until after the new year opening in 2018. Please check the schedule carefully.

Tour Report on December 2 (East Garden of Imperial Palace)

We thank all guests joining our East Gardens of Imperial Palace tour on Dec. 2.
Number of guests counted 23 from 13 countries all over the world.

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It was a lovely warm day and our guests enjoyed the tour under blue sky. Autumn foliage around the tour route were still on season.  Red and yellow colored leaves and falling leaves were shining.

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If you stay in Tokyo this week, recommend you to visit the limited time only events at the Imperial Palace.

The Imperial Palace opens Inui Street to the public for the first time in a year and a half to let people view its autumn leaves.

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Visitors can walk along the 750-meter road, which runs from the entrance, Sakashita Gate, to the Inui Gate between 10 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. from Dec. 2 until Dec. 10.  The Imperial Household stated the visitor count on the first day reached approx. 21,000 people.

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Imperial Palace

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Fujimi Tamon

 

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Path to East Garden
Following the street,  you can see a part of Imperial Palace where the royal family greet to public twice a year (Emperor’s birthday and new year on Jan. 2.  In addition to that, there are lots of view point, e.g. classic wood and stone walls, authentic gate, quiet and quaint moat, etc.

 

 

(posted by A. Toeda)

Tour Report on December 3, 2017 in Harajyuku areas.

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Thank you for joining the Tokyo Free Walking Tour.
December 3rd had a fairly pleasant weather and moderate temperature.a
We welcomed around 15 guests coming from different corners of the world — USA, Germany, China, Australia and Singapore.
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This is the fourth tour in the locations of Meiji Jingu and Takeshita Street, which is still held on trial basis.
We, from the Tokyo Walking Tour, greatly appreciate your attendance, which is steadily increasing in number.

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Majestically nested in an evergreen forest and enclosed by fresh air, the Meiji Jingu or Meiji Shrine is one of the most notable shrines in the city of Tokyo.
Although it is easily accessible from Tokyo’s busiest districts like Shinjuku and Shibuya, this location remains as a truly peaceful and sacred place of worship.
However, during the month of December, the otherwise serene Meiji Jingu transforms into a busy area, as it is the season to prepare in welcoming visitors for Hatsumode.
Hatsumode literally means “the first visit to a Buddhist temple or Shinto Shrine in the first few days of the new year”.
It is a tradition among Japanese people to visit these religious buildings and to pray to deities in hopes of good health, happiness and good fortune in the new year.
In observance of Hatsumode, devotees give money offerings, buy good luck charms and draw written oracles.

There’s a great possibility that there will be an influx of visitors during this coming new year holidays.
According to a survey among guests and pilgrims that visit this holy area, this shrine is among the top 10 must-visit religious places in Tokyo.
Normally, around 3 million people come and worship in the Meiji Shinto Shrine during New Year’s season alone.
There are many people who visit and stay in the shrine compound on the eve of January 1st, New Year’s Day, as they want to welcome and experience the New Year on the Shrine grounds.
During these occasions, not surprisingly, a great number of passengers get off the nearby Harajyuku station and walk towards the Meiji Shinto Shrine.
When midnight of December 31st comes, this holy ground is guaranteed to be extremely overcrowded with shrine guests and devotees.
Eventually, at around 12 AM, television broadcasts will start to cover and air the atmosphere inside the sanctuary as people are waiting for the New Year.
These news coverages will last until the entire first day of the new year, where media reporters would interview people inside the compound.
In the celebration of this occasion, the Meiji Shinto shrine has certainly served a very special purpose to the devotees and guests in giving them hope for the New Year.

(By Arac)

Tour Report on November 29 (East Garden of Imperial Palace)

Thank you very much to all the guests joining the tour.  We had lovely sunny morning and we welcomed 18 guests from US, Australia, Spain, Philippines, Singapore, Canada, Malaysia and India. We divided into 3 groups.

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It was very sunny and warm day as at this time of the year, and while walking we had to remove the jacket by the end of the tour!!

The East Garden is very beautiful with autumn leaves with multiple colors, -green, yellow, orange and red.  Although we don’t see flowers in Ninomaru Garden, which is famous for various flowers, still it is one of the best seasons with autumn leaves.

 

It’s now December!,  probably the busiest time of the year.  We enjoy Christmas, but more important for Japanese is cerebrating New Year.   Before welcoming new year, people may have many opportunities to have “forget the year” party with friends, colleagues and community, and so on.  We have drink together to forget all the past (and bad) things and wish and commit for coming year, but for some people, this is just excuse for drinking!?? and some people may have party consecutive nights!

We also prepare Christmas presents for family and friends, at the same time prepare New Year greeting card called “Nengajyo”  (although this habit is becoming less common due to the SNSs) and special cleaning up own house.  It’s busy season but at the same time, feel happy and excited with beautiful Christmas decoration in town.

 

Right after Christmas, all the decorations in the town will change to New Years’ one.  This is quite interesting year end scene.

Please come and enjoy the year end/ new year season in Japan.