Tour Reports

Collecting goshuin in ASAKUSA(November 11)

Thank you for choosing our tour in Asakusa on November 11. We welcomed 12 people from U.S.A., Australia New Zealand and Switzerland.

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The weather was sunny and very comfortable. It has become more and more like autumn. I hope all the guests enjoyed walking with us.

It may be part of fun of travel for you to collect stamps when you visit temples or shrines. The red ink seal is called ‘Goshuin’ which is given to the worshipers at a temple or shrine.

 

Goshuin is obtainable at Yougoudo Hall located in the west of the Main Hall of Sensoji Temple. Yougoudo provides two types of goshuin as shown above photo. You are able to choose either or both. Each stamp costs about 300 to 500 yen. But first, you need a stamp book(Goshuin cho). This is different from a tourist stamp which is offered in most tourist destinations. Stamp books are available at temples, shrines or stationery stores. It cost about 1,000 to 1,500 yen. The stamp book consists of an accordion structure of 20 to 30 papers with a hardcover.

Goshuin used to be granted to the people who donated shakyo or a handwritten copy of the Buddhist sutra to the temple. Shakyo is considered an expression of piety and recognized as a devotional practice. However, the procedures have been simplified and visitors may get a stamp with a monetary offering as the proof or memory of their visit after worshiping.

Nowadays, however, some people rush into the notable temples or shrines just to buy it even without worshiping. Goshuin is sacred and not to buy a seal but to receive it with thanks. In Japan there are about 160,000 shrines and temples and many of them have goshuin for visitors. However, some major temples such as Higashi Honganji and Nishi Hongwanji in Kyoto have no goshuin.

Goshuin may become an unforgettable memory of visiting place and be a good souvenir for just yourself. Finding good handwritten calligraphy, you may be able to enjoy seeing the beautiful Chinese character. In addition, stamp books decorated and covered with various design are also attractive. It may be a good idea for you to start collecting goshuin at Sensoji Temple and deepen your knowledge of Japan.

 

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

(posted by Kuma)

Tour Report on November 6th

IMG_6435.JPGA  GOOD  DAY  IN  THE EAST   GARDEN  OF  THE  IMPERIAL PALACE

 

Thank  you  for  joining  our  tour  visiting  the  East  Garden  of  the  Imperial  Palace on  November  6th.  We  welcomed  9 people  from Germany, Argentina, Italy and  Singapore.

In  this  season,  leaves  of  Tokyo  area  begin  to  color  to  yellow  and  red.  Scenery  of  these  colored  trees  matches  modern  buildings  and   remains  of  old  castle  (stone  wall  and  moat  etc)  very  well.

We   could  enjoy   these  harmonized  scenery  in  spite  of  unexpected   rain  (in  the  latter  half  of  this  tour)   which  is   not  as  usual  in  Japanese  autumn.

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Every  time  it  is  a  great   pleasure  for  us   to  welcome   foreign   guests,  and  guide  this  tour.     This    time   especially   our   guests   cheered  us  although   we  were  sorry  to  have  guided  them  in  the  rain  in  the  latter   half.     We  could  spend  joyful  time  having  been  with  our  gusts.    We   appreciate   again,  and   hope  all  of   our  guests  will   have  wonderful  memories.

(posted  by  Shino.)

The Chrysanthemum and Meiji Jingu & Harajuku Tour, 4 November 2018

Many thanks to people who participated in the tour. On that day we welcomed 17 guests from US, Philippines, Indonesia, Australia, Belgium, and Venezuela. We divided into 3 groups. It was a very mild day although slightly rained later in the morning.

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There was a special event on the Meiji Jingu Shrine that pleased our guests. Exhibition of the chrysanthemum.

Beautiful chrysanthemum flowers shown on the corridor and inside the main pavilion square attracted so many visitors there. Each one was well-taken care of by planters who pride themselves with their artistic forming of the flowers. We call the flowers, Kiku. What is significant of the chrysanthemum is the flowers are Japan’s national flower. You might think cherry blossom is the one but it is only seen in spring. But chrysanthemum is what you see all year around.

Chrysanthemum is used as emblem for the imperial family as you see on the top of Torii gate of the shrine.

It is also known to be a symbol of Japanese aestheticism which was described in renowned classic cultural anthropology book titled “The Chrysanthemum and the sword” on which the author, Ruth Benedict described as “a nation with a popular cult of aestheticism which gives high honor to actors and to artists and lavishes art upon the cultivation of chrysanthemum” in contrast with Samurai’s sword.

When someone dies, people bring chrysanthemums to funerals or graves to offer condolence. The chrysanthemums are most familiar flowers in our daily life.

When you see chrysanthemum somewhere, please remember Japanese way of art and life.

(Masa)

 

A MEMORABLE DAY IN THE EAST GARDEN OF THE IMPERIAL PALACE

Thank you for joining our tour visiting the East Gardens of the Imperial Palace on November 3rd. We welcomed 23 people from U.S.A., Canada, Philippines, UK, Italy and Australia.

We could enjoy clear blue autumn sky with comfortable temperature. This autumn is a little bit warmer than usual and it should enable us to enjoy autumn yellow leaves longer.

The day was a National Holiday named “Bunka-no-Hi”, which translates as “Culture Day” today. Originally, the day was the birthday of Emperor “Meiji”, Great-grandfather of current Emperor. The event on this “Culture Day” is to award this year’s “Order of Cultural Merit” by the Emperor. The ceremony was held at Imperial Palace inviting five recipients of this year, who contributed a lot to Japanese culture, probably during the time we were strolling around East Garden!!

This ceremony has become the final one provided by current Emperor, because he will retire at the end of next April. Therefore, the ceremony should have been more impressive for the recipients than usual.

Anyway, every time, it is a great pleasure for us to guide this tour, and enjoy conversation with guests including a lot of questions and answers. We really hope all of guests enjoyed the tour and remember wonderful memories.
(posted by Masao)

TFWT experiences a 4 Days voluntary workforce at the Imperial Palace (Oct.23-26)

Dreams come true.
Tokyo Free Walking Tour(TFWT) won a lottery to take part in the Imperial voluntary workforce from October 23 to 26. Finally, 18 guides of us could participate in this volunteer service.

This workforce is run by the Imperial Household Agency and citizen aged from 15 to 75 years old are able to apply by groups. (only by groups, not by individuals)
It has a high reputation for mostly two reasons and countless groups come from all over our Japan to take part in this workforce.

(1) Their Majesties the Imperor and Impress sincerely makes time to meet people as far as they are available.(Even Their Magesties are quite busy, they continue their greetings.)
(2) During the workforce term, to complete the work, you may be allowed to enter some restricted area which are usually not open to public.

So as other groups, TFWT eagered to take part in the volunteer.
The volunteer first started at 1947 by young volunteers to help cleaning up the devastated area burnt down by World War II in 1947. Since then, Emperor Hirohito(current Emperor Akihito’s father) and his consort, Empress Koujun started meeting people and the custom been taken until today.

For this past year, Their Majesties the Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko has met a total of approximately 11,500 persons on 70 occasions to thank them for their services. This is not counted in their official duties.(this includes
voluntary helpers at the Palace Sanctuary who serve at the ritual ceremonies)

And for this week, more than 350 people united by 15 groups came to this place to volunteer.  It was a big pleasure for us to join the workforce to do any labor inside the Imperial palace.

The schedule for us was as below.
・Day 1 – 3 work at Imperial palace (weeding the grass, sweeping off the sidewalk)
・Day 4 work at Akasaka Detached Palace (weeding the grass and weeding summer  plants)
Nowadays, the concept of this workforce is as“ the power and energy to protect the beautiful Imperial palace by sincere people ”

During the term, we were given an opportunity to meet Their Magesties the Imperor and Impress on the third day(Oct.25), and to greet Their Imperial Highnesses the Crown Prince(Narihito) on the next day(Oct.26).
Needless to say, it was a fascinating and unforgettable moment for us.
They carefully listened to people’s words, asked some questions to the group leaders, sometimes even being very frank. Some groups came from Hokkaido or Yamaguchi-prefecuture, so Their Majesties asked them if those people were involved or affected in the recent earthquake or heavy rain.
From this, we were taught how Their Majesties always care about people.
Their sincere attitude just struck our mind.
Soon we could recognized why Their majesties are so loved by people.

On the same third day,
a friendly guide from the Imperial Household Agency took us to the East Garden of Imperial palace before our worktime. Although it was the place which we are quite familiar with, it was such a relief to have being guided with new topics!


The last day, our working place changed to the Akasaka Detached Palace.
Akasaka Detached Palace is the residence area where other 4 royal families live
including the Their Imperial Highnesses the Crown Prince and Crown Princess.
(The red star area in below picture is Akasaka Detached Palace. The yellow star shows the Imperial palace area)
Recently, it has been announced that Their Majesties the Imperor and Impress would move to the Akasaka Palace after their abdication. Akasaka  Palace is also famous for its fabulous Japanese garden.
2 times a year, in spring and autumn, a garden party which accomodates 2,000 guests is held at this place. This year it is Nov.9,  So the gardeners were busy at preparing and we were happy to help them by weeding the grass where Imperor supposed to walk.

To say, this program was far above our expectation.
Although the opportunity to meet Their Magesties was needless to say,
feeling the hosted mind of the great guides, talking with friendly elder people in other groups, enjoying the workforce with our good teammates,
recognizing the solemn sanctuary and grand nature of the Imperial palace…every moment was so fascinating and every memory is a such a treasure.

We feel more and more adorable for the Imperial Palace now and
cannot stop thinking that it is such an honor for all of us to have this historical and royal area in the middle of Tokyo.

(Note:During the workforce, taking photos were not allowed. Therefore, group photos were taken before and after the labor . Together with this, the photos posted here were taken on another day as a visitor to the East Garden of the Imperial Palace.)

(posted by Nori)

 

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)