May 7, 2009

Tokyo Part II - Meiji Jingu, Yoyogi, Kamakura, Shiodome

Sunday - Meiji Jingu, Harajuku, and Yoyogi Park

Our Sunday plans were set long ago. After being there last year on a Sunday afternoon, we knew we wanted to be in Yoyogi Park, where sports nuts, dancers, performers of all sorts, and picnickers fritter away the day. Not to mention the dancing rockabilly boys and Harajuku girls.

Unrivaled people-watching. Even though the crowds near the station on the way out were such that we basically had to crowd-surf through Harajuku and then cab it out of there, the sights made it well worth it!

Since it is right next door, and known as one of the only places in downtown Tokyo where (due to the thick forrest) you can't see or even hear the city, we decided to first check out Meiji Jingu Shrine, which neighbors the park. It is calm and cool inside the large unpainted wood torii gates.

We were lucky enough to be given pieces of mochi shaped like doves and also to catch a formal holiday musical performance (these kimono-clad women were playing harp-like instruments) in front of the main shrine on the way in . . . though there was lots of build-up (read "waiting"), and the kids (with our baseball mitts, jump-rope, and frisbee in the backpack) didn't last long.
We also caught an entertaining puppet show on the way out, which included getting a "behind-the-curtain" peak at how the puppeteers use their arms and feet to operate the puppets. All went well until the characters starting tossing out what we assume to be good-luck charms into the crowd. They were 5 yen pieces, some of which had a red and white ribbon tied through the hole in the middle, wrapped in paper. We assume these to be powerful good-luck charms, because the crowd was pretty aggressive in pursuing them as they were thrown out. It actually got to be a little too intense, so we had to skedaddle out of there!

We spent the rest of the afternoon at Yoyogi, jump-roping, throwing the baseball around (Jacob is starting to use the back-hand snag), and playing frisbee golf. There was lots of great action to watch too. But the highlight of the afternoon was our reunion with the hula-hooping lady from last year (!) Jacob was a bit rusty on the hula-hoop, but he still has that natural knack and he still got five hoops going at the same time.

Monday - Kamakura

Kamakura, the ancient (12th century) ruling seat of the Kamakura Shogunate is a terrific day trip, less than an hour of Tokyo. The history is fascinating. It has lots of well-preserved temples and shrines, including the famous Great Buddha, and is an easy walking city to explore by foot (much more so than Kyoto). It has nice little back-alley streets, lined with shops, cafes, and restaurants. The local specialty is large sembei rice crackers, sold with a big piece of nori as a handle. It also has nice access to nature; Kamakura is a natural fortress, with mountains to three sides, and the bay (with a beach) on the other side. Because of the beach, it also has a bit of a sleepy beachy feel to it, which is nice.

After tanking up (read - more ice cream) along the main shopping street (Komachi-Dori), we walked to the most well known shrine, Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Shrine. This was a nice place, set against the mountains, and we caught another cool wedding ceremony (see the very serious bride and groom below), but our favorite places in Kamakura, were our next stops - The Great Buddha and Hase-Dera Temple.

Set against the mountains in the open air (it used to be housed inside before a 15th century Tsunami destroyed the building that housed it), the Great Buddha is truly an awesome site. Everyone was taking goofy pictures (like this one), so here you go!

After the Great Buddha, we enjoyed a back-alley picnic of fruit and sembei, before heading onward to Hase-Dera. There is a very cool story about the famous 10 meter 11-headed Kannon Statue that is held inside. Apparently, two were made by a monk out of a giant camphor tree in Nara. One was placed in Nara, and the other was set out to sea. Fifteen years later, it washed ashore at not far from Kamakura, and Hase-Dera Temple was constructed to honor it. Hase-Dera has terrific gardens, great views of the sea, and thousands of big, small, and medium sized jizo statues in rows (sadly, there to comfort the souls of unborn children).

After Hase-Dera, we strolled down the beach, watched the kite-flying and surfers, and dipped our feet in before winding out way back to the station and heading back to Tokyo.
Tuesday - Shiodome

We spent our last morning in Tokyo staying local in the Shiodome area. There was a local carnival of sorts going on, and the kids hit the bouncy castle and the local Anpanman Store.

There was also a pretty crazy looking giant copper clock (it has talons and all sorts of interesting little figurines on it), that did its thing. . . . And were lucky enough to catch one of those crazy choreographed, insane costumed extravaganzas that are Kids Dance Competitions. We have seen our fair share of these in Japan, and some of these kids are actually super-talented.

This was good for quite a bit of morning entertainment, before heading to catch our Shinkansen.


jack a. said...

Joyce came back last Tuesday and the trip continues to resonate for all to whom she speaks. Even though I didn't join her (long flight with some aspects that weren't up my alley!) it is clear that Joyce's trip to Japan was the trip of a lifetime. Michael and Ilena made it special and the kids made Joyce feel more like an aunt than ever before. I have never seen her so filled with the joy of new things, interesting places, a good time and a loving family. I don't think it could have been better! Thanks to Michael, Ilena, Jacob and Lauren for taking such good care of Joyce!

Mike said...

We are so glad she had a good time -- we enjoyed having so much time together too!