Akasaka and Komagome

Today I was all on my own. I woke up having no idea where I wanted to go. After looking through my two guide books, I developed a plan for the day. I decided that first I would see the Hie Shrine in Akasaka, then travel north to the Rikugien Gardens, and finally spend the afternoon at the Tokyo National Museum. So, I set off.

I left my room a little later this morning to avoid rush hour, and then I navigated my way to the Ginza line subway stop in Asakusa and took it to Akasaka. Reading some of the pamphlets in the subway station, I learned that Akasaka is a neighborhood that employs most of the government office workers and it was not uncommon to see limosines escorting them around the district. The main street was very busy. Instead of crosswalks, there were pedestrian overpasses to navigate across the road on foot. Many narrow alleys meandered off the main highway and they were lined with very fancy upscale restaurants and bars. The Hie Shrine was just a few blocks walk from the subway and it was surprising to see the large stone torii gate marking the enterance to the shrine amongst such a modern area of the city.

The Hie Shrine was built in 830 and was moved to its current location in Akasaka by Shogun Tokugawa Ietsuna in the 17th century. However, the shrine did not survive the war and all the current buildings have been remodeled. Hie is a shrine dedicated to the kami of Mt. Hie in the Shiga Prefecture. In Tokyo (and most of the larger cities), there are shrines dedicated to the kami of areas which are a bit of a trek from the center of the city. This makes it easier for those who wish to pray to those kami. Because of the shrine’s current location in Akasaka, it is highly regarded amongst government employees. Many government officials spend their lunch hour walking the path up the hill to reach the Hie Shrine. The shrine itself was incredibly large and extremely peaceful. The woods which surround shrine separate it from the chaos down on the street.

Just a few minutes walk from Hie was a famous temple that I figured I’d go to while I was in Akasaka. The Toyokawa Temple is interesting because it is a Buddhist Temple that is dedicated to the Shinto deity Inari. This mix of ideas came about when, in the 13th century, Emperor Juntoku’s son had a divinely inspired vision of the Buddhist god Dakini-Shinken riding a white fox. This white fox was believed to be Inari. During the Meiji Restoration, Emperor Meiji wanted to define and preserve Japanese ideals and therefore favored the native Shintoism. This temple faced some persecution during this time and kept its Buddhist identity by asserting that the real object of worship, was not Inari, but Dakini-Shinken.

After leaving Toyokawa Temple, I took the Namboku subway line to Komagome. Komagome is the location of the Rikugien Japanese Gardens. The gardens were built in 1702 by the fifth Tokugawa Shogun’s most loyal confidante, Yanagisawa Yoshiyasu. These gardens are a typical of the famous gardens in the Edo period, as the Rikugien Gardens survived the war and even some of the teahouses which line the paths are original.

The garden trails encircle the central pond which has an island floating in the middle. There are several bridges for crossing the streams winding of of the pond. There were a multitude of turtles and koy fish in the pond which seemed to like to congregate around the bridge.

Once I finished walking the trails, I took the subway all the way back to Ueno park which is the site of the Tokyo National Museum. To my disappointment I found out the Museum is closed on Mondays. However, their gift shop was open and I was able to find two official ukiyo-e woodblock replicas which I found to be very nice. One was Katsushika Hokusai’s famous Great Wave off Kanagawa in his Thirty-six Views of Mt. Fuji.

Once I made it home, I found I wasn’t as tired as I have been the past few days and I made it to my first dinner in Tokyo before passing out! My guide on Sunday, Charlie, showed me a small little restaurant famous for their fugu about two blocks from my hotel. The restaurant was called Genpin Fugu and was a second location of their more famous restaurant in Osaka. For those who don’t know, fugu is Japanese pufferfish. Pufferfish are extremely poisonous and their livers have concentrated tetrodotoxin which they secrete through their spines when they are frightened and inflate. Just a small amount of the chemical can cause paralysis of the diaphragm and cause suffocation. Chefs who work with fugu must undergo an intensive liscensing program because if the liver is not properly removed, then the consumer can die. There are only a handful of restaurants in the US where you can find fugu. Most are in New York or Las Angeles and are extremely expensive. I knew that I would never have the opportunity to try this Japanese delicacy in the US. As I walked up to the restaurant, in the window, they had about five little fugu swimming around in a tank and I felt bad that I was probably about to eat one. Once I was seated, I ordered the fugu sashimi which comes with a special house dipping sauce, supposedly ”suiting the mild taste of the pufferfish perfectly.”

The fugu had a bit tougher texture than most fish, but had a surprising citrus flavor to it. It was actually very good, especially with the sauce. The most enjoyable part of fugu is that since there are trace amounts of the poison left in the meat, it causes your lips to tingle and go numb until your body has broken it down. Supposedly, if you eat enough of the fish, the sensation will work its way to your fingertips. It was a great meal to end the day.

Tomorrow I have another guided tour, but nothing is firmly scheduled, so I will have to work out what I want to do with her in the morning. See you soon.

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