27 JUNE 2018, Weekday Morning tour to The East Garden of the Imperial Palace

Thank you for joining our walking tour to Imperial Palace East Gardens on June 27th. We were so happy to have met all 16 guests from Canada,U.S.A.,Belgium,Georgia,and Australia. The guests were divided into 4 groups with few of our guides in each group.
This day was a weekday, so the garden was more peaceful and quiet than on weekends.
It was a hot and windy day. But all of us enjoyed the tour.

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A guest from U.S.A told me that he bought ONIGIRI for snack at a convenience store almost every day. ONIGIRI is “rice ball” which is a Japanese food made from white rice, seaweed and fillings. There are a variety of ONIGIRI fillings and flavors such as pickled plum, salted salmon or tuna(bonito flakes) with mayonnaise,and leaf mustard.

Major convenience stores in Japan (Seven-eleven, LAWSON, FamilyMart and more) provide many kinds of ONIGIRI.

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Please try some ONIGIRI in Japan. I recommend UME (UMEBOSHI) ONIGIRI, which is filled with small red round pickled plum that is very salty and sour . You will be surprised when you eat it for the first time. Please eat little by little with rice.
UMEBOSHI is effective for summer exhaustion and tiredness and is very delicious!

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According to the forecast, the rainy season in TOKYO has ended today.
Hot Summer has come! Let’s eat UMEBOSHI and beat the heat.

(posted by Yumi.K)

 

Tour Report on June 23th at the East Gardens of the Imperial Palace

Thank you for joining our Tokyo Free Walking Tour on June 23th. On the day of two tours, we welcomed 35 guests from 8 countries on our morning tour.

The weather was recently weird in Japan, with it changing between sunny, cloudy, and rainy weather. Although the weather of this day was cloudy with partly rain, all of us enjoyed talking and walking during the tour. Strolling around the East Gardens of the Imperial Palace is also great for rainy days. A sunny day is absolutely the best time to visit, but the garden could be full of quiet atmosphere due to the stillness of the rain. Moreover, the flowers, like hydrangea, looks best in the rain.

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Wherever you go on a rainy day in Japan, you can enjoy it. Japanese have devised the way of enjoying the four seasons for a long period of time. Sen no Rikiyu, the most famous tea ceremony master, introduced seven rules of tea ceremony to his disciples when he was asked what the tea ceremony was like. One rule was to provide coolness in summer and warmth in winter. Rikyu not only developed Japanese culture but also did not forget consideration for others. I think Rikyu’s spirit is similar to our spirit. Hospitality is paramount importance in Tokyo Free Walking Tour. To entertain guests, we often discuss what we could do and study. If you are interested in our tour, please check the calendar and join us.

(Posted by K.F)

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Thinking “How one becomes a monk” at Sensoji Temple in Asakusa on 24 June

Many thanks to guests who joined the morning and afternoon tours on that day. On that day we welcomed total of 10 guests from USA, Canada, France, Spain, and Sweden. The two tours were in contrast of weather. In the morning time, it was rainy and cold but in the afternoon it turned sunny and hot.

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As we explain to our guests, Sensoji Temple is a Buddhist temple, established in 7th century. It was a time Buddhism arrived in Japan from China. Buddhism was originated in India. But as it was passed onto other nations, style and some of teachings were altered to adopt itself to local societies. So Japan’s Buddhism is different from those in other countries.

There are several denominations in Buddhism like Christianity has Catholics and Protestant. Sensoji belongs to Tendai denomination originally but today the temple claims their own independent denomination.

At a temple, monks are working for others like pastors in Christianity, Imam in Islam or Rabbi in Judaism. They pray inside temples for those who need salvation. For funerals monks visit people’s residences to pray for the dead so that souls of the dead can reach the heaven peacefully.

How one becomes a monk is a question of many. Monks usually went through training at certain temples of their denomination to receive credentials. In Wakayama prefecture, there is a town dedicated for that purpose, called Koyasan. There is a university for those who wish to be a Buddhist monk of Shingon (Esoteric) denomination.

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Thousands of residents are mostly monks or trainees of monks. It is located high on the mountain, which takes 2 hours from Osaka by train, cable car and bus. There are tens of temples and cemeteries there. Because of this uniqueness, the town is designated as one of World Heritage sites.

Anyone can visit the town as a tourist. I visited Koyasan in April. There are pensions called Shukubo managed by temples. Exterior and interiors of the pension is very Buddhist. Monks serve meals and prepare for bed. In the morning, guests can participate in morning chanting.  You can feel like staying in a holy world. In daytime, you can visit various temples and attend sermons by monks.

Surprisingly, although it was a traditional Japanese Buddhist town, most visitors were westerners. Is there any commonality between Christianity and Buddhism? Monks in Koyasan told me westerners are welcome as well. Just like Christianity, Buddhism treats all the people equally.

Some Buddhist monks claim, although people enter from different paths to climb the mountain, the goal is the top of the same mountain.

We share common goal of purifying our souls. That is what anyone can learn at Buddhist temples including Koyasan and Sensoji.

(Masa)

THE SHINTO DEITY GENEROUSLY HOSTED A LOT OF JAPANESE CULTURAL EVENTS. -17 JUNE 2018

Thank you for joining our Tokyo Free Walking Tour.
One day during the rainy season in Tokyo, we had a cloudy sky and a ray of sunshine.
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On that same day, 17th of June, we welcomed 15 guests from, U.S.A., Australia, Argentina Singapore, Italy and Germany in front of Torii, or the Shinto Shrine gate, -the Meiji Shinto Shrine in Harajaku.

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The weather condition didn’t hinder the people to explore and feel the freshness of the mysterious tunnel made by more than 100,000 trees in the Shinto shrine ground.
While looking around the woods in the shrine compound, we saw some moisture still descending from the trees above us.

We enjoyed witnessing a few Japanese traditional events while strolling in the Shrine compound.
We were able to watch the demonstration of wagashi-making, or making of Japanese traditional sweets.
The other event was a Japanese traditional wedding ceremony.
Both of the events fully attracted the guests’ attention and became subjects of their photos.
Our guides normally introduce to the guests the distinctive events on the spot.

Interestingly, there was another event held in this sacred area at the same time.
The kyudo competition, or also known as Japanese archery competition was also hosted in the same location. However, it is out of our tour route.
—– What is “kyudo”? —–
Kyudo commonly refers to Japanese Archery in English. Like typical archery, players use a bow to shoot arrows. What differentiates it from regular archery is the equipment’s size and the material it is made from, and the player’s clothing.
The bows in Japanese archery are typically made of bamboo material and are around 2 meters long. The arrows, on the other hand, are also made of bamboo or carbon materials and are longer than that of western style archery.
In addition to that, the shooters also wear a special uniform called “Hakama”. This resembles a long skirt, usually black in color, partnered with a white shirt.
The players also have to follow certain actions and manners while shooting the target. (Below is the picture showing these actions.)


It is called “Kyudo hassetsu” which is referred to as the eight fundamental movements and forms in Kyudo. It is significantly important for Kyudo enthusiasts to master them adequately to improve their technical progressions.
This educational way helps players stabilize their upper bodies and assume proper posture in drawing the bow until in firing the arrow. At the same time, this helps Kyudo players concentrate well all throughout the procedure of firing arrows and they can maintain the proper position, like standing firmly, even though the target has been hit.
Kyudo admirers practice this traditional sport primarily to train not only their bodies, but their minds and spirits as well. This is because aiming at a target requires great concentration like having a clear mind, and also discipline.
Don’t miss the chance to seeing Japanese traditional sport.
(By Arac)

Welcome to “Nippon” or “Nihon” 16 JUNE 2018 tour report

Many thanks to the guests who joined the regular afternoon tour to the East Garden of the Imperial Palace on that day. We welcomed over 30 people from many countries including U.K. Italy, Croatia, Australia, USA, Spain, Columbia and Israel.  We divided into 3 groups.

It was a very cloudy day. Since clouds shaded sunlight, the temperature was below 20 centigrade, which was like a early-spring time. That was unusual in this time of a year and good for tourists since Japan’s summer, especially rainy summer time in June is terrible because of high temperature and high humidity by lots of rain. People get much moist in the air. Then in July and August, strong sunlight, heat wave and humidity hurt people.

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From this weekend, Soccer World Cup tournament has been held in Russia. Japan is one of contestants. Our tour is like World Cup since people from various countries including the contestants joined and could talk about the tournament. We enjoyed talking about the World Cup.

At some bars in Tokyo, soccer fans gather to watch games on TV drinking beer. Some bars charge customers just for entering to watch TV when a tournament is Japan vs. other because of big popularity.

Japan has a professional soccer league called “J-League” that consists of 3 layers, J1, J2, and J3. Soccer is as popular as baseball and Sumo.

At a stadium or bar, people chant “Nippon, Gambare” which means “Japan, Go Go!” Nippon is native name of this country. Japan is English name and was initially pronounced “ziben” by Chinese in medieval period and then transferred to Europe. It is just like we call U.K. “Igiris” derived from Portuguese naming of England, “Ingles” in the middle age.

But Nippon is pronounced “Nihon” as well especially when combining with other word such as Nihon-jin (Japanese person) or Nihon-go (Japanese language). Both Nippon and Nihon are correct.

So when you come to Japan, please keep in mind that Japan is called “Nippon” or “Nihon” by native Japanese. When you hear the word, that is when people talk about their country or themselves. We are Nihon-jin who speak Nihon-go as native language in Nippon.

Please come to Nippon and meet Nihon-jin including Tokyo Free Walking Tour guides!

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(Masa)

RAINY SEASON NEVER CHASE AWAY ADMIRES OF ASAKUSA–10TH OF JUNE

Thank you for joining our Tokyo Free Walking Tour.
On the day of our two-guided tours, 10th of June, we welcomed 13 guests from, U.S.A. Australia, Canada, and Denmark.

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A rainy and overcast weather condition prevailed and las­ted the entire day all over Tokyo.
The sky was glo­omy and gray, partic­ularly during the da­y, in many parts of Tokyo, and one of the th­ese places was Asakus­a.

Overlooking the enti­re Asakusa district from the rooftop of the Asakusa Informat­ion Center, we saw Tokyo Skytree standing appealingly against the backdrop of a gr­ay sky.
The top, covered by clouds, seemed invisib­le to the viewers, wh­ile the rest of its parts reflected the gr­ay color of the clou­dy sky.
It is a typical atmo­sphere that people experience especially during the wet seas­on in Japan, which usually starts early in the month of June and lasts until the beginning of July.

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Regardless of the ci­rcumstances, we welcomed 13 Asakusa enthusiasts in front of the Thunder Gate, the entrance to the Asakusa Buddh­ist Temple compound.
Starting from the di­stinct Buddhist temp­le gate, we eventual­ly moved into the 25­0-meter long shopping street, called Nakamise street.
As we have introduced Nakamise Street on our previous blog post, the area and the items being sold in this shopping strip have rich histories and are a good conve­rsation.
We normally go by so­me notable shops in the area and show our guests items and souvenirs. One of the the­se items is a cat-sh­aped ornament called Maneki Neko. Along with it, we’ll tell a story behind this eye­-catching doll.

Maneki-­neko, roughly transl­ated as “Beckoning Cat”.
It is also called the “Welcoming Cat or Lucky Cat” in Englis­h.
As its name suggests, it is a cat-shaped ornament, which is believed to bring lu­ck and prosperity to its owners. For that reason, this pretty cat is often displ­ayed at the entrance of shops, restauran­ts, and other business spaces.
Normally, the Maneki­-Neko is made of cer­amic or plastic and comes in an array of colors– white, bla­ck, gold and, someti­mes, red.

There are two types of these ornamental cats.
Some raise their right paws with making beckoning action and others do their left paws likewise.
It’s commonly believ­ed that the right paw of these cats is raised to beckon for money, and the left paw is for people.
Those fort­une cats are sold as souvenirs, and custo­mers purchase the lucky cat in hopes of having fa­vorable results and life successes.
Initially, Maneki-ne­ko was said to be so­ld in the area of SensōJi Temple in Edo-era(between 1603 and 1868 ), then it was menti­oned in a newspaper article and used as advertisement in Mei­ji-era(between 1868 and 1912)
As a result, it is one of the notable it­ems in Japan.
However, exact origi­ns of Maneki-Neko are still uncertain and only several folkt­ales have been known.
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We still have two times of our tour in line with the following time slots:
1st from 10:00 a.m. to 11:30 a.m.
2nd from 1:00 p.m. to 2:30 p.m.
Please come and join us at your earliest convenience.
(By Arac)

Emperor and Empress at Tokyo station

“Early bird catches the worm.”
Now I can prove, this is definitely true.
On this morning(June 9th), we welcomed guests from Israel, Indonesia, India and USA.  We could just share the unforgettable time and encounter with Their Magesties.
Thanks to our wonderful 5 guests!!

“ Can you see the central entrance of the Tokyo station? This is the entrance for the Imperial family use.” “A street called ‘Gyoko-dori’ is located just in front of the Tokyo station Marunouchi -side. It is the straight and shortest path which takes you to the front of the Imperial palace.” “‘GYOKO’ means the official visit for the imperior and ‘Dori’ means the path, so ‘GYOKO-dori’ means the path for the imperior when going out to make an official visit to somewhere”.
These are the kind of ways we always try to explain about the royal part of the station and path.  But…who could imagine that a day would actually come to face this entire situation?  A sudden opportunity to meet the royal highness on our very familiar guide route…

This day, their Majesties the Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko were to embark from this Tokyo station to attend the National Arbor Day held in Fukushima . We happened to encounter that situation while we were waiting for our guests at Tokyo station. As we usually see on media, their Magesties were waving and smiling to the pedestrians  while their car slided into the station. Then they greeted the stationmaster and finally gave us a friendly wave and smile again at both sides of the entrance. Usually the door is closed, but for the first time,  we could see a red carpet inside the entrance.

But in actual, the schedule of their Majesties  3 days visit to Fukushima seemed to be very busy.  They had an aside schedule to attend the mourn to the victims or a visit to the Tohoku’s revival.  For this seven years, they have come more often to Tohoku  to learn about the present situation of the devastated district in details of the disaster stricken-area (by the earthquake and tsunami that occurred in 2011).   Their Magesties also worries about the nuclear plant and the surrounded area for a long time.
This is because the residents had to keep out from the area and could not go home.
On the other hand, their visit to Tohoku might be the last while they are ‘His Magesty’.
Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko are 84 years old now. The crown will be passed to the Highness Prince next spring.

Even at the East gardens of the Imperial Palace, you could see and feel many
heritage of Their Magesties. As they wish to welcome the visitors from bottom of their hearts, so many part of the garden comes from the suggestion of His Magesty.
There are less fences inside the garden(His Majesty do not prefer fences),
you can see tiny placards on each trees or flowers to recognize their species easy,
you can also enjoy an orchard full of fruit trees (some of them are Edo species, very unusual) and at the Japanese Garden you can see long-fin carps.(hybrid with Indonesian carps).
Please come join our tour.
We are looking forward to walk around “their Magesties” beautiful garden each time with you.

(posted by Nori)

No more Sakura, but another beautiful flowers here in Tokyo

Thank you for the guests who kindly joined our afternoon tour on 9th of June. We had 19 guests from six countries, divided into three groups.

 

I do this guide volunteering from several years, and believed I’ve known well the area which has beautiful flower or the best season to see them. However, it was false. I was arrogant. Thanks to one of our guest’s suggestion, I saw a beautiful big Magnolia flower on the tour route for the first time on last Saturday. It boomed beautifully, solemnly, and its sweet smell made us happy.

Cherry blossoms season is over, but we still at a best season to see beautiful flowers in Tokyo. For example, you can enjoy beautiful irises at Ninomaru Park here in our tour. Speaking of iris, I went to another famous iris garden last weekend. It was Horikiri Iris Garden in Katsushika-ku. One of famous Ukiyoe painters in Edo era, Hiroshige Utagawa (1797-1858), drew an Ukiyoe paint under the theme an iris at that garden. This park is also free entrance.

 

We have rainy season: usually starts from early Jun and ends around late July. Most Japanese doesn’t like such rainy season, but I like it. I like hydrangea very much. Believe me; the color of the flower reflects the best in the rainy day, under dark and wetly air. I guess the color of petal is also a bit dark, so that’s why. Also, I have another the reason why I love hydrangea. It is my birthday flower, in June. I thank everybody and everything involved in my life.

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(Posted by Katsumi)

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We have a regular tour every Saturday and have weekday tours irregularly.
Please check the calendar on our  facebook and tripadvisor.

Tour Report on June 3 at Meiji Shrine and Harajuku

I sincerely thank you for taking the time for joining the tour to Meiji Shrine and Harajuku on June 3. We had nine guests from the various countries of Canada,America,Mexico,Columbia,Chile,UK and Philippines.  Four of the guests had participated in our tour to the East Gardens of the Imperial Palace on the previous day which we appreciate very much. The weather was perfect on this day prior to the rainy season. I hope all of you enjoyed walking with us.

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As you might have been guided, Harajuku Station is the Tokyo’s oldest wooden station, the gateway to Meiji Shrine/Takeshita Street and the symbol of Harajuku. The landscape is lovely with a little turret on the roof, the wooden beams on the walls and the old but artistic clock. It is regrettable that this beautiful building may be demolished.

Current Harajuku Station was constructed in 1924 shortly after Meiji Shrine had been built. It was the year after the Great Kanto Earthquake. During WW2 the building was not destroyed by the airbombings and survives in its original form for nearly 100 years. This is half-timbered or the Tudor style often seen in the British countrysides.

Not many people know that there is the separate platform exclusively used for the Imperial Family. Since it is conveniently located, an unnoticeable presence and quick riding is possible, the Imperial Family used to  come to this platform 10 times a year. However, due to the congested train schedule it became difficult for the Imperial train to operate. 2001 is the last time when the Emperior came to Harajuku Station. This is the only one Imperial platform in Japan. The door of this building is normally closed.

By the way Harajuku is the former name of the area. Hara means plain field and Juku means post-town. Harajuku village was on the highway from the south to the north and there were some inns during the feudal periods. Harajuku was replaced by Jingumae(in front of the shrine) and disappeared due to the change of the local regulation except the name of the station about 50 years ago. The local people are attached to the name of Harajuku.
There is an interesting fact. The average number of the passengers at Harajuku Station is about 74,000 per day. 65% of those passengers have no season tickets. They may be tourists, shoppers or pleasure seekers. Majority of the passengers are non-season-ticket holders. Apparenty Harajuku Station has the largest percentage of the passengers without commuter passes in Tokyo.

Since the building is getting old, deteriorated and the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games are approaching, construction of the modern structure is underway. It hasn’t been determined yet whether the old building will be preserved. I really hope that JR East will retain at least some of the beautiful part of the building.

It is recommendable for you to see quaint and charming Harajuku Station before it disappears. Please join us at that time.

(posted by Yoshi)

 

 

On Bushido, or the Samurai Way (June 2nd)

2018.06.02_B010It was a pleasant day just before the start of the rain season. I had just finished sharing the story of the 47 samurais who willingly gave up their lives for the honor of their master. A guest from the UK asked a question – “When did such ideals of the samurai way come about? Is such mentality still common in the society?”

There is a perfect book on this subject. It is Bushido: The Soul of Japan, originally written in English in 1899 (text available online). The book was written by the Japanese educator Inazo Nitobe, and is his response to a question he received from his Belgian friend – what is the moral backbone of the Japanese people?

In the book Nitobe elaborates on how the virtues of his time actually derives from the code of the samurai warriors that was refined through the history of Japan. He draws historical examples of acts and deeds typically praised in bushido, or the samurai way. In the end he concludes that although the samurais are gone, the mentality is deeply rooted in the people and the society.
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Going back to answer the second part of the original question, I think yes, the mentality still lives on even a century after Nitobe wrote Bushido. We sometimes relate ourselves to samurais as a symbol of courage or justness. However I won’t be surprised if the symbolism, or what bushido stands for, is different from what is written in Bushido, let alone the actual code of conduct in the days of the samurais.
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For advanced learners, Hagakure is another famous book on bushido. It was written in the early 18th century by an actual samurai as a guidance to his juniors. Interestingly, it criticizes the 47 samurais on the account of acting too late. This contrasts with Bushido in which the samurais represent the virtue of Rectitude.

So thanks to all of you who joined us on our tour. Enjoy your stay, and let us know what you think are revelations of the samurai spirit in modern Japan.

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(Yohei)