I always had this image of Tokyo before I came here and it was much like Shibuya. Twice a week, I change trains at the bustling Shibuya station on my way to teach in Sangenjaya.  Yes, the busiest cross walk in the world is there–and its a sight to see.  In fact,  I remember the first time I had to leave the station to change trains when I heard a fervent hum in the air–a cacophony of sound emanating from the thousands of people, electricity and trains that literally pierces through the body.    Shibuya is energetic, dense and teaming with tourists.  Many locals and natives avoid it. When I once told Yuri that I was going to Shibuya, she said “Why go there?”  I will admit that I’ve come to like other parts of Tokyo for shopping or walking around and actually there are more neighborhoods that reflect the “real” Tokyo.  However, I’m not through with Shibuya yet and curiosity makes me leave the station on my way to Sangenjaya to walk around and take in the zany spectacle of it all.

Sightseeing: The Zoo in Ueno Park

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A few weeks ago, Charlottte Tanaka, Mikoto, Goto Hisako and Ryu Imaizumi invited me to go with them to the zoo in Ueno Park.  I hadn’t been to a zoo in years and was really looking forward to it and 4 1/2 -year old Ryu was particularly excited.  We took the JR LIne to this vast park, which is very similar to New York’s Central Park, in scale and for the presence of prominent museums.  Shortly after entering the zoo, we  saw the panda bears and then continued on to see an elephant, bears, a towering giraffe, penguins and a menagerie of variegated wildlife.  A powerful storm quickly moved in forcing us to run for cover and take a monorail through lush, green, treetops in search of an area to wait out the downpour.  The four of us had snacks under a pavilion overlooking a sweeping lake covered in waterlilies. Finally the rain stopped and we were able explore a bit longer until a classical melody played over the speakers indicating closing time.  Similarly, throughout Tokyo, a nursery rhyme is amplified at 5:00 p.m. each day, Tomoko Kawahara said that this is a signal “for all little children to go home because their parents are waiting for them.”  After leaving the zoo, Ryu wanted to see the bullet trains “Shinkansen” and we were able to get passes at the train station to go below and see them arrive and depart.  Ryu was so thrilled to be there with the trains–and so upset when we had to leave.  In all, it was great to spend the day experiencing life’s simple pleasures through the eyes of a child.

Re:gendo with Keiko Okuno

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About a two weeks ago, I met up with Keiko Okuno, a former Yoga Works  colleague of mine who  moved back to Tokyo with her husband after spending five years in Los Angles. She is now a very popular yoga teacher in Tokyo.  A few months after the 2011 earthquake & tsunami in north-east Japan, Keiko made a brief visit to Los Angeles and the women from our  2007 Yoga Works Professional Program gathered to welcome her with a small reunion.  Now it’s almost a year later and the two of us are going to meet in Nishiogikubo, Tokyo, which would be for me, an adventurous journey by train.  The directions…  “from Sangejaya (platform 2) take the De-ontoshi Line to Shibuya, then the JR line (platform 1) to Shinjuku (platform 12) then take the JR Chou-ow (kaisoku) to Nishiogikubo and then walk to the south exit…”   Somehow I made it there and I would soon find the trip to be well worth it.  Keiko thought it would be nice to have “sweets” at a place nearby.  After a short walk  through a quiet residential  neighborhood we came upon a wooden house that she said had been relocated from somewhere in Japan.   To my surprise we entered the most delightful place— “Re:gendo”—rustic, simple and serene with airy rooms  featuring a  small boutique and cafe surrounding an enclosed garden.  We sat down at a wooden table covered with a faded patterned design and ordered the most wonderful “sweets” with exotic and colorful ingredients such as; honey green tea ice cream, black sesame paste, matcha mouse, black bean jam, and mango.   Coincidentally, while we were eating there was a small tremor putting everyone on alert but it soon passed and we all relaxed—everything was okay…

Later we  browsed the tiny store highlighting  handcrafted leather shoes made by the owner, clothing made from flax handwoven into linen fabrics in deep indigo, eggplant, and other natural tones. I was told that this type of fabric was traditionally used for casual kimonos. Glazed pottery, glassware, assorted kitchenware and haishi (chopsticks) rounded out the assortment of items.  The late afternoon sun began to cast a golden glow on the surroundings, adding another element to the spectrum of sensory appeal that is so prominent in the experience of Japan.

Sightseeing: Omotesando

One of my students suggested that I go to Omotesando, Harajuko and Yoyogi Park to look around. I had time after the workshop on Sunday, May 13 to do some sightseeing. The weather was great–no rain—and there was no teacher training that weekend. I spent the entire afternoon there and was pleasantly surprised—Omotesando and its surroundings reminded me of Soho, Tribeca and Paris infused with a distinct Japanese aesthetic. Omotesando is a fashionable neighborhood, with numerous boutiques and cafes highlighting unique architecture, design, clothing,  food and pastries.  I ventured down numerous streets and  never made it to Harajuku or Yoyogi Park that day. But the pictures tell the story–I think my favorite  image of that day would be of the young woman quietly strolling down chic Aoyama wearing a traditional kimono…

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Sightseeing: Ginza

We decided to stop in Ginza on our way back from Asakusa.  Ginza is the most expensive neighborhood in Tokyo and with numerous boutiques and department stores featuring the finest designers in the world.  This shopping district is often compared to the Champs Elysee in Paris, yet to me,  seemed very similar to Fifth Avenue in New York.  After walking around a for a while, we stopped in a traditional Japanese fish house for dinner. 

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Sightseeing: Senso-Ji Temple

Two of my students, Kasumi (“Lotty’) Tanaka and Hisako Imaizumi and her son Yu, took me on an excursion to Asakusa to tour the Senso-Ji Temple Grounds.   The sun had finally come out  after a few days of rain so we were able to spend considerable time touring the grounds.  The Senso-Ji Temple is the oldest temple in Japan and dates back to 628 A.D. It was built to honor the Bodhisattva Kannon—a figure highly regarded in Buddhism which is believed to have been sent to relieve human misery on earth.  Many Japanese believe that their hopes and pleas will reach this deity, which is evidenced in the various methods available on the grounds for prayer— to bless, request good fortune or to eliminate illness and vessels for ritualistic cleansing.  I took so many pictures that I created a slide show to share this rare experience.

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