johnliddlephotography

Frozen moments from the infinity that is time


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Meiji Jingu Shrine

A short walk from Harajuku Station, one passes through a magnificent Torii gate (pics 1 and 2) marking the entrance to the Meiji Jingu Shrine – Tokyo’s most significant Shinto shrine. Flanked by impressive Cypress Pines, one then enjoys a pleasant walk crossing a small stream via an arched pedestrian bridge (pic 3) and passing through two more large torii on the way to the main shrine complex (pic 4) cocooned within a forested area of 175 acres.

By this time the concrete, steel and glass environs of the Tokyo metropolis is out of mind and mostly out of sight. One’s attention is drawn to the classic form and the elemental materials used in the construction of the main shrine building (pic 5), arguably enhanced by the appearance through the misty rain of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Office building in nearby Shinjuku. This is a leviathan of a building, yet the old and new form symmetry so often found in Japan.

Meiji Jingu was established in 1920 to deify the spirits of Emperor Meiji and his consort, Empress Shoken. During the Meiji era of 1868 to 1912, the modern Japan was born, with a focus on building international relationships and improving the prosperity and peace of the nation. Whilst it is somewhat natural to think of this period in terms of modernization and westernization, it is worth remembering that Empress Shoken is recognised as the model of the modern Japanese woman.

Sadly the original shrine building was destroyed by allied bombings in 1945, with rebuilding completed in 1958, largely through public donations, with such support demonstrating the importance of Meiji Jingu to the Japanese people.

For non-Japanese it can be difficult to gain an appreciation of shrines, especially compared to Japanese temples where the buildings and grounds are often more inviting, though it must be said that shrines are often found within temple complexes. In my experience, shrines are best appreciated during ceremonies or periods such as in early January when people flock to Meiji Jingu to worship and buy good-luck charms for the year ahead. As in all cultures, ceremony and the associated emotions speak their own language.

The accompanying photographs were taken around the main shrine building at different times on dry and rainy days. Those who have visited Japan will be familiar with the Ema Plaques (pic 10); small wooden tablets that can be purchased at most shrines and left hanging with one’s prayers or wishes. I have also taken the opportunity to share a few more shots of a Shinto Wedding party (pics 12 to 14) taken on an unfortunately wet day. However, the weather did not detract from their spirits and as can be seen from pics 15 and 16, all one needs is a good umbrella.

In conclusion, there is a question I cannot resist posing. Meiji Jingu is one of several large forested parks one finds around Tokyo that provide welcome respite and serve as green lungs within the metropolis. One wonders if today’s city planners around the world would be generous enough and brave enough to deny developers’ pressures to create similar green lungs.

(Please click on any of the following images for an enlarged view.)


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Ginza (part 1)

The young woman (pic 1) exiting Ginza Station is about to emerge at the famous Ginza Crossing, the heart of Ginza and probably the most expensive real estate in Tokyo.

In English, Ginza translates to silver mint and was indeed the location for a silver-coin mint built in 1612. At that time the area was vastly different from today with its traditional wooden buildings and narrow streets. Two events impacted significantly on its transformation, namely the enlightenment of the Meiji Restoration period and the great fire of 1872. Decisions to adopt brick and stone as building materials and the widening of Chuo-dori from 15 to 27 metres, thus created Tokyo’s first boulevard and provided the foundation for the nation’s entrepreneurs to create the Ginza we know today.

Ginza Crossing or, to be more correct, the Ginza 4-chome intersection, is the area’s hub. On one corner is the San-ai building (pics 2 and 3), a tubular glass building housing a variety of businesses, as well as prominent advertising signage. Le Café Doutor occupies the first two levels, with the upper level being an excellent vantage point for people watching over coffee. Unfortunately, the best seats are in the smoking area, so I have not had the pleasure of lingering there to enjoy the view.

The WAKO Department Store with its famous Seiko clock atop the building dominates another corner. This is perhaps the most recognised of the Crossing’s corners (pics 4 and 5) and WAKO has enjoyed loyal patronage since its inception in 1868.

Diagonally opposite WAKO on the third corner is the Nissan Gallery (pic 6), a somewhat unusual yet interesting space where one can peruse displays of Nissan’s latest vehicles. Nissan’s head office is also located in Ginza, thus reminding us that the area is a business centre and not just a retail and entertainment hub.

The fourth corner is occupied by the Mitsukoshi Department Store, which I understand is the oldest of Japan’s major department stores and the starting point for the Mitsui Group, which operates globally across a range of diverse industries. During my visits to Japan I formed a liking for Mitsukoshi over the other major stores and it is somewhat embarrassing not to have a photograph to round out the four corners. It’s on the list for next time.

If one was to include the word Ginza in a word association test, one suspects a frequent response would be “shopping” or similar terms. There is no question that it deserves its place among the world’s great shopping and entertainment precincts, as can be appreciated from the brand names at pics 9 to 21. This is not an exhaustive coverage, but suffices to demonstrate the esteem in which Ginza is held among the world’s top designers and popular global brands.

One of my favourite photos is pic 7, where two generations under the protective cover of their brollies pass on the sidewalk. Each group seems immersed in their own conversations, though I find it amusing that the older ladies have the more colourful brollies.

In this post I have focused on showing glimpses of the well-known Ginza and without the stores depicted here, there would be no Ginza as we popularly think of it. However, there is more than glitz and glitter to Ginza and in my next post I will share some images taken around the area’s quieter streets.

(Please click on any of the following images for an enlarged view.)