TOUR REPORT of THE EAST GARDENS OF THE IMPERIAL PALACE ON FEB.26, 2019

Thank you for all our guests who joined the tour of East Gardens of The Imperial Palace. We welcomed 6 guests from Canada, UK, and Brazil. We divided all guests into 3 groups, and started the tour at 10am.

It was a little bit cold, but a good day for walking around. Plum blossoms are in full bloom just right now! We all enjoyed pink and white flowers and the scent of those flowers.

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Recently, the current Emperor published a paper to report feeding habits of the raccoon in the Imperial Palace. The raccoon is known as “Tanuki” which scientific name is Nyctereutes procyonoides. The raccoon is a native animal to Japan and it belongs to mammal species of the canid family member similar to foxes, wolves and domestic dogs. The Emperor collected and examined feces from raccoons for 5 years in a specific place within the Imperial Palace, and reported what kinds of foods they ate in each seasons. The paper writes that raccoon in the Imperial Palace strongly depends on natural foods such as fruits and insects. Most of those food items are native to Japan since the past Edo period.

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“Tanuki” is well respected in Japanese society. It is a legendary name we all know about. If you are interested in Japanese folktales then it is the time to start reading some! You could discover Tanuki in the story of Bunbuku Chagama (Lucky Tea Kettle Story), in Kachi-Kachi Yama (The Crackling Mountain Story) and such. In fact, Tanuki is found throughout Japanese folktales as mysterious, shape shifting sprits.

 

In modern Japan, you will find ceramic Tanuki statues all over Japan, especially outside restaurants and bars.

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It is amazing to have wild Tanuki in this highly urbanized Tokyo, isn’t it?! Not limited to Tanuki but also there are hundreds of birds, insects and plants in the Imperial Palace thanks to woodlands handled with care. After plum blossoms, cherry blossoms (SAKURA) is coming in succession, so we are waiting for you to come to Japan and join out tour!

 

Girls’ Festival “Hinamatsuri” is just around the corner! (Asakusa Tour report on February 24, 2019)

While fine days and rainy days are coming periodically, spring is approaching.

It was a really warm day, many thanks for joining our tour in Asakusa on February 24.

We met 14 wonderful people from Canada, Germany, India, Italy, UK. and USA.

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It is getting warmer and warmer. Now we can feel the breath of spring. Spring brings beautiful flowers. Peach flower festival, “Momo no sekku” or “Hinamatsuri” is just around the corner.

The other day, I attended a workshop “Let’s make Hina dolls” which was held in Tokyo National Museum.

This museum is my favorite one, included in our tour course which will be held on March 21 in Ueno.

“Hina and Japanese Dolls” exhibition is being shown in this museum until March 17, 2019 (Sun).

https://www.tnm.jp/modules/r_free_page/index.php?id=1952&lang=en

Hinamatsuri, celebrated on March 3 every year, is one of the most beautiful Japanese events, is approaching.

Hinamatsuri is a day on which Japanese households with young daughters decorate their homes with Hina dolls for girls and their families’ bright and happy future.

Much like most Japanese traditional customs, Hinamatsuri is said to have begun as a custom to ward off evil demons and pray for prosperous and healthy future.

In the Tale of Genji, it is said that the third day of the third month is a purification day, on which people were to transfer evil spirits into dolls and release them into rivers and oceans.

Back in those days, people believed that dolls had the ability to contain bad spirits. Households with girls made Hina dolls with straw and sailed them down the river in boats, supposedly taking all the potential misfortunes with them, a practice known as Nagashibina.

In some areas of Japan, people still release paper dolls in water, praying for health and good luck. In Asakusa, Edo Nagashibina event will be held.

https://www.gotokyo.org/en/spot/ev146/index.html

Nowadays, most families with daughters will decorate their homes with Hina dolls. The decorations usually start in mid to late February and are kept until the end of March 3.

Our family had 3 sisters, so there were 3 sets of Hina dolls.

Left one mine, upper right is second sister’s and lower right is the yongest sister’s.

When we were kids, our rooms were occupied with Hina dolls during Hinamatsuri season. When I woke up in the middle of the night, I felt scary because I thought that dolls might begin to move. But now, my sisters’s hina dolls aren’t in my pearent’s house anymore, because they brought their own Hina dolls to their new home when they got married.

Traditionally, parents or grandparents of a newborn girl will buy a set of hina dolls decorations for the baby’s first Hinamatsuri, and a woman brings hina dolls with her when she marries.

So one set of Hina dolls was added for my niece. It’s hers.

The most important thing about Hina dolls is to take the decorations down immediately after Hinamatsuri because it is believed that if people put away Hina dolls too late, the girl will get married late in the future.

Come March 4, put your dolls away in cupboards or send them down the river even if you want to keep them so much.

Happy Hinamatsuri !!

(posted by Yoshiko)

TOUR REPORT of THE EAST GARDENS OF THE IMPERIAL PALACE ON FEB.23,2019

Thank you for all our guests who joined “February 23, The East Gardens of The Imperial Place Tour”. We welcomed 15 guests from Australia, Canada, USA, Philippines, France, India, Spain, and Ukraine. We devided all guests into 3 groups, and started the tour 13:00 .

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During our tour  sometimes we got strong wind.  That is the sign of Spring.

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Spring is the time of when we meet new friends and leave old friends behind.

Japanese school semester begins in April and ends in March.

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 I graduated from a nurse college in March 14 years ago. Last week I had a small party with my former classmates of the college.Friendship of classmates is so nice. One of them is going to Vientiane in Laos as a midwife of JICA( Japan International Cooperation Agency). She will do her best there. International exchange program contribute to people’s heartwarming life.

All guides of TFWT are waiting for you. Why don’t you join our tour of East garden of the Imperial Place, Asakusa, Meijijingu shrine and Ueno .

 (reported by Keiko N.)

 

SHINTO DEITIES ARE LOOKING FORWARD TO UME SEASON, FEBRUARY 17 IN HARAJYUKU AREA

Thank you for joining our Tokyo Free Walking Tour in  Harajuku area.
On that day, February 17, we were honored to welcome three guests to our walking tour. These people came from different corners of the world, including Israel and U.S.A,.
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As observed nationwide, the cold front that approached Japan and relentlessly brought about a strong mass of cold air for the past few days, is leaving.
It is highly likely that there is a breakthrough in the cold temperature and the weather seems to have finally improved.
In Tokyo, the temperature has ranged from 2 to 15 degrees Celsius during the week.
It is said that this kind of weather transition symbolizes the end of winter season.

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As our group was walking along its usual tour route, we encountered a stream of visitors moving towards the main religious hall of the shrine.
Normally, it takes around 15 minutes of walking from the torii gate, or the Shinto shrine gate to the main building of the holly ground.
This gives us enough time to introduce a few features and locations we pass by along the way, like torii and the tamajyari path, or the path covered by small gravel. Both of these things are significant to the Japanese faith.
Aside from these excitements, we happened to see a specific event called Kinensai, or an event to pray for a huge harvest nationwide.
We saw the ritual made in the main hall, and the lined Shinto priests proceeding to a gate.
These things are good conversation starters when talking about Japanese religion.


Looking around all parts of Japan, Ume season has finally come.
Ume, or Japanese apricot trees, are typical fruit and flower-bearing trees in Japan that bloom nationwide from late January until the early of March.
They serve as a significant sign of the end of the long winter season, and a sign that spring is about to start.
Ume is also the earliest to bloom among the attractive flower-bearing trees and plants that can typically be found in parks, gardens, and religious compounds.
These lovely flowers also perform a duty of acting as a prelude before cherry blossoms bloom, until sakura trees begin to flourish in early of March.


Aside from their beauty, these flowers are also used to describe Japanese proverbs.
For instance, the phrase “Ume Ni Uguisu” or “Ume and Nightingales”, symbolize harmonic relationships and co-existence, considering that the flower and bird typically represents scenic beauty.
Although we can rarely witness this scene in urban areas, religious places in Japan often serve as a background to Ume and nightingale.
Moreover, these distinctive flowers have amazing versatile in case they are used in dishes.
For instance, umeboshi or salt pickled plums can serve as adaptable seasonings to lessen the fishy smell in cooking.
Aside from that, umeboshi is a dispensable ingredient used in bento box, or a boxed lunch because it can prevent food from being spoiled.
Please come and stroll in Tokyo to find the beauty of these seasonal flowers.
(By Arac)

TOUR REPORT ON FEB 16, 2019(THE EAST GARDEN OF THE IMPERIAL PALACE)

Thank you for joining our tour to the East garden of the Imperial Palace on Feb. 16th. We welcomed 15 guests from Australia, USA, UK, Argentina and Spain. Weather condition was almost perfect for the tour. It was fine, no wind and sunshine was warm. Some guests took off their coats during the tour. At the street between the Tokyo Station and the Imperial Palace we found two couples wearing wedding dress for taking photos. I’m sure that good weather condition bring them out to the scenic photo spot. We could feel that spring is just round the corner.

East garden flowers also noticed us that spring is just knocking the door. Some early flowering cherry trees are just beginning to come out. Many Japanese apricot flowers are soon in full bloom and also the scent of them attract us when passing by.

All guests are divided into four groups and some guides accompany them. I hope during 2 and half hours tour close communication between us contribute to deeper understanding of Japanese culture, history and also modern Japan.


Our guides had surprising reunion with guests of our Meiji Shrine tour 2weeks ago by chance at entrance of the garden. Thank you for joining our tour again!
Tokyo Free Walking Tour operates three courses guide regularly, the East Garden of the Imperial Palace, the Meiji Shrine and Asakusa. Three areas have different history and attractiveness of Japan. From this month TFWT started Ueno Park tour. Next Ueno Park tour is scheduled for Mar. 21. Ueno Park is one of the famous place for cherry blossoms. And the end of March is the best time to look at the cherry blossoms. Please don’t miss this opportunity!

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Asakusa tour on February 10 and some tips about Shinto, indigenous religion of Japan

It was a freezing cold cloudy day. But we welcomed 11 guests in total from Australia, Singapore, Thailand, UK & USA. Thank YOU very much for your participation to our bi-weekly Sunday Asakusa route tour. It is always amazing that we have guests from such various countries & regions.

 

Lots of tourist interests are packed in Asakusa. One example is that you can visit both Shinto shrine and Buddhism temple in short distance. In fact, they locate side by side.

Shinto (“the way of the deities”) is an indigenous religion of Japan as old as Japan itself. It remains Japan’s major religion alongside Buddhism.
Shinto is deeply rooted in the Japanese people and traditions.
“Shinto deities” are called kami. They are sacred spirits which take the form of concepts and things important to life, such as mountains, rivers, trees, wind, rain, thunder and fertility. Even human become kami after passing away. The kami of extraordinary people are enshrined at some shrines.

An interesting aspect of Shinto shrine is that they have a specific role expected according to the deity enshrined. For example, the Inari enshrines the god of good harvests, and so people visits there pray for their success in business.

Yushima Tenjin Shrine, easily accessible from Asakusa and Ueno, is a Shinto shrine devoted to Sugawara no Michizane, a famous 9th century scholar also known as the God of scholarship.

In Japan, school term starts in April and closes in March. Mid-February to early March is the peak season of entrance examination. During examination season, don’t be surprised to find many students and their family coming to the shrine to pray for good results. In addition to pray in front of main hall, many visitors purchase “ema” small wooden votive tablets. Visitors write down their petition, i.e. success in examination and hang them on special racks in front of the main hall. Currently all the ema racks have huge bundles of ema. Wow, it should be a tough work for even Tenjin deity to fulfill all the desires.

Yushima Shrine is also famous for the Japanese apricot blossoms (ume), It has a blossom festival from mid-February to mid-March, when the flowers on 300 Japanese apricot trees in full bloom – what a breathtaking sight!

Tour Report on Feb.9 (The East Garden of the Imperial Palace)

We had seven guests joining our tour at the East Garden of the Imperial Palace on Feb.9. They were from Australia, United Kingdom, U.S.A. and Vietnam.

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Feb.4 was the New Year’s day in the lunar calendar and the beginning of spring as well. However, it had snowed in the tour’s morning and was very cold.

We enjoyed blossoms of camellia and plum trees covered with snow. Our guests also found Kanzakura-cherry blossoms (species of winter-blooming cherry trees) at the Honmaru area which reminded us that spring was surely knocking on the door.

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We hope they add our tour and the warmth of the Houji-cha ( roasted green tea ) on their memories of Japan.

 

( by Rei )

Memorable day tour at Ueno Park on Feb 11

Thank you so much for joining the first tour at Ueno Park on February 11. We welcomed five guests from America, UK, France and Canada. I really appreciate your participation in our tour in spite of the cold weather. It is spring according to the calendar but is still wintry. Some winter cherry blossoms were blooming. I hope all of you enjoyed walking with us on the memorable day at Ueno Park.

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As you may know Ueno Park is full of tourist attractions such as nature, museums, temples, shrines, statues, pond etc. Among them the most popular destination may be Tokyo National Museum. Tokyo National Museum is the oldest and largest museum in Japan. They have about 120,000 items including 89 national treasures. There’s no other place in Japan where you can admire so many cultural and historical masterpieces. The current main building, Japanese gallery was reconstructed after the 1923 Great Kanto Earthquake and the building structure is the combination of Japanese and European architecture.

One of the reasons for the popularity is that their permanent display of the main building is outstanding and definitely worthwhile to visit. Main building shows the variety of the Japanese arts from the ancient world to the Edo days including Buddhist statues, paintings and scrolls on the 2nd floor. The 1st floor has genre exhibits such as sculptures, ceramics and lacquerware. If you don’t have enough time, just visit the 2nd floor with the history of the Japanese art. In addition, Tokyo National Museum frequently holds an absolutely stunning exhibition currently displaying unrivaled calligraphy from Taiwan Palace Museum: Yan Zhenqing and his legacy until Feb 24. The next exhibition will be National Treasures of To-ji Temple, Kyoto: Kukai and the Sculpture Mandala from March 26.

tohaku.jpgToyokan, Asian gallery features Asian arts and artifacts from China, Korea, India, Gandhara and Egypt. Heiseikan exhibits the Japanese ancient culture such as archaeology. The gallery of Horyuji Treasures shows over 300 intricate Buddhist statues donated by Horyuji Temple, Nara mainly from the 7th to 8th century. Lastly behind the main building is a traditional Japanese garden with a teahouse. Open in spring at the time of cherry-blossoms and in autumn foliage. There are a few other galeries. ¥620 admission.
Ueno Park is vibrant and charming whenever you come. We offer the pleasant Japan experience for all the guests and believe that you will be satisfied with our guide at Ueno Park.
The tour is held irregularly for the time being and the next tour is scheduled on March 21(national holiday). Ueno Park is famous for viewing spot for cherry-blossoms. Cherry Trees may start to bloom around that time.
We will be looking forward to seeing you then. Join us if you are around Ueno or Tokyo.

(Posted by Yoshi)

 

Ueno Park Tour on February 11th

In addition to the existing tours at the East Gardens of the Imperial Palace, Asakusa Sensoji Temple and Meiji Shrine / Harajuku, we will have another walking tour at the heart of Ueno Park starting on February 11. This will be the fourth tour for TFWT. The starting point is the front of Park Exit of JR Ueno Station and the goal is the statue of Saigo Takamori.

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Ueno Park is one of the first public parks in Japan. In fact, the park was the site of Kaneiji Temple, the Japan’s largest and family temple of the ruling Tokugawa dynasty during the Edo period which continued for nearly 270 years. The temple was politically and religiously influential and the site of the temple was twice as large as the current park at its peak.
However, when the Japan’s largest ever civil war broke out in the late 1800s, Kaneiji was ruined and devastated by fires. Afterwards, the grounds became a public park. Fortunately, the 400-year old historical buildings including Ueno Toshogu Shrine, five-storied pagoda and Kiyomizu Kannon-do Temple survive the earthquakes, fires and wars in the original forms and miraculously remain intact and aesthetic.

Now the park is expansive, offers greenery scenery and has variety of great attractions: Tokyo National Museum, National Museum of Nature and Science, National Museum of Western Art, Ueno Zoo and the relaxing pond for visitors.

The Park is fascinating no matter what season of the year you come. Enjoy rich nature and vigorous culture at Ueno Park. We offer the pleasant Japan experience for all the guests and believe that you will be satisfied with our guide at Ueno Park.
JR上野.Ueno Park is located a one minute-walk from Ueno train/underground stations. Our first tour is scheduled on February 11(national holiday) at 13:00. The length of time will be approximately 2 hours. The closest station is JR Ueno Station. The meeting point is between the Station and Tokyo Bunka Kaikan(Culture Hall). Get out of the Park Exit (Koenguchi) of JR Ueno Station and cross the street for Tokyo Bunka Kaikan (Culture Hall). Then you will find our staff waiting for you with the TFWT flag. The tour will currently be conducted on non-regular basis. We will be looking forward to seeing you then.

(posted by Yoshi)

“Out with the demon, in with fortune” Feb.3rd Meiji Jingu Tour & Ueno Park tour kicks off on Feb.11

What a perfect day! We could welcome 12 guests at our meeting place, the Giant Torii under such a mild climate even it was in the middle of the winter.
Thank you for coming from U.S.A, Brazil, U.K.,Australia, Singapore. The precinct surrounded by greenary was such a relief, and the energetic Harajuku area was
also so stimulating for all of us. Each time we visit the shopping area, we could find new shops or discover more “hyper” things.

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More to say, this day(Feb 3rd), was the exact day of a seasonal event called Setsubun.The Setsubun is the day before a new season starts.  In Japan we throw soy beans on setsubun as we say “out with the demon and in with fortune”   This ceremony started because people believed that evil spirits were released every time the season changed.  For good luck, we eat as many soy beans as we are years old on this day. On Setsubun people also eat an entire roll of sushi for a good luck. Why entire? Because it is said that the luck will be cut off as well if you slice the roll. And one more advice is that you have to eat in silence and stand in the lucky direction while eating.(lucky direction of 2019 is midway between east and northeast)
Well, we hope you could have a chance to see any of those “Setsubun-items” sold at supermarkets, convenience stores, department stores this day!
…or perhaps you might saw a person really doing these actions in front of you…

And one more exciting news.
TFWT is happy to introduce you to our new tour course,”Ueno park tour”.
Ueno park is culture mecca with a number of museums including the prestigious Tokyo National Museum and the delightful Shitamachi Museum with its
displays of old Tokyo , Ueno Zoo and so on. The tour will kick off on  Feb.11, just a week later! For more information, please check our upcoming blog or facebook.

(posted by Nori)