By :- Bhavna Mathur
The Land of the Rising Sun, Japan, is acountry with wonderfully varied charms and technological sophistication. ‘Nihon’ meaning sun origin signifies the fact that Japan lies towards the east of China. Hence, from the time of the Sui dynasty (589-618 A.D.), to facilitate correspondence with China, Japan came to be known as’ Nihon’ (‘The Land of the RisingSun’- in English).
Myriad visions unfold when the New Year marked by ‘Shimenawa’ decorations (twisted straw ropes for good luck) at entrances, takes you along, to explore Tokyo as it is. My husband and I, along with our two young sons enjoyed this trip to the hilt.
Courtesy, Cleanliness, Punctuality and Work ethics emerge as an inspiring cornerstone of the way of life here. Manners and customs in Japanese society have a tremendous significance. So before visiting, make sure that you have read about these. The Geisha enigma too needs some homework on our part, so that we can fully appreciate it.
Shintoism and Buddhism echo the essence of religious history and rituals, along with Christianity.
The evenings in Tokyo would always remain a memory to cherish, lit up with colourful lights, offering a wondrous view of the skyline, dotted with skyscrapers beaming with mercurial flashes of dazzling illumination.
The 333m tall Tokyo Tower takes on the city’s skyline as does the 634meters (2,080 ft) tall Skytree, with its broadcasting, restaurant and observation tower. Opened on 22 May 2012, the lightning rod acts as a radio transmitter and serves as a signal lamp for Air Traffic and Earthquake pickup. While Skytree became the second tallest structure in the world after Burj Khalifa, Tokyo Tower, 13 meters taller than the Eiffel Tower in Parisbuilt in 1958, is a communications and observation tower. Painted in white and international orange, it hastwo observation decks. The second deck Main Observatory is located at 150 meters (490 ft), while the smaller Special Observatory reaches a height of 250 meters (820 ft). The tower is also used to broadcast signals for Japanese media outlets.
The Sensoji temple is dedicated to Avalokitesvara (Bodhisatva Kannon). According to legend, a statue of the Kannon was found in the Sumida Riverin 628 by two fishermen, the brothers Hinokuma Hamanari and Hinokuma Takenari. The chief of their village, Hajino Nakamoto, recognized the sanctity of the statue and enshrined it by remodeling his own house into a small temple in Asakusa .The villagers could now worship Kannon. The first temple was founded in 645 CE, making it the oldest temple in Tokyo. The Nishinomiya Inari shrine is located within the precincts of Sensō-ji.In the early years of the Tokugawa shogunate, Tokugawa Ieyasu designated Sensō-ji as tutelary temple of the Tokugawa clan.
The Kaminarimon (“Thunder Gate”) is the outer of two large entrance gates that ultimately leads to the Sensoji (the inner being the Hozomon) in Asakusa, Tokyo, Japan. During World War II, the temple was bombed and destroyed, only to be rebuilt later as an endearing legacy for the Japanese people.
Mount Fuji located on Honshu Island, is the highest mountain in Japan at 3,776.24 m (12,389 ft). An active strato-volcano, it last erupted in 1707–08. Mount Fuji lies about 100 kilometers south-west of Tokyo. Mount Fuji is snow-capped for several months in a year;known even for its mythological reasons, Mt. Fuji is visited by both tourists and climbers. It is one of Japan’s “Three Holy Mountains” along with Mount Tate and Mount Haku and was added to the World Heritage List on June 22, 2013.
The region around Mt. Fuji resonates with the Heritage imagery because of the Sengen shrines, two lodging houses, Lake Yamanaka, Lake Kawaguchi, eight Oshino Hakkai hot springs, two lava tree molds, the remains of the Fuji-kō cult in Hitoana cave, Shiraito falls, and Mihi no matsubara pine tree groves.
The present Imperial Palace takes one back to the era when it was called the Edo Castle. The modern palace where imperial court functions are held is located in the old Nishinomaru, while the residence of the emperor and empress is located in the Fukiage Gardens.
The palace is generally closed to the public. Each New Year (January 2) and Emperor’s Birthday, the public is permitted to enter through the Nakamon (inner gate) where they gather in the Kyuden Totei Plaza in front of the Chowaden Hall. The Imperial family appears on the balcony before the crowd and the emperor gives a short speech.Nijubashi Bridge or ‘double-level’ bridge is the highlight here.
Meshed intricately with the rhythm of life are the efficient Tokyo metro services.Cutting through the main islands of Honshu and Kyushu are a network of high speed train lines that connect Tokyo with Japan’s major cities. Japan’s high speed trains (bullet trains) are called Shinkansen and are operated by Japan Railway (JR). Clocking a dizzyingly fast speed of 320km/hr, Shinkansen captures a powerful moment in the context of progress. The Japan Rail pass also makes it a cost-effective way of travelling. Tokaido Shinkansen (Tokyo-Nagoya-Kyoto-Osaka) is the oldest and most popular.
Backstories of Samurai warriors reveal the turmoil and unrest in the history of Japan as does the civil war. But what the citizens frequently over-indulge in, even now is Football and Sumo, the national sport. In this the wrestler uses the body as a landscape to defeat the opponent. Whenever they appear in public, they are required to wear traditional Japanese dress. ‘Kimono’, a traditional Japanese dress is a T-shaped, straight-lined robes worn so that the hem falls to the ankle, with attached collars and long, wide sleeves. Kimono are wrapped around the body with and secured by a sash called an obi, which is tied at the back. Kimono is worn with traditional footwear and split-toe socks (tabi).Types of Kimono depend on whether a woman is married or unmarried. Men, too dress up in Kimonos at weddings or at tea ceremonies. Talking of tea, we are not alone in waiting in eager anticipation for the best metabolism booster-Tea. “Matcha’, the Japanese tea-tasting ceremony in a tea house is an example in expressing hospitality and imbibing the sensibility of tradition.
The byword of creative imagination and enterprise is The Rainbow Bridge.It is a suspension bridge crossing northern Tokyo Bay between Shibaura Pier and the Odaiba waterfront development in Minato, Tokyo. The vastness of the Bay remains below this marvelous bridge ,which is 798 meters (2,618 ft) long with a main span of 580 meters (1,903 ft).Officially called the “Shuto Expressway No. 11 Daiba Route- Port of Tokyo Connector Bridge,” the name “‘Rainbow Bridge” was decided by the public.
The towers supporting the bridge are white in color, designed to harmonize with the skyline of central Tokyo seen from Odaiba. There are lamps placed on wires supporting the bridge, lit up in three different colors, red, white and green every night using solar energy obtained during the day.
The spectacular Tokyo Dome, flanked by a state –of-the art indoor stadium, has quite a handful of shopping, entertainment and eating options around its premises.
The tour around Nikko national Park makes for an unfailingly pleasurable trip.The first temple in Nikko was founded more than 1,200 years ago along the shores of the Daiya River. However the dying wish of Shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu in 1616 led to the construction of shrines. As a result, Nikko became home of mausoleums of Tokugawa Shoguns. These are on the UNESCO World Heritage List. Unlike most Japanese temples and shrines, these are gilded, ornate, with multicolour carvings, and show heavy Chinese influence. An overriding connect with Gandhiji’s three monkeys in India, are the distinctive three wise monkeys here. With plenty of hiking opportunities for those seeking adventure, Mt. Nantai, Lake Chuzenji and several lakes, mountains and waterfalls unravelling incredible scenic beauty, nature spreads out across 13,000 hectares of lush terrain. Ski slopes and spas too fill in, providing a wholesome experience.
Low-floor, low pollution bus services add to this gloriously real, country experience. National Western Art Museum, Ota Memorial Art Museum, The Stripe House Art Museum, Tokyo National Museum and Japan Folk Crafts Museum provide an enriching insight into the history, culture and artistic ethos of Japan.
Tokyo City area offers endless possibilities for recreation and comforts for the disabled. There are special bicycle paths for the public and innumerable high-end international stores and global restaurant chains.Local supermarkets cater to a diverse spectrum of customers while the cuisine front has been inundated by Lebanese, Thai, Chinese, Indian, Mexican, and Vietnamese along with Japanese cuisine. If Sushi and Miso soup need no introduction, lush fields and rich customs announce the pride of place Japanese rice holds on the food map.
Districts like the Sports goods district, Akihabara-electronic goods district have convenient transportation links with the rest of Japan. Disneyland offers a thrilling spectacle of amazing rides, parades and fantasy. Tokyo Big Sight, also known as Tokyo International Exhibition Centre also attracts its share of visitors. And who can forget the Doraemon Museum, an exciting haven for children fascinated by the rice-cake eating Doraemon who loves inventing new gadgets every now and then. My boys reveled in these, not to forget the thrill they got travelling in efficient trains. I admired them for memorizing some train routes we frequented, within Tokyo city.
There are festivals to drive out evil spirits, another to seek blessings to protect from disasters, spring festival, music and dance festivals, afestival to mark the coming-of-age of children into adulthood, those that mark Lord Buddha’s birthday, birthdays of other deities, festivals with paper lanterns or those that celebrate the benevolence of nature.
Natural beauty, cutting-edge technology, tradition, modern cities, fast trains, visit Japan for a mesmerizing experience and so much more.Before we could realize, it was time to say Sayonara (Goodbye); but we looked forward to say Konnichiwa(Good day or hello) sometime soon again….