Brand-new “O-waraji” at Senso-ji Temple (October 28, 2018)

Many thanks for joining our tour in Asakusa on October 28. We met 12 wonderful people from Australia, Finland, Philippine, Sweden and USA.

In addition to the well-known a big red lantern of Kaminari-mon Gate, Senso-ji Temple has another massive ornament of the giant straw sandals hanging on Hozo-mon Gate on the way to the main hall. The enormous sandals are called “O-waraji”.

“O-waraji” is one of the largest in Japan, 4.5m in length, 1.5m wide and weighing almost 500kg, made of rice straw ropes.hozomon-owaraji.jpg

The first pair of “O-waraji” was donated to Senso-ji Temple by the volunteering group in the Murayama City, Yamagata prefecture in 1941. Mr. Toshizo Matsuoka, who is a House of representatives from Murayama City, took an initiative in developing the enormous sandals to Senso-ji Temple. Having strong faith in Senso-ji Temple and contributing to the political solution of the snow damage of the city. Mr. Matsuoka offered sandals to Senso-ji Temple with thanks.

However, they had been burned together with the temple, during the WW II air raids in 1945. After that, the second “O-waraji” was donated in 1964 again, and replaced roughly every 10 years since. Special rice seedlings are planted over a year ago and cultivated for “O-waraji”. 1100 people are involved in production and 2500kg of rice straw are used.

“O-waraji” is known as a charm against evils, because they are symbolized the power of the Nio guardians (deities who guard Hozo-mon Gate, as well as Senso-ji Temple) whose statues sit on the other side of Hozo-mon Gate.

In the past, people brought straw sandals as offerings to temples, hoping to have healthy feet and to receive travel protection. However people don’t use waraji anymore today, many people try to touch “O-waraji” in hopes of gaining powerful walking skills and the ability to walk long distance without tiring. Lately, the bottom part of “O-waraji” had been worn-out and color changed because many visitors had been tried to touch there.

But now, “O-waraji” has been renewal to the eighth “O-waraji” just 1 week ago!!!. The eighth “O-waraji” looks exactly similar to the previous one (except color) because it was made with the same rice straw ropes and the same technique.

Why don’t you visit Senso-ji temple for touching the brand-new “O-waraji” to wish for being good walkers? Senso-ji Temple has a lot of fun and a new discovery. We look forward to welcoming you at our tour in Asakusa.

(posted by Yoshiko)

SPIRITUAL JOURNEY TO THE PAST- EAST GARDENS OF THE IMPERIAL PALACE (OCTOBER 27, 2018)

We conducted the tour to the East Gardens of Imperial Palace on October 27, 2018. The rain from the early morning brought humid air and high temperature, which made us a little sweaty, but the autumn sunshine after the rain reflected beautifully on the lawn and made the East Gardens more cheerful.

On this occasion our guest came from Mexico, Greece, Italy, France, Germany, Finland, Australia, Canada and USA. All these countries have many attractive viewing spots. I can’t help but thinking how Japan and Japanese can be looked from the people coming from such beautiful countries. I asked one of our guests what is the charms of Japan. The answer was “difference” from their home country.

Yes, difference attracts many tourists. Then I wonder, what do the tourists think about the appearance of Tokyo station when I give them an explanation of it as a historic architecture? It is a magnificent construction but, at the same time, a complete imitation of the Victorian style. Whenever I explain about the Tokyo station to our guests, I slightly feel embarrassed. How could I explain it proudly to people who belong to the western culture? Victorian style is not our culture but theirs. How could they admire our meticulously perfected imitation of western style architecture? Maybe if we could tell something about the station, it would be evidence of how Japanese of 100 years ago had admired western cultures and how they wished to create resemblances.

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But as the tour goes on and the moment we enter the ruins of Edo castle, I am relieved. Edo Castle once stood formidably at the place now a park for more than 250 years, but now the remains are only the stonewalls, the moats, the defense forts, the bridges and the base ground of donjon. But still we can feel the ancient atmosphere. This is our home ground. Here, our ancestors walked and worked worrying something or enjoying something. We can easily imagine the state of their mind, that is, the spirit of the Samurai (Japanese warriors) and the loyalty to their lord. Yes, our soul belongs to it. Our roots are here. Our spirit has been existing here for more than 400 years. We can’t assimilate the western culture completely no matter how we perfectly imitate it.

We have our own culture that is different from the western culture and we should cherish the difference and should be proud of it. We are growing up in the cradle of Japanese culture, and the culture our ancestors had founded and developed and cherished is worth introducing to the world.

So, the course of our tour is a kind of spiritual journey seeking Japanese ancestors’ spirit, and it leads us back to the mind which was undeniably planted on our brain by our ancestors and we are obliged to pass it down to our descendants.

We are happy if you could touch the Samurai spirit with us by joining our guided tour!

(Posted by Masako)

Tour Report on October 20 – the East Gardens of the Imperial Palace

Thank you for joining our walking tour to the East Gardens of the Imperial Palace on October 20. We welcomed five people from Italy, Singapore, Switzerland, and the USA.

The tree leaves began to be colored. Many flowers are blooming. It was a nice weather to take a rest on the lawn. We really enjoyed walking through the gardens.

(posted by Tank)

A SHINTO DEITY RESEMBLES THE NOTABLE MOVIE ACTOR- October 21st, 2018, Harajuku

Thank you for joining our Tokyo Free Walking Tour in Harajuku area.
On the 21st of October, with sunny and occasionally cloudy skies, we welcomed 8 guests, people from the U.S.A., Singapore, Canada, Australia, Belgium and Japan, to our walking tour.

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We started the 90-minute tour in front of the torii or shrine gate of the Meiji Shinto Shrine, and concluded it at the Omote Sando Avenue.

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Going through the torii, with brisk footsteps that sound like “zaku zaku”, we proceeded to the shrine’s main building which is nestled in the center of the evergreen forest.
This sound, “zaku zaku” is an onomatopoeia giving life to the vibrations made by visitors stepping on the gravel that serves as pathways in the religious compound.
Strolling on the grounds of the Meiji Shinto Shrine is one of the most extraordinary experiences that people can do to escape the highly urbanized area of Tokyo.


When it comes to the historical background of the Meiji Shinto Shrine, our guides show the pictures of the Meiji Emperor.
This is because this place is dedicated to commemorating the soul of the Emperor and Empress, who ascended to the throne around the 1900s.
The spirit of the loyal couple resides in the shrine building, surrounding the center of the deep forest.
Interestingly, the picture of the Meiji Emperor has a resemblance with one of the notable Japanese movie actor named Kanjyuro Arashi also known as Arakan. He was active from 1903-1980 as a Kabuki actor and film star.

         Arakan          The Meiji Emperor 

Amazingly, he was the pioneer to perform the role of the Emperor in Japanese movies in 1957.
In Japan, the Emperors were seldom cast in movies. However, the president of the movie company personally convinced Arakan to play the role of the great Emperor Meiji.
This was because of his strong resemblance on the Emperor’s appearance and personality.
Consequently, this amazing promotion paved the way for this distinctive actor to be included in the great historical persons like the emperor or a general army in wartime history on Japanese screens.

(By Arac)

The great ramen in Asakusa(October 14)

The best season of the year has come! We at TFWT appreciate your participation in our tours in Asakusa on October 14. 15 people kindly joined our tours from UK, Germany, Italy, France, Spain, Iceland, America, Mexico, China, Singapore and Australia. I sincerely hope that all of you enjoyed walking with us despite the congested streets.

Ramen is the Japan’s popular food together with sushi you’ll find on the must-try list of almost all the visitors to Japan. Not many people know that Asakusa is the birthplace of shoyu(soy sauce) ramen at the restaurant named ‘Rairaiken’ which opend in 1910. Rairaiken was the first restaurant specializing in shoyu ramen which was very popular but unfortunately the restaurant is not in business anymore. In Asakusa there are a number of excellent ramen shops. I recommend the three authentic shoyu ramen restaurants.
Right close to the Kaminarimon gate is Yukikage which started just two years ago. Yukikage is focusing on chicken base. The noodles are exquisite topped with generous slices of superb char-siu chicken(barbecued chicken), a half-boiled egg and green onion in harmony with the delicious shoyu chicken soup. In addition the topping is assorted with big Nori seaweed which are torn to pieces and dipped in the soup. The Nori seaweed are Asakusa’s speciality which suits well the soup. The food is great and service is satisfactory. English menu is available. Just try it and you’ll see why the place is always crowded. Ramen is offered from 780 yen upward (cash only). Business hours are 11:00am to 11:.30pm without stop every day.
Access to the place is quite easy. Immediately turn right to a quiet side street after passing through the Kaminarimon gate and you will find the small shop. A big lantern is a sign. It takes just 30 seconds from the gate.

Yoroiya is located off the Nakamise shopping street. Yoroiya boasts traditional shoyu base which has flavorful taste and sentimental value. Ramen is topped with char-siu pork(barbecued pork), nori sea weed, a boiled egg, and green onion. The shop opened 27 years ago. English menu and vegetarian cuisine are available. Open from 11:00am to 8:30pm every day. 750 yen upward(only cash). Ramen here is absolutely delicious and you’ll love it for the rest of your life. Go straight the Nakamise shopping street for 200 meters, turn right at the 5th street and you will find the shop on the right. It takes about three minutes from the Kaminarimon gate if the street is not overcrowded. A male figure,one of the five legendary thieves in the Edo period is placed on the roof.

The third choice is Naritaya, near the Sensoji Temple main hall. All items on the menu are 100% halal. Dishes have no use of any kind of pork or alcohol. The best beef based ramen is available. This is a great place for halal-certified ramen in Asakusa which opened three year ago. There aren’t many halal-certified restaurants in Tokyo. So, It’s a good option for those who are looking to eat halal food. The staff is friendly and speaks English. In addition there is a small prayer room upstairs as well. Open from 11:00am to 10 pm every day. 700 yen upward(cash only). It’s the small shop which can easily be missed as one is walking by. Walk toward left from the front of the Sensoji Temple main mall for one minute. Then, you will come to Nishi Sando Shopping Street. Naritaya is the third shop on the right.

Ramen is now a national food and shoyu soup is most favored in Japan. I am so glad that the origin of shoyu ramen is Asakusa. If you are looking for authenticity in Asakusa, one of the above ramen shops is commendable.
Our Asakusa tours are held in the morning and afternoon on the second and fourth Sunday of each month. Why not try the ramen for lunch before or after our tours!

(posted by Yoshi)

Autumn has come to the East Gardens of the Imperial Palace (October 13)

Thank you for choosing our tour to the East Gardens of the Imperial Palace on October 13. We welcomed 21 people from U.S.A., Germany, Israel, Italy, China, Finland, Iceland, Turkey and Australia.

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The weather was cloudy but very comfortable. We felt like autumn more and more. I hope all the guests enjoyed walking with us and perhaps instant kimono as well.

It is too early to see the autumn foliage in Tokyo but we have subtle sign of autumn at the Gardens. There is a small tea green field around the main compound where the tea trees have just started to blossom. These white flowers bloom behind the leaves and smell delicately sweet. The Blooming period of the tea trees here is between early October and mid- November

In fact, the trees of green tea, black tea and other tea are produced from the same tea tree’s leaves. Fermentation decides the type of tea. Japanese tea is not fermented while black tea thoroughly fermented. Other tea such as oolong tea is partly fermented. Among the Japanese tea cultivation process is different. The leaves of green tea are grown naturally with the strong sun, while the matcha leaves are shade-grown with indirect sunshine. Then they are steamed, dried, and ground down to form a fine powder.

Let’s look at other areas to look for autumn at the main compound where a variety of fruit trees are cultivated. Some of them have come to fruition. About 10 years ago they were planted based on the current Emperor’s idea so that the visitors would be able to enjoy watching the orchard. They are the trees of apples, mikan(mandarin orange), persimmons, peaches and plums. Of these, mikan and persimmons which the Emperor personally planted are now bearing fruit. It’s the best time to see. I always wonder who will be able to eat those Imperial fruits!

We are looking forward to welcoming you and sharing the Japanese culture with you at our tour.

(posted by Kuma)

The Day 1964 Tokyo Olympics was held, 10 October 2018, the East Garden of the Imperial Palace

We thank the guests who paticipated in the tour of that day. We met 9 wonderful people from USA, Singapore, and Romania. We divided into 3 groups.

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The weather was still hot like summer but it is getting milder day by day recently as we are entering autumn season. In Japan, Autumn is said to be season of Appetite, Reading and Sports due to mild climate.

As for autumn for sports, that day was the day 1964 Tokyo Olympics was held, 2 years later from this year is second Tokyo Olympics, construction for the new stadium and other facilities are underway in the city.

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As remembrance for 1964, it is recommended to visit Yoyogi Park just behind Meiji Jingu shrine, where our another regular tour is held twice a month. Remaining one house in the housing complex which was used when the place was the Olympic athlete’s village that accommodated many athletes from all over the world.

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For us, every tour is like Olympics because we meet many people from all over the world. Olympics is not just for sports competition but good chance for many kinds of people to get together.

So Tokyo Free Walking Tour is another Tokyo Olympics, please move your muscles to join this tour!

(Masa)

Tradition and Westernization, 7 October 2018, Meiji Jingu

We thank many guests joining this tour. On that day we welcomed 20 guests from UK, Australia , USA, Belgium, Spain, Nederland, and Indonesia and then we divided into 4 groups.

 

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It was really a hot day, unbelievable in this time of the year. So the groom and the bride we saw should have felt very hot. Their costumes are typical Japanese Shinto Shrine wedding style.

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However, a groom costume, black suite and gray stripe trousers is kind of, western. Black was never used as formal ceremony cloth color, even for funerals before modern period. In late 19th century when Japanese officials held western type ceremonies or parties, to get along with westerners attending ceremonies, black and gray color kimono became standard for men. Then black turned formal clothes color for every occasion in modern time. Some kind of adaptation of the West was seen, just like Meiji Emperor memorized in the shrine was actively acquiring western customs. Meiji Emperor was the first man who cut off folded hair on head to look after western men. In those days men without folded hair was considered outcast. So he became a model for modern Japanese men. Westernization was modernization in those days.

Let’s see and enjoy traditional and westernized Japan!

(Masa)

JAPAN EMBRACES DIVERSITY, 6 October 2018, The East Garden of the Imperial Palace

We are always delighted to welcome diverse people from all over the world. On that day we guided 43 guests from India, Spain, Belgium, USA, Australia, Canada, Argentine, New Zealand, Germany, Philippines and UK. We divided into 5 groups.

The weather was hot like revival of mid-summer. It was unusual in this time of the year. But soon temperature will drop and it will turn Autumn.

In Tokyo or other parts of Japan, we meet many foreigners every day. Many different colors of skin, hairs and different features of faces can be seen. We wonder how foreign people view Japanese people. It is believed that Japan is homogeneous society and mono-racial. One might find that by looking at guides. But it is actually not true.

There are several athletes who share different race or ethnicity and participated in Olympics or World Cup Soccer tournaments as Japanese nationals. Recently in US Open Women’s Tennis, a player named Naomi Osaka beat Serena Williams of USA and became the champion of the grand slam tournament. Osaka is a bi-racial woman between Haitian father and Japanese mother. She might not look typical Japanese but we are proud of her as a national hero who brought glory to us.

Not only in sports but in politics, things are changing. Last month a bi-racial man named Denny Tamaki was elected as Governor of Okinawa, one of 47 prefectures in Japan, like state governor in US he became a big political figure.

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His father was American and mother was Japanese so he looks Eurasian. He was formerly a parliament member. People voted him as a leader of society regardless of his racial background. So Japanese as mono-racial society is not true.

Japan embraces diversity regarding not only race and ethnicity but LGBTs. Tokyo just recently passed the ordinance to ban discrimination against LGBTs. Denny in Okinawa promised to advocate LGBT rights as one of his major policies.

We are becoming more diverse society and appreciating diversity of the world we live in.
Please come and join us.

(Masa)

Tokyo Free Walking Tour holds Saturday afternoon tour from 1PM regularly, for other time or places, please check the calendar as these tours are scheduled irregularly.

RAINY DAY WITH AN UMBRELLA at EAST GARDENS OF THE IMPERIAL PALACE ON SEPTEMBER 29TH, 2018

Thank you for joining our walking tour on September 29th.  We welcomed 10 guests from USA, UK, Bulgaria, Ukraine and Canada even though Typhoon Charmy was approaching to Japan.  We tried to keep you dry during the tour but it was heavy rain occasionally. We really appreciated walking with us.

Typhoon Charmy was 24th typhoon in 2018.  From middle of July to August  many typhoons were continuously exist around Japan for 38 days.Since then typhoon or low pressure occurs almost every week in September.  It rained all day long and it sometimes rained suddenly.  Raincoat was not an option due to high humidity.   You have to have an umbrella in this season.  Do you think is it too much hassle to bring an umbrella when you are traveling?  Don’t worry.  When you are caught in unexpected rain showers, you can get one at convenience stores or 100 yen shops.  A plastic umbrella is very popular in Japan.  The clear plastic covering umbrella can be better than normal one to walk around sightseeing spots.  You can view outside well.  Another option is purchasing compact foldable umbrella that weight is lighter than your smartphone.  There are many kinds of compact umbrella at stores. You may find your favorite one and you can put it in your backpack everyday.  However, please keep in your mind, if it is heavy rainstorm, those umbrellas will be broken easily.  Please keep your eye on weather forecast in this season and check safety tips for travelers in Japan.  Be safe and enjoy walking in the rain!

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Please post your feedback at Tripadvisor and share your great experiences with your family and friends!

We have East gardens of the Imperial palace tour on every Saturday starting from Tokyo Station Marunouchi exit at 1 pm.  Also we have Asakusa tour and Meiji shrine & Harajuku tour on every other Sunday.  Check the tour schedule at our website tfwt.jp or Facebook .  We look forward to meeting you soon!

(Posted by Tomoko)