Dec 10, 2013

Let's go to temple & shrines! : Nezu Shrine (Tokyo)

Hi everyone!

If you are not particularly interested in Japanese traditional culture, almost all the shrines and temples may look the same, or similar, to you. Most of my students cannot even tell which one is temple and which is shrine.

I'm not blaming you at all. It is natural. I still remember an American guy said to me, "When I saw a gorgeous temple or shrine for the first time, I thought wow, it's great. But after visiting two or three, I was getting tired. They are the same anyway. Now I think you should not visit more than two temples or shrines on the same day."

Well, I agree. One per day is probably enough, but there are so many interesting shrines and temples worth visiting. Even today these religious places are considered as power spots. If you are a spiritual person, you may feel something.

Unfortunately I'm not very religious person and don't care about spiritualism either. Even so, I feel like visiting such places occasionally to wish happiness and health for someone, or for no special reason.

The other day, I visited the Nezu Shrine in Tokyo, well-known for the big festival that takes place in September. It is also famous for its azalea garden and many people come and see the flowers in April and May, but usually the shrine is very calm and quiet despite its historical value.

This is the torii gate of Nezu Shrine. Torii is built at the entrancence of the shinto shrine to mark a sacred precinct. If you see a structure like this, the place is not a Buddhist temple but a shinto shrine.

Shinto is Japanese indigenous religion that worships holy spirits or deities called "kami." In Shinto they say there are 8 millions of kami in this world, implying there are too many to count. It resembles Greek myth a little, but not all the shinto dieties take human forms. In many cases they are the spirits of ancestors, or even just concepts important to people such as fertility and prosperity, therefore invisible.        

The main shrine building of Nezu Shrine was built at the present location in 1706 by order of the fifth Tokugawa shogun Tsunayoshi. 

The deity enshrined there is Susanoo no Mikoto, the rowdy god of  storm. According to the myth, Susanoo is a brave hero who successfully killed Yamata no Orochi, the eight-forked serpent which was devouring villagers. Many ancient warlords worshipped this deity and prayed for the victory in wars. It is believed today that you'll be protected from evil spirits after visiting this temple.

This is the image of Suranoo no Mikoto. Looks a little like a hippie though...

Actually, while vast urban area in Tokyo was burnt down by the Great Tokyo Air Raids in 1945, this shrine miraculously survived, and it has been designated as the nation's important cultural property.  Some people say the shrine was able to keep off  bad luck by the protection of the deity.

If you want to be protected from evil and disasters, why don't you buy a charm at the shrine? 

This "Romon" or two-story gate with a roof is also the country's important cultural asset.

In the precinct, there is another smaller shrine called Otome Inari, where Uka no Mitama no Mikoto (what a long name!), a god of crops and commerce, is enshrined. At Inari shrines, a pair of fox figures are placed, instead of komainu (guardian dogs).

As many merchants who worship this god of commerce have offered torii gates, some Inari shrines have a vermillion tunnel called Senbon Torii (thousands of torii gate) like this. Very mysterious looking...

1-28-9 Nezu, Bunkyo-ku, Tokyo
tel: 03-3822-0753
5min. from Nezu or Sendagi station on the subway Chiyoda Line, or Todai-mae station on the subway Nanboku line.

From here I'll write in Japanese.



伝統的 でんとうてき traditional
文化  ぶんか culture
興味(きょうみ)がある  be interested in
寺 てら  Buddhist temples
神社 じんじゃ shinto shrine
違い  ちがい difference


見るべき (みる~) should see
時々 ときどき  occasionally
紹介(しょうかい)する  to introduce


根津神社  ねづじんじゃ  Nezu Shrine
行われる  おこなわれる  to take place
満開  まんかい  to be in full bloom
つつじ  azalea
庭  にわ  garden
有名  ゆうめい  famous
普段  ふだん  usually
静か  しずか  quiet


場所  ばしょ  location
建てられる  たてられる  to be constructed
年  ~ねん year
将軍  しょうぐん  shogun
徳川綱吉  とくがわ つなよし name of the fifth shogun of the Tokugawa Shogunate.


奉(まつ)られている  enshrined
神(かみ)さま  deity
嵐  あらし  storm
蛇 へビ  serpent
英雄  えいゆう  hero
災難  さいなん  disasters
お参(まい)りする to visit shrines
守(まも)る  to protect


乙女稲荷  おとめいなり  the name of the shrine
赤い あかい  red
鳥居 とりい
面白い  おもしろい interesting

Dec 6, 2013

Traditional Japanese sweets I'd like to recommend 1: taiyaki

Hi everyone!

Have you ever tried 鯛焼き(たいやき、taiyaki) , or a fish-shaped pancake with anko somewhere? Don't worry, it has no fish in it, and doesn't have fishy smell either.

The "skin" part is made of flour, baking soda, sugar and water, very close to regular waffle or pancake batter, and the filling is commonly anko, or sweet red bean paste.

I personally like anko, but I'm not sure if you like it. Many of my students from "Western world" say they don't find it tasty, while Asians generally love it.

If sweet bean paste does not stimulate your appetite, you can ask for different fillings if they have, such as custard cream, sweet potato cream and chocolate cream.

Taiyaki is perfect snack to nibble when you are a little hungry between meals. It is tasty, cheap -- usually priced at 100-150 yen, and you can easily find the taiyaki shops near railway stations,  in the supermarkets or department stores. 

You can take taiyaki home and warm it up using microwave and toaster-oven (use the microwave first to warm inside and then put in the taster-oven so that the surface becomes a little crispy), but eating the freshly made hot one on the spot is the best. 

By the way, do you know that taiyaki are modeled after sea breams? "Tai" of taiyaki is sea bream, and "yaki" is grilled or baked in Japanese; therefore, taiyaki literally means baked sea-breams.

Sea breams are special fish for Japanese and they have been traditionally served on the auspicious (medetai in Japanese) occasions such as weddings and new year's day, because the sound "tai" reminds us of "medetai". Yes, it is just a pan. I'm wondering if our ancestors found sea breams especially delicious, though it has been always expensive.   

I've never made taiyaki at home, but it is not difficult to make if you have the mold. (Fish shaped taiyaki pan are available on the internet.) My friend occasionally makes taiyaki, using pancake mix as the batter and canned anko, and is always satisfied with the results.

Don't think of making anko from scratch, as it is very time-consuming. In Japan anko is sold in can or plastic bags at any supermarkets and even at some convenience stores, but if you are living abroad and hardly find those thing, why don't you put Nutella or your favorite jam as alternative? My friend says it is pretty good! 




鯛焼き  たいやき
伝統的 な  でんとうてきな  traditional
形  かたち  shape
お菓子 おかし  sweets
普通は  commonly, normally

~の代(か)わりに  instead of


あちらこちら everywhere
お腹(なか)が空(す)く   to get hungry
ぴったり  suitable


鯛 たい  sea breams
言葉 ことば word
めでたい  auspicious
連想する  れんそうする  associate something with...
結婚式  けっこんしき  wedding celemony
正月  しょうがつ  new year's day
特別  とくべつ  special


型 かた mold
簡単 かんたん  easily
大変 たいへん  hard, difficult
缶詰 かんづめの  canned