Google+ Rurousha 流浪者: November 2011

Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Red leaves and cute cats at Gōtokuji

One of the most common images in Japan is the manekineko (招き猫) or "beckoning cat". It's a sculpture, usually ceramic, of a cat with one raised paw, and it's displayed in businesses, especially shops and restaurants, as well as homes. It's believed that a raised left paw attracts customers, whereas a right paw brings good luck and wealth. It's also said that a left paw is best for drinking establishments; the right paw for other stores. (According to folklore, if you pick up your glass with your left hand, you're a heavy drinker.)

When you look at these statues, remember that they imitate Japanese body language. When a Westerner calls someone, the hand is held with the palm facing upwards. Here in Japan, the palm faces downwards and the gesture is similar to a Western goodbye wave.

There are many legends about the origin of the manekineko, but since I live in Tokyo, I choose to believe the Tokyo version. The story goes that a wealthy feudal lord was taking shelter under a tree near Gōtokuji (豪徳寺), a Zen temple in Western Tokyo, during a thunderstorm. Shelter under a tree in a thunderstorm?! That just proves my doubts about the aristocracy. Anyway. The lord saw the priest's cat waving him over – realistically, the cat was probably washing its face – and followed; a moment later the tree was struck by lighting. The wealthy man befriended the poor priest and the temple became prosperous. When the cat died, it was buried in the temple grounds and the first manekineko figure was made in its honour.

The real manekineko was a Japanese bobtail cat. They have a short tail that looks like a rabbit's – too cute! – and they're often calico.

Arbitrary trivial information: Hello Kitty is also supposed to be a bobtail.

Since I love cats, another visit to Gōtokuji was required. Another good reason to go now: the temple has beautiful autumn foliage. The easiest way to get there is on the Setagaya Tram Line. Get off at Miyanosaka Station. The temple is a 5-minute walk from the station. (See map below.)

I've included a few photos. We start with cute cats, followed by red leaves that look Photoshopped but weren't.

Next to Gōtokuji's main temple is a smaller Kannon temple that's dedicated to the manekineko. You can see hundreds of figurines at this sub-temple.

I love his smile.

The smaller Kannon temple next to the main temple

A slightly bigger (perhaps more life-like?) statue

Bobtails have strong but affectionate personalities. They're easy to teach, and they love playing fetch and going for a walk! Photo credit: 

The main temple hiding behind an explosion of colour

Gōtokuji's ema (small wooden plaque on which you write your wish to the gods)

View Larger Map

Monday, 28 November 2011

Impressionism in Shinjuku Gyoen

It looks like paintings by Claude Monet rather than photographs. All the pictures were taken in Shinjuku Gyoen, where autumn has arrived in its full glory.

Click on the photos to see bigger versions.

Murakami nominated for Bad Sex Award

The Nobel Prize for Literature continues to elude Haruki Murakami, but he just might win the Bad Sex in Fiction Award for 1Q84The prize was founded in 1993 by the Literary Review's then editor, Auberon Waugh, to "draw attention to the crude, tasteless, often perfunctory use of redundant passages of sexual description in the modern novel, and to discourage it".

1Q84 certainly includes a few odd sex scenes, and there's an immaculate conception as a cherry on the cake. Yes, that foreplay … sorry … wordplay was intended. Murakami's competitors include James Frey, Stephen King, Jean M Auel and Lee Child. If he wins, he'll join previous victors like Melvyn Bragg, Sebastian Faulks, Tom Wolfe and John Updike.

The Guardian has a humorous article that describes the awards, and you can read an extract from 1Q84 here

Sunday, 27 November 2011

The ginkgo guardian of Yanaka Cemetery

It's a massive, splendid, gorgeous tree. It's awesome ... and I use that word in its original sense, before interwebbers decided everything from Hello Kitty to Mitt Romney's hair is awesome. It's a tree that fills you with a "mixed emotion of reverence, respect and wonder inspired by great beauty, sublimity or might". (You'll find that definition here.) That is awe. See? Dan Brown, AKB48 and a Big Mac don't quite crack it.

I digress, as usual, into the realm of language. Trees. Let's stick to trees.

This particular tree stands guard in the middle of Yanaka Cemetery, sharing its shade in summer and golden abundance in autumn. The cemetery has several ginkgos, but this one is the lord of all he surveys. I've written about the cemetery before. You may think me odd that I love meandering among gravestones, but if you're looking for tranquillity in the heart of neversleeping Tokyo, this is it.

This post is my way of saying welcome to Lina of Urutora no hi, who'll be in Asakusa soon. Yanaka is just a quick jog away. Grin. See the maps below.

Yanaka's massive ginkgo

Click on the photos to see bigger versions.

Dunno about you, but I wouldn't mind ending up here! 

Which one is redder: the tree or the car?

It's for real ...

I've included two maps - a Google street map and a satellite image of the same area that clearly shows the massive ginkgo tree in the middle of section 9. See that yellow circle next to the 9? That's it!

Saturday, 26 November 2011

Oh, all right, Aoyama's ginkgo trees are also nice!

Admits she grudgingly. These photos were taken last year (on 7 December, to be precise) in Ichō Namiki, the ginkgo-lined avenue that runs from Aoyama 1-chome to Meiji Jingu Gaien. It's probably the most famous ginkgo spot in all of Tokyo. I prefer other places, but even I have to admit that Ichō Namiki is a bit of all right. If you want to go there, the trees should be at their most spectacular next week. The area's ginkgo festival continues until Sunday 11 December.

Incidentally, ichō (イチョウ) is the Japanese word for ginkgo, and namiki (並木) means row or avenue of trees.

Click on the photos to see bigger versions.

School kids picking up nuts

Friday, 25 November 2011

Tōdai's glorious ginkgos

The University of Tokyo's Hongō campus is beautiful in autumn. The university's symbol is a ginkgo leaf, and the campus has magnificent trees (including what I regard as The Single Most Gorgeous Ginkgo in The Entire World) which are now changing colour. Expect further updates, but I present ... the start of the spectacle. The photos were taken near Yasuda Auditorium. I used my smartphone, but give it another week and I'll take my Canon with me.


This tree is the most magnificent ginkgo I've seen yet. Once it's changed colour completely, I'll take photos with my Canon. 

Thursday, 24 November 2011

Tokyo's best ginkgo avenue

Nope. It's not the famous Ichō Namiki, the ginkgo-lined avenue that runs from Aoyama 1-chome to Meiji Jingu Gaien. Ichō Namiki may be beautiful, but it's crowded and there are too many cars and it's entirely too predictable. (Quoth she with her tongue firmly in her cheek.)

Tokyo's best ginkgo avenue* is in Shōwa Kinen Park in Tachikawa. As a matter of fact, you'll get two avenues for the price of one: one marches neatly disciplined next to a shallow canal, the other ambles au naturale through the sports area. However, you'll have to hurry, because the trees are at their peak right now. (My photos were taken this morning.) It's a bit far away if you don't live in Western Tokyo, but it takes only 30 minutes on a Chuo Line express train from Shinjuku to Tachikawa. The park's entrance fee is ¥400. 

Quick warning that you'll need at least two hours to enjoy the ginkgo trees. If you want to include the Japanese garden in your visit, double that time. Shōwa Kinen Park is a big, beautiful complex that requires a day trip, not a quick scamper. Just a pity about the constant whop-whop-whopping of helicopters from nearby Yokota, a United States Air Force base. (All your park are belong to us?) The noise puts me on edge. Do residents get used to it? I don't think I could ever live in that area, and heaven knows how the Okinawans cope.

I've included maps that show you exactly where you should go to see the two avenues. The canal walk is closer to Tachikawa Station; the sports area walk is closer to Nishi-Tachikawa (one stop from Tachikawa on the Ome Line).

* My favourite ginkgo spot remains the University of Tokyo's Hongō campus, but this is the best avenue.

This photo was taken with my Sony Ericsson Xperia Arc. Nice colours.
Click on the photos to see bigger versions.

The ginkgo avenue closest to Tachikawa Station

The ginkgo avenue in the sports area 


Yellow on yellow

The big pond near the Nishi-Tachikawa entrance

The REAL symbol of autumn in Japan: not autumn leaves, but susuki
(ススキ, scientific name Miscanthus sinensis). 

You want red leaves? OK! Some Japanese maples have started changing. 

I love cats!

The ginkgo area closest to Tachikawa Station

The ginkgo area in the sports area


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