Mar 27, 2014

Five most popular cherry viewing spots in Tokyo

Hi everyone.

This winter was unusually long. Until just a week ago we couldn't go out without a thick down jacket and a scarf, but it is getting warm all of a sudden. Today the temperature reached 20℃! Very strange. Is it one of the effects of global climate change?

We had thought sakura (cherry blossoms) would not bloom till early April but buds are rapidly growing, and the Japan Meteorological Agency announced on the 25th the first bloom of sakura in Tokyo region, and you can probably enjoy flower viewing this weekend.

Hurry up! Don't miss the chance. The life of cherry blossoms are very short, usually lasting only a week and often only a couple of days depending on the weather. Cherry flowers are so delicate that they fall easily due to rain and strong winds. 

Why do Japanese love cherry blossoms so much?


Good questions! Sakura (please let me call this flower in Japanese) is our national flower and it has been loved since ancient times. Many poems and songs with the theme of sakura
have been created.

Our ancestors who were living with wars and seeing many ruling powers rise and fall understood that nothing could stay the same. They repeatedly wrote in literature that life was ephemeral. Therefore, short-lived sakura that gorgeously blooms and gracefully falls is the flower that best represented their philosophy about life. -- I was taught that way, but I'm not really sure about it.  
It is true that many of us have a sentimental attachment to sakura, though. As Japanese school year starts in April and ends in March, the very sakura season, when we see the pink flowers, we instantly remember the sadness of separation from old school days and anticipation for new life.

What is the kind of cherry tree most commonly seen in Japan? 


Actually there are many kinds of cherry trees in Japan, but "sakura" usually refers to cultivar called Somei Yoshino, which can be most commonly seen in Japan. .

Its flowers are pale pink, almost pure white. According to popular belief,  Somei Yoshino is an artificial hybrid developed in the 19th century from a single tree, which means all the existing Somei Yoshino trees are the clones of the original tree. Some say this can explain why sakura trees in the same region start to bloom at the same time. Well, what do you think?

Let's do hanami, flower-viewing party!

Hanami (花見) literally means flower viewing but this also refers to "picnic party under the cherry trees."  It is a seasonal event Japanese have practiced for centuries, and you should try just for once, because it is so much fun and relaxing.

In popular sakura-viewing places, however, staking out a good spot is such a tedious work. Arriving only a few hours before the party time is too late. There are so many crazy people who spread out a blue picnic sheet (water-proof!) in the early morning for the evening party, waiting for hours for other members to come. It is often the first mission of new employees who have just joined the company in April.

If you'd like to check out what Japanese flower viewing is like, visit Ueno Park in Tokyo. You'll see thousands of people enjoying hanami party, drinking alcohol, singing with portable karaoke machines (frankly, I hate those noisy people singing karaoke in public) , etc.

5 most popular Hanami Spots in Tokyo area


Ueno Park (上野公園 Ueno Koen): Probably most popular hanami spot in Tokyo. Only 5 minutes from JR Ueno Station. About 800 sakura trees. The park is open till 11 p.m., but paper lanterns light 5:30- 8 p.m. There are national museums and a zoo in the park. Bringing in alcohol allowed. Address: 5-10 Ueno Koen, Taito-ku, Tokyo; tel: 03-3828-5644

Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden (新宿御苑 Shinjuku Gyoen) : Originally a part of the site of a private mansion of Lord Naito, a feudal lord of the Edo Period. In the site of 58.3 ha (144 acres) 1,300 cherry trees of 65 kinds are planted. You can have a picnic under the trees but alcohol is prohibited in the park. More quiet than Ueno Park. Admission is 200 yen for adults, 50 yen for elementary and junior high schools students. 5 minutes from Shinjuku Gyoen Station on the Tokyo Metro subway line, JR Sendagaya Station. Open 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Address: 11 Naito-cho, Shinjuku-ku, Shinjuku, Tokyo; tel: 03-3350-0151 English website

Chidorigafuchi Park (千鳥ヶ淵 Chidorigafuchi):  700-meter long Chidorigafuchi Pedestrian Path with 170 cherry trees between Hanzo Moat of the Imperial Palace and Uchibori Dori Street. 3minutes from Exit No.3 of Hanzomon Station of the subway Hanzomon Line. You can enjoy a rowboat ride on the moat of the Imperial Palace, looking up cherry blossoms. During the cherry blossom seasons March 28-April 4, boats are available 9:30 a.m.-8 p.m. for 800 yen (30 minutes).  For further information, contact Chiyoda City Tourism Association at 03-3556-0391

Meturo River (目黒川 Megro-gawa) : About 800 cherry trees along the 3.8 km Sumida river, lit up at night April 1-10, 6-9 p.m. Sakura Festival will be held on April 6. 2 minutes from Meguro Station on the Tokyu Toyoko Line.

Sumida Park (墨田公園 Sumida Koen): well-known sakura viewing spot since the Edo Period. 660 cherry trees along the Sumida River will be lit up during Sakura Festival period, March 29-Aril 6. 5 munutes from Asakusa Station on the Tokyo Metro subway line and Tobu Line. For more information, Sumida Tourist Association at 03-5608-6951.

If you want to avoid over-crowded spots,  why don't you go to old cemeteries? Some places such as Aoyama Cemetery (2-2-2 Minami Aoyama, Minato-ku, Tokyo, 7 minutes from Gaien-mae Station on the Ginza subway line, 9 minutes from Aoyama Itchome Station on the Hanzomon, Oedo, Ginza lines) or Yanaka Cemetery (7-5-24 Yanaka, Taito-ku, Tokyo, 6 minutes from JR Nippori Station), are well-known for beautiful cherry blossoms, and surely less busy.

Long time ago I went to Aoyama Cemetery for hanami after work. That was the idea of my ex-colleague (he was American). I was very reluctant, but to my surprise, there were unexpectedly many people having a party, sitting in front of the gravestones of someone they didn't know at all. Drinking sake in a cemetery at night -- kind of exciting, no?


最高気温 (さいこうきおん): highest temperature
暖かい(あたたかい): warm

桜 (さくら) cherry blossoms 
開花 (かいか): blooming
気象庁 (きしょうちょう): The Japan Meteorological Agency
開花宣言 (かいかせんげん): announcement of blooming  


昔 (むかし): ancient times
愛する(あいする): to love
あっという間(ま)に: very short time
散る (ちる): to fall
はかない: ephemeral
美 (び): beauty
感性 (かんせい): sensitivity
時期(じき): time
入学式 (にゅうがくしき): entrance ceremony
卒業式(そつぎょうしき): graduation ceremony
特別な (とくべつな): special
感情 (かんじょう): feeling

最も(もっとも): most
人工的に (じんこうてきに): artificially
品種 (ひんしゅ): cultivar
全て (すべて): all


単に (たんに): simply
宴会 (えんかい): party, dinner


試す (ためす): to try
場所取り (ばしょとり): staking out a place

Mar 14, 2014

Japanese souvenir suggestions 3: Manekineko (lucky cats) that brings you luck!

Hi everyone!

About two weeks ago I found  a nice black manekineko (lit. beckoning cat) at a nearby department store.  I had never been interested in those ceramic cat figurines that are believed to bring you luck, but my eyes were glued on that particular cat for  some reason I can't explain.  

I came back home without buying it. Usually I lose my desire to shop while sleeping at night, but the next morning I still wanted it and even regretted not having bought it. When I went back to the store and saw it sitting on the shelf, I was very relieved.

This is the lucky cat I bought for the first time in my life. Do you think it is cute or bizarre?

Unlike orthodox manekineko, this cat may look a little avant-garde, but it is actually traditional Kutani (九谷)style. Kutani ware is porcelain produced in Kanazawa City, characterized by its vivid colors. The whole body of Kutani manekineko is fully adorned with colorful tatoo like patterns called "mori" 

As I already mentioned before, it is widely believed that the right paw raised  brings you good luck, while the left paw raised will invite in customers.

The colors also have meanings: white cats represent good luck, black ones good health and yellow (or gold) cats fortune. Nowadays there are also red, purple, green and pink cats, but I don't think these new colors are very popular yet.

Since this lucky cat came to my home, nothing lucky has occurred yet, but he brought an another manekineko.

Last week I visited my old parents living not too far from my home. When I told my mother that I had bought a manekineko, she said, "Actually, we have an old manekineko someone gave it to us decades ago. It is rather big and takes up space. We'd like to get rid of it, but can't throw it in a trash can because it is a talisman. Please take it home."

Then she brought a white manekineko with a huge head and big eyes from the lumber room. I wasn't particularly attracted to this cat, but my mother persistently persuaded me to take it, and I gave in.  Sigh... Mom, it is a bit too big (30cm tall) .

This is the photo of my second manekineko. Produced in Tokoname, one of the main pottery towns in Aichi Prefecture, this type is "the manekineko" most Japanese would imagine. Don't worry, kitty. I won't throw you away, so bring me good luck!

Come to think of it, manekineko may be a nice souvenir. There is a wide variety in shape, style, size and price. Recently there are even battery-powered manekineko that move the paw slowly. I'm sure you'll probably find the one you like.

Where can you buy manekineko?

Asakusa area (Tokyo)

Musashiya: Located on a Nakamise shopping street that leads to Kaminari-mon (the famous gate of Sensoji temple with a huge lantern) to the main hall of the temple. Open daily, 11 a.m.-7 p.m. , tel: 03-3841-5451  Asakusa's Sensoji-temple is a very famous touristic spot you should not miss. Even if you cannot find anything that pleases you, you can take a nice stroll in this traditional area.

Orner Koide:  Located in Kappabashi, near Asakusa. address: 3-1-15 Matsugaya, Taito-ku, Tokyo, tel: 03-3843-2571,  open 10 a.m.-5:30 p.m., closed Sun. & holidays. They are dealing with not only manekineko but other talismans. You'll probably find funny stuffs there. Their store items are also avilable through the Internet (Japanese only) 

Yanaka (Tokyo)

Kaiun Yanakado: Address: 5-4-3 Yanaka, Taito-ku, Tokyo, tell: 03-3822-2297, Open caily, 10:30 a.m.-5:30 p.m., 6 minutes on foot from Sendagi Station (Exit No. 1) on the subway Chiyoda Line. Sales point: Located in the lovely Yanaka town, less touristy than Asakusa. If you visit there in cherry blossom season (early April), you can enjoy nice flower viewing at a nearby Yanaka cemetery (don't worry, there's no spooky atmosphere). 

Hyotanya075-561-81: Located in Kyoto, on the well-known Sannen-zaka street that leads to Kiyomizu Temple. Many hyotan (gourds)  are hung at the store front. Address: 3-317 Kiyomizu, Higashiyama-ku, Kyoto. You can stop by there on the way to (or from ) Kiyomizu Temple, one of the must-not-miss spots in Kyoto.

Seto City, Aichi

Omodakaya: Located in Seto, one of the major pottery tows in Aichi Prefecture. Address: 3 Yakushi-cho, Seto City, Aichi, tel & fax: 0561-87-1700, open 10a.m.-5 p.m., closed Tuesdays, year-end and new year's holidays. Next to the shop, is Manekineko Museum, where thousands of valuable maekineko are displayed. You can also make your own cat by painting pre-made ceramic figurines.




最近 (さいきん)  recently
招き猫 (まねきねこ)  beckoning cat, lucky cat


興味 (きょうみ)  interest
一目 (ひとめ)  a single glance
欲しい (ほしい) to want


江戸時代(えどじだい)  Edo Period
福 (ふく)  luck
招く (まねく)  to invite, bring
置物 (おきもの)  figurine


右手 (みぎて)  right paw (or hand)
左手 (ひだりて) left paw (or hand)
客 (きゃく)  guests, customers


色 (いろ) color
意味 (いみ) meaning
違う (ちがう) to differ, vary

白猫は招福、黒猫は無病息災、黄色、または金色は金運アップ。 最近では緑、赤、紫、青などの招き猫も作られるようになってきました。

白猫 (しろねこ)  white cats
招福 (しょうふく)  bringing luck
黒猫 (くろねこ)  black cats
無病息災 (むびょうそくさい) safety and good health
黄色 (きいろ) yellow
金色 (きんいろ) gold
金運 (きんうん) luck with money
緑 (みどり)  green
赤 (あか)  red
紫 (むらさき) purple
青 (あお) blue


値段 (ねだん)  price
お土産 (おみやげ) souvenir