Tokyo 2019

Tokyo 2019

Arrived late Saturday night. Headed out on Sunday morning to explore the local district. First stop was Atago-jinja. The word ‘jinja’ means a Shinto place of worship. This one dates back to 1603. It’s a lovely oasis of quiet and green surrounded by roads and skyscrapers. Places like this must have a deep significance for people living in one of the most densely populated places on Earth.

Atago-jinja is built on the highest point in Edo. All of 26 m above sea level, which tells you how flat it is around Tokyo. It’s famous for the 85 stone steps that lead up to the shrine. There’s a legend of a samauri who rode up them on horseback to deliver plum blossoms to the shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu. We stalked Ieyasu and his clan on this trip.

South of Atago-jinja lies Zojo-ji. This is an important temple of the Jodo (Pure Land) sect of Buddhism. It’s a very large complex that dates back to 1393. These days, the temple sits in the shadow of that Gustave Eiffel rip-off, the Tokyo Tower. At first look it’s an odd juxtaposition, but this is Japan. The interplay of ancient and modern is everywhere.

Along one side of the temple grounds is a row of “care guardian dieties of children”. Small statues with knitted caps and capes, plastic flowers and windmills. These are dedications made for the safety of children and memorials for miscarriages and stillbirths. At the rear, within high walls, lies the mausoleum of the Tokugawa shoguns.

To the west of Zojo-ji is Roppongi, a modern district with an emphasis on art and design. Highlights include Tokyo Midtown, 21_21 Design Sight, and the National Art Centre Tokyo.

The area around Tokyo Midtown has some cool outdoor sculpture.

21_21 Design Sight is a building by the architect Tadao Ando. What’s striking is the way it presents sleek lines at ground level, then takes you into a below ground space that is full of light.

Nearby is the National Art Centre Tokyo by the architect Kisho Kurokawa. Its curved facade looks amazing from the outside. The external facade turns curved, transparent wall when you are inside the building and it’s a fantastic effect. 

Julie did a ‘high contrast’ photo tour later in the week and took a great photo in this space that now hangs on our living room wall.

copyright Julie Moltmann

The main exhibition on show when we visited was “Vienna on the Path to Modernism“. So we had Klimt and Schiele with our concrete and glass. Pure Japan.

Heading further west towards Shibuya we stopped by the Spiral Building by the architect Fumihiko Maki. It was being yarn-bombed. Walking the streets you see all kinds of cool things. We liked this building that looked like it was coated in chocolate dots.

Timed our run to be at Shibuya crossing in peak hour. First we sought out the “Myth of Tomorrow” mural which has a very intruiging history. Then we picked our spot to watching pulses of bodies wash across the striped tarmac. It is captivating. 



In Nikko we splashed out on half-board at a good quality ryokan overlooking the Daiya river. For 3 days we were very well fed and bathed ourselves morning and evening. Resplendent in our daily choice of kimonos. It was all extremely pleasant.

Nikko Hotel

We arrived on Thursday afternoon. The ryokan was a little north west of Nikko central. We chose it because it was within walking distance of the shrine and temple complex and some other interesting places. Checked in then headed off to start exploring. We could but admire Jyokoji Temple from afar – only buddhists allowed!

Our main aim that afternoon was to visit what’s called the Kanman-ga-fuchi Abyss. A path running along the south bank of the river is lined with about 70 stone statues of Jizo, a Bodhisattva who cares for the deceased. Each one is wearing a red knitted cap and a red bib.

At the end of the path is a cemetery filled with monuments and statues, covered in moss and lichen. All you could hear was the rush of the river below. It was quite beautiful.

Shrines and temples of Nikko

Shrines and temples of Nikko

Friday was spent exploring Nikko’s World Heritage shrines and temples. Old Shin-kyo Bridge spans the river near the entrance.

Shin-kyo Bridge

We spent most of our time in the Tosho-gu Shrine which is by far the largest. It includes the tomb of  Tokogawa Ieyasu, founder of the Tokugawa Shogunate. Climbing stone steps from the river you pass through a massive stone torii (entrance gate) and see a giant pagoda.

This leads to the shrine’s main gateway, called the Omotemon, guarded by fiece looking Deva kings.

On the other side of the gateway lies a courtyard with the Three Sacred Storehouses and the Sacred Stable.

Next is the purification building (Omizuya) which has a gorgeous ceiling. Beyond this a smaller torii leads from the courtyard further into the shrine. It’s exciting to feel yourself being pulled through the complex towards the next set of highlights. Through the torii you can see a large gate in the middle with bell and drum towers to the left and right.

Yomei-mon, the Sunset Gate, is most certainly a highlight. It has every form of ornamentation you can think of. It’s said that those who built it were worried it’s perfection would offend the gods, so they placed one pillar upside down as a deliberate mistake.

The degree of decoration and ornamentation within the inner section of the shrine is intoxicating. Gilt and bright colours, burnt wood and matt finishes.

To get to Ieyasu’s tomb, called Okumiya, you exit through the Sakashita-mon (gate). The mantle has a carving of a cat called Nemuri-neko which is much loved by Japanese pilgrims. Exiting the gate you get a nice view over the roofs of the building complex. Hope they have good fire prevention plans in place. It’s a giant tinder box.

It’s quite a climb to Okumiya, and being summer it was hot going uphill. It’s cool and tranquil when you get there. The shogun’s tomb is very simple, in contrast to the shrines and temples below.

We then left Tosho-gu and headed to the next shrine.  It’s pleasant to walk between them, providing a break from the intense decoration. Next we visited Futasaran-jinja. Founded in 1619 it’s the oldest shrine in Nikko. It is much smaller and less grandiose than Tosho-gu. The relative simplicity felt calm and peaceful.

Lake Shuzen-ji

Lake Shuzen-ji

On Saturday we took the bus to Lake Chuzen-ji (Chuzenjiko). The road from/ to Nikko is an impressive one-way loop. At Chuzenjiko we boarded a ferry that circumnavigates the lake. The ferry is hop on/hop off so you can fit a lot into the day. Paddle boats, mountain scenery, waterfalls and lake vistas.

Foreign embassies built villas on the lake in years gone by. We got off at the Italian villa and walked to the British villa. Young Japanese musicians were playing classical music at both villas. We encountered them walking from one to the other.

We caught the ferry back to our starting point, then walked into Chuzenjiko.

It sits adjacent to the very impressive Kegon Falls.

There is an elevator tunnelled through the rock that takes you down to a viewing platform.

Caught the bus back to Nikko in time for a bath then dinner at the ryokan. Relaxing end to a great day.

Tamozawa Imperial Villa

Tamozawa Imperial Villa

We had a late flight home from Haneda Airport on Sunday night. The transport system is so reliable that we were happy to spend the morning in Nikko, confident we’d make all of our connections. We walked up to the Nikko Tamozawa Imperial Villa Memorial Park. It was used as a temporary palace for the Emperor and as the Crown Prince’s residence until 1898. The villa has over 100 rooms, with expert craftsmanship inside and sublime views out into the gardens. As a child, the Emperor Akihito was evacuated here in 1944 and we could see entrances to the air raid shelters as we wandered though the gardens. At the end of our visit we went back to the hotel, collected our bags, caught the train to Haneda Airport, and flew home to Hobart.

Japan 2019 gallery

Japan 2019 gallery