Friday, April 24, 2015

Photo Friday #6: Chinzan-so Garden! フォト金曜日#6:椿山荘!

フォト金曜日#6:椿山荘Photo Friday #6: Chinzan-so Garden!

In the past two Photo Friday posts, I contrasted old with new in Kyoto, showing that there's more to the nation's former capital than just temples and teahouses. But what of Tokyo? As I've mentioned in a past post featuring Ueno Park, Tokyo isn't just a concrete jungle: throughout the city are numerous green spaces and parks, and innumerable shrines can be found wedged between skyscrapers and houses. In this week's Photo Friday post, I take a look at another favorite urban oasis:

椿山荘: Chinzan-so Garden
I initially discovered Chinzan-so not because of its gardens, but because of its lodging. Prior to our first trip to Japan in March 2013, we (somewhat spontaneously) took advantage of a deal from Globotours we saw on LivingSocial. Included in the travel package was a round-trip flight from LAX to Narita with Singapore Airlines, plus a stay for a few nights at Hotel Chinzan-so Tokyo, which had just rebranded from a Four Seasons hotel to an independent hotel. As frugal people, we normally wouldn't get to experience something like this--we typically stick to budget airlines and lodging--so we jumped at the chance.

Located in the Sekiguchi area of Tokyo's Bunkyo ward, Chinzan-so and its surroundings--once known as Tsubaki-yama (椿やま), or Camellia Hill--have a rich history. 17th century haiku poet Basho lived nearby, no doubt drawing inspiration from the wild camellias and rolling hills. In the 19th century, ukiyo-e artist Ando Hiroshige featured the area in his series One Hundred Famous Views of Edo (名所江戸百景) in the April 1857 woodblock print Basho's Hermitage and Camellia Hill on the Kanda Aqueduct at Sekiguchi (せき口上水端はせを庵椿やま).

Hiroshige's depiction of Camellia Hill

Shortly after being featured in Hiroshige's work, Yamagata Aritomo--an Imperial Army Field Marshal and Japanese Prime Minister--bought the land in 1878, giving it the name Chinzan-so, or "House of Camellia." In addition to his military and political accomplishments, he enjoyed Japanese garden design as a hobby (otherwise seen at Murin-an in Kyoto), and so began shaping the land into the Chinzan-so we know today.

In 1918, Yamagata willed the land to Baron Fujita Heitaro, head of a construction company, who then began decorating the gardens with artifacts from across the nation, most notably a shrine and a three-story pagoda. The Shiratama Inari Shrine (白玉稲荷神社) was relocated in 1924 from Shimogamo-jinja in Kyoto (and is watched over by a Fushimi Inari Taisha deity!), and you can receive your fortune via omikuji (御神籤) from a coin-operated machine there. The pagoda Entsukaku (圓通閣), as seen in the photo above, was moved in 1925 from Chikurin-ji Temple in the mountains of Hiroshima; it was said to have been constructed without nails by Chikurin-ji monks either during the Heian (794-1185) or Muromachi (1338-1573) periods.

Other relics can be found throughout the gardens--stone lanterns, monuments, and more--which the hotel plots on maps both online and on hard copies for guests. With World War II came the destruction of much of the gardens, though the pagoda, shrine, and 500-year-old sacred tree were spared. Reconstruction on the gardens began in 1948, and upkeep on the grounds and its structures continues today.

As you can tell from the smattering of autumnal colors in the photo above, this picture wasn't taken during our first trip to Japan: we returned to the hotel and gardens for a night's stay in December 2014, as a treat during our honeymoon. It seemed appropriate, as Chinzan-so is not only famous for its gardens and hotel, but today also functions as one of Tokyo's most popular wedding sites, offering both Western and Shinto ceremonies. During both of our stays at the hotel, we caught glimpses of a few wedding ceremonies; they're so common that you can see a wedding party in the bottom right corner of the photo above!

Replete with historical artifacts--albeit relocated--the gardens' 17 acres are a picturesque haven from the hustle and bustle of Tokyo, and the opulent hotel offers elegant accommodations and an exceedingly friendly, hospitable staff. It's also relatively easy to access: it's a (somewhat steep) 10 minute walk from the nearby subway station, Tokyo Metro's Edogawabashi Station on the Yurakucho Line, or a (somewhat long) 30 minute walk from Mejiro Station on the Yamanote Line. (After a few of those 1.5 mile walks from Mejiro Station--on an unwittingly broken ankle, I might add--we wisened up and learned how to use the buses, a cheaper option than a ~¥750 t
axi ride.)

Taking a leisurely stroll through the gardens, walking under the waterfall, gazing at the serene's all a refreshing change of pace after experiencing sensory overload in places like Shinjuku and Shibuya. Indeed, aside from the skyscrapers looming in the background, it's easy to forget that you're still in the city. Just like there's more to Kyoto than just temples and teahouses, there's more to Tokyo than just concrete and neon.

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