Tohoku Sandai Matsuri

The Tohoku region is located north from the Kanto region. There is a very unique week called the Sandai Matsuri where you have the chance to participate or watch the three greatest festivals in this region in 3 different prefectures. I want to briefly introduce those festivals and the prefectures in this post, since for me it was well worth it and the time spend has been used very effectively.

 

Akita

Akita is a prefecture in the northern region of the Tohoku area and is famous for the Akita Shiba Inus. My itinery for visiting Akita can be found in my diary.

Akita City

Kakunodate

Kakunodate is famous for being a Samurai town since it still has originally preserved houses which were lucky enough to be not destroyed through natural catastrophies or the World War II. You can enter some houses for a small fee and there is even one where a guide explains the facilities of such a samurai home.

Lake Tazawa

The lake Tazawa is actually the deepest lake in Japan. Besides the beautiful blue water and tranquil surrounding there are also 2 sightseeing spots which you can reach by boat. Namely the Gozanoshi Shrine in the north and the Tatsuko statue in the west. The legend around the statue goes like this:
There was once a beautiful woman, but because she knew her beauty doesn’t last forever she prayed to the Buddhist goddess Kanon day and night to preserve her beauty eternally. After the 100th night she received a message to find a sacred spring and take a sip from it. She travelled mountain after mountain and eventually found the spring and did as the goddess told her. However she felt an immense thirst and kept drinking until she realized she transformed into a large dragon. The mountain around here collapsed  and a deep lake was formed – which is today’s Lake Tazawa. (trip101.com, authentic-visit.jp, Accessed: 21.10.2019)

Kanto Festival

At the Kanto festival people show off their skills in balancing a huge stick equipped with lanterns on either their forehead, hip or palm. Lifting up the heavy poles is said to drive away evil spirits and helps in praying for good harvest(japan.travel, Accessed: 22.10.219).

 


Aomori

Aomori is the most northern prefecture of the Tohoku region and is actually famous for its apples. My itinery for Aomori can be found here.

Hirosaki

Hirosaki is a city in the Aomori prefecture. It is home to the Hirosaki castle which is said to be the oldest still standing castle which was not destroyed by natural catastrophies, World War II or the Meiji Restoration period.

Aomori City

Aomori City is the biggest city in the Aomori prefecture and is the most northern city on mainland Japan.

Oirase Gorge

While you are in Aomori you could also check out the Oirase Gorge a stream which is around 13kms  long and starts from the lake Towada. You can hike along the stream on a hiking path which is very well maintained and lets you pass through several waterfalls.

Nebuta Festival

There are a lot of stories how the Nebuta festival originated. According to one legend, once a general used big lanterns and made people dance and produce noise to distract the enemy. In the early days, the Nebutas have been made by people of different towns however nowadays they are mostly made by bigger businesses and organizations.   (wiki, en-aomori.com, Accessed: 22.10.2019). The parade is divided in several smaller groups. Each group has leading drummers followed by a pack of people who dance and make noise. Behind them a big cart having the lantern is being pulled / pushed by around 10 people. The Nebuta on the big carts mostly depict historic sceneries or old myths.

 


Sendai

Sendai is the biggest city in the Tohoku region and is located on thes West side in the Miyagi prefecture. Sadly i couldn’t stay here for much longer. My corresponding diary entry can be found here.

View from the AER building

Tanabata Festival

The Tanabata festival is not a Sendai specific festival but is mostly held all over Japan around the 07th July (because of different calenders and moon settings in some cities it is held on the 07th August as in the case of Sendai). The legend around the star festival goes like this:
There once was a gifted weaver, named Orihime, who was very deligent in her work but also sad since she was occupied by her work she couldn’t find true love. Her father, Heaven’s emperor, was worried and arranged a meeting with Hikoboshi – a cow herder. It was love at first sight, however backfired immensiely since both lovers neglected their duties. In response to this Heaven’s emperor got angry and seperated those two lovers by the river in heaven. Orihime having no chance to see her lover again began again to weave all day. Seeing that the Heaven’s emperor changed his mind and allowed those two to meet each other, however only once a year on the 7th day of the 7th month ( as 7 being a lucky number).
This story translates into two stars – Altair and Vega – which according to the legend are seperated by the milky way and only meet once every year. At the festival people would write their wishes and hang them on a bamboo tree. Additionally streamers would be floating all around the fetival area. The long streamers representing the weaver’s threads and the decoration on the outside called “amakazari” represent a fisherman’s full net. (nippon.com, japansociety.org, Accessed: 23.10.219)

Fushimi Inari

If you wander around Japan for a while you will realize that there are a lot of smaller shrines which portrait a fox statue with a red cape. These are Inari shrines and there are around 30000 of them with the Fushimi Inari as the head shrine (inari.jp, accessed: 14.10.2019).

My Trip:

The nearest station would be the Inari station. The mountain area is freely accessible without any opening hours. You can try to get there as early as 5 am to enjoy a quite hike until the first tourists arrive. When i took the pictures presented below i arrived at the mountain at 05:45 am and already encountered at least 10 other early access hikers.
The hike of the 233 m tall mountain is quite straight forward. After around 30 minutes I reached an intersection where a nice chilling morning view was presented to me. Since this observation spot is facing West i imagine this is also a nice and easy to access sunset viewing spot. It took me another 30 minutes to reach the top – passing through many many many Tori gates. On my way back i somehow made a wrong turn and ended up at the Araki Shrine. The hike was very pleasant and a nice morning activity however i believe it could get quite stressful at rush hour times since the width of the tori gates, which determine the throughput of people. is only wide enough for 2 lanes. And since this is a very desireable selfie spot bottlenecks will most likely emerge

Some background information:

The Fushimi Inari Shrine was first documented as early as in the 8th century belonging to a clan who originally came from Korea. 3 gods were enshrined here and were collectively called Inari. One of them was the goddess of agriculture which might be why today Inari is characterized as god of rice. Over the years the popularity of the Inari shrine spread out, first to other neighboring clans then by merchants of developing cities throughout Japan.
The depicted foxes are thought to be Inari’s messenger although the god of Inari is also believed to have the form of a white fox itself. The red cape is being added as it is believed to chase out evil demons.
People pray at an Inari shrine in hope of household wellbeing, business and general prosperity. The Tori gates along the trail are actually donations by people or companies and are inscribed at each gate. The costs starts at around 400000 Yen (3500 €) and can go up to over one million Yen. This might sound much but if you see your competitor having a Tori gate you want to improve your own luck as much as possible as well.

 

Araki Shrine:

additional sources:

https://www.japan-guide.com/e/e3915.html, accessed: 14.10.2019

https://www.univie.ac.at/rel_jap/an/Bauten/Bekannte_Schreine/Fushimi, accessed: 14.10.2019

Gotokoji Temple

The Manekin Neko – beckoning cat – has many different stories of origin. The most popular story takes place at the Gotokoji Temple. Here again there are differen versions but the story which the Gotokoji Temple itself tells goes like this:

A long time ago when the temple faced some financial problems, the monk told to his cat, whom he took care of despite the crisis, to go and bring some fortune. One summerday a group of sumurais came by and apperently they saw the cat waving – drawing their attention and making them decide to rest at the temple. Suddenly the sky began to darken and heavy rain and thunder fell down. As it appears one of the samurais was the king of Hikone and he attributed the cat’s beckoning as Buddha’s will. Soon after the king returned home he donated fortunes to the temple – because of the beckoning of the cat.

Today the Manekin Neko can be seen in a lot of shop entrances in hope to lure customers in and bring good luck and fortune. The middle sized temple area does look like any ordinary temple except for one small area rright after the main entrance gate turning left. There you can find hundreds of beckoning cats, some of them are inscribed probably by people who returned the cat because their fortune has been fullfilled.

Asakusa

After the Meiji Restoration in 1868, Asakusa grew as an entertainment district. However after the World War II it lost it’s popularity as such never to be able to regain its status again. Nonetheless today it is still one of the most frequently visited touristic spots in Tokyo.

Sensoji Temple

Founded in the year 628 it was later rebuild and strengthened with steel pillars after its destruction in the second World War (gotokyo.org, accessed: 06.10.2019). Today it is a very popular place for tourists thus offering a lot of touristic souvenirs as well. The strong red color looks even more amazing by night.

 

Kappabashidogugai street / Kappabashi area

If you are still looking for authentic japanese souvenirs you might find something here. As i heard this area used to be an area of craftsmen selling pottery and kitchenware. Today there are around 30 shops along this street which sell handmade knives and potteries such as bowls and tea cups. I had serious problems to find a tea can called banko Yaki and found one in one of these shops. Interestingly enough there are also some shops which sell plastic food for displaying purposes.

Asakusa Culture Touristic Information Center

The information center is located just on the opposite side of the Kaminarimon – the first gate to the Senso-Ji temple. You can actually go to the 6th floor by elevator to get an overview of the northern parts of Asakusa.

Sanja matsuri

The Sanja Matsuri is one of the bigger festivals held in Tokyo and includes the transportation of mikoshis (transportable small shrines) through the cities to the Senso-Ji temple. Some impressions can be found in my diary.

Other festivals

There are some other festivals held in or near Asakusa. For example there was a floating lantern event, where lanterns would be released on the Sumida river to welcome the summer. There was this Tanabata festival which was held at a street leading from Ueno to Asakusa. The oldest and biggest firework in Tokyo is also held in Asakusa at the Sumida river. This year, in 2019, over 1 million people actually came to see the firework.

Ueno

Ueno is a district in the Taito ward and the area where i used to live during my exchange semester. Since it has one of the most important train stations, a small shopping area, an extensive park with a pond and a Don Quixote and Yodobashi you could just stay in this area without the need to go to any other district.

Shinobazu Pond

Taking a look at google maps let’s me believe that the Shinobazu pond is the only bigger freely and easily accessible pond in Tokyo. In the evening it has a beautiful calm vibe to it. There is a small building where smaller concerts are held every some fridays and a temple is located on a man made island in the middle of the pond. On the northern side there are some sort of equipment provided for body weight exercises and it is in general a good place to take a walk or to go jogging. Cherry trees surround the pond and thus the pond looks even more amazing durirng Sakura season.

 

Ueno Station

The Ueno station offers access to a lot of important train lines such as the Shinkansen or the Yamanote line which is a circular line throughout Tokyo. There are several retail stores located such as Yodobashi and Loft near the station as well as some Karaoke bars.

 

Ueno market

Ueno Market is probably not the official name but let’s just call it that way. There are some shopping like streets right near the Ueno station. The streets reminds me a bit of Vietnamese markets where you have a narrow alley with shops left and right. People are shouting and advertising their products such as fresh seafood, cloths or snacks. More bars and restaurants are located further down south east.

 

Ueno Park

The Ueno Park is quite big and consists of a main wide road surrounded by Sakura trees and leading to the National Museum.

Within the Park are again some distinctive sights worth mentioning:

Ueno Toshogu

A shrine built in 1627 dedicated to the first emperor who united Japan – Tokugawa Ieyasu. Beyond a certain point there is an admission fee of 500 Yen. There is an interesting monument in the shrine area which you can easily overlook if you don’t pay enough attention. It is called the flame of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. A greatly summarized version of the story goes like this: Tatsuo Yamamoto while in search after his uncle in Hiroshima, found a flame of the atomic bomb still burining in the ruins and decided to bring it back to his hometown as a memento and an expression of resentment. The meaning of the flame changed throughout the years and it became a symbol of abolishing nuclear weapons for peace. The flame has been merged with another flame found in Nagasaki and is now kept burning at this shrine to remind people of the danger of nuclear weapons and the need to abolish them.

National Museum

The national museum is located on the northern side of Ueno park and harbors cultural artifacts and paintings/prints of Japan’s history. The exposition of the regular ticket is quite extensive spanning over 2 buildings so if you want to give it a visit you should plan for at least half a day .

 

Kiyomizu Kanon do

Ueno park was formerly a temple complex however when the Tokugawa reign ended it was opened up as the first public park in Tokyo. Today there is only the Kiyomizu Kanon Do left (which is supposed to be a copy of the Kiyomizu dera in Kyoto ). It enshrines Kosodate Kanon a protectress of child bearing and child raising which is probably why it is especially popular among woman hoping to conceive. It is said to be one of the oldest survivng temples in Tokyo (source: old-tokyo.info, uncover.travel, accessed: 06.10.219).

 

Hanazoni Inari Shrine

“this Inari shrine—a shrine dedicated to Inari, the androgynous god of fertility and worldly success—is a favorite place for businessmen to pray for successful ventures.” – wikipedia, accessed 06.10.2019

 

 

Diary: Tokaido Trail

The Tokaido trail is a historic path connecting Kyoto and Tokyo along the coastline. It consist of 53 stations and was one of the viable routes for Samurais and merchants in the Edo period. However since it crosses a lot of rivers it was not considered to be very safe. Noble people would consider the Nakasendo which goes through the mountain-ish inland (see more and here). Today it is said to be a more easier trail since it doesn’t have a high altitude difference and bridges are well established. There is even a Shinkensen line called the Tokaido line along that path.

How did i decided to do this trail?

So truth be told when i prepared a presentation about Omiyage i just randomly read about the Tokaido trail and instantly thought to myself that i would do this. It sounds like an interesting challenge and a deeper dive into Japanese culture. I am very thrilled to walk the same path and maybe even see the same things as people in the past.

In this post i will document my daily hike:

Some final thoughts: Since this trip was my first actual longer hike i will list my lessons learned in this post. Some might be very obvious to more experienced hikers ...
Read More
Today was not really a spectacular and glory day for me and quite a anticlimactic to end this trip.  I woke up to a measly weather. However the worst part ...
Read More
Today was a Zero day for me because i wanted to go on sightseeing one of the biggest city in Japan. My Hostel was located right in the center but ...
Read More
09:00 wake up I proceeded the morning with planning for the upcoming day and decided to go for Unagi for lunch since it is supposed to be quite fresh in ...
Read More
09:00 wake up 10:40 I left Iwata to go to Hamamatsu station by train and from there directly headed to the Hamamatsu castle. The Hamamatsu castle is quite special as ...
Read More
09:00 wake up I prepared myself and took the train from Shizuoka station to Shimada station. I therefore skipped the Tokaido stations: Mariko, Okabe, Fujieda. 12:30 arrived at the Horai ...
Read More
09:00 wake up At the Eiri juku side I only found this sign as a landmark but that should suffice. Today shall be my sightseeing day. I proceeded to walk ...
Read More
09:00 wake up I really lived far away from the Numazu station and since another interesting sight was on my way to the station I decided to give it a ...
Read More
08:00 wake up, the rain drops splashing on the window and the hauling of the wind don't really welcome to a new day so I snoozed till 9 to have ...
Read More
07:30 wake up but still very tired snoozed until 08:30 I forgot to mention that my hotel was near konomiya station in Sakawa 09:30 let's go... somehow, unfortunately there is ...
Read More
09:00 wake up, I really wanted to wake up earlier today but how to go around Hakone kept me awake up really late yesterday. 11:30 start at chigasaki 12:40 arriving ...
Read More
09:00 wake up 10:30 packing planing for next days breakfast Today I walked through Hodogaya, Totsuka and Fujisawa but because the cities are quite developed I didn't find any milestone ...
Read More
09:00 wake up at the Train Hostel somehow feeling really tired 10:30 breakfast and organizing hostels for upcoming days finished starting to go to the point zero - nihonbashi 10:57 ...
Read More
I am very happy that my former flatmates can still bear with me sitting in the kitchen, doing my chores and cooking stuff up. Today marks the actually last day ...
Read More

Sengokuji-temple

Entrance of the Sengokuji-temple

The Sengokuji temple is famous within the Buddhismn culture. For layman who are not too interested in Buddhismn though, it is still famous for a very unique story about the “47 Ronin”.

Summary from Wikipedia:

In 1701 there was a feudal lord named Asano who had to undergo etiquette training by Kira a high ranking imperial official. Because Asano didn’t provide as many  “presents” as repayment for Kira as expected, Kira was upset and did treat him with very little respect. Although at the beginning still bearing eventually Asano couldn’t hold it any longer and  attacked Kira. Unfortunately Asano failed his attempt and even worse it was an attempt on an imperial official on shogunate ground where drawing a Katana would even mean death. Now that the feudal lord died his goods and lands got confiscated and his people became Ronin (leaderless). He was then buried at the Sengakuji temple.

Out of the Ronin, 47 swore vengence. For Kira it was obvious that the samurai would avenge their master and he kept good track of them. Throughout the next 2 years the sworn brothers tried to hide their intention of revenge and worked towards their plan of killing Kira. In December 1702 under the leadership of Oishi they attacked Kira’s mansion making sure to only kill those who were willing to defend Kira. Ultimately they killed Kira beheaded him and went straight to the Sengakuji temple to present the head to their former master. As to be expected the ronin were sentenced to death but were given to freedom to commit honorable seppuku instead of being beheaded. Then their bodies have been buried next to the grave of their master.

Besides showing loyalty and honor there was a second side effect to their action. Many samurai who belonged to Asano  had troubles to find jobs because they have served under a disgraced family. After the revenge their names have been cleared and they could find better jobs.

Odaiba

A mini version of the statue of liberty

According to a local Japanese the islands of Odaiba were artificially build in the Edo Period (1850). Because the Americans wanted to go to China and needed a harbor they asked Japan for a port. At that time though, Japan was still a closed country and didn’t want to have any commercial agreement with any other country except for the Dutch people. The reason was because Japanese didn’t want Catholics into their country and since the Dutch were focused on merchandising only, they were allowed to enter Japan. Because it was foreseeable that the Americans would break through Japan, the island fort (“Daiba”) has been built and equipped with canons. However in the end the Americans still got easily through.  This can be partially verified with Wikipedia.

Today there are some very cool sights there to see and the beach of Odaiba is very chill. It also appears that it is a place where many festivals are held. In 2020 the Olympic participants will be reside at Odaiba.

My first checkpoint was the Miraikan Museum. The entrance fee was only 620 Yen and it is really worthwhile there. I stayed for 3.5 h and would say i could have stayed there for at least another hour. Although the museum tries to involve kids as well it is a science museum to begin with so that it might be boring for kids under 16 years old.

Some of the cool sights include a huge Gundam figure, which “transforms” at specific times. Although transforming would suggest too much – it only changes color and moves the horn part.

Another interesting sight is a mini version of the statue of liberty which was initially only erected to pay tribute to Japan’s tie with France in 1998-19991.

The rainbow bridge is also worth mentioning as well. You can pass the bridge in the afternoon by foot however i suggest you to not stay too long because many cars are driving right next to you. It is open to pedestrians till 9 pm (in summer) and offers a great night view.

The last thing on the list to be mentioned is the beach. Although you are not allowed to swim the beach offers a nice place to have a pick-nick or a silent spot under the night sky with an amazing view over Tokyo’s colorful lights.