Monday, February 28, 2011

Fire ritual at Naritasan

In the revolt against emperor Suzaku in the year 939, the priest Kanjo received a secret order from the emperor to suppress it. Priest Kanjo went to the revelling district bearing the image of Fudomyoo from the Takaosan Jingoji temple in the capital of Kyoto. He performed a three weeks ‘Goma’ rite of peace. At the final day of the rite, the revolt had been suppressed completely. When preparing to return the image to Kyoto, he found out that the image had become heavy as a huge stone. Later in an oracle he heard Fudomyoo say, “My wish has not been fulfilled. I wish to stay here forever and relieve innumerable people from suffering.”. Emperor Suzaku moved by the mercy of Fudomyoo ordered the construction of a temple on the spot. The Naritasan shinshoji was established on that day.

The large complex Naritasan in Narita Chiba, is a great day trip from Tokyo, or a convenient way to spend a few hours around the Narita airport area.
The main external gate is quite new wooden structure built in 2008.
After the external gate, there is an open area, which is filled with vendors on festival and special temple days.

After a set of steps there is the the Niomon gate an Important cultural property built in 1830. Passing the gate a large number of very old stone slabs with the names of people who contributed to the temple’s construction are visible at the sides of the stairs.
Following a short set of steps, the main temple is now visible, at right side there is the three stories pagoda, an important cultural property built in 1712, with beautifully carved dragons on the ceiling.

The bell tower, the isseikyodo, the ablutions area and purification incense are also in the open area.

Every day the temple carries the Goma ceremonial fire rite of peace. The ceremony is open to the public but, unfortunately, no photos allowed. The monks chants, the main priest chanting and feeding the fire, is a ritual worth attending, as is only performed on the naritasan temples.

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Friday, February 25, 2011

Fashion Streets in Harajuku

Tokyo women in the last 5 years, arguably lost the ‘best dressed in Asia’ title to Shanghai. However, the trendiest and coolest title still belongs to the hipsters in Harajuku, the area around the Harayuku station in Shibuya, Tokyo.

The main strip of Takeshita dori, is visited by a large number of foreigners looking for the latest trend, without the hefty price tag of the Shibuya stores.

To find the ‘next’ trend you will have to venture the back streets (ura-hara) across Meiji Street, where a large number of young designers set up shop, to create a fan base and brand building.

Many famous designers have started in this area, moving later to bigger venues out of Harajuku, or collaborating with bigger fashion houses; ironically brands in most cases will lose its street cred and the following of the trend setters with this move.

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Friday, February 18, 2011

Tokyo Streetcar Arakawa Line

Early in the 20 century, the streetcar ‘Toden’ system was the main mean of transportation in Tokyo, counting at his peak with 41 routes and over 231 Km of track. By mid century the Tokyo government started changing the bus and subway systems, this change was accelerated by 1960, with the preparations for the Tokyo Olympics, most lines were closed by the early 70s and the Toden Arakawa line remained as the only survivor thanks to opposition from the area residents.

There are legally two streetcars lines in Tokyo, the Tokyo Setagaya and Arakawa line, the Arakawa line is the effectively the only remaining one as the Setagaya line runs on its own right of way.

The Arakawa line operate in the north and east part of Tokyo, providing a view of a part of the city downtown mostly missed by visitors.


Monday, February 14, 2011

Tokyo International Forum

The Tokyo International Forum is a multipurpose center in the Chiyoda ward. Located between the Yurakucho, and Tokyo Station, a short walk from Ginza, that is unjustly overlooked by visitors.

The building with seven halls (one of them with 5,000 seats), 2 museums, 33 meeting rooms, shops and restaurants, is one of the main convention centers and a popular concert hall in Tokyo.

The building designed by the Uruguayan architect Rafael Viñoly, has one of the most bold and distinctive structures in the center of Tokyo. The building sadly goes mostly unnoticed; as the view is blocked by the JR elevated tracks next to it, and by the tall buildings surrounding it.

The most impressive structure is undoubtedly the hall atrium or glass building, a 7 floors, ship shaped glass structure that has become a symbol of the internal structure exposed.

Interestingly in the glass building, there is a statue of general Ouda Dokan, a famous officer from the Muramachi period. The statue is a remainder of the tenant of the previous building, and now part owner of the new building, the Tokyo Metropolitan government.

The plaza gets normally busy on weekdays when people working in the area, purchase lunch from food vans parked on the premises, and eat at the plaza on good weather days, The vans offer great meals at budget prices.

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Monday, February 7, 2011

Aichi Children’s center

The 2005 World’s expo fair, held in Aichi prefecture, east of the city of Nagoya, was themed “Nature’s wisdom”. Accordingly, all pavilions had an ecological focus. Special care was take to built them from recycled materials, and to dispose them at the end of the event with the minimum impact possible to the environment. Some of the pavilions were actually built before the expo and were repurposed to be used during the event.

The Aichi Children’s center, used at the expo as the wanpaku Treasure Island, keeping with the spirit of the fair, continues with interactive activities and workshops for children of junior high school age and below, mainly focused on nature and ecology.

The building co-designed by: Fujikawa, Hara; was awarded the Architectural Institute of Japan prize in 1997, the white pavilion built like a gigantic children playground, with maze like passages that interconnect the levels and areas of the center.

Unfortunately, the center is not in a centric area and thus not very busy on weekdays. Further development in the area will hopefully drive more visitors to the area.

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