Tour Reports

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 rout.
—– 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 that of western style archery.
In addition to that, the shooters are also wearing special uniforms 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 admires 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 of 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 wright 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 proof, this is definitely true.
For this morning(June 9th), we welcomed guests from Israel, Indonesia, India and the 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 course…

This day, their Majesties the Imperor Akihito and Impress Michiko were to embark from this Tokyo station to attend the National Arbor Day held in Fukushima . We could bump into that situation when we were waiting for our guests at Tokyo station. As we usually see on broadcast, their Magesties were waving and smiling to the audience while their car slipped into the station,  next they greeted the stationmaster and finally gave us a friendly wave and smile again  on 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 otten to Tohoku  to learn about the present situation of the devasted district in details of the disaster stricken-area
(by the earthquake and tsunami 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 and pass the crown to the Highness Prince next spring.

Even at the East gardens of the Imperial Palace, you could see and feel many
hostage of Their Magesties. They would like to welcome the visitors from their heart so manypart 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.(mixtured with Indonesian carps).
Please come to 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 have 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 love 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 came to  this platform 10 times at the most a year. However, due to the congested train schedule it became difficult for the Imperial train to use. 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)

Report on 29 May 2018, Weekday Morning tour to The East Garden of the Imperial Palace

Many thanks to 18 guests who joined the tour from USA, Canada, Australia, Columbia, Vietnam, Portugal, and Germany. We divided into 4 groups.

It was hot and humid morning as May is known to be beginning of summer season. In the East Garden, irises blossomed beautifully. Our guests enjoyed viewing the irises. The pond contains collection of various species of irises. That is treasure of the garden.

Now is early summer in Tokyo, but in southernmost prefecture of Japan, Okinawa is already in mid-summer. I traveled to Okinawa, a few days before this tour. There beautiful flowers such as hibiscus bloomed. But not just flowers but corals were beautiful to look at.

I joined boat tours to view corals in Oura Bay and adjoining Henoko coast. There I could view the world’s largest blue coral which has existed and continued to grow for 3000 years, and 300 year old stony corals.

The tour was more like environmental study than sight-seeing because these are near ongoing landfill construction site for runways. It is concerned that the runways would change water current and eventually threaten lives of these corals. If corals die, tropical fish that inhabit in corals would disappear, so whole ecosystem would be adversely affected.

There is a civil movement in Okinawa to cancel the construction project. The tour was actually funded by citizens’ donation. Majority of Okinawa locals and the governor of Okinawa are opposed to construction of runways.

The flowers and corals are greatest creatures on earth. Different colors and forms delight us. That is the bio-diversity we have to appreciate and save.

Speaking of diversity, our tour welcomes most diverse collection of people in the world. That is why we are so happy to guide. Because we are so different and beautiful, it is so wonderful to communicate among one another.

Diversity includes gender, nationality, race, ethnicity, language, culture, religion, sexual orientation and gender identity. As for last two kinds, Tokyo held rainbow pride event and parade in early May.

Tokyo Governor Ms. Koike announced support for LGBT in the opening of the event. Our tour has already welcomed LGBT guests many times. We are friendly to anyone. That is our pride!

Why not join us to enjoy and appreciate this diversity!

(Masa)

TOUR REPORT ON MAY 27 IN ASAKUSA AREA

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Thank you for joining our Tokyo Free Walking Tour.
On the day of our two-guided tours, 27th of May, with clear sunny skies, we welcomed 17 guests from Germany, U.S.A. Australia and Argentina.
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As usual, after greeting everyone and introducing ourselves, we made our tour in Asakusa for 90 minutes.
Starting at the red painted gate, called Thunder Gate, we proceeded to the busy shopping street, Nakamise Street.

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Nakamise Street is the entrance to the main hall of Asakusa Buddhist Temple, which is the oldest temple in Tokyo.
It is 250 meters long and has around 90 shopping booths along its both sides.
Most of these small shops sell traditional Japanese items that serve as souvenirs like kimono, chopsticks, accessories and old toys.

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Like the Sensoji temple, this strip of road also has a rich history. The Nakamise shopping area is the forerunner of commercial streets that are now common in Japan.
It has sustained its prosperous business for 400 years, ever since trading have started in this area, in the 17th century.
Nowadays, this historical business-centered street strives to welcome flocks of foreign visitors to Tokyo, and their shopping needs.
Speaking of business in Japan, a traditional fabric called Noren can represent a business establishment’s state. In this area of Asakusa, various types of Noren will come into your sight. Watch out for different colors and symbols that you can see in these fabrics.

What is Noren?
Noren is a Japanese traditional fabric divider, which are pieces of curtain-like rectangular cloth, and it comes in different colors.
These Noren can usually be seen hanging over entrances of Japanese stores, restaurants, and other establishments.


These cloths have a strategically placed slits, cut from the bottom up to a quarter way to the top, to allow visitors to easily pass through the entrance into the building.
Normally, the shops’ name or logo is printed on the hanging cloth in order to warmly welcome customers and to announce the shop’s presence.
Aside from that, they also have an important role to represent a shop’s goodwill and credit.
Therefore, these traditional hangings are used to describe how businesses are being managed.
For instance, opening a new store can be described or is said to be as “hanging the Noren“.
In addition to that “dividing the Noren” is often said if a store opens a new branch.
Moreover, losing the customer’s trust due to a scandal or through a bad reputation is called “damaging the Noren“.
Nowadays, there are many Japanese businesses and enterprises that are facing a lot of challenging situations, in order to meet their customers’ demands and keep them satisfied. That is why their respective managements intensively provide good services to their valued customers. This is to keep their good reputation and to avoid damaging their Noren.
Anyway, go through the Noren and enjoy your purchase and traditional Japanese dining experience.

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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. (regular tour)
2nd from 1:00 p.m. to 2:30 p.m. (trial tour)
Please come and join us at your earliest convenience.

(By Arac)

TOUR REPORT ON MAY 26th(SATURDAY), 2018(afternoon tour)EAST GARDENS of THE IMPERIAL PALACE

Thank you very much for joining our tour on May 26.


We welcomed 21 guests from Argentina, US, UK, Malaysia, Philippines, France, Canada, Bulgaria and Australia.
All of us enjoyed strolling in some groups in the East Gardens.

The last guide point of our tour is Ninomaru Garden which is a part of  East Gardens. .
In Tokugawa Shogunate time, this area used to be the second palace compound of Edo Castle  where Shogun`s family lived.IMG_9348

Prior to the opening of  East Gardens of the Imperial Palace in 1968, only the garden of the second palace was reconstructed at the same place as the original (Edo period) garden referring to a diagram of the mid of 18th century.
This Ninomaru Garden has a traditional Japanese garden style, so-called “a circuit style garden with central pond “ which highlights the natural landscape.
Rocks, small hills, waterfalls and a wide variety of flowers and trees are arranged around a central pond.
It shows different faces according to the season.
From  late May to  early June, Japanese irises (Sward leaved irises) are in full bloom.

84 kinds of irises are planted in the field in front of the pond.

They are very elegant and lovely now!!

If you are in Tokyo, why not come and join us?
Please visit our Website to check the latest tour schedule.
We are very much looking forward to seeing you!!

(Posted by H.N)