Saturday, July 31, 2010

Japanese Bunka

Bunka means culture in Japanese. And oh boy, they had butt-loads of bunka! When I think of Japanese culture, the first thing I think about is shrines and temples! The shrines and temples of Japan burst with history and nostalgia so we made our way to a popular shrine up near Harajuku - a 10 minute bus ride to Shibuya then a quick subway ride to Harajuku. The only reason I knew about Harajuku is because of that Gwen Stefani song, "Harajuku girls". The moment we got off the subway, I knew why Gwen wanted to sing a song about this place. The most popular shopping area is on Takeshita dori, which is the first thing you see when you leave Harajuku Station. There's a narrow little road that is bustling with people, vibrant colors, and LOTS of young people. It looks like the highschooler hang out. Steve and I didn't spend much time here other than walking down the little street.

It was about a five minute walk to the shrine although it took us about half an hour to get our bearings and realize that the shrine was on the other side of the subway station, right where we were!  Meiji Jingu, a Shinto shrine is dedicated to the divine souls of Emperor Meiji and his Empress Shoken. The entrance to the grounds is very impressive, with a large Torii (shrine archway) leading the way down a wide path surrounded by thousands of trees. The shrine is surrounded by 175 acres of forest with more than 170,000 trees!!

Before entering the shrine, it is proper etiquette to use the Temizuya. It is a small, covered building with a trough and running water. To pay respect to the deities, you must rinse your left hand with the water, rinse your right hand, pour water into your left hand, rinse your mouth, rinse your left hand again, rinse the dipper and allow the remaining water to run down the handle of the dipper.

I read about this before going to Japan, but completely forgot about it when we got there and didn't even see the Temizuya until our way out!! Yikes, bad karma?! But I did remember another ritual inside the shrine. At the main shrine building, you can pay respect by making an offering in an offertory box. So we walked up, put in a few Japanese pennies, bowed twice, clapped our hands twice, made a wish, and bowed again. Haha! How cool is that?! Sneaking a peek at the others inside the shrine, all we saw was bowing and all we heard was clapping. It was the coolest thing ever.

I think the best part about Meiji Jingu was the architecture and great attention to detail. There were so many beautifully handcrafted wooden carvings. Like the rest of Tokyo, everything was just so pretty, perfect, and clean.

There was a wedding starting when we were visiting the shrine. I tried to sneak a peak of the bride getting ready but I felt like was intruding on her special day, so I only got one shot of the couple as they were entering the shrine with the photographer. The bride wore a traditional Japanese wedding dress called a shiro-maku. It was beautiful! The guests were dressed in similar attire to American weddings, with the exception of some older women dressed in colorful kimonos.

On another day we decided to venture out around our hotel area through the neighborhoods. We came across a little garden next to a traditional looking Japanese building in the middle of a modern neighborhood. We realized it was a museum! The Okura Museium of Art features collections from a Buddhist named Kihachiro Okura who established the museum to hold and display his treasures. He was a weapons dealer in the mid 1800's and later founded the Tokyo University of Economics. He also developed a hotel chain and collected many Japanese paintings that he added to the museum. Although a small museum, the paintings and sculptures were gorgeous and really told a story. Once inside, we learned that we were in the "Art Triangle"  of Roppongi and we received a map with two other museums nearby to check out. It was like a scavenger hunt looking for them as we tried to interpret the Japanese map!

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