Tokyobling's Blog

The Mount Fuji at Shinagawa Shrine – Fujizuka

Posted in Japanese Traditions, Places by tokyobling on June 11, 2015

If you have visited a few shrines in Tokyo you are likely to have come across the concept of the Fujizuka (富士塚), which literally translates to “Mount Fuji Mound”. These mounts that are made to resemble the famous Mount Fuji are anything from a couple of meters to the biggest one at 15 meters, here in Shinagawa Shrine. The common theme is that they all contain more or less original lava stones from the real mount fuji, usually these genuine rocks are in very visible locations, more or less covering the mound. The first Fukizuka was constructed in 1780 at Takada in modern day Nishi Waseda (later relocated), and this Fujizuka in Shinagawa Shrine was built very late, which perhaps explains its size. In the old days all of these were built in locations where you could actually see the real Mount Fuji from the top, but due to the construction of tall buildings this has been lost. I think it is possible to see the mountain from this very tall Fujizuka though, but despite dozens of visits I have never managed even a glimpse.

If you visit the Shinagawa Shrine and the small and quite terrifying footpath to the top is open I recommend a climb, the views are quite good, and you can almost see down to the old Tokaido road, the main highway of old Japan. Another thing you will see a lot of are trains, as they pass right on top of the little Shimbamba Station, and if you have a keen eye you might spot the dozens of jets coming in for landing or taking off from Haneda Airport to the south west of the shrine!

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Mizonokuchi Station – Kawasaki City

Posted in Places by tokyobling on November 9, 2014

There is a saying that in Tokyo you can eat out every meal for your entire life and never have to eat at the same restaurant twice. While this is certainly true, I feel that a variation on this saying could be: In the Tokyo region you could travel to a new station everyday of your life. This though, is certainly an exaggeration even it feels like it sometimes! Despite having spent years and years in and around Tokyo I still travel to stations every now and then that are completely new to me. The Mizonokuchi Station in northern Kawasaki City of neighboring Kanagawa Prefecture is one of those major stations that I had just never had a reason to visit. It is used by on average over 140 000 people per day, much more than the population of most cities in Europe. Mizonokuchi Station (溝の口駅) was inaugurated in 1927 and serves Tokyu Den-en-toshi Line and Tokyu Oimachi Line. It is also popular as it is just a stone’s throw from the JR Musashi-Mizonokuchi Station (武蔵溝ノ口駅). You can see that JR has kept the old “spelling” of the station name.

I still haven’t had time to explore the station or the area around it, but maybe some day! Until then, I’ll file this under “places to check out”. If you have any personal stories or information about the station or the area around it please let me know!

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Uguisudani Station – Yamanote Line

Posted in Places by tokyobling on May 26, 2014

Despite having lived in Tokyo for years and years it was only my second visit to the Uguisudani area: it is nice to have that tourist experience of something brand new in your own hometown! The name Uguisudani is perhaps the most beautiful of all the names of Yamanote line stations, “The Valley of the Bush Warbler” (Uguisu being the name of the bird known as Japanese Bush Warbler, easily the most endearing little bird in Japan).

The station is the least used of all the JR stations serviced by the Yamanote Line, at only 24 000 passengers a day. This number comes into perspective when compared to the massive 742 000 passengers a day for the JR lines at the biggest station on the Yamanote line, Shinjuku!

A long time age Uguisudani was home to a couple of small villages located at the bottom of the valley where it connected with a large lake that over the years gradually turned into a swamp and later completely drained and built over. From the valley it was an easy walk up the valley side to the upper fields, Ueno (上野).

These days the area has an unnecessarily bad reputation. A simple check on the metropolitan police incident map reveals that there are fewer incidents around the Uguisudani station area than most other Yamanote line stations (with about one incident every 10-25 days, including even minor crimes like bicycle theft), and this is in one of the safest cities on the planet overall. The North exit is located on top of the hill overlooking the valley beneath. It is popular mostly with young students, businessmen and visitors to the famous Ueno Park and Zoo. The south exit is located down in the valley on the other side of the train tracks and is used by locals of Negishi, as the old neighborhoods around the station are called.

Uguisudani is a hub for low cost hotels and backpackers hostels and as such it is very crowded with young foreigners. I don’t think there are many places in Tokyo where you can stay so centrally and conveniently for so little money. It is very poplular with Asian tourists and you will hear as much Cantonese, Malay, Tagalog and Thai on the streets these days as you will hear Japanese, at least in the peak tourist seasons.

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Manseibashi and Akihabara at Night

Posted in Places by tokyobling on March 13, 2014

One of my favorite places in Tokyo was always the Manseibashi Station platform that spent a large chunk of both the last and this century in slumber – one of Tokyo’s few remaining ghost stations. Last year however it was finally revived with a great looking shopping arcade, balcony overlooking a canal and a fantastic cafe up on top between the tracks of the central Chuou Line train. I blogged about it last year after the renovation was complete and I still love going here every now and then, although I am not the only one – that cafe I mentioned earlier actually sells out of food most nights! Last time I went there they said the only thing we have left is black coffee, so if you go, go early!

A few days ago I passed the station just after the sun had set and the last light of the day was almost gone. The old platform looks even better at night. There is something special about red bricks that you just can’t translate into concrete. They feel alive, and their strength and longevity means that they can last for hundreds of years, accumulating raw history – the wrinkles and spotches of red bricks in old Tokyo buildings have everything from bomb shrapnel holes to modern signs. The special look and feel of red brick, or akarenga, as they are known in Japan, gets even further enhanced because there are so few of them. Red brick walls are incredibly difficult to earthquake proof and even the ancient romans solved the problem by adding copious amounts of reinforced concrete to the core of their brick structures (I am sure the Manseibashi platform also has a concrete heart but at least the cladding is the original red bricks). In fact the first architect to finally solve the problem of building with red brick walls in earthquake countries was Josiah Conder (1852-1920) by using reinforced metal bands embedded in the mortar between the bricks, effectively tying the walls together. You can see an example of this in the fantastic Mitsubishi Ichigokan building in Tokyo’s Marunouchi district. The Manseibashi station platform building is a perfect example of a building that is valuable, lovable and useful, so much that it survived Earthquakes, bombing raids, urban development and modernist architectural fads. It is not a mere space to which people adapt but an organically and historically evolved living building. I am sure it will be around for the future generations to come many centuries from now.

As a contrast, the last photo shows the totally utalitarian and disposable modern Akihabara on the other side of the canal, that represents a different form of beauty, where the brutalist architecture of concrete were unable to withstand the pure commercial and creative onslaught of unabashed humanity. You can see the signs of human activity literally crowding out every inch of ugly bare concrete helplessly drowned in a sea of humanity.

Sorry for this public love letter to a city – I just had to get it out!

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