One of my favorite places in the beautiful Kakitagawa Park in Shizuoka Prefecture’s Mishima City is this gorgeous natural spring water river feature. Even though we had 39 degrees celsius in the air this day, the water, being exposed to the first light in over 10 years after traveling underground from the peak of Mount Fuji, was icy cold and wonderfully fresh. Naturally the tiny spot was crowded with families and kids taking the opportunity to cool down a little. I think Mishima City is blessed to have water like this. Delicious and free. A true gift from nature!
A couple of weekend I visited Omiya City in Saitama Prefecture just north of Tokyo for their annual summer festival. It is a newish, huge, city festival (so no properly traditional or religious significance to it as yet), where they show a little bit of everything the city has to offer in terms of culture. One of these being a proper samba carnival! Having never seen a samba carnival in Brazil I can not vouch for how authentic it feels, but it sure looks spectacular! The outlandish costumes, the music (and not least the ladies) are huge attractions for locals and the streets were lined ten deep along the parade route.
August has been very very hot in Japan, with few days under 35 degrees celsius and temperatures hitting 40 even in Saitama Prefecture on several days. To dance for a two hours more or less nonstop in this heat is a feat in itself. The men and women did a great job.
Brazilians make up one of Japan biggest ethnic minorities, and there are currently about 300 000 of them in Japan, mostly concentrated in the factory towns on the southern coast of Japan, stretching between Shizuoka Prefecture and Osaka. Most famously in the city of Hamamatsu where most street signs used to be bilingual in Japanese and Portuguese.
At the Kakitagawa Yuusui park in Shizuoka Prefecture’s Mishima City you can visit the tiny Kifune Shrine (貴船神社). It is a shrine dedicated to the God Takaoka-no-kami, who is the Inoame and Tomeame God, or the God who can start and stop rain at his will. The Shrine is a tributary of the much larger and more famous Kifunejinja in Kyoto far to the west. The shrine itself is located on the highest spot in the river and spring valley, on the spot of a castle which was first destroyed in the 1570s, rebuilt and finally destroyed again sometime in the 1610s. The lack of remains of any castle structures might mean that it was a wooden castle, more like a fort. The nature around the shrine is very beautiful, and there were plenty of insect, lizards, fish and birds around. I saw one semi sit quietly on the trunk of a tree. In summer the swarms of semi can be quite deafening, almost like a motorcycle constantly revving its engine!
Tokyo has a lot of interesting place names and the study of them should be enough to keep a brigade of budding toponymists busy for the better part of a century. One of the first names most tourists notice is the Toranomon (虎ノ門) which literally translates as “The Tiger Gate”. But as is so often the case with interesting place names, this name has nothing to do with tigers although very much to do with gates. During the Edo Period there was a large castle, the Edo Castle, where the Imperial Palace is located today. The castle had 36 gates, and 12 of them were named after the traditional names for the directions onto which they opened (which also corresponds to the different hours of the clock and the years of the Chinese zodiac). One of them being Tiger, Tora (寅). The gate was located in an a place called Shibaimairimachi (or so I believe), but In the 1920s a popular and well used tram station was placed in where the gated had been, called Toranomon with the animal name rather than the zodiac name. The name stuck and in 1938 a Subway station was inaugurated with the same name. In 1949 the area around the tram station was named Toranomon and in 1952 the large parts of the city in that area were renamed Toranomon, numbered one to five. I think the name stuck because it is vaguely cool, the old Shibaimairimachi disappeared and even the much more attractively named Kamiyacho disappeared completely from the maps (the name remains only as subway station in Toranomon Gochome) in 1977. Why this happened is quite a mystery to me.
Today Toranomon is “the Showa style business district” of Tokyo. When Tokyoites think of men in suits doing important business and in large well known corporations they think of Toranomon. This mental image will soon disappear though, as the old style Toranomon was more or less rebuilt to a much more modern business area during 2011-2014. It is fun to watch old movies set in Tokyo and try to name all the locations, especially since Toranomon features in so many movies.
To commemorate the name change, the local neighborhood committee put up a bronze statue of a tiger in 1979, which is now a bit of a tourist attraction.
Another interesting piece of history is the 1923 assassination attempt on the then Crown Prince Regent, Hirohito (who would soon be crowned Emperor) which took place not far away by the usual kind of communist revolutionary ideologist. The attempt is now known as the Toranomon Incident. If you ever exit the Toranomon Subway station Exit 3, you can look at roughly 10 o’clock (ahead and slightly to the left) and imagine the pistol shot shattering the car window near the young Crown Prince at 10:45 in the morning, December 27th 1923.