Monday, June 13, 2011

Made in Japan

The 2011 Tōhoku earthquake, also known as the Great East Japan Earthquake, occurred at 2:46 pm on Friday, 11 March 2011. The earthquake triggered extremely destructive tsunami waves of up to 128 feet that struck Japan, in some cases traveling up to 6 miles inland. In addition to loss of life and destruction of infrastructure, the tsunami caused a number of nuclear accidents, primarily the ongoing meltdowns at three reactors in the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant complex, and the associated evacuation zones affecting hundreds of thousands of residents. All of Japan, its people, its economy, its political system is recovering from the disasters... it is heartbreaking. PBS Newshour Initial Report.

The very best future to the wonderful people of Japan...

I (We) Love(d) Tokyo

Our 2 1/2 days in Tokyo were fantastic. This huge, wealthy and fascinating city brings  modern and hip side by side with glimpses and traditions of old Japan, and left us with the following random observations and impressions...
  • Tokyo is very much like a large American city, e.g. NYC, where Japanese rather than English is spoken.
  • Yet, Tokyo is clean. No litter, no graffiti, few billboards, little noise. (Intention learned... do not ever litter. In fact, pick up litter whenever it is practical.)
  • Nature is worshiped. Green areas are preserved. Shinto, the native religion, has the core concept  that dieties preside over all things of nature, be they living, dead, or inanimate.
  • Visitors, for the most part, are met with warm hospitality.
  • Foreigners, in some cases, are a curiosity. 
  • Expect to be asked to pose for photographs.
  • Etiquette and respect is important, as each should be.
  • Fashion rules! Tokyo "yutes"are alive and well and looking "absolutely fabulous".
  • Jaywalking is rarely done.
  • Personal space is smaller... as we discovered on the Tokyo subway system.
  • The subway system is very convenient and efficient.
  • Et al.
After an early check into our hotel, ANA Intercontinental-Tokyo, we were soon off to see Tokyo on a pleasant Sunday afternoon. We  did not get too hung up on ticking tourist sights off a list: for us, the biggest part of today's experience was just wandering around at random and absorbing the vibe, people watching, poking our heads into shops , enjoying a restaurant where we did not recognize most things on the menu, and finding an unexpected oasis of calm in the tranquil grounds of a neighborhood Shinto shrine.

Some photos from our afternoon outing...

Short Subway Ride to Omote-sando

With its wide, tree-shaded sidewalks and dozens of boutiques
 showcasing top fashion designers and brands, is considered to
 be one of the best strolls in Tokyo.

And maybe one of the most loving and fun loving...

Lunch location that we enjoyed.
Notably, not mentioned in either of Zagat or eGullet

What's Hot in Teen Fashion and Culture I

What's Hot in Teen Fashion and Culture II

What's Hot in Teen Fashion and Culture III
The most important shinto shrine in Tokyo is Mejji Jingu. It was destoyed by Allied aerial bombardment in 1945 but rebuilt with private donations in 1958. During the New Year holidays it is the most heavily visited place in Japan, with over 3 million people worshiping here and buying good-luck charms for the year ahead.

Minami Shimmon Gateway
 through a wooden torii, Meiji Shrine

Stream among the shrine grounds.

Cedar Trees

Today, few Japanese are devout Shintoists but many will observe Shinto practices. Once such pratice is that of the Shinto wedding ceremony. We were lucky to observe... 

Shinto Wedding Ceremony

Shinto Preist (Kannushi)'
Usually wear white and orange robes
and perform a wide variety of purification
ceremonies and other rituals

Meiji Shrine
The simple shrine building is made of unadorned
aging wood of deep hues of brown; the roof is copper,
now oxidized bright green. Gracefully curving, the roof
is in the Shinto style of architecture known as shimmei,
used for imperial shrines.
A shared bowl of udon noodels in our hotel room and we were ready for a good nightof sleep (we had just spent 9 of our last 24 hours on a flight from Bombay to Tokyo). The next morning we were off to Tsukiji Fish Market with our guide...

(Tetsu Ishi)

Electric cart used throuhout the market...
but watch out and stay out of their way.

Sanitation Inspectors.
The fish market is one of the cleanest spaces
 that we have ever experienced. Little or no
garbage/waste and no "out-of-place" odors.

Produce vendor holding up fresh wasabi root.

Closer view of fresh wasabi root.

Katsuobushi is the Japanese name for a preparation of dried,
 fermented, and smoked skipjack tuna (often times referred to
 as bonito). Katsuobushi and kombu (a type of kelp) are the
 main ingredients of dashi, a broth that forms the basis of many
 soups (such as miso soup) and sauces (e.g.,soba) in Japanese
Dumpling vendor

Whale Stew

Leaving the fish market, without trying the whale stew, we headed for Hama-Rikyu Garden. The garden is situated where the Sumida River empties into Tokyo Bay and sits among Tokyo's business district.

Joan and Gus
 on their way to Hama-Rikyu Garden

Typical Tokyo Signage

Sixty-two acre garden which was built in 1654 as a retreat
 for the shogun's family, who also hunted duck here.

Duck Pond

Nakajima Teahouse

Japanese Iris,
blooms from early to late June.

Another great click

After a pleasant and uncrowded stroll we were up for sake tasting. Sake is made from rice and water which are fermented together then pasturized to create an alcoholic "wine". 

Tasted five but didn't care much for any.

Off next to Senso-ji Temple. Popularly known as Asakusa Kannon, it is Tokyo's most sacred and spectacular Buddhist temple.

Five-Story Pagoda

Main Hall

Gus being interviewed by high school students on

In Japan, the swastika is called manji 万字. The first character,
man, means 10,000 which is a big enough number to represent
 infinity. The second one, ji, is simply a character, thus it is called
 the infinity character. It is found throughout buddhist places
including Asakusa Kannon.

Yagenbori Shichimi-Togarashi.
Blended by hand it contains black sesame seeds,
dried unshu mandarin orange peels, roasted and fresh
cayenne pepper, powdered Japanese sasho pepper, poppy
seeds, and hemp seeds.

Japanese hand-held, folding fans are made of paper on
 a bamboo frame, usually with a design painted on them

Zōri are flat and thonged Japanese sandals.

Traditional, runner-pulled rickshaw.

We ended our day feeling a great deal of affection for Tokyo and its people. The great tragedy of the 11 March 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake is distinctively in our minds yet Japan will recover...they always have.

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