The New Year’s Holidays are a little peculiar in central Tokyo. Many (if not most) Japanese spend the holidays traveling somewhere, either abroad or back to their parents or relatives around Japan. This means that Tokyo is a bit more deserted, a bit quieter than usual around the New Year. Quite a few shops are closed as well, which makes it even less interesting for people to go into town. This does not deter tourists though, and walking around for example Ginza or Omotesando at night on the 31st or 1st is a bit like being in a tourist theme park, no locals and no shops open.
Still, window shopping is an acceptable pastime during these times, so I joined the tourists and did a bit of walking around on the relatively people free sidewalks and streets of central Tokyo.
Here are some photos of Omotsesando at night, not around New Year’s though.
Easily one of the most seen but least visited shrines in Japan is the tiny Omatsu Inari Shrine very close to the large Omotesando street crossing. Technically the address of the shrine is in Minamiaoyama, but most people would recognize it as a place in Omotesando more than anything else. It has quite a few illustrious brand name shops for close neighbors so there are tens of thousands of people passing it most days, despite this I have never seen anyone enter it.
The name, Omatsu, which means large pine, comes from the fact that until 1839 there was a huge pine tree right on this spot, it grew so large that people would come to venerate it. As it broke during a storm a tiny shrine was erected over the tee stump and it remains there today, even long after anyone who has ever seen the pine has passed away.
Since then the shrine has found a second shot of fame after having been featured in the award winning drama writer Mukoda Kuniko (向田邦子) who moved into the the fifth floor of the apartment building just next to it in 1970. I think she lived there until she died in a plane crash in Taiwan in 1981.
The shrine itself, being an inari-shrine, enshrines the diety Ukanomitama, who is often shown as a fox in Japanese mythology. I took these photos at night. For some reason I think this shrine is best visited at night, when the obvious modern surrounds are a little less obvious, giving us a chance to imagine this shrine as it must have looked in 1839.
Christmas is coming and Christmas trees, decorations and light shows are going up all over Tokyo. One of the more spectacular ones is the big tree in the middle of Omotesando Hills, a shopping center in the fashionable Omotesando district. On the hour every other there’s a bit of a special light and music show at the base of the tree above the very attractive miniature winter town. In fact the whole tree is decorated with miniatures and great fun to watch both from a far and up close. If you are passing by I recommend a quick stop to visit the tree!
Christmas is coming and so are the light displays. At the Spiral Garden in Tokyo’s Omotesando I saw this exhibition of Citizen watches, watch parts suspended in the air and lit by spotlights as part of a promotion. Their official website is here and if you are passing by in Omotesando until November 24th it could be worth visiting to see for yourself!