Unlike most other trees, the Ginkgo or Ichou in Japanese, has individuals of the two sexes, males and females. Only the female produces fruits which are renown for their unpleasant smell. This peculiar tree is commonly seen in Japan. In fact, the leaf of the Ginkgo tree is the emblem of the University of Tokyo, the most recognized university in Japan. It is thus not surprising to find a street lined with large Ginkgo trees near the Jingu Gaien garden in Tokyo. In fall, this street hosts the Ginkgo festival when thousands of visitors come to enjoy the sight of the Ginkgo leaves turning to a bright yellow color.
Sugamo is a neighborhood renowned for its main shopping street, named Jizo Dori, which some refer to as the Harajuku of elderly people. The most famous store of Sugamo specializes in red clothes. It is actually a Japanese tradition to offer a piece of red clothing to someone who turns 60 years old. The district is also home to the Koganji where pouring water over a special statue of Buddha can cure your ailments.
The Kiyosumi Teien garden is designated as a site of scenic beauty. Troughout its long history, the garden was the home of important political figures and wealthy merchants. For example, it once belonged to Mitsubishi’s founder and was used for the enjoyment of his employees and guests. The garden is now open to the public. Kiyosumi garden is built around a pond and features many stepping stones that allow visitors to get closer to the water. Beware of the Suppon, the Japanese soft shelled turtle that won’t hesitate to bite your fingers. They are actually strict carnivores!
The Tamagawa Sengen Shrine is located on a small hill close to Tamagawa station. The shrine features a large observation deck overlooking the Tamagawa river so it a great place to have an overview of the region. One of the shrine’s altar has a large stone sphere that reminded me of the Dragon Ball manga, something I have seen only at the Tamagawa shrine.
Rikugi-en is a famed Japanese garden located in the Northwestern sector of Tokyo. Like many Japanese gardens, the park features a pond surrounded by small hills and beautiful vegetation. We visited the park after a rare snowstorm that affected the area of Tokyo so we witnessed the garden in a very unusual and beautiful snow-covered state. As a relief to the cold, we got to enjoy a warm tea while basking in the sun at the lakeside teahouse.
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.
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.
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.