Tokyo is one of the most crowded capitals on Earth but in the middle of it all there is still opportunities to see a little bit of non-human nature. A while ago I was walking through Tokyo’s famous Asakusa district and saw these pets taking their owners for a walk through the city. Cats are commonplace, both in trams and roaming the streets on their own, seeing a pig though, was the first for me! A few foreign tourists tried to communicate with the pig but he was incredibly focused on the food his owner was enjoying.
Apart from pets there is a surprising amount of wildlife in the city. Even in the most central parts we have Palm Civets, Raccoons and cats. In the outskirts we have foxes, rabbits, kites and eagles and still within city limits but in the most remote areas we have bears, badgers and boars!
Tokyo is full of history and interesting stories if you just know where to look and aren’t too distracted by the food, the fun and the shopping! I have passed these two statues at the famous Sensoji Temple in Japan’s number one tourist site, Asakusa, maybe over a thousand times but I only recently learned about the history of them.
In the first half of the 17th century when Edo was the trading and crafts center of Japan and the home of the ruling Shogun (Warlord) a struggling trader in rice took in a small boy from modern day Gunma prefecture and did his best to teach him about trade and commerce. Eventually the boy returned to his home town and started a very successful trading business. His old master though was not so lucky and died impoverished and destitute. The former apprentice, Takase Zembe, heard of the tragedy and ordered two huge statues of the bodhisattvas Kannon and Seishi. They were donated in 1678 to the memory of the rice merchant and his son. Both the statues miraculously survived the US fire bombings of 1945 and they are still in their original positions to the right of the second Nio gate.
But the story doesn’t end there, because almost 300 years later one of Zembe’s direct descendants, Takase Jiro who was the Japanese ambassador to Sri Lanka in 1996 developed a cultural exchange and partnership between the Sensoji Temple and the famous Isurumuniya Vihara temple in Anuradhapura, the capital of ancient Ceylon (Sri Lanka). As the Senso-ji’s pagoda was rebuilt in 1973, the temple in Sri Lanka dispatched its senior abbot to the dedication ceremony, bringing with him a granule of the physical remains of the Buddha, a massively important relic, to dedicate to the Japanese temple.
The granule remains in the pagoda to this day and I hope both it and the two statues representing the gratitude of a devoted apprentice to his former master will remain for many thousands of years to come.
I passed the statues a little while ago, and found them occupied by two birds who posed perfectly for the camera.
If Nara City in Western Japan is know for anything it is the Big Buddha and for the hundreds of wild deer roaming the streets. If there ever was a popularity contest I wonder who would win, the temple or the deer? Although I have never really had the time to focus an hour or so to taking photos of the deer it is hard to miss them just walking through the city and I took these snaps as I visited Nara a couple of years ago. Nara is one of my favorite places in Japan and I am always looking for excuses to visit. It is also a good place to base yourself for tourism to western Japan if the Kyoto hotels are full or the big city feel of Osaka is too intimidating. Nara is full of the old time small city charm even though there are close to 340 000 people living there.
Many people who visit the mountainous Izu peninsula to the south west of Tokyo will pass through the Amagi mountain range. The mountains are actually mostly ancient volcanoes (there’s over 100 of them) and are quite popular with hikers and mountain climbers. Even for people not that interested in physical activities the Joren falls of Mount Amagi (天城山) are a very popular point to stop and rest you legs on the long drive from Tokyo to the tip of Izu. Although the best nature views are not around the falls, it is really beautiful enough to visit. The more beautiful nature around the old volcanoes are much more inaccessible but worthwhile if you have experienced hiker friends.
The Joren falls (浄蓮の滝) were formed 17 000 years ago when the volcanoes last erupted and you can clearly see the magma flows in the columnar joints making up the base of the falls. The walk down to the falls from the road is a little steep but has some good views on the way. The river valley is home to a small Wasabi plantation and there’s usually small rest house open that offers food, drinks and sweets (many with a wasabi theme). The falls are located in Izu City (伊豆市), Yugashima (湯ヶ島).
There are some old folk-tales associated with the falls:
Once upon a time, there lived an old farmer who had a field on the back of Joren Falls, near the basin of the waterfall. One day, after working in the field for some time, he sat and rested on a stump. There he found a Joro-Gumo (wasp spider) winding a web around his leg. “The spider must take my leg for a branch”, he thought and cut the web to wind it around a branch. Suddenly the earth started to shake, and the next moment, the stump was dragged into the basin with a lot of noise. Trembling with fear, he said to the villages, “The master of Joren Falls is a beautiful Joro-Gumo. It will drag you into the pool by winding its web”. Since then, no villager had come close to the waterfall.
A few years later, a lumber jack from another village entered the forest. When he was cutting of a tree near Joren Falls, he accidentally dropped his hatchet into the pool of the waterfall. He was at a loss of what to d. After a while later, a beautiful woman with the hatchet in her hand appeared and said, “You can get your hatchet back. But don’t tell anyone that have seen me or I will take your life.” Without a word he received the hatchet from her. Later he figured that the beautiful woman he met was the dreadful master of the waterfall, Joro-Gumo.
After the incident he moved to another village for work, though he couldn’t forget the fearful experience and the promise he made with the woman. One night, when was drinking with his friends, he let the word slip out about the beautiful master of the Joren Fall. After the party was over, the drunken lumberjack closed his eyes and never woke up.
There are lot of folk tales in Japan people disrespecting nature or not keeping the promises or talking too much. A common theme in many stories are also the village drinking party! It must have been an important aspect of the social life of ancient Japanese people.