Tokyo, Japan, is the largest urban area in the world and hosts 26 of the 51 busiest train stations. Shinjuku, coming in at number 1, was the station nearest the apartment that we rented during our recent visit to Japan.
To provide a respite for the busy-ness of the city, Tokyo has beautiful gardens, temples, and shrines. The shrines and temples offer a spiritual experience, although it is much different than the religious experiences with which many of us are familiar.
Hama Rikyu Garden
We visited several gardens, temples and shrines in Tokyo and in the neighboring city of Kamakura. On our first morning in Tokyo, we visited the Hama Rikyu Garden. A short walk from the Tsukiji Fish Market, this garden is a sharp contrast to the city that surrounds it. The garden has two walk-in entrances in addition to a Tokyo Water Bus stop entrance.
The garden, which has been in existence since the middle of the 17th century, was once a duck hunting area for shoguns. It contains a peony garden, wisteria trellises and cherry trees among other plant life and surrounds a large seawater tidal pond. The Imperial family gave the garden to the city in 1945.
After a relaxing stroll through the garden, we boarded the water bus and rode to the Asakusa area. We visited the bustling Senso-ji Temple, a Buddhist temple often visited by pilgrims following this religion. The temple itself honors the Buddhist deity, bodhisattva Kannon.
Although destroyed and rebuilt throughout the years, including during and after WWII, the original temple was built on these grounds in 645. The large “Thunder Gate” guards the temple, leading to kiosks for rituals of hand washing and lighting incense. The complex also includes a five-story pagoda.
On the far side of the Thunder Gate, there is a street that that contains souvenir shops and traditional restaurants. Although the area has seen controversy in the past, the merchant area is presently thriving. We enjoyed “melon pain,” (a melon shaped bread), while we wound our way through the busy street.
Our second day in Tokyo, we visited the beautiful Imperial Gardens. The grounds, which cover nearly 850 acres, held the primary residence of the shoguns until after the Meiji Restoration. The castle was destroyed by fire in 1873 and the new palace was built fifteen years later. The current emperor and his family reside here.
The Imperial Gardens no longer have any complete original buildings, but only partial remains of moats and walls. The foundation of an original castle tower at the top of a small hill provide a viewing platform for visitors.
In the afternoon, we visited the Ueno Toshu-gu Shrine. This is a Shinto shrine, dedicated to Tokugawa Ieyasu, who managed to have himself declared a deity after his death. The small building, which was recently renovated, is heavily decorated in gold leaf.
The next day, we rode the train to Kamakura. We stopped at the Engaku-ji Temple, a Zen Buddhist temple established in the 13th century. This very important temple holds the largest bell (at 2.5 meters) in Kamaku
We visited Hase-dera, another Buddhist temple, known for the large wooden statue of Kannon that is house there. The most interesting part for us here, though, was the group of school children that wanted to practice their English with us. They looked to be in about fourth grade and asked many questions about our visit as their teacher videotaped the conversation. Before they left us, they gave us each a handmade thank your card as a token of their appreciation.
Our last stop of the morning was Kotuko-in, known for the great Buddha. The bronze monument is the second largest Buddha in the world. Cast in the 13th century, the sculpture was originally housed inside a temple. The temple was destroyed by storms several times and since 1498, the nearly 44 foot sculpture remained outside.
On our final morning, we visited the Meiji Shinto Shrine. Shinto is not a religion, but rather, a way of life. In Shinto, divinity can be found in nature or in human beings.
When we visited the Shrine, we saw a large display of floral arrangements. Although I only saw beauty, I’m sure there were meanings behind each type of flower and its position in the arrangement. The gardens surrounding the shrine covered about 172 acres. I found the Meiji Shrine and surrounding gardens, the most peaceful place we visited in all of Tokyo.
I hope you enjoyed this quick tour of some of the highlights of Tokyo. If you missed last week’s post about Japanese Cuisine, click here. Next week, in my final post about Japan, I will talk about shopping opportunities. Stay tuned.