Tour Report on 22 February 2018, Week Day Tour to the East Garden of the Imperial Palace

On a very cold and slightly raining Thursday morning, we welcomed 3 guests from Australia and U.K. It was so cold that some of us were sizzling while walking on the route. We divided into 2 groups.

However, in the garden, we could view sign of spring’s coming. The Ume (Plum or Apricot trees) are blooming. Actually, they are known as flowers of winter but they bloom when spring is near. The colors of petals were shining under cloudy sky. The smell of the flowers were so strong that you feel wearing cheap perfume.

Some foreigners mistake Ume for Sakura. But Sakura flowers are all pink-white. Less smelling and more gorgeous. They bloom a month later from now, between late March and early April. The temperature will get much warmer. SAKURA means we are in the spring time.

Every spring, somewhere in the city, shopping malls hold SAKURA festivals to celebrate arrival of spring. Sakura are most precious flowers among Japanese. For Japanese, SAKURA is not just flowers. They are like our souls.

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For example, in a town named Higashinakano in Nakano Ward in TOKYO, there is a ongoing dispute with regard to cut down of SAKURA trees. Sakura trees are on a bank just above the railway near Higashinakano Station. The Ward Office and the railway company, JR East are trying to cut down some of the aged trees on the bank due to the risk of fall down of the trees or their branches. The trees were planted on the bank more than 60 years ago as a symbol of the town’s reconstruction after the second world war. But for the local residents and shop owners nearby the Sakura trees are symbols of the town. When they did the opinion survey on local residents who use the station, overwhelming majority were against the cut down of the trees. They launched the movement to preserve the trees and replant young trees after cutting down the too aged trees. However, the municipal government who owns the trees and the railway company who owns the bank seemed reluctant to do that because of safety and high maintenance cost. Some of the trees are already cut down. They plan to cut down 16 of 39 trees on the bank before this coming SAKURA blooming season. The fate of rest of the trees is unknown.

The locals are considering to raise fund to preserve the trees and to replant new trees and then search for methods to properly maintain the Sakura trees on the bank. Citizens are united searching for the ways to take care of Sakura by themselves, not just relying on the authorities. Sakura is causing new democracy in Japan.

There is a superstition that anyone who cuts down Sakura trees should be cursed. So the locals cannot let the trees cut down.

If you have a chance to visit Japan a month later from now, please enjoy viewing Japanese souls.

 

TOUR REPORT ON FEBURARY 18, 2018 AT MEIJI SHRINE AND HARAJUKU

Tokyo Free Walking Tour welcomed eight guests for our regular Meiji Shrine and Harajuku route tour on February 18.

Big thank YOU to all the guests who were from Australia, New Zealand, Turkey, Slovakia, Netherland and England.  We hope all enjoyed not only the tour itself but chat with other guests and us.  It was a lovely sunny day with shining blue sky, though it was still bit cold.   Luckily, we encountered wedding parties at the main shrine area.  One party was proceeding to main hall for ceremony and the others were ready to take memorial wedding photos.

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The second half of this tour after short break is Harajuku district tour.

Tour guests can enjoy comparison between natural-rich peaceful Meiji Shrine and lively crowded Harajuku district.  One of the most popular (and most crowded) streets in this area is Takeshita-dori.  It is the landmark of many Japanese subcultures, the best known of which is the Kawaii culture.

The tour covers both Takeshita-dori and Omote-sando avenue within just an hour. During the tour, visitors could grasp the general ideas of this area thus they often continue walking after the tour, but this time do deep dive depends on their interests.

Tokyo Marathon, one of the biggest annual running events in Japan, is scheduled on upcoming Sunday, February 25. The course is designed to tour Tokyo’s sightseeing destinations, starting from Tokyo Metropolitan Government Office in Shinjuku, finishing at Gyoko-dori, in front of Tokyo Station.  Tokyo Marathon attracts many applicants though entrants number is limited as 36,000 for the marathon and 10-kilometer race combined.  Some of TFWT members will participate in the events either as runners or volunteers.

On February 24, on the day of our next regular tour at Imperial Palace East Garden route,  one of the Tokyo Marathon official events “Let’s go see the Finish area!” is scheduled on our tour route.  Why don’t you join us and enjoy both TFWT tour and Tokyo Marathon event!

 

Tour Report on 17 February 2018, The East Garden of the Imperial Palace

Thank you very much for joining our tour on Feb 17th.

 

We welcomed 23 guests from Australia, Canada, China, Hong Kong, Israel, Japan, Netherlands, Norway, Slovakia, Turkey, UK and US.

 

Plum trees in the East Garden of Imperial Palace bloom! The combination of pink and white color is so beautiful.

 

I guess beautiful Japanese spring season is around the corner, on the other hand….during the tour, it was raining unexpectedly. It might have been sleety rain according to the weather forecast. And also, chilly wind was blowing.

In such cold weather, I always have “Hokkairo” which is disposable hot pack, and of course I had them a lot on that day. It was always packaged in the plastic pack, and it becomes warm itself as soon as it opens. Originally it was developed in Japan, but I heard that we can get it not only in Japan but also some foreign country nowadays, however in Japan there are various sizes and types of “Hokkairoes”. I love sticker type for sole^^  You can get it cheap less than 50 Japanese yen each at the supermarket in Japan, so why don’t you get them as a souvenir?

We have a regular tour every Saturday and irregularly Asakusa and Meiji Shrine tour. Please check our website, Facebook and TripAdvisor.

(Posted by Chizuru)

TOUR REPORT ON FEBRUARY 11, 2018 IN ASAKUSA

On the day of Feb 11, with low temperature and clear sunny sky, we welcomed ar­ound six guests from different regions, Australia, Austria, Germany and Philippines.
After splitting these enthusiastic visitors into three, each group was assigned with a few guides who also loves this historical town and are honored to guide them.

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Starting with intr­oducing ourselves and giving our brief orientation about this tour, we went to Asakusa Information Center in order to see better views of the Asakusa areas.
This is because the rooftop of this bu­ilding is high enough for us to enjoy br­eathtaking views.

The sceneries sighted from this location seemed like a pic­tured guidebook, which can catch visitor’s interests and notify the proper outlooks to their ideal spots from there.
Normally, our guides point out the direction of iconic spots, like Tokyo SkyTr­ee, Smida River and particularly an eye-­catching object like poop, which is fully painted in gold on the top of Asahi br­ewer building.

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By the time we concluded our tour in the last location, As­akusa Shinto Shrine, which is adjacent to the Sensoji Buddhist temple, we were already surrounded by a lot of visitors amid the crowds of people proceeding to the compound shared with this Buddhist temple.

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This time, it’s also our pleasure to post and notify you with one of the annual events held on Feb. 8th inside this Sensoji compound called Harikuyo.
Hari-Kuyo can be roughly translated to “needle offering” in English and it is the act of offering needles to a deity.
It is a kind of ritual held as a memorial at religious buildings like Buddhist Temples or Shinto Shrines.
The Hari-Kuyo event is annually held on February 8 or Dece­mber 8 in different areas of Japan.
People involved in the sewing and apparel-making industries, who utilizes needles and pins in their work, offer their used or broken needles from the past year and pray to the gods in hopes of improving their skills and for a prosperous business in the future.

These devotees stick their prepared pins and needles into small slabs of tofu or konjac, which are set in the pray halls of religious compounds.
Tofu and Konjac are typical Japanese food, which are soft enough for anything to be stuck in to it.
These characteristics material symbolizes how dressmaking and apparelmaking worshippers show their gratitude and respect for their used pins. They show this by putting their needles to rest and calmness, through sticking the pins on the soft tofu which serves as a “bed” for their exhausted tools of their trade.
This is because these slender tools have devotedly helped sewing professionals create innovative and fashionable clothes and apparel.
In the past, this religious occasion was dominated by women who frequently used needles and pins in line with tirelessly conducting their household.
Nowadays, however, Hari-Kuyo is not only appealing to women, but also to everyone regardless of gender or religious belief.
Why don’t you join these unique ceremo­nies while staying in Japan?
(By Arac)

 

Tour Report on 10 February 2018, The East Garden of the Imperial Palace

We thank many guests joining this tour. On that day, we welcomed 29 guests from Australia, Argentina, Brazil, U.K., Philippines, USA, France, Germany, South Korea and Slovenia. We divided into 4 groups.

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We are in the midst of winter season. In our neighboring country, South Korea, Winter Olympics are held. For last two weeks Tokyo had a few heavy snowing days. Some remaining of snow was seen in the garden.

 

Up north are blizzards. Japan is a big snow country. There are many snow resorts in northern Japan.

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That is why so many skiers or snowboarders from the world are coming here to enjoy snow sports like Pyeongchang athletes.

Japan hosted two winter Olympics in the past. One in Sapporo, Hokkaido, 1972. The other is Nagano in 1998. Every winter, we met a lot of snow sports tourists who have already been in the snow resorts and on their way to the airport or those who are going there after Tokyo. On this blog and from words of the guides, you can get good snow resort information during your stay in Japan.

But winter in Japan may be too cold. You might wonder if you can go somewhere warmer to avoid the cold. In fact, you can. If you fly to Okinawa prefecture, southernmost island of Japan, it is not as cold as Tokyo. Although it is not warm enough to swim in the ocean, you can wear light clothes viewing the coral sea.

Cherry blossoms are already blooming over there, which in Tokyo start to bloom in late March. Japan is vertical geography so the difference between north and south is big.

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While flying to Okinawa, you can view Mt. Fuji covered with snow along with other mountains from the airplane window. You can learn how mountainous Japan’s geography is. Mt. Fuji can be seen from high altitudes of the city like rooftop of tall buildings.

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In feudal period, it was even seen from the castle in the East Garden. That is why there is a house named “Fuji-mi-yagura (Viewing Mt. Fuji Guard House)” in the East Garden. The appearance of the mountain has not changed since the old days. That is why Mt. Fuji was drawn on some historical paintings like Katsushika Hokusai, which was shown by a guide in the below photo.

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Such picture was pasted on the inner side of the clothes in feudal period because flashy design was forbidden so that people tried to enjoy the fashion secretly. Then that custom still remained in kimono culture.

Skiing, Snowboarding, Winter Olympics, Okinawa, Mt. Fuji and Kimono. There are many things to tell you. That is our activity. We are always happy to provide you that. That is our fun. Please come and join us to hear such things.

(Masa)

Tour Report on February 4, 2018 at Meiji Shrine and Harajuku

Thank you very much for joining our regular tour on February 4.  We welcomed guests from Taiwan and the US.  We hope all enjoyed walking with us.

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Anyways, did anyone eat “Eho-maki”, the thick sushi rolls on February 3rd, the Setsubun day ?
You might find them sold at supermarkets or convenience stores at that time.
Eho literally means the good luck direction, and Eho-maki is believed to bring good fortune if eaten while facing the year’s eho.

While you eat Eho-maki, you must be silent, look in the year’s good luck direction (south-southeast in 2018), and make a wish.
Eho-maki usually have seven ingredients such as cucumber, sweet omelet, shiitake mushroom and eel after the Seven Deities of Good Luck.
Eho-maki are about 8-10cm long and should not be cut because they reflect the idea of forming good relationships.

Why not try our traditional dishes during your staying?

(Hisako)

Tour Report of Feb.3, 2018 (THE EAST GARDEN OF THE IMPERIAL PALACE)

Today we welcomed guests from Australia, Canada, Israel, New Zealand, UK, and US.

Despite the cold weather outdoors, we were able to join the sun and the nice chill air during the 2 hour walk.

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Feb.3 is “Setsubun” the day before the beginning of spring.
On this day, many homes would have an event called “bean throwing” ceremony which goes back to 1500s.

People would throw roasted beans or grains inside and outside their houses, also at family members wearing a demon mask. While throwing the beans, they would chant, “Demons out, happiness in! ” to drive away evil and bring in good luck. Later after beans are collected from the floor, people would eat the same number of the beans as their age and wish for a disease/disaster- free year.

Demons represent evil spirits, or inner invisible negative vibes.
Roasted beans represent the tool to drive away the evil, as it was once believed that grains and soybeans have the power to do so. Beans are roasted in order to confine the evil spirits into each bean.

As a soylover, I would buy a pack of roasted soybeans at this time of the year. Although I try to keep the number of beans the same as my age, I end up eating the entire package….

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Looking for something cultural to do in Tokyo?
Please be the next to join the friendly guides on Tokyo Free Walking Tour.
Every Saturday (13:00 – 15:00)

Report by Asako

Tour Report on January 28, 2018 in Asakusa

Thank you for joining our tour in Asakusa on January 28. We had seven guests from Singapore,Chile,America and China. It was cloudy and cold, but nevertheless I hope all of you enjoyed the atmosphere of old Tokyo.

February 3 is Setsubun,literally splitting the season when Mamemaki or bean-throwing festival is held at Sensoji Temple. It is the day before the first day of spring. Actually it is New Year’s Eve according to the Old calendar system. On this day people throw beans to ward off demons and welcome good fortune.

(Photoes:The Asakusa Tourism Federation 365 ASAKUSA)
This tradition dates back over 1,000 years. In Japan it is believed from ancient times that demons come out in the changing of the seasons. Hence, there were year-end ceremonies to cleanse away all the evils and diseses of the previous year prior to the new year at the Imperial Court in Kyoto during the Heian period. Then this event developed into bean-throwing ritual since beans were believed to have the power to dispel evil spirits.
Bean-throwing festival is not a national holiday but a major event in February throughout the country. It is held at home but many people gather at temples and shrines. People shout ‘Demons out ! Fortune in!’ but here at Sensoji Temple just ‘Fortune in!’because there is no demon around its Buddhist deity. A number of the invited celebrities such as kabuki actors and comedians join the ceremony and throw roasted beans to the crowd. People get crazy to catch the beans with bags. In order to get ‘Fortune in’, they have to catch sufficient beans so that they can eat as many as their age.

(Photoes:The Asakusa Tourism Federation 365 ASAKUSA)
The reason for roasting beans is to prevent any of the thrown beans from sprouting which is considered bad luck. In some areas peanuts are thrown in stead of beans, because they are cleaner and easier to be picked up. Also some people eat a long sushi role,ehomaki while facing the lucky direction of the year.
Sensoji is the first temple to hold this event in a large scale in Edo, the former name of Tokyo and approximately 100,000 people appear at the annual festival. If you happen to be in Tokyo or Asakusa on February 3 in the afternoon, it will be an interesting experience for you to watch the exciting event at Sensoji Temple.

(posted by Yoshi)

TOUR REPORT ON 27-JANUARY, 2018, THE EAST GARDEN OF THE IMPERIAL PALACE

We explored the East Garden of the Imperial Palace with 17 guests from Australia, Philippine, Portugal, Brazil, Russia, UK, Spain, Belgium, China, Chile, and the USA. The start point is the Tokyo Station. The traditional western style red brick building is so impressive.

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We walk through the Marunouchi district. It is the core of the Japanese business center. Then we approach to the Imperial Palace East Garden.

The palace is the former Edo Castle, which was the headquarters of the Samurai’s military government in the 17-19 century. The castle was also the residence of the Shogun, the top commander general of the government. You can enjoy not only beautiful sceneries but also learn about Japanese history and tradition.

Our guests asked many questions to us.
What is the difference between a Samurai and a Ninja?
How many wives did the Shogun have?
Was the Ohoku in the Shogun’s palace like a harem?
Why there were many fire disasters in the old Tokyo?
When was the year the Samurai government was finished?
Is there a noble class other than the royal family and the commoners?
Very interesting questions!

Last week, we had snowfall in Tokyo. The snow depth was 23cm. Snowscape would be observed only once or twice a year in Tokyo. We were lucky to see the imperial palace garden and snow. The silent snow covered Ninomaru garden and forest gives us the peaceful mind.
Japan has clear four seasons. Each has a unique charm. The beauty of winter attracts many tourists. We recommend visiting Hokkaido, Kanazawa or Takayama to enjoy the beautiful snow covered world. One more idea is to go to the snow resort such as Niseko and Hakuba.

At the end of the tour, we offered Kimono photo taking service. Everybody looks so nice. Thank you for coming to our tour. Have a nice trip!

Posted by Masa Ito

TOUR REPORT ON 20-JANUARY, 2018, THE EAST GARDEN OF THE IMPERIAL PALACE

 

We thank all our guests who joined our East Garden of Imperial Palace tour on Jan.20th.

We welcomed 17 guests from Australia, Canada, Denmark, Taiwan and USA, including an 11-months baby boy. We hope you enjoyed experiencing the Edo period adventure with us.

It was a little bit cold but it was a good day to walk around the garden (former Edo castle). Even in the middle of the winter, we enjoyed watching the nature around the Edo castle. The moat is a good place for various kinds of birds, such as spot‐billed ducks, swans and so on, to inhabit. If you will have the opportunity to join our tour, make sure to look for these adorable creatures!

Like in the previous tour report, the flowers of the plum in the Imperial garden are in bloom one by one. Actually, during the earlier times, plum blossom viewing was more popular than cherry blossom viewing. Japanese people had different culture in the Nara period (8th Century). They used Japanese words “花 (flower)” in waka (a traditional Japanese poem of thirty-one syllables) to mean Japanese plum flower. There are 118 pieces of waka talking about plum, compare to 42 pieces of cherry.

One of the famous high-ranking government officer, Michizane Sugawara was very fond of ume ( Japanese plum ) trees and composed a waka for the tree in his garden : ” Kochi fukaba nioi okoseyo ume-no-hana aruji nashi tote haruna wasureso ” ( Whenever the east wind blows , my dear plum blossoms remember spring , even if your master won ‘t be here ) .

Honestly, I prefer plum blossom than cherry, because of its dignified strength. It blooms in cold winter. Its flowers are small and modest, but it has good fragrance. I wish I could be like a plum flower.——-What about you?

By Setsuko.I