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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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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New Shinjuku JR Station Exit – Southern Terrace

Posted in Places by tokyobling on October 18, 2013

It seems that while I was sleeping on the job (seeing as the very first post I wrote on this blog back in November 15th 2008 was about Shinjuku Station), Shinjuku JR Station got a new exit added to its already existing Southern Terrace exit, right in front of the massive Southern Exit. It can’t be well known yet as there were very few people using it and I only found it by being to tired to mind where I was going, figuring I’d get out somewhere. It is roughly in the same place as the old New Southern Exit (it would have been interesting if they had kept the naming convention and named this one New New Southern Exit).

Shinjuku is the busiest train station in the world with numerous train lines and several train companies as well as two different subway companies making it easily the most important transport hub in Japan, handling between one and two million passengers per day. Considering this it is easy to imagine that most people and especially most tourists dread using the station in the beginning, it is just so easy to get lost and if you exit at the wrong place it may take you quite a while to walk to where it was you were supposed to go in the first place. But there are two simple rules to remember if you want to avoid getting lost, at least in the JR part of the station.

1. If you are heading down towards an exit, you will end up in one of the eastern or western exits.
2. If you are heading up towards an exit you will end up in one of the several southern exits.

If you decide to meet someone make it absolutely clear where it is you are supposed to meet them as it is very easy to get confused. There are for example police boxes and Starbucks cafes near most of the exits, so using one of these as a landmark might not be very helpful. Still it could be worse: I hold the Shibuya subway stations to be one of the most confusing in the world, and I use it a lot! These are the exits with ticket gates: East Exit, Central East Exit, West Exit, Central West Exit, Southern Exit, New Southern Exit, Southeastern Exit, Southern Terrace Exit. Quite a list, and if you were to add the dozens of other exits for the other lines it would become a very confusing list very quickly.

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Countryside Trains – Ichibata Taishasen

Posted in Opinion, Places by tokyobling on July 22, 2012

It’s summer again and that means the season for discovering very local countryside train lines! Here’s the Ichibata Taishasen (一畑電車大社線) running between Izumotaishamae and Kawato stations (出雲大社前駅-川跡駅). This line is actually just an off-shoot on the main Kita Matsue line that is very rural even in itself. This train and the terminus pictured here is famous for being the station closest to the famous Izumo Taisha. There used to be a line dedicated just to service the town of Izumo with a connection to Matsue City, the capital of Shimane Prefecture, the Taisha Line but it was cancelled in 1990, even before the end of the bubble economy. Still, the areas close to the main cities (Tokyo, Osaka, Nagoya and Yokohama) have fared better but it is still amazing to see how robustly the Japanese countryside has managed to withstand the death sentence meted out to most rural areas in North America and Europe. But I fear even the Japanese countryside will succumb to the final death blow with this TPP (Trans-Pacific Partnership). Once Japan signs the agreement the last lifeline of the Japanese rural economy, the domestic market, will implode and that will be the end of all these cities and towns spread out over the country. If you will allow me to be political for a moment here, it is my opinion that the TPP is an even great threat to Japan than earthquakes and nuclear accidents. Once the agricultural sector is left defenseless from cheap imports there will be no reason to farm in Japan anymore, and with that the supporting businesses and civil society built around the farms will collapse. Many people fail to realize that Japan is essentially an agricultural society. You don’t need to venture far out from the cities to enter a countryside that in essence has remained the same for the last two to three thousand years. However, the TPP can still be stopped and I urge anyone with voting rights in the concerned countries to vote only for parties that are fundamentally opposed to the agreement.

Traveling around Japan I often meet idealistic young farmers who are putting their livelihoods on the line to keep the countryside of Japan alive but there is absolutely no chance of them being able to stand in the face of the TPP. And with them the rural train lines, like this one.











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