As I mentioned in my earlier post, one of the major reasons I wanted to visit Japan at this time of year was to see the Sakura (or Cherry Blossom) and so the first full day there I headed to Shinjuku park for a walk to see what was left of the blossoms.
The season was apparently even earlier than usual this year and there was only a fine lace like cloak of blossom left on the trees, when the wind blows it has the appearance of “snowing” cherry blossom and the rivers and parks have a pink coating to them for weeks at a time.
For hundreds of years the Japanese have loved the change of seasons, The “Edo Culture” saw numerous poems, songs and artwork all influenced by nature and a real gardening culture came into being, with it being seen as both a source of entertainment and relaxation until this day.
At the start of the cherry blossom season, there is such fierce competition for the best spot under the cherry trees, Company bosses have even been known to send out junior staff at the crack of dawn so that they might find a good spot and “reserve” it for their bosses enjoyment later in the day and there were still hundreds of people in the park, reclining on tarpaulins on the grass under the trees, with people (myself included!) queuing up to take pictures of the more beautiful blooms.
From here we made our way to the Tokyo Metropolitan Governmnet Building where you can take a lift to around the 40th floor and enjoy stunning panoramic views all over Tokyo which was a good way for me to get a better grip on my bearings as well as enjoy the impressive views.
The Meji Shrine, in the centre of Yoyogi (a 200 acre park in the centre of Tokyo) a short walk from either Harajuku, Shibuja or Yoyogi stations on the subway is dedicated to the Emperor Meji (who passed away in 1912 and was responsible for bringing back Imperial rule to Japan and led a huge period of restoration and advancement for Japan known as the Meji restoration) and his Empress.
Approaching the shrine you pass through an imposing Torii or gate which traditionally marks the approach to a shrine. The main Torrii at Meji Jingu is quite imposing as it looms over head, standing at 40 metres high it is made from 1,500 old Japanese Cypress trees, quite a feat!
You then walk past barrels of sake which are donated yearly to the shrine by the Sake brewers association (their logos figure prominently!) as a gift to the deities, as well as barrels of Bourgogne wine donated from several major wineries in Burgundy in the spirit of “World Peace and Amity” as the Emperor Meji was known to be fond of enjoying a glass of wine with Western food on occasion.
Before you enter the main shrine area they have a place for you to wash your hands and rinse out your mouth to purify yourself before entering as well as helpful instructions on how best to do so which I was glad for as I looked like quite the Pro by the end of my trip!
You must first “Set your mind at ease. Shift the dipper from one hand to the next, rinsing first your left, then right hand. Rinse your mouth with water poured from the palm of your left hand. Hold the dipper upright in both hands and rinse the handle with the remaining water.
Return the dipper to its original position” At the shrine itself you are able to make a small donation and write a prayer or a wish on one of the small wooden “ema” or placards that are displayed there as well and you can see hundreds of these in many different languages around the shrine as buy a good luck charm to help ward off evil spirits and offer everything from road safety to luck with conception or good results in school exams.
At the entrance to the most sacred part of the shrine, where you make your prayer offering (photography is forbidden in this area as it is a place for worship and quiet contemplation)
To do so, you throw a few coins into the offering box, bow your head twice, clap twice, and bow once more. There is also a shimenawa, a straw rope with paper lightening strips (shide) which marks the boundary to something sacred, in this case it was linking two trees just outside the main shrine.
It was getting late and I was in need of a sit down and a snack before I met my friend from work and I stumbled across 246 Common http://www.246common.jp/ a small collection of food carts and caravans selling farmers market goods such as fresh vegetables and Himalayan salt as well as some nice home wares.
They also have several places to buy drinks, everything from a glass of Veueve Cliquot (about $13 a glass) to a Craft Beer or Cocktail as well as bar snacks – I tried some of the Fries made using a potato peeler from the Brooklyn Ribbon Fries as well as a couple of drinks – I even used a vending machine to purchase a voucher for my glass of champagne which is then redeemed at the stall.
It is designed as a space to bring the community together and although it was scheduled to close in March, as it is still there now, hopefully it will be staying as it was a little oasis of calm amongst the hustle and bustle of Tokyo and a great place to relax and unwind in good company and relaxed surroundings.