Many thanks for joinig our tour at Meiji Shrine and Harajuku on May 6. We had seven guests from America,Australia,Spain and Chile. Some of the guests had participated in our tour at the East Gardens of the Imperial Palace on the previous day which we appreciate very much. We all enjoyed walking at the quiet Shrine and bustling Harajuku.
Meiji Shrine looks like a natural forest but actually it was artificially designed. When the forest was created 100 years ago, the area was merely a wasteland belonging to the Imperial property. The shrine is dedicated to the souls of Emperior Meiji and Empress Shoken. Since the tomb of the Emperior was founded in his hometown Kyoto, Tokyo people were anxious to have something to worship in Tokyo where he spent most of his time and thereafter the shrine project was set up.
At the time of the construction over 100,000 trees were donated by people across the country and 10,000 volunteers contributed to the project. While the number of species was decesed from 370 to 270, the number of the trees increased to 170,000. Although the then Prime Minister Shigenobu Ohkuma wanted to have the grand trees such as cedars typically seen at Ise Shrine and Nikko Toshogu Shrine, the scholars and garden planners were strongly against the idea and insisted on the evergreen trees such as oak,chinquapin(chess nut) and camphor trees in the light of adaptability and the soil structure. Consequently the evergreen trees were chosen as the scholars advised. Some cedars and pine trees were planted but all of them disappeared over time. If cedars were chosen as the main trees as the Prime Minister wished, we would not be able to see such a beautiful forest.
Furthermore the trees as well as weeds have never been cut down or removed from the woodland. None of the trees have been deforested for the maintenance. Initially all the trees were carefully selected and distributed, and since then the grove has been left in the natural conditions. As you see the shrine staff everyday clean and sweep up the fallen leaves at the shrine approach, all of them will return inside the forest. Currently there are 170,000 trees with 270 species of plants and small animals which make up a ecosystem. It is quite rare for a forest with the size of 70 hectare to preserve an ecosystem without any human involvement in the the world.
All the trees at Meiji Shrine were artificially planted 100 years ago. Although they have been untouched by human hands, it is amazing that they remain beautiful and magnificent. These trees will continue to flourish for another hundreds of years in the heart of Tokyo. Please join us and you may be able to find something new with us.
Thank you for coming our regular walking tour in the East garden of the Imperial palace on 5th May. It was on the National holiday of Children’s Day. The weather was fine and very comfortable. We welcomed 36 guests from 14 countries (U.S.A., Poland, UK, Canada, Germany, Israel, Australia, Spain, France, Netherlands, Austria, Czech, Sweden, and Cyprus). We were so happy to have met you!
Many people showed up to the East Garden of the Imperial Palace because of long holiday of Golden week in Japan. For Japanese people this long holiday of Golden week is good chance to take long vacation but can cause some problems, for example, heavy traffic jam, expensive hotel rate, and packed places. However, it makes us happy!
Speaking of the Golden Week, I would like to introduce you to Tateyama-Kurobe Alpine Route to visit as a perfect place during this season.
Tateyama-Kurobe Alpine Route is located deep in the mountains between Toyama Prefecture and Nagano Prefecture. It was made as the road for constructing the Kurobe Dam fifty years ago. Now the road is being used for sightseeing tour. Because of its location, we need to transfer the electric-powered buses and the cable cars four times from Senzyaku station (at Nagano) to Murodo station ( at Toyama). In Golden Week a lot of people visit there, so trains are terrible crowded. Please be patient for a while.
The snow wall appears at around the top of mountain near Murodo station. It is the road surrounded by the much layered snow. During the Golden week we can enjoy walking in the snow valley. It is amazing!
The height of snow wall is getting lower and lower. We can see it from the middle of April to the middle of June. But it depends on the weather. The way to Tateyama-Kurobe Alpine Route is far away from Tokyo. It takes about five hours by car. However, I think it is worth going.
Many thanks to guests who joined the tour on that day. We welcomed 21 guests from Spain, Australia, Belgium, Canada, Argentina, Turkey and Israel. We divided into 4 groups. The weather was very fine although we were worried because it was heavily raining and very windy early in the morning. But the rain and wind stopped as though the weather sided with us.
It was an irregular national holiday morning tour. The day was Constitution Memorial Day, which marked 71th year since current constitution was announced. The current constitution is second constitution in modern time. Before that, was feudal period governed by Samurai lords and officials.
When we explain to guests history of the East Garden which was a Shogun’s castle, we say the Shogun TOKUGAWA Ieyasu became master of all Samurai lords in Japan and established the castle since early 17th century. Then many question what was like before Tokugawa Shogunate in Japan. Before that, Japan was in warring state period and was disunited so provinces fought against each other to conquer others so one would get to the top of the nation. They were fighting to unify the whole nation, which is called “Tenka Toitsu (Unification of Universe)” in historical term. In those days for the people in Japan, Japan was the only universe.
During that period there were 3 major Samurai lords known in the textbook. ODA Nobunaga, TOYOTOMI Hideyoshi and TOKUGAWA Ieyasu. In late 16th century ODA nearly succeeded the unification but was assassinated by one of his disloyal retainers in Kyoto. Then TOYOTOMI who was closest Samurai lord to ODA, succeeded the governance of Japan. He established his own headquarter and a castle in Osaka.
TOKUGAWA reported to him and was ordered to govern eastern province of Japan, which was 200 kilometers away from his original domain and was a very small town called “Edo” at that time. It was TOYOTOMI’s strategy to weaken his potential rival’s power. After TOYOTOMI Hideyoshi’s death, Japan was divided into two. One is TOYOTOMI family side in the West and the other is TOKUGAWA Ieyasu in the East. Then in 1600, TOKUGAWA won a battle against TOYOTOMI family side and then he became the ultimate unifier, appointed as Shogun by Emperor who resided in Kyoto at that time. Later he burnt down the Osaka castle and killed all of TOYOTOMI family members.
The story between Osaka and Edo (currently Tokyo) is like Scotland and England in Britain. That part of history was novelized and then dramatized by American TV mini-series “Shogun.” A story of a British sailor cast away to Japan and then served TOKUGAWA to help him win the battles and unify the nation. In some battles to the unification, it is said TOKUGAWA Ieyasu wore metal armors imported from Great Britain.
In Osaka city, there is Osaka castle but that was rebuilt in modern time as imitation of the feudal era. So exterior should look like the old days but interior is concrete with elevators.
If that disappoints you and makes you want to see wooden made castle in existence from the old time, it is recommended to visit Himeji Castle in Hyogo prefecture as described in this report or Hikone castle in Shiga prefecture.
Hikone Castle is 3 storey but from the top floor, you can enjoy magnificent view of Lake Biwako, Japan’s biggest lake.
These are located in neighboring prefectures that share borders with Osaka prefecture. You can reach there within a few hours from Osaka.
After TOYOTOMIs died, TOKUGAWA rebuilt the castle and its foundation over the remain of the original castle and altered layout of the castle premise, so for Osakans, current castle is not TOYOTOMI’s but TOKUGAWA’s. The TOKUGAWA version of castle building was also burnt down by thunder in 1665. But like the East Garden some of guardhouses are still original, not recreation. There you can experience shooter in a guardhouse.
Because of such historical path, there is some kind of rivalry between Osaka and Tokyo. Osaka has its own dialect and accents like the Scottish in U.K. and has a different cultures and customs from Tokyo. In Osaka when people get on an escalator, they get on right side whereas Tokyoites got on left side.
Walking on the left side is Samurai custom so that two samurais walking face to face would not hit their sword sockets on a road. Osaka became more of merchant city since the defeat to TOKUGAWA. During Tokugawa Shogunate, Osaka was called “Tenka-no Daidokoro (Universal Kitchen)”, the very place for trading while Edo (currently Tokyo) was called “Shogun no Ohizamoto (Shogun’s controlled headquarter).”
In modern time, Osaka had Japan’s tallest observatory tower called Tsutenkaku whose height is over 100 meters until Tokyo tower was built in 1958, whose height is 333 meters, which you can view during the tour like the below picture.
Now Japan’s highest observatory tower is Sky Tree located in Asakusa, whose height is 634 meters, it is also the world’s tallest among observatory towers, 2nd to Dubai ‘s burj khalīfah building among human-made structures.
But today Osaka has Japan’s tallest building for practical use, named Abeno Harukas whose height is 300 meters, with 60 story floors which is higher than Landmark Tower building in Yokohama, neighboring satellite city to Tokyo, whose height is 296 meters with 70 story floors.
(Tsutenkaku and Abeno Harukas)
(Landmark Tower in Yokohama)
From top floor of Abenoharukas, you can view whole Osaka city including the Tsutenkaku tower and Osaka castle (only in day time).
Traveling to both cities and compare the difference is highly recommended. The difference is the very remain of warring state period of Japan.