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)

East Gardens of the Imperial Palace (May 26 morning)

IMG_6414Thank you so much for joining TFWT for the morning tour on May 26th.

We welcomed 8 guests from USA and India. A family, a lady and a group of three men. We enjoyed walking under the beautiful weather in May.

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Now irises were blooming in Ninomaru garden. For another month will be the best time to come and enjoy the irises.

Hydrangeas are beginning to bloom in the Honmaru area. Even after the cherry blossoms, we can enjoy a lot of flowers in this Imperial palace garden. This is a place to enjoy fresh green in the middle of Tokyo.

It is said that foreigners who visited Japan are amazed that there are many flower beds in town, and these flowers are well groomed and beautifully bloom. A friend from overseas once told me that flowers blooming like this will be stolen amazingly quickly in his country. Of course there are few outrageous person also in Japan, but most flowers are loved in the form of nature. It is being well maintained not only in private gardens but also in the corner of the sidewalk of the street. This may be called a unique culture in Japan.

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Lavendars in Furano

Japanese people gladly pay for looking beautiful flowers. The solid evidence is that there are a lot of large flower parks that opened recently, in Furano: lavenders, in Ashikaga: wisterias, in Hitachinaka: tulips and nemophilas, etc. And tens of thousands visitors gather per day during the best season. These are popular tourist spots also for foreigners.

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Ashikaga Flower Park

In these parks, the flowers and the landscape are united, and reputed to be like a beautiful picture. I don’t think there are parks like these outside Japan, with hundreds of thousands of flowers are planted in a tremendously large hill.

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Hitachi Seaside Park

Finally I’d like to introduce my favorite flowers in my own garden. This flower is named “Hot lips”. It is cherry sage. This flower is a kind of herb. This flowers keep bloom for a long time from April to September.

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(Keiko)

Tour Report on August 20 , Asakusa areas

Thank you for coming Asakusa areas. We welcomed several guests on that day and briefly introduced ourselves. Right after that, we started our tour with climbing the roof top of Asakusa Tourist Information Center, where we enjoyed seeing the breathtaking views of these historical areas.

 

Normally, we visit seven spots in this Asakusa strolling and conclude at Asakusa Shinto Shrine.

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Recently, rainy and overcast conditions have prevailed and lasted a half month in most of Japan.
It has highly likely made the unprecedented records in Japanese weather forecast.
Although the weather was not perfect, we were truly honored to make tours for enthusiastic travelers in this historical place, Asakusa.

 

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The scene, lined up with “The Five Men of Thefts”, are the highlights of this story.

 

On the way, while strolling along the roads of Asakusa, you will see some Buddhist buildings and retailer shops selling traditional food, clothing and other souvenirs.
It will effectively make you, Asakusa lovers, feel fully immersed in the atmosphere of old Tokyo.
Moreover, you would probably be enthusiastic in viewing Kabuki, after you successfully find statues of five men in this historical site. These attractive objects can be found on different shop’s roofs, wearing the clothing of typical town people from the Edo period.
They are called “Shiranami Gonin Otoko”, which can be translated to “The Five Men of Thefts”

The stories about these men have been popular and is one of the highlights of Kabuki plays in Japan since the Edo era.
Folk tales about these group of men depict them as a unique group of thieves, who are following a policy of being “Gizoku” like “Robin Hood” in England.
A “Gizoku” or a gentleman thief, never commits theft for their own material wealth or greed. On the other hand, they steal from wealthy people and distribute their stolen goods among the poor members of the society.
Additionally, they proudly follow and advocate certain rules, where they prohibit themselves from afflicting physical damage and avoiding mental intimidation to steal.
Anyways, it is our great pleasure to introduce this historical town, and help them find traditional Japan.
See you soon in Asakusa.

(By Arac)

Tour Report on August 19

Thank you so much for joining our tour on August 19 in muggy weather. I sincerely appreciate the participation of 31 friendly guests from almost all the continents and hope some of you enjoyed the instant kimono afterwards. Also it was lucky that we could complete the tour before heavy rain.

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There is a small museum of the Imperial collection(Sannomaru Shozokan)at the East Gardens on our walking tour route. They have nearly 10,000 priceless treasures such as the pictures and art products which have been inherited as the Imperial collection for a long time. Some of them are considered a national treasure class.
The art products held by the Imperial Family were donated to the government in 1989 when the Showa Emperior passed away. This museum was open in 1993 as a facility to preserve, study and display those collections. Many pieces were created by the Imperial Household artists.

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The museum is currently showing bonbonniere items (palm-sized candy boxes) until September 10th. In the Imperial Family there is a tradition to present a small confectionary box called bonbonniere since the late 1880’s as a souvenir to the guests to commemorate the auspicious occasions such as the enthronements, weddings of the Imperial Family and also the receptions of the foreign state guests. This custom has been passed down to the present day.

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All the items are elaborately designed with the high craft technique by using the materials mostly made of silver, Japanese lacquer and porcelain. Each item can tell the days, features and deep culture from their forms and patterns when they were produced.
This museum is relatively small but worthwhile to visit once. Please be careful of the opening time/hours. Monday/Friday are closed. Opening hours are 9am to 4:45pm now but vary depending upon the time. Making sure of their HP in advance is recommendable.
Perhaps it may be convenient for you to visit the museum before our tour or afterwards.
Free admission!!!

(posted by Yoshi)

Tour Report: August 12, 2017

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Japan enters the “bon” summer vacation week when people return to their hometowns and get together with their families and friends. It is one of the busiest times of the year for public transport, when highways are clogged and train reservations are near impossible, so good luck to our 36 guests for their remainder of their stay in Japan!

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The weather forecast for Saturday was initially very tricky, but it turned out to be one of the better days, cloudy with occasional sunshine. I went with a group of 9. Our guests included those who have visited, lived and worked in Japan before. This was a challenging but interesting experience. Hopefully I was able to add new insight for them.

Then we had a handsome young guest. He was particularly popular among our ladies!

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Below is a slideshow of our group photos. Thank you for choosing to join our tour. Enjoy your stay in Japan!

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(Yohei)

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Tour Report on 5 August 2017, Saturday

Many thanks for 35 guests who joined this tour from Canada, Bermuda, USA, Taiwan, Argentina, Netherland, Australia, Slovenia, Poland, Ukraina, Germany, Urguay, France, Nepal, Austria, Mexico, Belgium, and so on. We divided into 4 groups.

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The weather was partly cloudy but very hot. On such a weather, bringing water and a hand-blowing fan is highly recommended. Otherwise, you might get sick.

For Japanese, it may be best season to bathe in hot spring. Hot spring bath in hot climate might sound strange but it is customery in Japan because Japan’s hot summer comes with high humidity. So people get so much sweat that they want to wipe out sweat and feel fresh by bathing. If bathed in naturally welled-up hot spring water, that is excellent.

Even within Tokyo city, there is a great natural hot spring public bath facility with recreation and entertainment. In Odaiba district by the Tokyo bay, the facility named Oedo Onsen Monogatari, there used natural hot spring dug and elevated from thousands meter deep underground.

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Great feature of the place is that bathers change clothes to Yukata which they can rent from the facility and can enjoy eating meals, play games, view shows before bathing like fesitivity. After bathing in big and various indoor and outdoor hot bath tubs, they can have massage.

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If one does not like full-body bathing, she or he can bathe only feet and even heal the body by having fish eat your rotten part of the skin. It looks like a Japanese Anime film “Sprited Away.”

But that might not be satifsfactory for guests who want to enjoy truly natural hot spring. If one can spare a day trip from Tokyo, there are many natural hot spring resorts around Tokyo. One of very unique places is Shiriyaki Onsen in Gunma Prefecture, which is in fact extraordinary natural. Because natural hot spring is in the river. The river itself is hot spring meaning hot spring water wells up from the bottom of the river. So one can not only bathe but swim in the natural hot spring water mixing with a mountain river current.

Why not enjoy Japan’s hot and humid summer by bathing in natural hot springs? That is the very natural way of enjoying Japan!

 

Tour Report on July 29, 2017

We would like to thank all of our guests choosing us TFWT to spend their own precious time and exploring around the central Tokyo, Marunouchi with us. We always feel so honored to take and show our guests around the beautiful garden fulfilled by the hospitality of our Imperor and Impress. This day, we welcomed 28 guests from 12 countries as Spain, Germany, Greece, Turkey, Austria, U.S.A., Columbia, Chile, Argentina, Uruguay, India, Nepal, Needless to say, it was an hot day, but we were delightful to stroll around the “summer-mode” garden with our friendly guests.
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This day, a big firework event was to be held at night. The most common and most traditional one, known as “Sumida-River firework festival”. It is said that this firework event originates from the memorial service held in 1732 around this Sumida-River. The 8th Tokugawa shogunate named Yoshimune held this service to mourn the spirits of the countless dead whom suffered from famine and cholera, losing their life’s at last.

Sumida-River firework became an annual event since 1978. 2017 year festival event just counted the 40th festival. To celebrate its own anniversary, the number of the fireworks increased up to 22,000 while 20,000 were the familiar figures for this festival.
Since this Sumida-River firework is a megaton range, the viewers counts over 980,000 every year. Though, this years’ viewers were 748,000 according to the research . (except the viewers watching the TV broadcast! ) Well, still incredible figures, aren’t they? It was because of heavy rain that started to pour from the evening and kept raining till the end of the festival. More to say, other firework festivals were held around Tokyo as Urayasu (Chiba, near Tokyo Disneyland) and Tachikawa(in the West side of Tokyo) on the same day,
and to our surprise, none of them were postponed. Most of us recognized at this time that firework events could be continued no matter of rain. (On the other hand, if Lightning strikes somewhere, the event would be stopped or canceled).

Many Japanese women prefer to wear “yukata” (a sort of summer kimono) to firework events and this could make you feel more summer feature of our country. More to say, you can experience the “kimono” wearing at the end of our tour also. Why not you just join us in all means? Your participant is always welcome!

(posted by Nori)

Tour report on July 22, 2017

Thank you so much for choosing our tour to the East Gardens of the Imperial Palace on July 22. It was fantastic weather but very hot. Nevertheless I hope you could walk over to the shade and enjoyed the tour. The number of participants were 37 from 16 countries.

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Some people may not be aware that there was a sophisticated Noh theater at the front area of the main compound of Edo Palace and most Shoguns(leaders) loved and patronized Noh during the Edo period. Noh means skill or talent and is the oldest form of theater mixing music, dance and drama completed in the 14th century by the men named Kan’ami and his son Ze’ami 200 years before Kabuki, and continues almost in the same manners and language until this day. It was unfortunate that Ze’ami was exiled to Sado island for an unknown reason.

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( photo:Sado Tourism Association)

The Edo Shoguns made Noh its official ceremonial art on the auspicious occasions such as the inauguration of Shogun, weddings and the birth of its successors. The 5th Shogun Tsunayoshi is well-known for its great lover. Moreover, some Daimyos(Feudal lords) had a Noh theater at their Edo residences. So Noh was the exclusive art of the samurai class in contrast with Kabuki for commoners.
Noh is an artistic stage entertainment of dancing in the chorus and to the accompaniment of instruments of drums and a flute. The act of moving isn’t quick and words are poetic. Stories are usually solemn or sad which are drawn from the past events or a classical book. Traditionally the performers are mostly by men.

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(photo: Sado Tourism Association)

One key character is the Shite, a principal figure wearing a finely carved wooden mask and the body motion instead of the facial action is specially emphasized. Shite acts as a god, a demon or a living human.
After the Edo period was over, Noh lost the patrons and faced difficult times but survives flourishingly with the efforts of the participants in recent decades.
Let’s get together at the East Gardens of the Imperial Palace and share the Japanese culture and history with us.

(posted by Yoshi)

Tour report on Monday, July 17th, Asakuasa

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Thank you for joining Tokyo Free Walking Tour for Asakusa area. Around one year has already passed since this Asakusa strolling started regularly.

 

On that day, we welcomed around 17 guests from USA, Canada, Spain, and Italy.
July 17 was a hot and humid day, and at the time we were about to start the tour at around 10:00 am, the temperature had already reached 30 degrees Celsius.

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Normally, we visit seven spots in this historical town and conclude at Asakusa Shinto Shrine.

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Here are one of the topics, “Shimenawa & Shide”, characterizing Shintoism and Shinto shrines.

Shimenawa is a sacred rope and is made of rice straw, which is bundled and technically woven twisted.
It is used for ritual purification in the Shinto religion.
Normally, this rope is attached to a zigzag-shaped paper streamer called Shide.
Both Shimenawa and Shide are used as symbols of the boundary indicating between the sanctuary and our world.

On the other hand, they are used to decorate notable objects like stones, tree, and other sacred things.
It’s believed that deities reside in the locations and give solace to visitors.
Aside from that, these Shinto decorations are used in ceremonies in hope of having deities’ favors.
For instance, these holy ropes are set up at the groundbreaking ceremony before the construction of a new building begins.
It purifies the area and the buildings and hopes for the deities’ protection from natural disasters.

 

Moreover, these twisted ropes are seen in Sumo wrestling.5

Only the Yokozuna, the grand champion wrestlers, are allowed to wear this majestic rope around their waists on their entrance to the Dohyo, the sumo ring.
This is because Yokozuna should not only be strong but full of dignity and be respected almost like the deities.

(By Arac)

 

 

Tour Report on July 15, 2017

Thank you all the guests for joining our Tokyo Free Walking Tour. We are honored to have around 15 guests from the different corners of the world like Belgium, Hungary, and the U.S. We divided into 5 groups and took group photos below.

It was so hot that a various kinds of living things in East Garden of the Imperial Palace as well as people were bathing in the sun and feeling oppressed by the heat.

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Which spot or topic was the most exciting or impressive for you? The number of residence in Marunouchi? A professional spy,”Ninja” and a throwing knife? The movie, 47 Ronin? Wearing instant kimono?


Although it was a tour in the unbearable heat, we hope all of you enjoyed the tour.
Lastly, we wish you all a safe and wonderful stay in Japan.

P.S. Now in Japan, we can have fancy shaved ice and feel cool at some cafes!! How about trying Japanese shaved ice?

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(Posted by A. Kuno)