Thursday 31 October 2013

Showa period Japan - Shibamata

I have recently been feeling better after my accident of three weeks ago and figured it was probably about time that I went exploring again so I got in touch with my occasional fellow explorer, Dan, and organised to meet him for another day of wandering.

I had heard a lot about an area in the northern reaches of Tokyo called Shibamata.  I had been told that there was a shopping street that maintained an Showa period feel to it (the Showa period ran from 1926 - 1989).  With my love of old Japanese architecture, I figured it would be a great place to go and have a look at.

Shibamata is the kind of place that everyone in Japan knows of and says that it is very famous, but very few people have actually visited.  Unfortunately due to an alarm that didn't go off (sorry Dan....) we didn't get to spend as much time there as I would have liked, but I am fully intending to go back there and look around some more.

Meeting up with Dan in Shimokitazawa we made our way out to Shibamata, which is only about an hour train ride from where I live.  Stepping outside of the station you are greeted with a relatively normal view of the semi-rural outskirts of Tokyo.

Ramen shop, sweets shop and people just going about their daily business.  If you just randomly stepped off the train at Shibamata for a wander around a new area, you would have no idea of what you would be about to stumble upon.

In the middle of the square outside the station is a statue of "Tora-san".

Tora-san was the main character on an series of movies called "Otoko wa Tsurai yo" (It's not easy being a man).  There were 48 instalments in total of the film which spanned 1969 - 1995.  It is the longest running movie series (in terms of the number of instalments) in the history of films!  Here Tora-san is publicising an upcoming mayoral election.

The usual archway signals the start of the shopping street.

Walking under the archway and entering the area beyond, it feels like you have been transported back a couple of hundred years.  It is like something from the Twilight Zone.

The buildings are amazing and the street is lined with shops selling all kinds of things from ages current and past.  This one is selling Osembei (rice crackers), and I can confirm that they taste great!!

 Some kind of cake, looks like they have sweet red beans in them.

More Osembei

Pickles, I wish I had gone in as I love pickled cucumber, but I thought I will drop in on the way back, but it was closed by then!

Old style Coca Cola bottle.

Pickled daikon (Japanese radish) covered in Miso (I think).

Not sure what this one was selling, I was mostly just taking photos because of how the buildings looked rather than what was in them!

I have been told that this guys is the mascot of a famous bread brand in Japan.

Mobile phone accessories.

At the far end of the street is Taishakuten temple.  I have since found out that there is actually far more to the temple than what I saw, so a trip back is definitely being planned.

Taishakuten temple was founded in 1629, but the current structures are closer to 120 years old as they had been rebuilt due to damage.  It is a vastly unappreciated temple to most people (especially tourists) due to the distance needed to travel there compared to the more famous Meiji Jingu shrine and Sensoji temple.  It was, however, in 2009 added to the "100 Landscapes of Japan list".  The intricate wood carving are impressive, but the feature that really amazed me was a pine tree, no ordinary pine tree though........

I was only able to fit in one side of the tree in the picture though, the branch on the left is almost as long!!  Fourteen metres one side and twelve metres on the other!  Apparently it's Japanese name “Zui-ryu-no-matsu” means "Lucky Dragon"  As you can see, the branches need to be supported with wood posts or they would fall off.

A wander around the temple grounds revealed some other interesting sights.
The traditional water cleanser,


The base of the Lucky Dragon tree,

the main gate,

and some more statues.

These guys were mechanical dancing dragons that danced around and retrieved your fortune for one hundred yen.  I got an extremely good fortune, so hopefully that means my bad luck is finished!

 We then made our way out of the temple and back to the main shopping street.  It was starting to get a little dark and the street lights were being turned on.

We stopped at a sweets shop where I got some Mitarashi dango.  These are rice flour balls covered in a syrup of soy sauce, sugar and starch.  Yum!

The shops were starting to close up by now.

I took one final look back down the street and it looked spectacular!

We stopped in at a couple of interesting stores on the way back to the station.  One we saw was an old style sweets shop.

Along with old sweets, they also had old style curry.....

and a super old style Super Mario game!!  (Matty, I know you will like this!!)

We left the sweets shop and continued on toward the station.  Here we stumbled about I just show you......

The lady working at the shop was fantastic!!  

She had unlimited energy and encouraged me to touch the "lucky poo"  She had all sorts of lucky poo souvenirs to buy, key chains, mobile phone accessories and so on.  The best thing, however was her ability to say lucky poo in about 10 different languages!  She had Dan and I in stitches!  If you head to Shibamata, you can't miss the shop.  It is on your right just before you go under the archway signalling the start of the shopping street 

Armed with my lucky poo key ring, we arrived back at the station and made our way back home.

Shibamata was everything I expected it to be, however I have since found out that there is so much more to Shibamata (not only the regarding the temple) so I will be heading back to pay another visit.

For those who saw my previous post, I mentioned that I had been involved in an bicycle accident.  Well I am happy to say that I am well on the road to recovery, so the posts should continue to come regularly again.

Thanks again for reading, I hope you enjoyed the look around Shibamata.  See you again soon.

Wednesday 9 October 2013

Machida and miso ramen heaven!

We non-Japanese ramen lovers are very lucky to have a few very well written, detailed blogs about ramen (especially in Tokyo).  One that I keep going back to is Ramen Adventures.  Anyway, Ramen Adventures had given a good review of a Miso ramen place called Hokkaido Ramen Oyaji (the word Oyaji means "Old Man") in an area called Machida which just happens to be in sometime blog day companion, Dan's part of Tokyo so I organised to meet up with him and have a look around Machida.

Machida itself is a pretty normal, unremarkable area, but is quite a large suburb of Tokyo.  The population is about 425,000 and because it is so far from downtown Tokyo it has everything you need for day to day life.  It is a self-sufficient suburb.

Dan took me to see Serigaya Park which was a beautifully green park that is very typical of the parks in many places here that just look so out of place in Tokyo.

A little further on, there was a little stream bubbling happily away.

Walking further on, we came to the source of the stream.

There were the massive, ever present carp swimming around in the pond.

One of them was swimming happily along showing off to his friends by doing barrel rolls!  These ones were not like the usual ones who are quite comfortable with people walking around above them, these ones were very jumpy.  I saw a guy walking around with what looked like a fishing rod, and if that was the case, you can't blame them.

The park had that nice peaceful calming feel to it that so many Japanese parks have and having found my Zen, we were off to the local temple.  This one had cows!

Cows are familiar symbols in religion in Japan.  They are considered protectors from illness and also have an agricultural meaning as well and are considered to be a symbol of a good harvest.  It is believed that if you touch the statue of the cow, it will cure all physical ills.  That explains why the nose on the second cow has been rubbed shiny.  If I had known that while I was there I would have given it a good rub to cure my physical ills, but more on that later.

It also had the ever present statues of the dogs.

The temple proper.

There was also a couple of smaller shrines on site.

Both Dan and I bought our fortunes.  Dan's was the best fortune, so he's going to have an amazing year.  Mine was average, and I am hoping the preceding few days got rid of all of my bad luck.

The highlight of the day for me though, was the ramen.  It looked like your average little neighbourhood ramen shop.

What was inside was far from average.  I ordered the "Oyaji set" that comes with Gyoza too.  Dan ordered the Oomori ramen with extra noodles.


and mine......(before)

(and after)......

It was fantastic!  The soup was very creamy, a little sweet and it went down so well, so thank you to Ramen Adventures!!  The gyoza also were really good.

So I spoke a couple of times during this post of physical ills and bad luck.  Well, last Sunday night I was riding my bicycle home at night.  A cat ran out in front of me and I tried to avoid it.  In the process I fell from my bicycle and cut myself open pretty badly.  I had cut into an artery so there was a lot of blood lost.  I was taken to hospital and stitched up.  They did a CAT scan which did reveal that I do have a brain, but that there was no damage to it.  I was allowed to go home the same day, but am feeling a little worse than I usually do.  I have had a couple of days off work but back to it tomorrow.  So I apologise if I haven't been updating as often as I usually do, but I will take a little time to recover.  As I am doing that, I have another post ready to do, so I will write that one up.  A warning now.  If you have a weak stomach, look away now!

A little banged up, but it could have been a whole lot worse.

Anyway, thanks for reading again, and see you next time!