It is not often the Shinagawa Shrine looks this picture perfect – not only is it spruced up for the big annual festival or matsuri, it is also full of flowers in bloom right now, not least the giant and very colorful hydrangea (or Ajisai, 紫陽花). These large flowers are one of the most beloved flowers in Japan and the semi-official symbol of summer (in the same way that the cherry blossom flowers signals spring). Hydrangea is a species with a vast number of different flowers, some as small bushes, other as tall as trees. The flowers can be as small as your fist or larger than your head. The ajisai blooms as summer starts, but it is not the only flower at the shrine, there were even a few potted water lilies. More photos of the shrine and the festival to come!
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!