ultramarinus – beyond the sea

Japan: Tokyo 2017

DAY 5 (1/1): MEIJI JINGU (明治神宮), Harajuku (原宿), Tokyo, Japan, 2017.06.18

The sky was grey on our last day in Tokyo.  We decided to spend the morning at nearby Harajuku (原宿).  We moved our suitcase and backpack to the lockers in Shibuya Station (渋谷), and then took the JR Yamanote Line (山手線) one stop over to Harajuku.  Despite we had been to Harajuku a few times, we had never ventured beyond the shopping and entertainment areas.  This time, we decided to spend a peaceful morning at Meiji Jingu (明治神宮), the Shinto shrine dedicated to the deified spirits of Emperor Meiji and Empress Shoken, the insightful leader who modernized Japan at the end of the 19th century.  Built in 1920, the original shrine complex was destroyed during World War Two.  The shrine was rebuilt soon after the war.  We had seen photographs of the large and lovely torii gates at the forested path of Meiji Shrine.  It was interesting to see such massive and traditional wooden structures surrounded by mature trees at the heart of Tokyo, just a stone throw away from all the neon lights of youthful Takeshita Street (竹下通り) and fashionable Omotesandō (表参道).  While we were there, some buildings were under renovations for its 100th anniversary in 2020.  We took our time to walk around the compound, wrote down our wishes on an ema (wooden plate to hang at the shrine), and enjoyed a peaceful walk in the urban forest.

Before heading back to Shibuya for the Narita Express, we dropped by the roof garden of Tokyu Plaza for breakfast.  Most shops had yet opened their doors in Harajuku, and we had another quiet moment in an urban oasis.  By the time we returned to Shibuya to pick up our luggage, it finally started to rain.  The rain lasted for the entire afternoon.  It was still raining heavily when our plane took off at the runway of Narita later that day.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThere are a few locker areas at Shibuya Station.  We almost went to a wrong locker area to pick up our luggage.  Luckily, when we left our luggage we took a photo of the locker area to remind ourselves, and that proved handy at the end.

02The timber structure of Harajuku Station is unique in Tokyo.  Hopefully this historical building can survive the massive redevelopment of the area prior to the Olympic Games.

03We loved the massive torii gate of Meiji Jingu.  The natural finish matches perfectly with the surrounding forest.

04Sake offering at the Meiji Jingu.

06The second large torii gate midway into the path of Meiji Jingu.

07Quite a number of buildings at Meiji Jingu were under renovation for 2020.

08There were a lot of visitors at the early hours of the day.

09The natural appearance of a Japanese timber structure offers the best harmony with the surrounding nature.

10Writing the Ema (wooden prayer plates) is always fun.

11After hanging our ema, we bid farewell to the peaceful Meiji Jingu.

01Time was still early when we walked to Tokyu Plaza.  Since the shopping centre had yet opened its doors, we found our way up to the roof garden via an elevator at the side.

02The roof garden of Tokyu Plaza is always a great place to hang out.  While some were having breakfast like us, there were a few dozing off at the far corners.

03Not many visitors were around.  We could admire the interesting design of the decking.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERALooking down to the intersection of Omotesando and Meiji Jingumae, the popular crossing were almost empty of pedestrians.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe rain hadn’t arrived yet, and we had a relaxing breakfast at the roof garden.

 


DAY 4 (3/3): KURAMAE (蔵前), LA KAGU & KAGURAZAKA (神楽坂), Tokyo, Japan, 2017.06.17

Across Sumida River from Ryogoku and south of touristy Asakusa lies the low key Kuramae (蔵前), a hub for young artists and craftsmen in Tokyo.  After visiting two interesting museums in Sumida, we opted for a moment of relaxation just a stone throw away at Kuramae.  Like many up and coming neighborhoods, Kuramae contains a rather leisure atmosphere.  Without the tourist crowds that we would normally see in other more popular areas of Tokyo, there were still a considerable amount of local visitors in the area.  Queues were lined up in front of some of the most popular shops such as Kakimori, the wonderful shop of handmade stationery, fountain pens and anything related to writing.  We started off at Camera, a cosy little cafe selling good coffee, snacks, and handmade leather accessories.

01We started our brief Kuramae visit at Camera cafe.

02We sat by the long counter with coffee and snacks.  There were a few racks and shelves of leather accessories on display behind us.

03Maito offers a wide range of clothes and accessories made with dyes extracted from nature, such as flowers and tree bark.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe most popular shop in Kuramae we encountered was undoubtedly Kakimori stationery shop.  Visitors lined up outside the shop waiting for their turn to put together a custom made notebook with self-selected paper, cover, ribbon, etc.

05Inside Kakimori, other visitors were busy checking out the fountain pens, ink, and other writing accessories.

06Dandelion Chocolate was another highly popular bean-to-bar chocolate factory originated from San Francisco.

07We also spent some time at Koncept, a trendy shop with cool merchandises from all over Japan.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAfter Kuramae, we took the metro to visit another interesting trendy fashion and design store, the La Kagu.  A grand wooden staircase provided a welcoming gesture for all pedestrians and visitors.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAConverted from a 1965 warehouse of a publishing company by renowned architect Kengo Kuma (隈研吾), La Kagu immediately became a retail landmark in at Kagurazaka (神楽坂).

03La Kagu is consisted of different lifestyle zones: food, clothing, shelter and knowledge.

04After La Kagu, we walked along the high street of Kagurazaka (神楽坂).  Kagurazaka (神楽坂) is a traditional Japanese neighborhood with a French twist, thanks to the considerable number of French expats living in the area.

05Cafes, restaurants, bakeries and boutiques line up the high street of Kagurazaka (神楽坂).

06In a side street, we stopped by a ramen store for dinner.

07We ordered our ramen from the machine outside.

08The friendly staff then prepared our bowls right in front of us.

09No complain could be made by ending the day with a bowl of delicious ramen in a local neighborhood of Tokyo.


DAY 4 (2/3): EDO TOKYO MUSEUM (江戸東京博物館), Sumida, Tokyo, Japan, 2017.06.17

This was our third visit to Tokyo.  Apart from its delicious food and sleek fashion, we were also eager to learn about the city’s history.  In Sumida, we chose to visit the Edo Tokyo Museum, an interesting museum on Tokyo’s history housed in a monumental building designed by Kiyonori Kikutake (菊竹 清訓).  Established in 1993, the museum offers a good introduction of the history of Tokyo, from the founding of Edo to the present day.  Raised on a platform overlooking Ryōgoku Kokugikan (両国国技館), the architecture was modeled after an old storehouse in the Kurazukuri style.  Unlike Sumida Hokusai Museum where the scale of the minimalist architecture fits perfectly with the surrounding neighborhood, Edo Tokyo Museum takes a much more monumental approach.

01As soon as we stepped out the lift from Ryōgoku Station, we were overwhelmed by the monumental museum building.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe reached the entrance platform underneath the raised museum building via a grand staircase.

03At the far side of the entrance platform we could see the famous Ryōgoku Kokugikan (両国国技館).

04We purchased the museum tickets and headed towards the red escalator.

05Enclosed in a glass tube, the red escalator was the main access point up to the museum.

06A partial reconstructed Nihonbashi (日本橋) lay ahead of us once we entered the museum main hall.

07Below the reconstructed Nihonbashi, the most prominent feature was the reconstructed Nakamuraza Kabuki Theatre.

08The story of Tokyo began with the founding of Edo Castle (江戸城), the residence of the shogun.

09From different miniature models, we learnt the evolution of Edo and then Tokyo.

10Interesting information also included traditions and festivals in Tokyo.

11Theatre art was an important part of the Japanese culture and history of Tokyo.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERADominated with Western brick houses built after a fire burnt down much of the area in 1872, Ginza (銀座) Bricktown was the model area of modernization during the Meiji Period.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAt certain period of the day, there would be performances and activities held in front of the reconstructed Nakamuraza Kabuki Theatre.

 


DAY 4 (1/3): SUMIDA HOKUSAI MUSEUM (すみだ北斎美術館), Sumida (墨田), Tokyo, Japan, 2017.06.17

After a full day excursion of historical temples and natural scenery in Nikko, we decided to spend the next day to explore another neighborhood in Tokyo.  We started the day at the southwest area of Sumida District (墨田区), near the metro station of Ryogoku (両国).  Many tourists come to Ryogoku (両国) for sumo (相撲): visit sumo stables to view professional practice, or checked out chanko nabe restaurants for a sumo meal, or even watch a game of sumo wrestling at Ryogoku Kokugikan (Ryogoku Sumo Hall).  We, however, came to the area for museum hopping.

Opened in 2016, the Sumida Hokusai Museum is being considered as a novel cultural icon of Sumida.  Designed by Kazuyo Sejima (妹島 和世), the sleek architecture houses exhibitions to showcase the life and works of the world famous ukiyo-e (浮世絵) artist Katsushika Hokusai (葛飾 北斎).  With his Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji (富嶽三十六景), Hokusai is definitely the most iconic figure of ukiyo-e (浮世絵) in the Edo Period (1603 – 1868).  Kazuyo Sejima (妹島 和世), the founder of SANAA and a recipient of the Pritzker Prize in architecture with Ryue Nishizawa, is also a generation defining Japanese architect in her own right.  From the 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art in Kanazawa, New Museum in New York, Rolex Learning Centre in Lausanne, to Louvre Lens Museum in France, Sejima and Ryue Nishizawa of SANAA have inspired uncounted architects and designers around the world in the last two decades.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe Midoricho Park (緑町公園) where Sumida Hokusai Museum is erected, is also the birthplace of Katsushika Hokusai (葛飾 北斎).

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASejima’s building immediately became a cultural icon in the rather low key residential neighborhood.  The building provides an interesting backdrop for the community play area of Midoricho Park.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe building scale and the facade’s level of reflectiveness express a certain degree of novelty without creating an overwhelming impact to the surrounding context.

04The cave like slit at each of the four sides provides a prominent entrance gateway at each side.

05The reflectivity of the museum’s metal cladding is right on.

06Everything on the facade is clean and minimal.

07We walked to the main entrance via one of the triangular opening on the facade.

08The facets of the glass panes and the reflections of the outside offer a unique entrance experience.

09The detailing of the triangular opening is once again clean and minimal.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe angular aspects of the architecture is carried through into the interior.

11The washroom on the ground floor is a cute little cube at the lobby.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABeside Sejima’ architecture, the works of Katsushika Hokusai (葛飾 北斎) were well worth the admission.

13The exhibition space is not big.  Most of his paintings are hung along the wall.  Artifacts such as books and sketches.

14The most famous works by  Kazuyo Sejima is Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji (富嶽三十六景 Fugaku Sanjūroku-kei).  A selection of the 36 prints had been put on display.

15The Great Wave off Kanagawa is perhaps the most well known image by Katsushika Hokusai.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASome of the final works by Katsushika Hokusai are also on display.

17A wax display depicting the studio of Katsushika Hokusai (葛飾 北斎) and his daughter back in the Edo Period.

18Outside of the exhibition area, there is a seating area with great views towards the Sky Tree.


DAY 3 (6/6): ASAKUSA AT NIGHT (浅草), Tokyo (東京), Japan, 2017.06.16

We both felt asleep on the train back to Tokyo.  The normally popular tourist district of Asakusa (浅草) was largely deserted by the time we walked out Asakusa Station at around 9pm.  We didn’t want to return to our hotel yet.  We decided to wander around Asakusa, from the world famous Kaminarimon (雷門) of Sensoji (金龍山浅草寺) to the inner streets of dining, shopping and entertainment district of Rokku.  Most shops were closed except for some restaurants and street eateries.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe buildings and streetscape around Tobu Asakusa Station reveal the former glory of Asakusa when the district was a foremost area in Tokyo.

02Tokyo Skytree and Philippe Starck’s Asahi Beer Hall stood out in the skyline beyond.

03Kengo Kuma’s Asakusa Culture and Tourist Centre (淺草文化中心) took on a different appearance under the perfect illumination.

04Surrounded by scaffolding, the Kaminarimon (雷門) of Sensoji (金龍山浅草寺) found a moment of peace with the absence of tourists.

05The 200m Nakamise (仲見世) Shopping Street closed for the night.  Security guards were checking the shopping streets to ensure no visitor stayed behind.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAFrom Nakamise (仲見世), we entered a side street (雷門柳小路) into the grid network of small streets of restaurants, cafes, and bars.

07Orange Street (オレンジ通り), a street famous for its orange paint lies at the centre of the dining and entertainment area of Asakusa.

08The Rokku area of Asakusa was once the biggest entertainment district in Japan before WWII.  During the Edo Period (1603-1867), Asakusa lies outside the city wall and was a red light and theatre district.  During the prewar years of the 20th century, theatres and cinemas dominated the Rokku area.  Much of Asakusa was destroyed during the war.  Today, the entertainment district of Asakusa was only a shadow of its past.

10Some restaurants in the area still maintains the atmosphere of the prewar days.

11In contrast to the spirituality and history of Sensoji Temple just a few blocks away, the Rox Dome is a popular indoor batting stadium.

 

12The atmospheric Dempoin Dori (傳法院通) offers a glimpse of the former theatre and entertainment district.

Not many pedestrians were around at Dempoin Dori.  However some of the restaurants were still open.  The traditional shopfronts reminded visitors the appearance of the lively high street during the prewar years.

17Despite its decline in the postwar years, Asakusa remains an interesting place to stroll around and get a feel of Tokyo’s history and its vibrant dining scenes.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAToday, the Rokku area is still a focus of dining and entertainment experience, with outdoor eateries here and there near the junction of Don Quijote Department Store.

16Most shops were closed for the night, but the street-side eateries were still quite lively when we were there.

18The junction in front of Don Quijote Department Store was brightly lit up by neon lights of theatres and shops.

19Apart from the street eateries and traditional shops, there are also covered arcades in the area providing another alternative shopping experience.

20After strolling for an hour or so, we headed back to Asakusa Station and took the metro back to Shibuya.  Passing by the narrow alleyways near the station, the Tokyo Skytree across Sumida River could be clearly seen at the street end, revealing a new chapter of shopping and entertainment just a stone throw away from Asakusa.


DAY 3 (5/6): LAKE CHUZENJI (中禅寺湖), Nikko (日光), Japan, 2017.06.16

The sky wasn’t as clear as the morning when we arrived at Lake Chuzenji (中禅寺湖).  In our Nikko day trip from Tokyo, Lake Chuzenji was our last destination of the day.  The scenery of Lake Chuzenji is dominated by the magnificent Mount Nantai (男体山 or 二荒山), an active stratovolcano that had erupted 7000 years ago.  If visiting in the autumn, we can take the Tobu bus up to the lookout of Mount Hangetsuyama (半月山) to enjoy a fantastic view of the conical volcano and its perfection reflection in the lake.  Since the bus only operates in the autumn months and we didn’t want to hire a car just for the lookout, we decided to enjoy Lake Chuzenji by doing a short walk along the southeastern shore to the former British and Italian Embassies.

01From the bus station, it was only a five minute walk to the shore of Lake Chuzenji.

02We walked along the southeastern shore of Lake Chuzenji and passed by many swan pedal boats.

03Soon we reached the entrance of Chuzenji Temple (中禅寺), the Buddhist temple that gave the name to Lake Chuzenji.

04Another short walk from Chuzenji Temple brought us to our destination of the afternoon, the former Italian Embassy.  Designed by American architect Antonin Raymond, the villa was built in 1928 as the summer villa for the Italian Embassy in the past.  Antonin Raymond cladded the entire building with Japanese cedar bark, a local material from the area.

05Today, the building becomes a museum for the public.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe Viewing Hallway on the ground level allowed a magnificent panorama view of the lake.

07There are three bedrooms on the upper floor.  The decor is simple and elegant.

08After touring the Italian Embassy Villa, we walked down to the landscaped area by the shore.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAA timber jetty outside the Italian Embassy Villa brought us closer to the lake.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAFrom the jetty, we could see the sacred Mount Nantai (男体山 or 二荒山).  The lake was extremely peaceful with super clear water.

11We walked back towards the starting point of our short walk.  Soon, we reached the jetty of another old western villa, the former British Embassy Villa.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASimilar to the Italian Embassy Villa, maximizing the panoramic views of the lake seemed to be the main concept of the house design.

13The viewing hallway of the British Embassy Villa was equally impressive with the beautiful scenery of the lake.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAfter the embassy villas, we walked slowly back to the village of Chuzenji where we got off the bus.

15We were way too early to see the fall colours, but instead we saw some beautiful flowers along the way.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe also saw several people recreational fishing in the lake.

17Back to Nikko town, we still had about an hour’s time before our train departed for Tokyo.  We dropped by Komekichi Kozushi, a small sushi restaurant just a stone throw from the train station, for a quick and decent dinner.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe father and son owners of Komekichi Kozushi were quite serious about the correct way to eat sushi.  The food was very delicious and we highly recommend Komekichi Kozushi to any Nikko visitor.

19After dinner, the sky was getting dark, and we could see the dramatic silhouette of Mount Nantai backed with vivid skies.

20As we stepped into Nikko Tobu Railway Station, our one-day visit of Nikko was coming to an end.  We hopped on the limited express train for Asakusa Tokyo.


DAY 3 (4/6): AKECHIDAIRA (明智平) & KEGON WATERFALLS (華厳の滝), Nikko (日光), Japan, 2017.06.16

Apart from the UNESCO World Heritage temples and shrines, Nikko is also well known for its natural scenery.  The bus ride from Nikko to Lake Chuzenji (中禅寺湖) took about 40 minutes.  The journey passed through the town of Nikko along the river.  After about half an hour, the bus began to climb up the Irohazaka Winding Roads (いろは坂) west of Nikko.  As the bus zigzagged up the 48 turns of Irohazaka Winding Roads (いろは坂), we decided to get off one stop before Lake Chuzenji (中禅寺湖) at Akechidaira Ropeway Station to visit the Akechidaira Lookout.  Akechidaira (明智平) can be reached by a two-hour uphill hike from Lake Chuzenji, or a 3-minute gondola ride.  Akechidaira offers an spectacular overview of three iconic scenic features of Nikko: Lake Chuzenji (中禅寺湖), Mount Nantai (男体山), and Kegon Waterfall (華厳滝).  We stayed at the lookout for about 15 minutes to appreciate the peaceful scenery, then took the ropeway back down and continued the last bit of our bus journey to Lake Chuzenji.  From the bus station, we followed the road signs to the nearby lookout of Kegon Waterfall (華厳滝).  Almost 100m in height, Kegon Waterfall (華厳滝) is the most spectacular waterfall in Nikko, and one of the most famous falls in the entire Japan.

12We hopped off the bus at the ropeway station below Akechidaira (明智平) Plateau.  Unfortunately the weather was not as beautiful as earlier in the morning.

03The Akechidaira Ropeway was first operated in 1933.

05The lookout is about 86m above the ropeway station.

11The ropeway ride took about three minutes.

02During the Autumn, Akechidaira (明智平) is a highly popular spot to see the fall colours.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe lookout offers an almost 360 degrees view of the surrounding scenery.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERALake Chuzenji (中禅寺湖) lies right in front of us at the lookout.

08In front of Lake Chuzenji (中禅寺湖) and at the foot of Mount Nantai (男体山), we could see the beautiful Kegon Waterfall (華厳滝).

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAUnfortunately the top of Mount Nantai (男体山) was hidden behind the clouds.

10We stayed at the lookout for about 15 minutes.  There wasn’t too many people and we had a brief and peaceful time to admire the scenery.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThen we took the ropeway back down to the station, and hopped on the next bus for Lake Chuzenji (中禅寺湖).

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe most important sight near the bus station of Lake Chuzenji (中禅寺湖) is undoubtedly Kegon Waterfall (華厳滝).

13With a drop of almost 100m, Kegon Waterfall (華厳滝) is an impressive waterfall.  It serves as the only exit for Lake Chuzenji (中禅寺湖).

 


DAY 3 (3/6): TAKINO’O PATH & SACRED BRIDGE, Nikko (日光), Japan, 2017.06.16

Every visitor who comes to Nikko would be impressed by the century-old cedar forests surrounding the shrines and temples.  What looks like a natural forest is in fact partially orchestrated by people 400 years ago, creating what we now called the Cedar Avenue of Nikko (日光杉並木), a 35.41km tree-lined path with 13,000 Japanese Red Cedar. The Cryptomeria tree (Sugi), also known as Japanese Red Cedar, is the national tree of Japan.  We didn’t walk the Cedar Avenue of Nikko, the world’s longest tree lined avenue in Nikko, but instead, had our own close encounter with the magnificent cedar trees in a along the Takino’o Path.  We came across the Takino’o Path from online research.  For about an hour, the trail led us through its tranquil cedar forest and peaceful Shinto shrines.   We began our journey from the Futarasan Shrine, passed by the Takino Shrine (瀧尾神社) and ended at the Sacred Bridge of Nikko, the Shinkyo (神橋).

01The trail head of Takino Path was right beside the forecourt of Futarasan Shrine.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe trail passed by the the Taiyuin and Futarasan Shrine.

03A few minutes later, we arrived at a small shrine by the path.  It reminded us of Kumano Kodo, where we enjoyed a few days of hiking on the Kii Mountains of Kansai.

04For a very long day hike, some visitors would climb the Mount Nyoho (女峰山, 2,465m).

05The cedar forest soon got denser.

06Along the trail, we could closely the centuries old Japanese Cedar.

12Along the way, many old cedar trees were very photogenic.

07After the crowded and relatively noisy experience at the Toshogu Shrine, only five minutes into the trail brought us to a completely opposite world of tranquility and lush green.

08After about half an hour of leisure walking, we were soon approaching the Takino’o Shrine (瀧尾神社) in the forest.

09After walking up the hill of Takino’o Shrine (瀧尾神社), we passed by a number of atmospheric small shrines.

DSC_7881Kaji Sadayoshi, a supporter of Tokugawa Iemitsu, built the Undameshi No Tori (運試しの鳥居).  Like many visitors, we tested our luck by throwing a pebble through the hole between the two horizontal members of the tori gate.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERACertain parts of the trail were covered with historical paving stones.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe Kodane Stone (子種石) behind an old tori gate near the Takino’o Shrine is believed to have the power of child birth.

13On our way back out of the forest towards Shinkyo (神橋), we passed by Kannon Do Shrine, the Shrine of Safe and Easy Delivery of Child or Kyosha-do (香車堂).

14After a little over half an hour, we returned to the main entrance of the World Heritage Shrine and Temple Park.

15Across the street from the UNESCO World Heritage plaque, we finally reached the Shinkyo (神橋), the Sacred Bridge of Nikko.

16We didn’t pay the admission fee to walk onto the Shinkyo (神橋).  We walked over to the nearby bus stop for a ride to Lake Chuzenji (中禅寺湖).  Beside the bus stop there was an interesting telephone booth made of a recycled gondola.

 


DAY 3 (2/6): TAIYUINBYO SHRINE (輪王寺大猷院), Rinnoji Temple, Nikko (日光), Japan, 2017.06.16

Tokugawa Iemitsu (徳川家光), the grandson of Tokugawa Ieyasu (徳川家康), was the third shogun of the Tokugawa dynasty.  Somewhat modest than Ieyasu’s final resting place, Iemitsu built his mausoleum less than ten minutes of walk away from Toshogu Shrine (東照宮).  Unlike the tightly packed Toshogu Shrine, visiting Iemitsu’s Taiyuinbyo Shrine in Rinnoji Temple (輪王寺大猷院) was much more relaxing.  There were only a handful of visitors during our visit.  Despite the renovation scaffolding here and there in preparation for the anticipated visitor influx during Tokyo Olympics 2020, we had quite a tranquil and delightful moment as we wandered in Taiyuinbyo Shrine, a sub temple of Rinnoji Temple.  We thought of visiting the other UNESCO world heritage temples and shrines in Nikko, such as Rinnoji Temple (輪王寺) and Futarasan Shrine (二荒山神社), but changed our mind when we saw renovation scaffolding here and there.  Toshogu and Taiyuinbyo were the only two temples and shrines that we ended up visiting.

01A pebble path with stone lanterns led us from the forecourt of Toshogu Shrine (東照宮) to the entrance gateway of Futarasan Shrine (二荒山神社).

02The Futarasan Shrine (二荒山神社) is an important Shinto shrine in Nikko inscribed in the World Heritage along with Toshogu Shrine (東照宮) and Rinnoji Temple (輪王寺).

DSC_7762Other than the main hall and a number of shrines in the complex, the iconic Sacred Bridge (神橋 shinkyō) of Nikko also belongs to the Futarasan Shrine.

03We didn’t go into Futarasan Shrine (二荒山神社), but passed by the Haiden (拝殿), the Hall of Prayers, a few small shrine pavilions and a stone lion at its forecourt.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAFrom Futarasan Shrine, we found our way to Taiyuinbyo Shrine, a sub-temple belonged to the Buddhist Rinnoji Temple (輪王寺).  The Taiyuinbyo Shrine is the mausoleum of Tokugawa Iemitsu (徳川家光), the grandson of Tokugawa Ieyasu (徳川家康).

05Similar to other major temples and shrines in Nikko, Taiyuinbyo Shrine also had its share of renovation scaffolding when we were there.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAA long flight of stair led us to the main platform of Taiyuinbyo Shrine.

07Approaching the core area of Taiyuinbyo Shrine was like entering into a spiritual venue in the embrace of tall cedar forest.  The Yasha-mon (夜叉門) was the first splendid architecture we saw without scaffolding at Taiyuinbyo.

08There are four Yaksha (夜叉) statues at the Yasha-mon (夜叉門): white, red, blue and green.  Yaksha is nature spirits and guardians of natural treasures.

09Not as extravagant as the Toshogu Shrine, Taiyuinbyo Shrine does have its fair share of rich carvings and architectural features.

10Like Toshogu Shrine, gold and vivid colours are often used in the shrine design.

11One big advantage of visiting Taiyuinbyo Shrine was its minimal number of visitors.  Unlike the super crowded Toshogu Shrine, we pretty much had Taiyuinbyo all by ourselves during most of our visit.

12Without the new golden and colourful paints, the screens at Taiyuinbyo Shrine looked even more natural than the ones at Toshogu Shrine.

13The colour gold can be found on a number of shrine facades.

14The final resting place of Tokugawa Iemitsu (徳川家光) looks quite modest compared to his grandfather’s mausoleum.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe complex was quite empty and the sky seemed about to rain.  We followed the visitor path and walked around the shrine one last time.

16The bronze lanterns in front of Yasha-mon (夜叉門) appeared like chess on the board.

17We had the shrine pretty much all by ourselves.

18At last, we returned to Niomon (仁王門), where two fierce Niō (仁王) guard the entire shrine complex.


DAY 3 (1/6): TOSHOGU SHRINE (東照宮), Nikko (日光), Japan, 2017.06.16

140km north of Tokyo, Nikko (日光) is one of the most popular excursion destination out of the Japanese capital.  Dotted with onsen villages, ancient cedar forests, scenic waterfalls, turquoise lakes and lush green mountains, the magnificent piece of landscape is also the final resting place of Tokugawa Iayasu (徳川家康), the founding shogun of the Tokugawa shogunate from 1600 until Meiji Restoration in 1868.  The Shinto mausoleums of Tokugawa Iayasu and his grandson Tokugawa Iemitsu (徳川家光) in Nikko are part of  “Shrines and Temples of Nikkō” inscribed in the UNESCO’s World Heritage in 1999.  These historical sites draw huge crowds of visitors daily to the otherwise sleepy hilltown of Nikko.

There were so much to do and see in Nikko but we could only do a very long day trip this time.  We booked the earliest direct train, Tobu Railway’s Revaty Limited Express leaving Tokyo’s Asakusa Station at 06:30, and the last return train leaving Nikko at 19:18, leaving us about 11 hours in Nikko.  We also got the Nikko All Area Pass,  which covered our local bus fares in the Nikko and Chuzenji Lake area and discount on the Tobu train tickets.  We planned to check out the shrines and temples in the morning, and then visit the scenic Chuzenji Lake (中禅寺湖) and Kegon no taki (華厳の滝, Kegon Waterfall) in the afternoon.  As soon as the Revaty train pulled into Nikko Station at around 08:20, we were excited to see the beautiful weather.

01Our journey to Nikko began from Tobu Asakusa Station (浅草駅), a monumental terminal building constructed in 1931.

02In order to take the 6:30 Revaty Limited Express, we had no choice but to get up early and left Shibuya at about 5:30.

03The train arrived in Nikko at around 08:20.  We hopped onto a Tobu bus in front of Nikko Station for the nearby temple and shrine area.  Attempting to avoid the crowds later in the day, we decided to first visit Toshogu Shrine (東照宮), the single most popular attraction in Nikko.

04Toshogu Shrine is the mausoleum of Tokugawa Ieyasu, the founder of Tokugawa Shogunate that ruled Japan for 250 years until Meiji Restoration in 1867.  Because of its historical significance, the shrine is highly popular among local Japanese.  After a short walk along the procession route, we entered through Ishidorii (Stone Torii Gate), a beautiful timber gateway erected by the powerful feudal lord Kuroda Nagamasa, into the shrine complex.

05Despite our early arrival, the Toshogu Shrine was already full of student groups and tourists.  We passed by a group of students below the Gojunoto (Five-Story Pagoda) as we entered the complex.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe entered the central complex through Omotemon Gate (Front Gate) or Nio Gate that is guarded by a pair of Nio (仁王) guardians.

07Once entered the forecourt, we could already appreciate the meticulous relief carvings and vivid architecture features on the Sanjinko (Three Sacred Storehouses).  Toshogu presents quite a contrast compared with most other Shinto shrines that are usually minimalist in design and natural in colour tones.

09At the forecourt, the Shinkyu-Sha, the sacred horse stable, houses a real horse.  This comes from the tradition made by early emperors who would donate to the Kibune Shrine in Kyoto either a white horse to stop the rain in a rainy year, or a black horse to welcome the rain in a dry year.

08The front facade of the Shinkyu-Sha, the sacred horse stable, featues the Sanzaru (Three Wise Monkeys) on eight frieze panels depicting ordinary lives of people.  The most famous panel is undoubtedly the adorable “See No Evil, Speak No Evil, Hear No Evil”.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABeyond a large tori and a flight of steps is the Yomeimon Gate (陽明門), the gate of setting sunlight.

11With 500 beautiful wooden carvings, the Yomeimon Gate (陽明門) is considered by many the most impressive gate in Japan.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe impressive Yomeimon Gate represents the Main Gate of the Imperial Court in the entire complex.

13As far as the legend goes, Yomeimon Gate is also called the “Gate of the Setting Sun” because visitor can gaze upon it all day without getting tired.

14Impressive decorations at the gate includes a golden lion housed in a niche.

15And a lot more that depict anecdotes, legends, wise people, sages, etc.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAnother famous feature at Toshogu is Nemurineko, the tiny carving of the sleeping cat on the beam of a hallway.  A work by master carver Hidari Jingorou, the napping cat under the warm sun is a depiction “Nikko”, which literally means “sunlight”.  It marks the entry point of the path that ultimately leads to the final resting place of Tokugawa Iayasu (徳川家康) on the hill.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERATaking the earliest direct train from Tokyo and came to Toshogu immediately upon arrival, we thought we could enjoy a bit of peaceful time at the highly popular shrine before the tourist groups came.  That totally didn’t happen as the shrine was already full of student groups when we arrived.  Walking up to visit the mausoleum of Tokugawa Iayasu (徳川家康) was not a peaceful journey at all.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAJust a few minutes of short walk led us to the hill platform of the mausoleum.  Compared to the shrine buildings downhill, the mausoleum carries a more harmonic relationship with the natural surroundings.

19The bronze urn on the hill contains the remains of Tokugawa Iayasu (徳川家康), the most powerful shogun of Japan before the modern era.

22The calligraphic sign Tōshō Dai-Gongen (東照大権現) near the mausoleum is attributed to Emperor Go-Mizunoo (後水尾天皇) from the 17th century.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe curved archway of Karamon Gate (唐門) symbolizes the authority of the Gohonsha Main Shrine Hall behind.  Despite the renovation scaffolding, we were able to enter the hall as a group to have a peek of the space where events and festivals would be held annually.


DAY 2 (3/4): A STROLL IN NAKAMEGURO (中目黒) AND DAIKANYAMA (代官山), Tokyo, Japan, 2017.06.15

Only 15 minutes of walk separates Nakameguro (中目黒) and Daikanyama (代官山), two pleasant residential neighborhoods close to Shibuya and Ebisu.  Last year in 2016, I made my first visit to Daikanyama, and was immediately captivated by its elegance as an upscale residential and shopping area.  This time, we ventured further south towards Meguro River into the neighborhood of Nakameguro.  While Nakameguro is not as established as Daikanyama, its charm as a hip and lovely residential and shopping area has become quite well known to both the locals and foreign visitors.  Our stroll in Nakameguro and Daikanyama began at Higashi-yama Restaurant, where we had a fine lunch.  Then we found our way to the Meguro River, a canal like waterway that used to be an awful stream filled with industrial waste before the 1980s.  The fate of Nakameguro changed its course after the government cleaned up the river in the late 1980s.  Since then the first group of hipsters moved in, and soon trendy cafes, boutiques and residential developments mushroomed along the Meguro River, and gradually transformed the area into one of the most desirable residential neighborhood in Tokyo.  We walked along the river and stopped by a number of shops, before heading over to Sarugakucho (猿楽町) of Daikanyama for a revisit of the magnificent T-Site and the nearby boutiques.  Literally means “monkey fun town”, Sarugakucho of Daikanyama is a popular spot in Tokyo simply to enjoy life: unique fashion boutiques, coffee shops, bookstores, hair salons, organic vendors, furniture and design shops, etc.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe Meguro River seems like a canal with peaceful and clear water.

02As the government cleaned up Meguro River, the character of Nakameguro was completely transformed into a pleasant residential neighborhood and a concentration of interesting shops, cafes and restaurants.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMany shops along Meguro River are catered to serve the immediate community of local residents, such as hair salons.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOr local eateries…

05Considered as one of the star attractions in the area, COW Books in Nakameguro has a charming collection of rare and out-of-print books.

06Blue Blue, a unique clothing store owned by Seilin & Co. Hollywood Ranch Market selling a wide range of garments that combines traditional indigo dyeing and contemporary fashion.

07Over at Daikanyama, shops are more concentrated in a clusters of narrow streets of Sarugakucho near T-Site, the famous Tsutaya Bookstore and its garden of shops.   UES Jeans is a small boutique that sells high quality denim.  They believe a garment should be fully used till the end of the product’s life.  The name “UES” is derived from the word “waste”, with reference to the Japanese habit of reusing old clothes for dust cloths at the end of the garment’s life.

08Designed by architect Akihisa Hirata in 2007, Sarugaku is a cluster of six commercial blocks surrounding a valley-like courtyard in a narrow site.

09At Sarugakucho, we couldn’t resist to check out Okura (オクラ), one of the most popular boutiques in the area.  Under the same mother company as Nakameguro’s Blue Blue, Okura is renowned for their garments that perfectly combine traditional indigo dyeing and tailor techniques with contemporary fashion trends and functions.

10Maison Kitsune is another unique boutique in Sarugakucho.  Maison Kitsune represents a success story of international collaboration.  It is founded by French electornic musician Gildas Loaec and Japanese architect Masaya Kuroki, in an attempt to create a brand under the intertwining influences of music and fashion.  “Kitsune” is the Japanese word for “fox”, representing a character of versatility and the power of changing appearance.

11Our brief afternoon walk of Daikanyama ended at the T-Site, the garden retail complex behind Tsutaya Bookstore.

12Other than Tsutaya Bookstore, the stylish restaurant Ivy Place is the main focus in the T-Site.

13At the T-Site, the primary attraction is definitely the Tsutaya Bookstore.  It was our second time to visit this beautiful bookstore.  Similar to my first visit a year ago, we were delighted to find that every corner of the complex was enjoyed by customers of all sorts.

15To us, Tsutaya and the T-Site represents an ideal venue to spend a Sunday afternoon.

17It was getting dark as we left Daikanyama.  We leisurely walked back to our hotel in Shibuya to take a little break before dinner.

 


DAY 2 (2/4): HIGASHI-YAMA RESTAURANT, near Nakameguro (中目黒), Tokyo, Japan, 2017.06.15

After Ebisu, our next stop was Higashi-yama Restaurant in Nakameguro (中目黒).  In a quiet residential street in Higashi-yama 15 minutes walk from Nakameguro Station, Higashi-yama Restaurant was well hidden from the street.  We came across this restaurant from our online research.  We were attracted by the minimalist food presentation and the atmospheric interior setting.  We reserved a table for lunch through their website two weeks prior to our departure.  After the traditional Kaiseki experience at Ueno Park the day before, we were hoping that Higashi-yama would offer us a contemporary interpretation of Japanese cuisine.  “A detached house located in Higashi-yama, Meguro-ku, Tokyo, away from the clamor of the city, and be a place where people meet and discuss what matters most to them, a place where new communication is born.”  According to the description on their website, the story of this tranquil spot in Tokyo’s Higashi-yama where people come and chat and enjoy modern Japanese food all began in 1998.  Our experience of Higashi-yama began at a narrow stairway off the street.

01A flight of steps led us away from a residential street up to a hidden courtyard.

02Well hidden from the street, the entrance courtyard offers a serene buffer between the street and the restaurant.  The courtyard served well to decant our souls of hastiness and calm down our hearts (as we were almost late for the booking).

03The interior of the restaurant is simple and unpretentious, with traditional Japanese dark timber millwork in a bright and simple setting.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAA tall shelf displaying wine and sake anchors one corner of the interior.

05Wood is such an important material in Japanese culture, from table, chopsticks to chopstick holders.

06The appetizer consisted of eight ingredients fresh to the season.

07Both the taste and the beautiful presentation of the food matched with the overall ambience of the restaurant.

08One of the main dish we ordered was the grilled snapper.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe other main we chose was the tempura seasonal ingredients.

10After the tasty appetizers and main dishes, we were led by the staff downstairs via a beautiful and modern stair.

12The water feature by the stairwell seems like a contemporary interpretation of a chōzubachi water basin in front of a zen tea house.

13We were led to a comfortable sitting area for dessert.

14Mocha pudding and mango ice-cream came went well with hot Japanese tea.

15An interesting copper sculpture was mounted on the wall over our head.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOpposite to our sitting area, a staff was preparing tea and chatting with another customer by a high counter.

17 After dessert, we paid the bill and were led to exit the building through a copper door directly back to the street.  Overall, Higashi-yama Restaurant offered us a fine experience, with good food to satisfy our taste-buds and a zen and minimalist environment to sooth our souls.

 


DAY 2 (1/4): YEBISU GARDEN PLACE AND TOKYO PHOTOGRAPHIC ART MUSEUM, Ebisu (恵比寿), Tokyo, Japan, 2017.06.15

On the second day, we decided to stay close to the area around Shibuya.  We hopped on the Yamanote Line and went one stop over to Ebisu (恵比寿).  Known as the God of Fishermen and Luck, Ebisu is a popular divinity in Japanese mythology.  It was then used by Japan Beer Brewery Company to come up with the brand of Yebisu Beer back in 1890.  Established their production facilities near Meguro, Yebisu Beer is one of the oldest beer brand in Japan.  In the modern era, the train station and the surrounding community was named after the brewery as Ebisu.  In 1988, the beer brewery were moved to a new location.  The original brewery site at Ebisu was then transformed into a commercial complex consisted of office towers, retail, and museums known as the Yebisu Garden Place.  The Western architectural style create a unique atmosphere, attracting young couples and the local community to dine, shop and relax.

Many tourists go to Yebisu Garden Place to visit the Museum of Yebisu Beer.  We came specifically to visit Tokyo Photographic Art Museum (TOP Museum).  Opened in 1995, the museum is known as the only public museum in Japan dedicated to photography.  The museum has recently gone through two years of extensive renovations.  Three wall display of world famous photographs marked the museum entrance at the end of a  colonnade.  Three exhibitions were on and we opted to see them all.  The first one was “20 Year Anniversary TOP Collection: Scrolling Through Heisei Part 1”, a selection of works taken by Japanese photographers during the present Heisei era (平成).  The second was Museum Bhavan by Dayanita Singh, a renowned female photographer who captures the various faces and colours of the magnificently complicated Indian society.  The third was World Press Photo 17, the annual award event to compliment a selection of works by the world’s photojournalists in the past year.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe Yebisu Garden Place offers a lot of pleasant public spaces for the community of Ebisu.

02Two traditional red brick buildings mark the entrance plaza of Yebisu Garden Place.

01Many people arrived at Yebisu Garden Place about the same time as we did, probably going to work.

05We arrived at Yebisu Garden Place in the morning at around 9am.  We had breakfast at one of the cafe near the entrance of Yebisu Garden Place.

5aThe interior of the cafe was causal and sleek.

03Across from the cafe, the Yebisu Beer Museum offers visitors a glimpse of the history of Japanese beer.  While a Mitsukoshi department store occupies the opposite side of the entrance square.

 

06A barrel vault atrium and a gentle ramp frame the central axis of Yebisu Garden Place, with the Chateau Restaurant Joël Robuchon at the terminus.

07We then walked under the canopy to the airy Central Square.

08The design of Yebisu Garden Place is dominated by classical layout and axial arrangement.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAClassical architectural elements include the colonnades that appear in a number of locations in the complex.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAt the Central Square, there were benches painted with playful patterns that marked the 20th anniversary of the complex.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAYebisu Garden Place is frequented with locals.  We saw a few who came dressed in traditional garments.

11The Chateau Restaurant Joël Robuchon is a famous luxurious venue in the area of Ebisu.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOur main reason coming to Yebisu Garden Place was the TOP Museum (Tokyo Photographic Art Museum), formerly known as the Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography.

14The entrance colonnade of the TOP Museum offers visitors a pleasant approach.

15Shōji Ueda (植田正治)’s Sand Dune and My Wife III (妻のいる砂丘風景III) , an iconic Robert Capa’s D-Day shots, and Robert Doisneau’s Le baiser de l’hotel de ville (Kiss by the Hotel de Ville) provide a dramatic setting for the museum entrance.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe stayed at the museum for about two hours, seeing three exhibitions including “20 Year Anniversary TOP Collection: Scrolling Through Heisei Part 1”, Dayanita Singh’s Museum Bhavan, and World Press Photo 17.  The TOP Museum is a fantastic cultural institution for anyone who love photography.  It offers temporary exhibitions on four levels of museum spaces.

 


DAY 1 (6/6): KAIKAYA BY THE SEA (開花屋), Shibuya (渋谷), Tokyo, Japan, 2017.06.14

Everyone who has visited Tokyo would probably admit that he/she was  spoiled by the abundance of dining options while staying in the Japanese capital.  For us, it was actually quite challenging to pin down a place to eat near our hotel in Shibuya, because there were simply too many options (6,866 restaurants in Shibuya alone listed on the tourist website Tripadvisor).  We began our trip research about two weeks prior departure.  We checked guidebooks, searched travel websites and read online blogs, and came up with a short list of places to visit and eat.  The name Kaikaya By The Sea (開花屋), a popular seafood restaurant at Shibuya, came up multiple times during our research.  Tempted by their highly recommended seafood, we made a table reservation at Kaikaya for our first evening.  After our visit to Ueno and St Mary’s Cathedral, we made it back to Shibuya right on time to Kaikaya By The Sea at 18:30.

 

01Kaikaya By The Sea is located west of Central Shibuya, in a small street west of the shopping centre of Shibuya Mark City.  The “fishy” mural under the shop awning introduces a sense of seaside relaxation to the small urban alleyway of Shibuya.

02The restaurant vestibule is decorated with lots of visitor photos.

03The setting was causal and relax with interesting sea and food related decorations throughout the interior.

04The door handle reminded me of a bowl of seafood soup.

05From his years of surfing, the owner of Kaikaya By The Sea maintains close connections with fishermen working by the sea.  Fish is brought in fresh directly from Sagami Bay (相模湾).

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe menu at Kaikaya is quite creative and diverse, from local Japanese sashimi to fusion seafood dishes, and so as the visitors from local customers to foreign tourists.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAKaikaya By The Sea is cozy and full of personal touches of the owner.

08An English leaflet introduces a few of their feature dishes.  We ended up trying the Tuna Spareribs recommended by the staff.

09Our first dish was a plate of very fresh assorted sashimi.

10The second dish was broiled live tiger prawns prepared in Hong Kong style.  Again, freshness was the key and we could clearly taste the sweetness of the prawn meat.

11Then came the in-house specialty tuna spareribs.  They are actually baked marinaded tuna jaw.  The dish was quite a pleasant surprise to us as we didn’t know what to expect.

12Six pieces of fatty tuna (maguro toro) sushi, pickled ginger and fresh wasabi root.  A leaf shaped grinder was given for us to DIY the wasabi paste.  The toro was so soft as if melted right after we put it into our mouth.

13Fresh octopus with rock salt and fresh lemon allowed us to taste the freshness and tenderness of the octopus.

14Despite we had already eaten a lot, we couldn’t resist and asked for the dessert menu.

15Outside the kitchen of Kaikaya By The Sea.

16It was already dark by the time we finished our delicious seafood dinner.

17We took a causal stroll in the area and found our way back to Central Shibuya.

18We then walked through the shopping centre of Shibuya Mark City and Shibuya Hikarie to return to our hotel and called it a day.


DAY 1 (5/6): ST MARY’S CATHEDRAL (東京カテドラル聖マリア大聖堂), Tokyo, Japan, 2017.06.14

After Ueno Park, we still have time to visit another place before our 18:30 dinner reservation back in Shibuya.  West from Ueno, we took the metro to the residential neighborhood of Sekiguchi in Bunkyo District.  We stepped into the peaceful residential streets of Sekiguchi, and used Google Map to find our way to St. Mary’s Cathedral, the seat of Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Tokyo.  Apart from its religious significance, the cathedral building is also a masterpiece of modernist architecture designed by renowned Japanese architect Kenzo Tange (丹下健三).  The cathedral was completed in 1964, about the same time as Kenzo Tange’s Yoyogi National Gymnasium for the 1964 Olympics.

01The peaceful residential streets of Sekiguchi led us toward’s St. Mary’s Cathedral.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERACladded with stainless steel, Kenzo Tange’s St. Mary’s Cathedral replaces its Gothic and wooden predecessor that was destroyed during the Second World War.

03Kenzo Tange’s version of the cathedral was much simpler than a traditional Gothic church.  The essence of the building is expressed through the combination of geometry, lines, shades, and reflections.

04On a plan in the form of a cross, Kenzo Tange extruded eight hyperbolic parabolas upwards to form this unique piece of architecture.

05When seen from above, the cathedral and its skylights would appear exactly in the shape of the cross.

06Reaching 61.68m, the bell tower is separated from the main church building.

07The interior of St. Mary’s Cathedral should be a huge surprise for any first time visitors.  The concrete structural shell is fully exposed, providing a minimalist interior where light and shades play the role to create a spiritual atmosphere.

08Benches inside St. Mary’s Cathedral face toward the main altar, behind which stands the tall window extending all the way to the ceiling, then runs across the ceiling to the opposite end of the building.

09The spiral stair behind the seating is a neat feature that goes up the largest organ in Japan.

11The large organ was manufactured by Italian company Mascioni.  We were lucky to experience its beautiful sound when staff were practicing the organ when we were there.

12After a fantastic architectural treat at St. Mary’s Cathedral, we made a short walk in the neighborhood to Zoshigaya Metro Station (雑司が谷駅) for the Fukutoshin Metro back to Shibuya.

13On our way, we passed through the peaceful residential neighborhood of Mejirodai (目白台).

14The afternoon sunlight of the early summer day was brilliant.  The half-hour walk was pleasant and we hardly saw other tourists along the way.


DAY 1 (4/6): NATIONAL MUSEUM OF WESTERN ART (国立西洋美術館), Ueno Park (上野公園), Tokyo, Japan, 2017.06.14

Completed in 1959, the National Museum of Western Art is the only building in the Far East designed by modernist architectural maestro Le Corbusier.  In 2016, the museum building has been inscribed in UNESCO’s World Heritage along with 16 other Le Corbusier’s works such as Villa Savoye, Unite d’habitation Marseille, Notre-Dame-Haut de Ronchamp, Chandigarh Capitol Complex, etc.  We came for the modernist architecture, although many paintings and sculptures on display by world renowned artists were quite interesting too.

01Precast concrete panels were used as the main cladding material for the museum.

02We were greeted at the front entrance by Émile-Antoine Bourdelle’s Hercules the archer.  Bourdelle was an influential French sculptor in late 19th and early 20th century.

03The Thinker at Tokyo National Museum of Western Art was made after the death of Auguste Rodin.

04The lobby atrium of the museum was a pleasant surprise.  The high volume of the space and the trunk-like columns drew our attention to the unique skylight above.

06A skylight consisted of multiple triangles provides an interesting design feature to the space, and also magnificent indirect lighting.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAn architectural model provides a sectional view of the atrium and shows the exterior form of the skylight feature.

05At one side of the atrium, a zigzag ramp led all visitors to the main exhibition on the upper level.

08On the upper deck, we could get a clear view of the lobby atrium with its statues.

09Again, the concept of bringing indirect sunlight into the interior was the clear intent from Le Corbusier.  The glazing bulkhead above the paintings provided the main source of ambient light.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe collection of the museum ranges from Renaissance to the modern ages.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe glazing feature brings in indirect sunlight, but it also creates a long bulkhead along one side of the exhibition hall.

12Some of the paintings and statues were interesting, but our focus was always on the architecture itself.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAt the museum courtyard, we could see the various facade cladding materials used at different periods of expansion.

14At the forecourt, another zigzag ramp supposedly leads visitors to the lower courtyard.  Now the entire area, including the exterior ramp, is closed off.

15After the National Museum of Western Art, we thought we had enough dosage of art and history for the day.  We were quite tired due to the red-eye flight.  We decided to check out another piece of architectural gem in Tokyo, Kenzo Tange’s St. Mary’s Cathedral in Sekiguchi.


DAY 1 (3/6): TOKYO NATIONAL MUSEUM (東京国立博物館), Ueno Park (上野公園), Tokyo, Japan, 2017.06.14

After the magnificent lunch bento at Innsyoutei, we followed the main path further into Ueno Park to reach the museum clusters.  Here one can find the Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum, National Museum of Nature and Science, National Museum of Wester Art, as well as the largest of them all, the Tokyo National Museum.  Established in 1872, the Tokyo National Museum (東京国立博物館) is the oldest and largest Japanese museum.  We didn’t plan to see everything.  We were a little tired from the flight, so we took it easy to explore the museum complex.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe Tokyo National Museum is consisted of several buildings: Honkan, Toyokan, Heiseikan, Hyokeikan, etc.  We started with Honkan, the main museum hall.  This present Honkan was designed by Watanabe Jin. The building was completed in 1938 to replace its predecessor designed by British architect Josiah Conder.  The former building was severely damaged in the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923.

02There are two main levels in the Honkan.  We walked up the grand staircase to the upper level to begin our visit.

03Beautiful amours of samurai and shogunate were some of the most impressive artefacts in the museum.

04The “Fujin and Raijin”or the Wind and Thunder God by Ogata Korin reminded us our visit to Kyoto’s Kenninji Temple (建仁寺), the original location of the screen.  At Kenninji, we saw a replica of the famous screen.

05The Yaksha Generals (12 Heavenly Generals) is one of the most impressive display in the historical sculpture collection.

06Architectural drawings by British architects from the 19th century reveal the popularity of Western culture in Japan during the Meiji Period.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAHistorical photograph of a Japanese samurai taken in 1862.

08At Honkan, there is a room opens to the garden behind the museum.  The room is decorated with exquisite mosaic and plastered motifs.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAA traditional telephone matches well with the historical decor.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAA garden of traditional pavilion and reflective pool provided some fresh air during our museum visit.  Unfortunately the pavilion was inaccessible from the museum.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAApart from sculptures, paintings and photographs, historical textiles and garments also provided us a glimpse of the old Japan.

12The museum shop at Honkan is beautiful designed.  A gentle passageway ramps up to the upper mezzanine.  Along the ramp stands a low wall of book display.

13After Honkan, we walked to the adjacent Toyokan Building.  Toyokan houses a few levels of artifacts and artworks from Asia and the Middle East.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe Chinese and Korean exhibits reveal the close linkage between the cultures of the Far East.

15The Toyokan also contains some interesting pieces from Egypt and the Near East.  After visiting Honkan and Toyokan, we had a little more understanding on the heritage of Japan, and felt it was time to check out the other museums in Ueno Park.  So we exited the Tokyo National Museum, passed by a gigantic model of a blue whale in front of the National Museum of Nature and Science and headed towards the National Museum of Western Art.

 


DAY 1 (2/6): INNSYOUTEI (韻松亭), Kaiseki in Ueno Park (上野公園), Tokyo, Japan, 2017.06.14

After leaving our luggage at the hotel, we took the Ginza Line Metro to Asakusa (浅草) to purchase the limited express train tickets for our upcoming Nikko day trip in two days’ time.  Then we decided to begin the day with some leisure time at Ueno Park and its museums after our red-eye flight.  With lush greenery, old trees, historical shrines and several museums, Ueno Park is a good place for a pleasant stroll.  From online research, we came across a beautiful restaurant called Innsyoutei (韻松亭).  Housed in a century-old timber building in the heart of Ueno Park, Innsyoutei serves a causal version of Kyoto kaiseki cuisine made with seasonal ingredients.  We decided to check it out before our museum hopping.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe original timber house of Innsyoutei was built in 1875.  A little over a decade ago, the building underwent a major renovation.  This rustic tea house has long been a landmark in Ueno Park, where visitors would stop for light refreshments.  The renovation maintained the original building layout, but replaced much of the timber structure with materials savaged from other old buildings in Kyoto and Shiga Prefecture.

02The traditional restaurant complex is full of the beauty of Zen.

03Innosyoutei (韻松亭) literally means “rhythm of the pine pavilion”.  This poetic restaurant remains popular with park visitors, especially during hanami (花見) season when the timber house is surrounded by clusters of cherry blossoms.

04Once entered the vestibule, we were immediately greeted by the fragrance of the incense.

05We took off our shoes at the vestibule, and were led to the dining hall on the upper level.

06The wooden stair is accompanied by a beautiful railing made of bamboo.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERACovered with tatami floor mat, the dining hall was well lit with natural light coming from the large windows at both ends of the room.  Sitting on zabuton (floor cushions), guests gathered at low tables on the tatami to enjoy their Hana-kago-zen (flower basket meal).

08Outside the large window, we could see lush green everywhere.

09.JPGIt was not hard to imagine the beauty of the space during cherry blossoms when the lush green would be replaced with clusters of pink flowers.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe sat down at a low table and ordered our lunch sets with much anticipation.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe appetizers soon arrived.  We were immediately impressed by the presentation and the taste of food.

13We ordered two different set meals of seasonal fish and vegetables.  The food was beautifully arranged and presented like two flower baskets with eye-catching colours.  The dishes were made of various vegetables skillfully prepared to bring out the distinct flavors and textures of the ingredients. 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERATofu, eggplant, beans, and mushroom might sound simple.  Yet when they were individually prepared with different flavours of sweetness, sourness and saltiness, and were tasted in a certain order of sequence, the experience would become much more complex and sophisticated.  Sometimes, we might not be able to tell what the actual ingredient was just by the look, and would get a pleasant surprise after the first bite. Every of our bite became an opportunity for a pleasant surprise, and was full of anticipation. 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAA cup of creamy yogurt-like custard beautifully served.

15The meal finished with the traditional delight, a mochi (rice cake) kind of dessert wrapped in a leaf.

16We unwrapped the leaf with high anticipation and were rewarded with a perfect gift to end the wonderful meal.


DAY 1 (1/6): ARRIVAL IN SHIBUYA, Tokyo, 2017.06.14

A brief Tokyo holiday in Mid-June 2017 was an ad-hoc decision after consecutive weeks of exhausting overtime work in April and May. With so much to offer as a cosmopolitan, Tokyo is an ideal destination that always delights us in various aspects from design exhibitions, novel fashion, seasonal delicacies to a simple cup of coffee. For five splendid days in the supposedly rainy season, we were fortunate to enjoy three full days of sunshine, and encountered only an hour or two of heavy rain on the last day as we were about to leave the Japanese capital on the Narita Express train.

Famed for its scramble crossing, youthful fashion and glittering neon lights, Shibuya (渋谷) of Tokyo also has a tranquil side lying just a block or two away from its vibrant shopping and entertainment scenes, and that was where we stayed for four nights at the periphery of the 24-hour vibrant actions of Shibuya.  Since the morning when the Narita Express train brought us directly from the airport after our red-eye flight from Hong Kong, we immediately found Shibuya an excellent base within walking distance to the surrounding neighborhoods such as Harajuku (原宿), Aoyama (青山), Ebisu (恵比寿), Daikanyama (代官山) and Nakameguro (中目黒), and a super convenient hub for public transit, where the JR Yamanote Line (山手線) intersects with several other Metro Lines and Private Railway Lines.

Our Tokyo journey 2017 began in Shibuya, in the midst of magnificent urban dynamic where the stylish young generation flock to the trendy fashion shops, where the locals gather around the statue of Hachikō (the loyal Akita dog (秋田犬) that continued to stay in front of Shibuya Station to wait for its owner for nine years after the owner’s death) to meet their friends, and where exciting tourists would stand in the flock of people at the scramble crossing for selfies in between traffic lights.  A slight drawback on staying in Shibuya was the intense construction works surrounding the station due to the upcoming Olympics Games.  With the new additions of commercial towers, underground shopping streets, and a beautiful new railway station, we anticipate a dramatic transformation of Shibuya before 2020. The current hoarding around construction sites, temporary walkways and directional signs enhance the maze-like character of this world’s fourth busiest railway station.  After all, we came to Tokyo to experience its magnificent urban vibrancy and dynamic cultures, and we were more than happy to call Shibuya home for five fantastic days.

01Even during a weekday morning, the scramble crossing of Shibuya is still teemed with pedestrians.
02The advertisement billboard of Kis-My-Ft2, the seven-member Japanese boy band, was the first thing we saw as we stepped out Shibuya Station after the two-hour Narita Express train ride.
03The wall of Shibuya Railway Station is decorated with relief of Hachikō (the loyal Akita dog (秋田犬) that continued to stay in front of Shibuya Station to wait for its owner for nine years after the owner’s death).  The bronze Hachikō statue nearby is a popular meeting place for the locals.
04Our hotel Sakura Fleur Aoyama was five minute walk away from Shibuya Station.
05We passed by the concourse of Shibuya Hikarie (渋谷ヒカリエ) every time we walked between Shibuya Station and our hotel.  Shibuya Hikarie is a mixed use tower comprised of offices, theatre, exhibition spaces and retail.
06We also frequented the footbridge between Shibuya Hikarie and the station.
07In the evening, the plaza in front of Shibuya Station is full of life.
08While most come to meet up with friends for shopping or dining, some Shibuya visitors would go beyond and come dressed in costumes.  We saw a young man dressed up as if Finn (played by John Boyega) in the Star Wars.
09In front of the station plaza is the iconic scramble crossing surrounded by LED advertisement screens and neon lights.
10In front of Shibuya Station Plaza, a couple on a bicycle stopped at the crossing.
11Every few minutes, a change of traffic lights would allow pedestrians to pour onto the tarmac crossing from all directions.  In midst of the crowds, there were always people (often tourists) standing still to take photographs of themselves and friends in the sea of people.
12Some selfie takers were quite serious and creative about their Shibuya Crossing photo.
13The vivid colours of advertisement screens and billbroads at Shibuya Crossing were often complemented with visitors dressed in outstanding outfits.
14The legendary Shibuya 109 was once the hub of youth fashion and styles.
15The iconic Shibuya Hikarie (second building from the left) may soon to be covered with new commercial towers.
16On the 11th floor of Shibuya Hikarie there is a sky lobby that allows visitors to have a birdeye’s view of central Shibuya.
17view of the scramble crossing from the sky lobby at Shibuya Hikarie.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIn Shibuya Hikarie, a display model of Shibuya of the near future clearly shows the upcoming additions (highlighted with internal lighting) to the already lively area.
19Near Shibuya Station, narrow Yokocho dining alleyways are some of the hidden gems in Shibuya.
20A few blocks away from the railway station and crossing, Shibuya has another side of low key tranquility.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAJust a few minutes walk from the vibrant scramble crossing, wandering in the peaceful streets of Shibuya almost felt like an otherworldly experience.