Shrines and Temples in Tokyo and Seoul

Visiting temples, shrines and cathedrals can be an inspirational way to connect with the community when visiting a new place. I enjoy visiting cathedrals in Europe, and I love to find the smaller ones located in villages, rather than the huge, famous ones in the big cities. These are usually quiet and deserted, which makes for a nice place to meditate. I have also been inspired by temples and shrines.

My husband and I visited Shinto and Buddhist temples and shrines on our recent trip to Tokyo and Seoul. One of the first ones we stopped at was Akagi Shrine in Kagurazaka, Tokyo.

Pictured above are the small wooden plaques called Ema, that are used by Shinto and Buddhist worshippers to record their prayers and wishes. At some point later they will be ritually burned to release the writer from the prayer or wish.

Not far from this shrine is Zenkokuji Temple which was built in 1595. I hesitated to enter since worshipers were coming and going, but I received smiles and bows, so it seemed appropriate for me to wander here.

In Seoul we visited Jogyesa Temple where there was a chrysanthemum festival in progress. The flowers were beautifully formed into in shapes of animals, flowers and many other objects.

What intrigued me the most about Jogyesa Temple was the service that was going on in the main building. The drums, chanting and bells were completely captivating. The worshippers were seated on the floor bowing, praying and participating. it was a beautiful site to witness. I wish I could have joined them, but I didn’t know if that would have been appropriate, so I viewed and listened from outside among the flowers.

I have always felt that it is imperative to be open minded, respectful and courteous of the beliefs of others, and never to mock, smirk or pass judgement. We all cling to our belief systems, and we may fall short on many occasions, and that is where forgiveness and grace come in. In this time of divisiveness, hatred, finger pointing and accusations, maybe we all need to give a little more grace and forgive a little more often.

Day Trip to Akigawa Valley and Tomonaga Akimitsu Museum

During our visit to Japan, our friends treated us to a day trip to the Akigawa Valley. Located about one hour from Suidobashi Station, the valley can be reached by train or car. Cabins are available for rent for longer stays. This is a beautiful place to visit that offers many activities including hiking, hot springs and fishing, and if you’re lucky, you may see some macaques! As we were driving through a forested area, one passed in front of our car. Sadly, I was unable to get a photo since it happened so quickly.

The area is a popular place to view the fall colors. The photo above is a close up of some moss on a fence post.

We also visited the Tomonaga Akimitsu Museum. This small, quaint and very creative museum is tucked away down many narrow, twisting roads in Akiruno City, Tokyo. The forest fairies, Zizi, guide the way.

You will enter through a beautiful garden filled with koi ponds and potted plants.

The museum is filled with the interesting and creative works of Tomonga Akimitsu.

The house is like something from a fairytale. The furniture, windows, doors, lamps and most everything in the museum was created by the artist. There is a cafe where you can have coffee, or tea. He invites you to free your senses and enjoy his art and garden. He displays the works of other artists as well.

If you visit Tokyo, I highly recommend visiting these two locations as a break from the intensity of the city.

Have you visited these areas? If so, please leave a comment with you thoughts.

Koishikawa Korakuen Gardens

The Koishikawa Korakuen Gardens in Tokyo dates back to the early 1600s, at the beginning of the Edo Period. It is the oldest garden in Tokyo and a delight to experience. I first wrote about this garden earlier this year; you’ll find that post here. It was July when my husband and I first visited, and of course, Tokyo in July is sweltering! However, November is a lovely time to visit, it has been sunny and in the 60s since we arrived; perfect weather for being outside. So, I was able to wander, explore and get many photos of this beautiful garden.

Tsuten-kyo Bridge (the red bridge).

theTravelersketcher busy at work.

Engetsu-kyo Bridge, also know as Full Moon Bridge.

This little island is shaped like a turtle which is the symbol for longevity in Japan. And I was thrilled to see some turtles sunning there.

As I have mentioned before, the things I love about Tokyo are the many gardens, temples and shrines where one can escape the intensity of the city. As you can see in the above photo, there is a reflection of a skyscraper in the pond; a reminder of this city’s intrusiveness. The gardens were here long before the skyscraper, and because the Japanese love their gardens, I have no doubt that they will be here for many more years to come.

The Wedding

As many of you know by now, my trip to Japan was prompted by a wedding invitation from a young woman, Saori, who was our exchange student about 10 years ago. She lived with my husband, daughter and I for three months, and it didn’t take long for the four of us to become close friends. Since that time, she has visited us on several occasions in the Seattle area, and we have visited her in Tokyo. So, of course, we were thrilled to receive an invitation to her wedding. And with Saori’s permission, I will share the highlights of the wedding with you.

The wedding was held at the Riveria Center in Tokyo. This is a gorgeous facility that is run with the amazing efficiency, precision and attention to detail that the Japanese have perfected.

The wedding ceremony was officiated by an Anglican Priest who spoke both English and Japanese. Once seated, the guests patiently waited until Saori, looking beautiful and radiant, entered the chapel with her parents.

After the ceremony, the guests were escorted to an outside courtyard where we waited for the bride and groom to arrive. The setting was like a fairytale; it was twilight and there were lanterns hanging from the trees; it was magical. There was much anticipation, excitement, applause and tears when they arrived. At this point, guests could have their photos taken with the newly married couple.

Once the photos were done, we were escorted into the reception area and seated for dinner. Saori and Daijiro arrived with a grand entrance.

The quality of this short video isn’t great, but please bear with it until the end.

The theme of the wedding was Harry Potter, and we were all delighted with the special, Hogwarts style touches.

Once the bride and groom were seated, there was a toast, cake cutting, more photo opportunities and the food was served. This was unlike any American wedding I have been to where you get up to serve yourself when your table number is called. Each table had a group of servers who poured our wine, water and brought our food to us. And the food, oh my! We had a seafood salad with galette bouquet for an appetizer; a delicious soup; a fresh fish dish; a beef fillet with foie gras, and risotto. C’etait delicieux.

Partway through the dinner, the bride and groom were escorted out of the reception area by their siblings to change.

Saori’s second dress was also beautiful and elegant.

And then there was dessert. The one pictured below was just a tempting morsel. There were dessert stations set up in the courtyard with Crepes Suzette, the beautiful cake that was cut earlier, and keeping with the Harry Potter theme, butterbeer.

Throughout the reception, we were entertained with slideshows and videos of Saori and Daijiro as children and continuing to their time at Sophia University where they met. There was an MC who spoke in English (for the four of us) as well as Japanese.

Saori put so much thought into evey detail, and made sure to seat us with her friends from Sophia University who speak English. By the end of the evenng, we had new friends.

And of course, there was an amazing finish; while we were all enjoying the food, friends, slideshows, and all the other details that made this wedding so special, someone was making a video of the ceremony and reception. The final flourish was a short movie of the event we had witnessed that evening, amazing!

My husband, daughter, son-in-law and I all agreed that this was one of the most amazing weddings we had ever attended. We were treated like honored guests and are all humbled and grateful to have witnessed this joining of two beautiful people and their families.

Seoul, South Korea, a Few Highlights

Seoul, a city we have all heard about and one that is in the news frequently, and one I never thought I would visit, but I am certainly glad I did! It is filled with modern technology, fashion, K-Pop and skyscrapers; but you will also find a traditional Hanok village, ancient palaces and temples, and Koreans wearing hanbok, the traditional South Korean dress for formal or semi-formal occasions. It’s a mixture of old and new with a rich history rolled into a bustling, fast paced modern city.

The Bukchon Hanok Village was high on my list of destinations here. Hanoks are traditional Korean houses. Many of the houses in the village have been converted into shops and cafes, while retaining their original design.

The Bukchon Observatory is a great place to get some fantastic views of the city. It’s a steep climb to the facility, but well worth the effort.

Another must see is Gyeongbokgung Palace, with the changing of the guards.

The Lantern Festival at Cheonggyecheon Stream is spectacular and a must see for those visiting in November.

These are just a few highlights of Seoul; there are more places to visit and more blogs to post, so stay tuned. As always, please leave a comment with your thoughts and favorite activities in Seoul.

Tokyo, Big City, Intensity and Bright Lights

Tokyo; it’s filled with such intensity, throngs of people, big, bright, flashing bill boards, video game arcades, neon lights, cars, busses, horns, bikers flying past you on the side walks, motorcycles, scooters; it is an endless sea of energy and excitement.

Tokyo, Japan’s capital city, is the biggest city in the world and is the home of 36 million people. Yet it is amazing that with all these people, intensity, extreme heat in the summer, traffic jams, and so many other factors that can make tempers flare; it remains the safest city in the world.

I am here with my husband, daughter and son-in-law to attend the wedding of a young woman who lived with us as an exchange student some years ago. We have enjoyed ourselves and have seen shrines, temples, an owl cafe, Tokyo Disney Sea, and much more. We have navigated and survived the subway, not quite like the locals, but we have it down! Here are a few photos from the last few days.

theTravelsketcher sketching at Zenkokuji Temple.

We had an amazing lunch at World Wine Bar in Iidabashi. The food, service and setting are immaculate. Here are a few photos.

There is so much more to see and do; but our trip is far from over. The wedding is later today, I am looking forward to experiencing a Japanese wedding. Tomorrow we’re off to Seoul for a few days, then back to Tokyo for a few more days. There’s something about this city that keeps drawing me back, and I hope that appeal never fades.