Takaosan (Mount Takao) is a sacred mountain less than an hour away from Shinjuku. The Yakuoin temple and Shinto shrines on Takaosan are dedicated to good fortune. I guess that you can imagine what that means for a visit on a weekend in these difficult times.
We visited twice; the first time we had little time to spend and went up by cable car; the second time I went alone and hiked through the woods over the trails to the top of the mountain which was preferable. Both visits the fog in the distance covered the view of Mt Fuji. The Yakuoin temple and shrine areas are beautiful but packed with visitors even during the week.
I hiked up the Inariyama trail and passed all the other hikers by going my own speed, most of the other hikers were dressed like they were attempting an ascent of Mt Everest and I felt slightly foolish in just my jeans and hiking boots. Still, it is an easy hike and other than a pair of good shoes, some insect repellent, rain clothes (just in case) and enough to drink, I don’t think you need anything special for these hikes.
The first time we visited we walked down over the paved trail #1 which was easy but a bit difficult on the knees. The second time I visited, I went left and right over the different trails to include visits to the Miyama bridge and the Jataki waterfall. At the latter a Shinto ascetic ceremony was taking place and nobody needed a spectator, so I moved on. It looked like the waterfall was closed off if no ceremony was taking place, so I would not really recommend coming down the mountain via the Jataki waterfall trail as it is a really long trail that brings you back halfway between Takaoguchi Keio and Takao JR station.
Even though the Yakuoin temple and shrine complex are very beautiful and contain some excellent examples of woodcarving, I didn’t feel a connection with the place. I was sort of left in no man’s land. The place was very busy and business like and there was no intimacy. While I visited, a group of 30 or 40 pilgrims, who had taken the cable car up for the mountain, arrived at the temple complex and were admitted to one of the secondary buildings while waiting to be admitted to the actual temple for a Buddhist ceremony. They all looked like top level executives of a very large company, but it looked like they didn’t really want to be there: Just before entering the temple complex, a few of them separated themselves from the group to make already group reservations in the restaurant they passed, to smoke a quick cigarette and to make phone calls. I’m sure they did the right thing but somehow it is not what I associate with a Buddhist pilgrimage where one tries to take distance from the worries of our day to day life and focus on the spiritual.
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Yesterday, I visited the Meiji Shrine and Yoyogi Park. I have been to Tokyo many times before and I do like to drop in on the places I visited before. We dropped in on the garden of the Empress Shoken which was in full flower. The irises where a little droopy after the recent typhoon and excessive rain of the last few days and that must have frustrated the several people painting the flowers as it would make their efforts look like cheap aquarelles had they painted according nature. I had loaded colour film for the occasion and am looking forward to some nice photos, especially of the people painting the flowers.
We continued to the Meiji Shrine and it was wedding ceremony rush hour: For the day we visited, there were 18 weddings scheduled and during the 45 minutes we spent there, we saw 5 or 6 weddings, I lost count. I had a chat with one of the guards and he pulled out a large schedule with lots of information as to what shrine area the wedding took place, etc. I also had a chat with a Miko and she said that this time of the year was most popular which surprises me a little as it is supposed to be the rainy season. The ceremony is 1530000 yen in the weekend (40 persons) or 980000 yen (20 persons) but weekdays are a bargain at 380000 yen.
What surprised me the most was that all the bridegrooms looked like they were 20 or 22 years old at most, so young!!
Notable fact: The Meiji Shrine wedding photographer uses two Pentax 67 cameras for his work!
We left the Shrine area and turned around to visit Yoyogi Park. This is an excellent area for a wannabe street photographer like me. It is very easy to walk up to the performers and either point at your camera or ask “shashin totte mo ii desu ka?” Invariably you’ll get a nod in agreement. I think the language barrier makes things even easier for once. Took some nice photos of saxophone players and drummers working some amazing rhythm on some African drums. While we were enjoying the atmosphere, the park guards rode their bikes up to the drummers and made them stop playing. Really too bad. I had a chat with the guys afterwards and they told me the guards were just doing their job. I was expecting them to be a bit more defiant, but they appeared to accept their fate without too much resentment. I told them that I didn’t really understand the logic of the guards, everybody visiting that area of the Yoyogi Park comes there for the spectacle and why pick on some awesome music? They wouldn’t byte, but when I left I noted that they had started playing again. I guess it is just a friendly game with the guards as long as you play it the right way and don’t come on strong as my natural reaction would have been. Lesson learned!
The photo on the right is of a professional saxophonist from Mali practising against a wall in the park, I guess he couldn’t practise at home. Two would-be-street-photographers were stalking him from a short distance. The guy looked amiable enough so I walked up to him and had a chat about Jazz music and favourite artists and finally I asked if I could photograph him while practising. He nodded and started jamming again. I took my shots, thanked him and nodded to the two other photographers on my way back who had watched the exchange with a bit of surprise. Street photography is so easy in Japan!
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Inspired by a great blog post by Lee Chapman on his TokyoTimes.org blog, we dropped by the Iseya restaurant in Kichijoji, Tokyo. It is located on the Kichijoji exit of the Inogashira park that also includes the Ghibli Museum, so you might find yourself visiting a location closer to this restaurant than you would think.
It is a yakitori and sukiyaki restaurant and the grilled chicken is great with a couple of cold draught beers. The place is dirty and full of character and the patrons are a nice mix of Japanese society. Quite different from most of the restaurants a tourist usually ends up in and therefore heartily recommended.
Personally I love these kind of gritty places, I prefer to visit a salarymen lair above another one of those chain restaurants you find everywhere. The problem is that these kind of old restaurants are quickly disappearing, even Iseya which was damaged in the March 2011 earthquake will soon close for renovations. It will close 8 July 2012 and reopen next year.
As lots of people want to capture the restaurant as it was before it closes for renovation, the place appears to be packed most of the days, be prepared to queue outside for a bit. The good thing is that it is open non-stop from noon till 10PM.
Lee’s blog post contained a great photographic reportage and I was inspired by it. I have mainly shot film on my Pentax 645NII camera this trip, but yesterday I brought my Pentax K20D DSLR with my Sigma 20mm f/1.8 EX DG Aspherical lens and cranked the ISO settings up to 3200, while I usually keep it at 100 ISO.
The results are some very noisy photos that converted brilliantly into grainy black and white images in Adobe LightRoom.
For the first three images in this blog post, I managed to stitch several photos together to get the wide angle and space that I do prefer for this kind of work. Click through on the images to get a larger version.
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