If you are in Tokyo until December 28th I can really recommend going to see the absolutely stunning Japanese garden and laser light show at Hotel Chinzanso in Tokyo’s Bunkyo ward. From 1800 to 2230 it runs for 10 minutes every half hour and there’s no charge to seeing it or entering one of the best traditional gardens in Tokyo.
The garden itself is worth a visit at this time of the year with the stunning foliage of red and yellow leaves, but the light show just makes it so much more interesting. It is a ten minute long set of light playing on smoke over the largest hotel garden pond, set to music. Photos really do not make it justice and even though I saw the show three times due to wind speed it changed slightly every time. In my photos it looks tiny and boring but in real life it is far better. A fun thing I discovered back at home was the weird photos you get when the light hits the camera directly. It looks like some sort of psychadelic sixties art.
To get to the hotel you can use the Mejiro station on the Yamanote line, but from the station to the hotel it is quite a walk, so some people take the bus from the station. A much better choice is the Edogawabashi station of the Yurakucho line, Exit 1a which is also much closer to the garden itself so you don’t have to walk through the main hotel lobby.
This event is not very advertised so there were very few people when I was there. Go before it get too popular!
It is the end of September which in the world of Japanese confectionary and pomiculture (is there really no word in the English language for the cultivation of chestnut trees?) means it is time to start thinking about harvesting and making use of the extraordinarily sweet Japanese Chestnut (Castanea crenata). The trees are quite simply gorgeous, unlike any of the varieties of Castanea that we have in Europe, and the ripe fruits are encased in the sharpest needles you could ever imagine. Being used to our European varieties where the needles are often a bit soft, I learnt with much pain that these Japanese Chestnut are seriously spiky. Fresh they are half a percent fat and loaded with vitamins so quite healthy even as fruits go. Japanese use them for everything from ice-cream to jellies, candies, jams, sweets, roasts and in creams and lotions, and even as a topping on hot rice. I saw these specimen in a lovely garden in the lovely little town of Obuse in Nagano Prefecture, way north of Tokyo. Enjoy!
Tokyo might not have a lot of greenery per capita, but we do have quite a few parks, just smaller and more intensive than most other capitals around the world. I have blogged before about the oldest public park in Tokyo and here is the oldest private park, the Korakuen (actually the full name is 小石川後楽園, Koishikawa Korakuen Garden, but most people know it by the shorter name adopted by the nearby station and fair ground). Construction of the park was begun in 1629 as the private garden of the lord Tokugawa and his clan and is very clearly influenced on the gardens of Hangzhou in China, due to the Tokugawa patronage of a Chinese scholar, Zhu Shun Shui, who had escaped China to seek refuge in Japan. The park was opened to the public in the 1930’s but was severely damaged by the fire bombings of March 1945. Due to old age of many of the trees in the park the autumn leaves display of color gets pretty spectacular and it is a favorite spot of Tokyo people to view the changing of the seasons. Here’s a few photos I took, but I will post more during the week. I hope you enjoy!
Tokyo is famous for a lot of things, and beautiful nature is definitely not one of them. When we get different quality of life rankings from (mostly) American expat consultancy groups we tend to hear how many square meters of parks there are per inhabitant in all major cities around the world and usually Chinese and Japanese cities rank at the rock bottom of those. In fact, the only Japanese city that I can think of that even comes close to having a reasonable amount of park space would be Nara, but even Nara can’t compete to European or North American cities.
But park space per inhabitant is not all that counts my friends! One thing many of these rankings fail to consider is the travel distance from park to home, and if you consider that, there are major parks within 15 minutes on the bus or train from almost all Tokyo homes. I have one major park within walking distance (15 minutes on foot) and two other huge parks within 15 minutes on the train or subway. Not bad!
So, if you are in Tokyo and interested in experiencing a little bit of greenery, the place where you get most bang for your bucks is without doubt the Shinjuku Gyoen (新宿御苑). It is huge, and just walking through all of it will take qute some time. It is one of Tokyo’s imperial gardens but it was completely destroyed in May 1945 during the intense fire bombing of Tokyo at the end of the war. When it reopened in 1949 it was as a public park and it is now open most days of the year, during daytime hours only. One of the main attractions of the park is that it is actually not free to enter, you’ll have to pay 200 yen for the privilege. 200 yen is about half a Starbucks latte. In return, you get 58.3 acres of French, Japanese, English and Nature gardens divided in two Tokyo wards, Shibuya ward and Shinjuku ward. The Shinjuku Gyoen is easily one of the most well managed larger public parks in the world. As a photographer I often meet people interested in using the park as place for photo shoots, and although photography is allowed in the park, light stands and bouncers are not, unless you can find a way to do it undetected, which is not that hard if you are a little sneaky.
As I have stated many times on this blog, nature photography is absolutely not my thing and I think these pictures prove it. I shot these with my trusty old Nikkor 20mm f2.8 and put a POL-C filter on to get the sky properly. Interestingly, the large building in the last photo is the NTT Docomo Yoyogi Building which also happens to be the tallest clock tower in the world (right until the rather amazing Abraj Al Bait Towers in Mecca or completed). It is the third tallest building in Tokyo (at 240m) and despite the prime location it is closed to the public and used primarily as a technical installation for cell phone services in the greater Tokyo area. You can tell that it is modeled on the Empire State building in New York, following a grand tradition of building and places inspired by landmarks in the Big Apple.
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