Walking around in cultural and historical Kamakura, one of Japan’s once capitals, I spotted an interesting building that looked to fit in a little better than most of the new builds you see recently. The architect must have anticipated the interest as he had fitted an explanation sheet on the side of the building for interested viewers. This little act alone makes me believe there is quite a lot of love invested in this building, which one vital ingredient in sustainable architecture. Kamakura isn’t exactly starved of interesting buildings, a stone’s throw away from this little house near Hase Station I found a couple of handsome old fashioned black wooden buildings. I love how Japanese cities (at least the best ones) are so eminently walkable! To be a walkable city, it is not enough to focus on good sidewalks and street crossings, it is also important to make the buildings so interesting that you actually want to walk there, just to explore!
If you are in Tokyo this weekend and want to experience the fun, music and bustle of a traditional festival you could pick the grand Konnohachimangu Matsuri (渋谷金王八幡宮例大祭) which takes place on both Saturday and Sunday in and around the grand shrine in Shibuya. The festival has everyting: gorgeous and energetic Awaodori at the shrine itself, huge lit paper sculptures of the Nebuta at the Center Gai, omikoshi careening all over Shibuya, folk singing and tons of other events. Even rowing gangs of taiko drummer and impromptu karaoke contests!
There are also plenty of other festivals taking place this weekend like the Hikawa Shrine Matsuri which starts tonight in Akaska, or the Ark Hills Autumn festival also in Akasaka, or the Ikebukuro Brazilian festival, or the Sakurashinmachi Nebuta festival tomorrow.
These photos from all around the festival area is from last year’s festival. Shibuya is an interesting place and packed with people even on normal days, add the weekend shoppers, the foreign tourists and a full on traditional festival and you get a very interesting mix of people and purposes! The three day long weekend means that many festivals carry on until Monday the 15th, so you’ll have plenty of opportunities to visit as many festivals as you want!
Earlier this month I visited the tiny Motomishima Jinja, a shrine hidden in the middle of Uguisudani’s maze-like streets around the south exit of JR Uguisudani Station. Despite being a stop on the famous Yamanote line the station is amazingly tiny and easily overlooked. I arrived early for the annual festival of the shrine so I had a bit of time to explore the shrine itself.
The shrine is most famous for being dedicated to one of the seven gods of fortune, the originally Taoist deity Jurojin whose symbol is a fan, a deer and a scroll. It also enshrines the god Oyamatsumi (大山祇命), the older brother of the legendary goddess Amaterasu. He is a god of war, mountains and seas. The shrine is also dedicated to Izanagi (伊佐那岐命), on of the two original gods that created the Japanese islands according to the Japanese creation mythology.
The shrine is a combination of at least two older shrines associated to the villages that used to be located in the valley. It was founded in 1710 and renamed, but the original buildings were destroyed in World War 2 and only rebuilt in 1966.
If you are doing the mini-pilgrimage to honor the seven gods of fortune, this shrine is a must visit!
It is easy to forget that all of Tokyo is not yet claimed by concrete and cars. There are still some very rural areas in the western parts of the metropolis for example. One of greenest areas in Tokyo is Ome City, which is only an hour from central Tokyo on the JR Chuo line and not even the westernmost part of Tokyo. Some of the orange and silver Chuo line trains go all the way out to Ome City where you will need to change trains to hit the real countryside. I went to Sawai, the sixth station on Ome Line (sixth after Ome, 19th after Tachikawa), a small station that is used by about 275 people daily. Although this part of Tokyo has been connected to central Tokyo since the building of a national road in 1603, it still feels very rural.
The post office has the old style post box you do not see in bigger cities much any more. The station is usually unmanned (but not on busier weekends) and it is located on the mountainside. The main attraction of Sawai is the old sake factory but I also enjoyed a meal of soba and wasabi in the sake factory garden, next to and overlooking the river. I took a whole lot of very unartistic snapshots to try and capture the feel of this place. Even after having lived so long in Tokyo it still amazes me every time that these kinds of places still exist so close to the biggest city on Earth. I can recommend you visit the countryside around Ome City if you ever feel stuck in all the concrete that is Tokyo. It is a perfect day trip or even half a day trip if you are quick about it. More photos of the river, trees and sake factory of Sawai!