Summer is the season of Japanese festivals, or Matsuri in Japanese. When visiting the neighbourhood of Okurayama in late summer, we were pleasantly surprised by the ongoing festivities of the Okurayama Matsuri. The local shrine’s Omikoshi (festival float) was being carried around in the streets by locals. In the evening, Yatai food stalls were lining up the street leading to the small local shrine. We ate choco bananas and got purified by a shinto priest at the shrine.
The National Art Center is among the largest art museums of Japan and features only temporary exhibits. At the time of my visit there were nice exhibitions about modern architecture and paintings. The architecture of the museum is very modern and the facade is completely covered with glass panels. Access to the atrium is free and visitors do not have to but tickets for the whole museum but only for the exhibitions that they wish to visit. This museum is a must for those interested in art as it features diverse collections, whether modern or classical, which change over time.
Many small restaurants serving Japanese delicacies such as Yakitori and Ramen line the small streets of Omoide Yokocho. It is a great place to enjoy simple but delicious Japanese food while drinking with friends in Shinjuku’s neighbourhood.
Yokohama Marine Tower was built in 1961, way before the impressive Landmark Tower, Yokohama’s current tallest building, came to existence. The tower is not that high with its 100 meters but nonetheless offers a great view of the waterfront of Yokohama. From its observatory, one can see many landmarks of Yokohama like Yamashita Park, the Hikawa Maru, Osanbashi Pier, the Akarenga, and Minatomirai. On the day of our visit we could feel the tower shaking a bit although winds were not that strong!
The Hamarikyu Garden is located near the Tokyo port area, in the luxurious financial district of Shiodome. Initially the villa of the Shogun Tokugaga, famous for duck hunting, it was remodelled as a park in the 40s. The Hamarikyu Garden contrasts heavily to the modern skyscrapers seen behind. Walking from the Shiodome station, one transitions from a futuristic display of luxury to a peaceful and unpretentious garden.
Yamashita park stretches along the waterfront of the port of Yokohama. Nearby attactions include the Yokohama Marine tower and the Hikawa Maru, an ocean liner now preserved as a museum. While taking a stroll in the park, make sure to pass by the beautiful rose garden.
The Katashina River flows rapidly down the Fukiwari-no-Taki wayerfalls. The fall which is about 30 meters wide, has an impressive drop of about 7 meters. Because of its impressive size, it is sometimes referred to as the Japanese Niagara falls after the famous waterfalls located in between Canada and United-States. Access is free and a path follows closely the river and falls. In fact, you can walk right next to the water so that you may take an unpleasant plunge of you are not careful but you get to admire the power of the river from up close!
Sumo is more than a sport. It is deeply rooted in tradition and spirituality. The life of a sumotori is strictly regulated. When in lower ranks, sumo wrestlers must be obedient to their seniors. Wrestlers live in stables, large living complexes that feature, sleeping, eating and training facilities. Several times a year, all wrestlers meet at the major tournaments.
I had the chance recently to attend a Sumo tournament held in Tokyo at the Kokugikan. Upon arriving at the Ryogoku station, one notices the Sumo wrestlers getting off the train and the large posters of sumo wrestlers in the station. The stadium itself, the Kokugikan, is quite peculiar. The seats are divided into two sections. The upper one consists of normal seats. The lower one has what is called a masu-seki. It is a flat space with cushions large enough to fit four people. The sumo stage is at the center, under what looks like the roof of a shrine hanging from the ceiling. The sumo ring is indeed a very sacred place. The ring itself is covered in sand and is encircled by a rope.
Sumo matches are very short. Most lasted a several seconds and rarely exceeded a minute. When the two wrestlers put their fists on the ring the bout starts. They accelerate rapidly towards each other and hit with a phenomenal force. From then on, wrestlers try to force their opponent out of the ring or to fall on the floor. Once the bout is over the sumo wrestlers withdraw and two new wrestlers come for the next match.
Sumo tickets are sold for a whole day of competition. The day starts with the lower ranks and ends with the best wrestlers. Between every division, a ceremonial cleaning of the ring is carried. Most spectators come to watch the upper divisions so it is generally quiet in the morning. Before the uppermost division, Yokozunas, the best wrestlers, performs a special ceremonial entrance.
The Asakusa Culture Tourist information center is located in front of the famed Sensoji temple. The center, which provides visitors with plenty of information on the neighbourhood, is quite popular thanks to the free observatory located on the upper floor. From above, one can see well the main hall of Sensoji as well as Tokyo Skytree and Asahi’s golden poo.
Tokyo tower was built in 1958 and is an iconic symbol of Tokyo. It measures 333 meters and has a look similar to Eiffel tower but with a red and white look. It is now surpassed in height by Sky Tree (634m) but offers a different perspective on the city that makes it entirely worth visiting. The observation deck offers a superb view of Tokyo’s city-scape. One can also see very well the Zojo-ji temple located nearby.