Category Archives: 5.3 .. Neujahr in Tokyo

Im ersten Tokyo-Abschnitt wird ins neue Jahr gefeiert, Tempel und Schreine besucht und die Neujahrsansprache des Kaisers beigewohnt


Check-out at 10am. The last 24 hours in Japan are running. The Keisei-Liner transports me to Narita. This time with my tripod and my Kendo equipment. Arrival at Narita where I walk to the hotel with 60kg of equipment. Check-in. With less weight on my shoulders I am heading for the big temple. The street leading there is a pedestrian area during the day. It is a pleasant walk. Some old houses to the left and right; many souvenir shops. All suited for tourist, specially if they are heading for the airport. I should have visited Narita on an earlier trip. It is really nice here.

The temple area is really big. We have January 8th, but there are still people here for the new year prayer. Stairs. And a gate with a big lampion. I hear chanting and singing form the big hall. Drums. A pagoda on the right side and many more buildings after the next stairway. This temple really is spacious. I can spot another big pagoda, the same style like in Koyasan.

It is 3pm and to late to visit the other attractions in Narita. They are all 6-10 miles outside of the city center and the trains and busses going there are departure in one hour. There would be no time left for sightseeing before everthing closes. No. I stay here. It seems that I am not in the mood for another trip. I decide for a walk thru the park, followed by some shopping and late lunch.

A short break at the hotel. I prepare the bags for tomorrow. At 8pm I start into the city. There was a bar called “Jet Lag”. But too many gaijins there. I prefer something more local. I find a resto that serves Katsudon, after that I take a brief stop for a really expensive cocktail. Back at the hotel I stop at the hotel bar. Nice place. Small but with the right company a really good ending for this holiday. We talk about Anime. Cowboy Bebop and Yoko Kanno. Now finest Jazz is running in the hotel lobby. A nice whiskey. This is how it should be.

At 11.30pm I call it a day. I won’t risk to oversleep and miss the flight. That would be stupid ending.

[deutsche Version]


Today I will visit Kawagoe. The temple museum and the palace are closed but I will check out the rest. The travel will also brings me to Shinjuku. I will give my camera to Pentax for a checkup. The Pentax forum is opening at 110:30am. I can pickup my camera at 1pm. Plenty o time to buy souvenirs in Harajuku and Omotesando. Back at Pentax bad news are wainting for me. The K-10 is a goner. The mount of the CCD ship is broken. The K-m is defocussed. It will take at least 3 weeks to fix it. They try to do a software workaround. I check out the new K-30. This version isn’t available in Germany.

Kawagoe Gallery

At 2pm I am sitting in the local to Kawagoe. There is a nice shopping street for souvenirs. At the end of the shopping area the part with the old houses begins. Kawagoe is called Little Edo. And this area is the reason why. Unfortunately this street is also the major road during rush hour. At the end is a place called candy corner. A small street with a dozen candy shops. Japan is strange. Then I go to the temple. It is closed but I can visit the outside. Next stop is the temple. The activities for New Year are finally over. All booths are closed. I run back to the shopping street. There should a nice bottle of sake somewhere. I am still looking for souvenirs.

Back at Tokyo I totally lost track of time. I forgot Hide. Damned. It is already 8pm when i arrive at the hotel. I am not in the mood for a late night stroll thru Shinjuku or Shibuya. Therefore I check out another bar in Ueno.

I know that this entry isn’t that long, but there wasn’t something happening today. Tomorrow I move to my last stop, Narita. Looks like I visited every important part of Tokyo. There are only two open projects left: The last metropolitain gardens and the Yamanote tour. Maybe some clubs and a matsuri. For the next time I have to find someting really special.

[deutsche Version]


or … what happened else today.

Now it is time to go back to the hotel. The monorail brought me up to Big Sigth, now go further to the terminal station Toyoso. All these island are new. The didn’t exist when I was here last time (2004). Even Big Sight wasn’t built back then. Crazy. 8 years ago this was part of Tokyo bay. Here in Toyoso I have to change into the subway. I asume that this streets were the coastline before. The houses are looking old. But before I start into the subway, I order myself a big bowl of ramen. I only forgot that I am still in uniform. This causes some irritation.

Iidabashi Gallery

Late in the afternoon I start to find the district called Iidabashi. The Lonely Planet mentioned it to be a point of interest in Tokyo. I don’t know why. This place is nothing special. There are two nice shrines here; an old one and a moder one. There are some side alleys. Ok, there are some more. It is like a maze. GPS would really be a benefit. And it is a residental area. Maybe that is what the LP meant by “an old part of Tokyo”. After several turns I am back at the main road, that is a pedestrial area until 6pm. It is the first I spot supermarket and a drugstore in Tokyo.

It is getting dark. Therefore I start towards the Sky tree. Maybe there are some waiting tickets left. Holidays are over and there may be less people. I get one and can pick up my ticket in 90 minutes. That gives me some time to pick up my tripod in the hotel. But again I underestimated the distances and the travel time in Tokyo. I arrive back at the tower a few minutes before my time is over. And in addition I get myself lost in the maze of floors and stairways. Not easy to find 5F. Even worse. They order me into the wrong queue. The first time I have to act like an American to correct it. Otherwise the waiting ticket is void.

Again I have to wait before I can buy the final ticket. 2000 yen. Pricy. And then there is some waiting again; in front of the elevator. There really are many tourists here. The elevator is going up with a speed of 23 miles/hour. This means 1968 ft/min or 3 floors/second.

This is a view. Tokyo at night. And there are no sky scraper or tall buildings around. Therefore it looks even higher. Tokyo is in every direction; up to the horizon. All these lights. There is an area with multi-story apartment buildings that have an access balcony. In front of every door is a light bulb. Are there are many light bulbs. To many to count. Behing each lamp is living at least one person. Wow.

There, between the tall buildings, is the Sumidagawa with all the bridges. The buildings get lower into the opposite direction. I see the curve of the river I only knew from google maps. Then this other river is the Arakawa. And this really long building. is this the building they built as a fire division wall? It is approximately a half mile long.

And then there is this darkness underneath the Sky Tree. The district Musashi is old and basically filled with small business and residential buildings. No skyscraper. Surrounded by the rest of Tokyo, it looks like a black hole. No doubt that the Sky Tree with its 10 story shopping mall will change this area of Tokyo forever.

Sky Tree Gallery

A second elevator brings my up to the 450m level. Another 100m of height. Crazy. Ok, I have to pay another 1000 yen, but is worth the trip. The elevator has a glass roof and the elevator shaft is illuminated. 100m in blue. Futuristic.

And the additional 100m really make a difference. The sightseeing platform is going slightly uphill. This is the helix a saw from below. It looks strange but is a great idea. The walk ends one level higher at an elevator that goes down to 350m. They seperate the ingoing and outgoing stream of people.

On my next trip I will visit again during daylight. I hope there are less people waiting then. And I will bring a polarisation filter to remove the reflex from the windows. I shall I return at night again. All these lights. They have a hypnotic effect on me. I am like a moth in a lamp store.

[Update: This video also shows the shrine from 2010. I was carrying hte Mikoshi. And it shows the area around the Sky Tree and the contrast between this modern high-tech building and the old neighborhood.]

[deutsche Version]

The Emperor

I get up early; Unusual for me; Breakfast at 8am. Next stop is the post office. I need cash. But the ATM is still offline. I am running out of money. Next stop is the emperor palace. Three extremely long queues. And an interesting concept. I queue is filling up with people, one is wainting and the third queue is proceeding. The next queue is in front of the security check; without a backpack or handbag I can pass. Another checkpoint only checks my pockets, but lees intensive than a bouncer in front of a German discothek. And another queue.

Slowly we proceed to the big gate. I meet two swedish guys. We chat a little bit. Then I arrive the gate. Usually this is as fas as you can go. Now I am allowed to pass. I walk the way up to the inner palace area. The area in front of the gallery has the size of a football field. I find myself a place in the middle. This is timing. In this moment the japanese emperor is starting his speech. I try to take pictures blindly with the camera far over my head. Too late I recognize that the camera settings are at 1600 ASA. But the pictures are ok. The speech is over, everyone is celebrating. A group next to me is shouting “Bansai”. Funny. In Europa you only say Bansai before plan to try something stupid.

Emperor Palace

Then I get flushed out. No chance to resist the stream of people. 20 minutes later I am back at the street in front of the palace. I decide to take another round and queue again for the third speech. The second is running now. The queue is shorter this time. I am still impressed how they organize this amount of people. This time my position is not that good. I have reflections in the window and no polarisation filter at hand. The speech, The celebrating people, alle the flags.

At 12:30am I am back at the train station. The dragon dance takes place at Oazu shooping depato. The dragon shall eat all the bad spirits. He is in company of Ebisu, the deity of luck, and people with drums and pipes. They are walking from shop to shop.


1am. The tea ceremony is just around two corners. Why not pay a visit. After the ceremony I have chat with the master. I learn, that there is a meaning in the position of the wipe (?) at the belt: You wear it at your left side. Because this is the position of the sword and a tea master doesn’t carry a sword. There is also bushido version of the tea ceremony. Here you carry the wipe on your right. I am impressed how he folds the wipe with one hand in one single move. I try it. No chance.

Dragon Dance

Back to the hotel; a brief stop for Tonkatsu (lunch); then the shinkansen to Ueda. I only have 1000 yen left. Enough to get to Bassho but not for the way back. In Ueda I find a bank; no money; I ask the JR office and the police; the Lawson clerk; no chance for foreign credit cards. I call the hotel that I will arrive late. Lucky for me that I have my mobile with me. I call because I have ordered dinner and I hope I can eat it delayed.

The hotel owner picks me up at Bessho train station. The dinner is waiting at my room. Small portions, but plenty of them. More than usual. Because of New Year. Lucky! The day is complete (without money). Next stop: hotel onsen. Extrem relaxing. There is some snow around the pond. Not much but it is ok.

[deutscher Blogeintrag]

Tokyo Jissha

The clock is ringing before 8am. Wow. In Germany is still 2012. Strange. Today I have a big plan: Tokyo Jissha, 10 shrines in Tokyo, in one day. I hope this is possible. If I remember all be people in front of the Yushima Tenmangu, this project will have some difficulties. After the breakfast a brief view to the shrine. Yes. This 200m long queue is still there.

(1) Kanda Myoin — even mor people. The whole palce is filled with Japanese. Everywhere are small booths with yakisoba, Takoyaki, Oden; an endless list. I ignore the queue and walk to the desk window. I have my first ema and also the big plate to mount all 10 ema. There is a dragon dance performing on a stage. Like 2008 the dragon “eats” your money. The deities are bribeable. No time to embrace the moment in full. I have a schedule.

(2) Nezu Jinja — I know the way. I am confused. Only a few people and no booths. The complete opposite of Kanda. Lucky for me. My second ema.

(3) Hakusan –I walk the short distance. It is a smaller shrine and also not many people. Getting in, getting out. Again I saved a lot of time.

(4) Oji Jinja –Lucky for me that this shrine is close to the train station. It is a nice shrine in North. Something for an advanced Tokyo trip. Here again are booths and a long queue. It is 11:55am; 4 shrines in 2 hours. This is good. Now I have a long train trip via Akihabara to my next destination. For a moment I think about using a shinkansen. Why? Because I can.

(5) Kameida Tenjin –This take a whiel to walk there. Over 30 minutes from Oji. At the shrine I have to use the backdoor. This place really is crowded. But at the backdoor I have to pass all the booths. The way is packed like on a christmas market. Traffic Jam. It takes some tome but I declare Half Time. A good moment to drink some Amasame.

(6) Tomioka Hachimangu –This queue is long, very long. The police has closed parts of the 6 lane street. The shrine is hidden but worth a visit. I talk to Japanese women; in fluent English.

(7) Shiba Daijungu –this is a smaller shrine I usually would skip. The next shrine I know. I get nervous. 3 Shrines left and it is already 3pm.

(8) Hikawa Jinja –I walk from Roppongi station. A different approach than last time.

(9) Hie Jinja –This shrine is only 15 minutes away by walking. A big stairway leads up to shrine. I saw the stairs 2010 but I never imagined that they belong to a shrine. Wow. They even have an escalator. Again I get stuck between dozen of booths. Now only one last ema is missing.

Tokyo Jissha

(10) Shinagawa Jinja — In theory a simple thing. Toei Asakusa Line. But I jump into the airport Express and miss my stop. 8 stations later I can change direction. Dawn is already in progress. But this diversion gives me the chance to spot the Fuji. It is the first time I see this vulcan from Tokyo. The local arrives the correct station after 5pm. A critical time. And then I run completely around the shirne because I miss the entrance. There are still people here waiting in a queue. But the windows where I can buy the ema are closed. I ask at the shrine office. No problem. My Tokyo Jissha is complete. All ten in one day.

Ok. I cheated. I didn’t prayed. But if I sum up all the queues, I would have need 4 days. Back to Kando Myoin, to complete the circle. 6pm and still a queue. Time for nihonshu and oden.

The booths at Yushima Tenmangu are already closed. Back to the hotel for a hot bath. Now I watch “Dinner for One”. Somehow a New Years Eve tradition in Germany. A brief stop at a Izakaya and then I have to pack my stuff. Tomorrow I will visit the palace, the dragon dance and the tea ceremony. And I also travel to Bessho Onsen.

[deutscher Blogeintrag]

31. December

I don’t have a detailed plan for today. There is no plan at all. First stop is Yushima Tenmangu. Then I walk to the Sumidagawa and to the shrine. I was carrying the Miskoshi two years ago. I make an observation: Tokyo is more dirty than I remember. And the number of hoboes seems to increase.

Next stop is the Sky Tree. This thing is tall, really tall. The foundation of the tower is a big shopping mall. I need some time before I understand how it is working. You have to queue to get a place on the waiting list. You get a “waiting ticket” for 4:30pm. And it is just 11am. With the ticket you have to queue again at the printed time to buy the real ticket. Judging from the queue I will stay here at least 30 minutes for the waiting ticket. This is to stupid. I will kill the whole day by waiting. I will postpone the ticket.

Tokyo Sky Tree

The walk to the metropolitain garden I wanted to visit is wasted time. The garden is closed during the days around New Year. Therefore I walk to the Sumida bridge to Tokyo Eki. Now I am standing at the knot of the express ways that built be backbone of the traffic in Tokyo. It is just a east of Nihonbashi. The express way is stacked in several levels. Here I get a feeling how compact Tokyo is.

Now on my fifth journey I visit the old Tokyo station building. It looks like a combination of German and English architecture. And the tourist office I ask for things I can do within the next day. Which temple I should visit tonight. Looks like I know more about Tokyo the the ladies behind the desk. Will say: My question are too special. I am beyond the average tourist. But I learn two things: On January 2nd is a dragon dance and a tea ceremony here in Marunouchi. This I can combine with the visit of the emperor palace.

The day is half gone and was not really successful up to now. Place 2 on the worst-day-list behind Inuyama. I get the train to Shinagawa to visit the grave of the 47 ronin. The temple is nothing special. A unspectacular standard one. But the graveyard is well frequented. Hundreds of incense sticks are burning everywhere around the tombstones. The 47 ronin are more important figures in the Japanese culture than I thought.

At the late afternoon I take a stroll thru Akihabara. I want to buy special souvenirs and visit some Maiden Cafes. Pictures are not allowed. And I also will not report about this places here. Just: You are called “o-sama” or “Master”. This is a very strange place, even for Japan. It is part of the Otaku subculture. Totemo hen.

At 6pm I am back at hte hotel. The lady at the reception desk promised me to ask the hotel owner for a good temple. Senno-ji and Zojo-ji will be a very impressive place tonight. But the chance to ring the bell will be zero. And many gaijins are there too. His suggestion is the Kane-ji at the northern end of Ueno-park. I never heard about this temple; the Lonely Planet neither. My chances to ring the bell seems to be good.

Impressions of Tokyo

I kill some timein the shopping streets of Ueno. Here it is like on a farmer’s market. I have dinner in a small place I found by accident. Kariage. Then I stop in the english pub next to the Ueno park. I meet an british guy. We talk until 10pm. Then I start to the temple.

This place looks empty. Am I at the right place? The bell is prepared. And a tent is there too. I observe a lady buying a ticket with a number. This looks promising. I try the same. Wow. The monks writes my name into the temple book. I get the number 10. Now it is official. I will ring the temple bell !

A few minutes after 11pm all guest are pleased to enter the temple. We are sitting here with 10 people but they are getting more. At 11:30pm the monks arrive and start the chanting followed by prayers. I hear drums. I suck in this moment with all my senses. It is one of the moments where you left behind the tourist and dive deep into the Japanse culture. It is as special at the Mikoshi-carrying in 2010 or the moon viewing in 2004.

Then the moment gas arrived. We walk to the bell. At midnight the head priest is doing the first strike. The other monks follow. Then we civilians are allowed to ring the bell. Number 10. My turn. I walk up the stairs, grab the rope, haul off and strike the wooden log against the iron bell. I stop the log so that no second strike will happen. That’s it. That’s all. While the other 88 complete the 108 chimes (108 in total – 10 monks – 9 before me – myself), I drink some sake and talk with other guest. Two observations: I am the only gaijin. And the older the person the louder and powerful the strike of the bell. It really is loud. It gives you a jerk.

New Year at the Kane-ji

After the 108 official chimes we add some more inofficial. Everyone who was helping the temple staff is ringing now. And I ring the bell again. Twice. This time with more power. After a few more cups of sake I walk back to the hotel. It is 2am. All the time it was a Tokyo night like any other night. No fireworks, no party on the streets. So completely different from Germany.

Only at Yushima Tenmangu this night differs from a usual night. It is crowded. The police has blocked the road for cars. There is a at least 200m long queue in front of the shrine. A strange way to celebrate New Year: Queueing to throw 100 yen into a wooden box.

For me it was a very special start into the new year. I always celebrated this way a little bit different. This time I outclassed myself: I am 1 of the 108 people who rang the bell at Kane-ji to start the year 2013 (Heisei 25).

[deutscher Blogeintrag]