Tokyo Daytripper: Kameido Tenjin Shrine Wisteria Festival

Wisteria flowers can be seen in full bloom between the end of April and the start of May in Tokyo and the best place to see them is Kameido Tenjin Shrine which hosts a Fuji Matsuri (Wisteria Festival) with a selection of food stalls and nighttime illuminations. Kameido is about 30 minutes east of the Tokyo Fox global operations centre on the Sobu line and so we headed off there last Sunday afternoon hoping to see some of the lovely lavender-coloured flowers in bloom.

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The 634 metre high Tokyo Sky Tree looms in the background of the shrine and adds to the beautiful setting where the purple flowers reflect in the ponds water, which is quite unique. These wonderful wisteria flowers were planted during the Edo period and are pretty legendary due to their fairly common appearance in many ukiyoe (colour prints) and other works of art.

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With the cherry blossoms recently having passed through Tokyo and the pink carpeted Fujishibazakura soon on the horizon, this is the best time of the year for seeing some of these flowers at their blooming best! (Very) keen Tokyo Fox readers will of course remember that Kameido Tenjin Shrine featured a couple of years ago in the “Ten shrines of Tokyo” cycling venture. On that day, this particular shrine featured in the middle of the  challenge and typically was where it started to rain but no such weather problems on this  occasion, not that it was amazing weather either!

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Cloudy conditions this time around and a bit more time to actually take in the atmosphere of the place which of course didn’t take happen too much on that previous visit due to time constraints. Comprising of several bunches, the flowers can be seen dangling from wisteria trellises and are quite a sight to behold…if you can get beyond the fact that the place is packed full of people.

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It’s generally me who chooses the destinations on our days off together but it was my girlfriend who actually suggested this place and very grateful I was as I had no knowledge of such an event but was very keen once she’d shown me a picture or two from previous years. Hopefully it’s not a one-off and she can come up with some other new interesting places to visit in the forthcoming months!

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How to get there: Kameido Tenjin Shrine is a 15 minute walk from the North Exits of either Kameido or Kinshicho stations which are both on the Sobu Line. The address is 3-6-1 Kameido, Koto-ku.

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Tom Daley Goes Global – Japan

Having seen the opening episode on Thailand I have to admit I wasn’t expecting too much excitement in episode 2 in Japan. Both episodes were mildly interesting for me but I imagine they weren’t too captivating for whoever was tuning in on ITV2 to see them……..if they wanted to see in-depth travel-related matter! However, if they just wanted to see some mindless entertainment and a very pleasant, mild mannered and humble young man experience a bit of actual living then this was the perfect showcase for it!

You can watch the episode here on YouTube

Not much really happened in either the Thailand or Japan episodes and Tom didn’t really have too many words of wisdom to add to the pictures we saw. Of course he’s been training to dive since a very young age so hasn’t had the kind of normal life that most people have had. He’s never been backpacking so this style of travel is all new to him and he can’t be blamed for taking up the opportunity to make this series as ITV continue to do their best to promote him as a TV personality. He wasn’t alone though as he had best friend Sophie with him for support. Of course they’re not an item given Daly’s announcement back in December last year that he was in a relationship with a man. Who knows what everyone was thinking last Summer though when it was filmed!

Beforehand I was expecting yet another typical UK television programme following the same old tired format and while its not wildly different or life-changing at least this programme did feature a few things I’ve not seen on TV in the past and amazingly the ‘Turning Japanese‘ song never featured once!!

Kumamoto appears in the final half which took me greatly surprise, and as we’re going there next month I was delighted to see some scenes of a place I know very little about. Tom and Sophie went there to join in with a lantern festival where Tom held the mikoshi (portable shrine) during a parade which to be fair wasn’t particularly interesting to watch and almost makes you realise why producers crave the crazy stuff most of the time.

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In episode one we had tension supposedly building up ahead of Tom’s big charity skydive in Bangkok and the threat of whether he would or wouldn’t be able to do it due to the quite dramatic thunderstorms. What symmetry in this Japan episode then as a very similar situation occurred at Mount Kuratake (originally intended to be at Mount Aso but changed due to the weather) with his paragliding venture. Can’t say I was on the edge of my seat! With a bungy jump coming up in New Zealand for episode 3 this series is perhaps closer to Jack Osbourne’s ‘Adrenaline Junkie series than his sister Kelly’s ‘Turning Japanese‘ one, both of which were also on ITV2!

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Long before that, the pair arrived in Tokyo and started off in the electric town of Akihabara where they spent the night at a manga cafe. These places are everywhere in Tokyo and used as hotels by some people who want cheap shelter for the night….and some wi-fi action. There are also usually manga comics galore, video games, drinks, snacks and communal bathrooms but there are no beds! This seemed to bemuse Tom and his trusted companion who seemed to think they were staying at some kind of hostel. It’s basically just a place to crash for the night and once realised they start to embrace the idea a bit more.

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What followed thereafter was more of the usual tried and tested formula of portraying the whacky side of Tokyo as they did some cosplay and karaoke supposedly with some people they just met. Actually there were quite a few obviously set-up situations throughout which were made to appear like they were just chance encounters.

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I really ought to make a Bingo game of stereotypical Japan references on UK TV (sushi, robots, toilets, sumo, maid cafes, sumo etc) for viewers to play whilst watching these shows and this one included the ubiquitous mention of bullet trains and geisha!

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Tom and Sophie take the former from Tokyo station to the Gion district of Kyoto where they meet a maiko and get invited to a teahouse for some traditional food and a dance.

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Tom Daley is of course a bit of a British icon and for someone who is only 19 he has a wise head on such young shoulders. He’s nothing but likeable and it’s not his fault that the programme comes across, in terms of content, as being a little grey at times. It’s just that its yet more typically tacky fodder from ITV2 where little thought has really gone into the show beyond the “oh lets just send this popular young celebrity to some far flung places and see what happens” type attitude.

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Using Music Effectively In English Lessons

At a recent teachers meeting there seemed to be a fair bit of interest in how I use music in my English lessons. I have written on here before about using songs in adult English lessons which is very much a part of learning whereas this is more about fun, entertainment and creating a relaxed atmosphere.

My use of music in lessons dates back to about 2006 when I thought it might be fun to use the ‘Theme From Mission Impossible‘ during a ‘hunt the flashcard’ kids activity not that they really had any idea what the accompanying soundtrack was! However, it seemed to work and the length of both track and activity inadvertently ended up finishing together at the same time.

As a result I looked at ways of incorporating other classic pieces of music into my lessons. The ‘20th Century Fox Fanfare‘ was first up and at 21 seconds was the ideal length for getting the students in the room and seated. ‘Extreme Ways‘ by Moby features at the end of the Bourne movies and has been a staple end theme to my lessons and that’s often preceded by a clip of Arnold Schwarzenegger saying “I’ll be back” which, to my surprise, still gets laughs more often that not.

Other tunes regularly used by me include themes from Thomas & Friends (kids lessons only!), Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?, Terminator, Champions League, Back To The Future, Curb Your Enthusiasm, 5 Live Sports Report, James Bond, Jeopardy as well as Dance Of The Knights and loads, loads more. All very well but how do you use them in lessons I hear you ask!

Students walking into my classroom early is something I dislike so until I’ve played the starting theme they shouldn’t make their way into the room. My students are all fairly well trained to enter the room and usually file in to the lesson when they hear the music blasting out! It also alerts the receptionist that its lesson time and they can tell the students in Japanese (who may be otherwise engaged) that its time to study English!

Of course, I’m not going to kid you (or myself) that music is used for anything more than adding a bit of razzmatazz to proceedings but the tunes really do have other uses. One such example is timing. With most tunes clocking in at between 3-4 minutes they are ideal in length to time pair-work and bookwork activities.

When I did my Tesol course back in 2009 one of the first things I was complimented on in my initial lesson was the use of music throughout. Even back then I was so at home with using famous movie soundtracks as background music that I had never really thought of a trainer thinking it a good thing. It was just what I did and I guess its become something of a trademark. With silence being uncomfortable for many of us foreigners it is quite a nice idea to have some music playing gently in the background whilst the students do an exercise or two from the book or take part in a pair work activity. Of course the music should never be played at a volume which interferes or affects the students concentration.

I guess I’m a bit of a frustrated DJ in the classroom so having a CD or two at hand with many classic TV and film soundtracks on it (as well as the odd sound effect!) can “entertain” the student(s) when used at the right time such as when there’s any reference to that particular movie or whatever whether it be in the textbook or just in conversation. It also makes for a great warmer by way of a ‘Guess the Theme’ game when the topic of movies is in the book.

The music is only used when appropriate so it’s not used in all lessons but when it does appear it usually puts a smile on peoples face, relaxes them and helps welcome them into a comfortable atmosphere.

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Tokyo Daytripper: Kiyosumi Gardens

I’d forgotten all about these gardens until they featured in a cooking segment on the recent ‘Hairy Bikers Asian Adventure‘ BBC TV series. I do remember visiting them about eight years ago with my mate Gideon, and I did actually write a short piece about them which I ended up deleting only a few months ago as it had no photos, was very short and a bit boring (“That’s never stopped you before Tokyo Fox” I hear you cry!).

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Hoping to see them during the cherry blossom season, I went there on a flying visit during a break the other week. It was actually on the same day as I went to Rikugien in Komagome and that experience should’ve taught me that these gardens are not exactly full of weeping cherry trees. In fact, Kiyosumi only has one cherry tree but it was a very pleasant one and with it being late afternoon I had the near-deserted place to myself.

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This little spot is on the east side of the Sumida-gawa river and it consists of a an artificial pond, hill and river built during the Meiji period to entertain employees and guests of the Mitsubishi Corporation. Entry is just 150 yen and the highlight for me was not the cherry tree but the exquisite stepping stones (below) and varied rocks brought from all over Japan.

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The teahouse sticks out into the pond and was originally built in order to entertain a British guest in 1909 so its perhaps quite apt that this architecture was where the Hairy Bikers made California rolls in episode four of their most recent TV series.

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As ever with many things in Japan, Kiyosumi has inevitably had comprehensive repairs despite surviving the Great Kanto earthquake of 1923 and war damage. In fact, the gardens were used as an area of refuge and saved many lives during the bombing of Tokyo in March 1945.

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The best things in life are free is an overly-used phrase and one that I usually take with a pinch of salt but maybe there’s something in it after all as the sakura just down the road (below) from the gardens entrance/exit were actually far more of a spectacle.

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How to get there: Take the Toei Oedo or Hanzomon lines to Kiyosumi-shirakawa station. It’s then a 3 minute walk from the A3 exit

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Cycling The Wolverine Tokyo Trail…In One Day!

The idea of this cycling venture then was to ride the route (supposedly) taken in ‘The Wolverine‘ (2013) which tends to zig-zag its way across the capital without too much respect for distance and time. For Tokyo residents the geography in this sixth film of the X-Men franchise is quite bewildering at times as the film edit makes it seem like such a vast city is easily walkable when in reality the distance between places is quite far. In its defence, geography has rarely ever been a strong point in movies. What do those who criticise it really expect? A painstakingly long scene shot in real time?!! Of course Wolverine/Logan could have used public transport to get around but that doesn’t seem to exist in the X-Men universe! To follow in the footsteps of the Wolverine meant taking in seven places with one of them repeated and yes I really did go there twice.

Themed cycling tours of Tokyo have taken a bit of a backseat in recent times on this site so it was nice to get back in the saddle for a few hours on a nice warm Spring day. The first Tokyo location appears 19 minutes in and thankfully it’s only a five minute ride away from the Tokyo Fox Global Operations Centre! It’s the classic shot of Yasukuni dori in Shinjuku which has featured in so many movies and TV programmes over the years and I guess it’s become the classic shot (alongside Shibuya crossing) of the neon lights of Tokyo really hitting the foreigner visiting these shores. I get to travel under the same bridge half a dozen times a week so I probably take it for granted. The photo’s below show the screenshots, the ones taken on the day of this tour and a bonus couple taken only the night before to show how it looks at night.

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After that I cycled on to Zojoji temple (below) in the Shiba neighbourhood of Minato-ku which is about 8km away and a route I’ve taken a few times now not that stops me from ever doing it smoothly! The funeral procession takes place at this temple on 35 minutes; locations which Tokyo Fox premiered back in April 2013 following the release of the trailer. However, not all the funeral scenes took place at Zojoji as pretty soon the action moves to the Chinese Garden of Friendship in Sydney which previously featured in ‘Priscilla Queen of the Desert‘ (1994). The real action scenes were filmed at this Australian location as the two places are blended together. There are no ponds or water features at Zojoji so it’s the Sydney gardens which you see prominently around the 37 minute mark. Posing as the Wolverine with three chopsticks poking out from between my fingers was pretty embarrassing and they’re not even that visible in the pictures!

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Tokyo Tower does loom large over Zojoji temple and is in the background of a selection of the screenshots and my pictures. In ‘The Wolverine‘ though this tower seems to be prominent quite a lot whereas in reality it can hardly be seen at the best of times in Tokyo due to the many skyscrapers in the city.

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During the funeral at Zojoji, Yakuza gangsters attempt to kidnap Mariko but Logan helps her to escape which is done in reality is done in a very roundabout way taking in Darling Harbour (Sydney!) and Zojoji itself with a chase going on through the two-storied sanmon (below) which was originally built in 1605 and is a rare example of early Edo-period architecture in Tokyo. 

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Within seconds the action is in Takadanobaba (below) which is about 10km away! We only get to see the briefest of rooftop chases and arrow shots outside this station which  also appeared in the Jackie Chan movie ‘The Shinjuku Incident‘ (2009). Takadanobaba is on the Yamanote, Tozai and Seibu Shinjuku lines. Sadly I was unable to get on the rooftop of an eikiawa to get an identical match to that seen on 44 minutes.

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The action quickly moves on to Akihabara on 45 minutes where they take a brief respite in Big Apple Slot & Pachinko parlour (1-16-1 Soto-kanda) opposite Sega Gigo

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Photography is forbidden in panchinko parlours but mobile phone camera’s always allow for a sneaky one! After exiting this place Logan and Mariko walk across the bridge over the Kanda River in the direction of Mansei Akihabara Youshoku (2-21-4F Kanda-Sudacho). If they had any sense they would’ve stopped for one of their famous delicious katsu-sando as I did on a previous themed cycling trip.

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JR Ueno Station is the next location and this is easy and quick to get to as it’s just down the road from Akihabara. It appears after 46 minutes and is where Mariko and Logan take the Shinkansen (Bullet train) to “Nagasaki” even though these super-fast trains only go north from Ueno. If they had wanted to go south then they may as well have just gone a bit further south to Tokyo station which probably wouldn’t have been too much of a problem for them and no doubt they’d have ran or walked it!

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The station has many exits but its outside the Central exit on Jewellery Bridge where Mariko thanks Logan for saving her, says she’s fine (twice) meaning that she doesn’t need his help and then advises him to see a doctor before walking off to catch her train.

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I then had to cycle back the way I’d just came and so passed through Akihabara again (as well as the subsequent stop in Ginza) as I returned to Zojoji temple for a second time. In the film it’s a brief return to the temple on 47 minutes as one of the baddies gives an impromptu interview to the waiting media and paparazzi. Yukio is still there and looks on at the interview before Mariko’s father asks her where her gaijin friend is. Quite a bit of set dressing was added by the production team when they were filming at this temple which explains why some of the match-ups may not be so easy to notice as being the same!

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I was pretty much sick of the sight of this temple by the time I returned and I didn’t hang about for too long. Having been here only a week prior for the cherry blossoms I knew the angles I needed and was happy that the place was quite empty.

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On 52 minutes Logan and Mariko disembark from the Shinkansen and are in Fukuyama for a few seconds before it switches back to Ginza where the Nakagin Capsule Tower (8-10-6 Ginza) appears as a love hotel which they check into. In reality this place is not a place for couples to get it on but is home to many unmarried salarymen wanting to stay in a small place. The interior of these tiny apartments could be seen in episode four of the BBC documentary ‘Journeys Into The Ring Of Fire‘ (2006). The building is a fine example of Tokyo modern architecture and was one of my favourite examples of architecture in this article from July 2012. I can only assume that digital wizardry was used for this scene as the road they are seen walking down is not the one that’s actually next to the building. IMDb says that this street was Brisbane Street, Surry Hills in Sydney!

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So that was it for my day of following in the footsteps of the Wolverine. I managed to avoid getting hit or wounded but the 53.59km ride did no favours for my left knee which I smashed a few days earlier. For the record I paused the Runkeeper app at each of the seven locations (yes, I really did go to Zojoji twice!) so my time of 3 hours 38 minutes, give or take a short stop here and there, is pure riding time.

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C*ck A Load Of This – Kanamara Matsuri 2014

Delighted to wake to news of Leicester‘s promotion back to the Premier League (after an absence of ten years) last Sunday morning there was no better way to celebrate than making my return to the Kanamara matsuri a.k.a. the penis festival! This was the 4th time for Tokyo Fox to attend this internationally renowned festival and quite possibly the last! The event is always fun to attend with friends but the novelty is starting to wear off…which in truth it probably had on my previous visit four years ago! 

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The location is only a fairly small shrine close to Kawasaki-daishi station and on the day of the festival it is always overflowing with spectators keen to see what this unique event is all about. From Shinagawa onwards the trains were just packed with Japanese and foreigners alike heading in the direction of Kawasaki in Kanagawa. Very rare to see so many ‘gaikokujin‘ in one place and perhaps we were even the majority this year! It has to be said that the police do manage to control things very well though why they don’t just close off the road outside the shrine I don’t know! Boy Scouts are even on hand to play a part in the control and organisation of the day. Now, I was in the scouts for many, many years but never ever got to help out at a p*nis festival!!

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My girlfriend really must wonder about me at times as only a few months ago did I leave her behind in the hotel to go and seek out a p*nis shrine in Bangkok and then I told her I was going to this festival two days ago! This time I concentrated more on the parade which I watched (in part) with my friend Finlay and his mates from across the road. In fact the streets were lined with people waiting in the wrong places and it seemed only I knew which course the procession would take. All in all the parade features three very heavy phallic shaped omikuji (portable shrines) which need about 14 people to carry them. I sadly missed last years when Karl Pilkington was in town to record a segment of ‘The Moaning Of Life‘ which aired on Sky One last year. In that he helped out with the lifting of the giant c*cks!

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Not long after the parade started, the heavens opened up. Thankfully the showers didn’t last too long and the sun did come out again but it was far more windy and the ground, which was already muddy and wet in many places, became even worse. Still, its always fun to watch a few silly overdressed Japanese girls trying to navigate their way round the shrines grounds in their high heels!

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For those still wondering what this event is all about its basically a prosperity and fertility festival which also raises awareness and funds for AIDS prevention and research….which is what I’m all about and is my main reason for attending!! As well as the aforementioned procession of omikoshi (portable shrines) there is live music, transvestites, cherry blossom trees, penis lollies (as well as ones of the ladies front bottom too!), snack foods and most importantly….alcohol!!

Back home in the UK, the local daily newspaper; the Leicester Mercury (well its twitter feed!) got wind of my tweet about celebrating the foxes achieving promotion at this weird event and before retweeting it they set it up by saying to “stand by for a mystifying retweet!” The campaign to get a similar event in Leicester in the future starts here!!

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You can read my previous articles on this quirky ‘only in Japan’ festival, as well as see some much more interesting and better photos, by clicking on the links below…

2006          2008          2010

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Tokyo Daytripper: Rikugien Gardens (Komagome)

On looking through the Tokyo Fox archive it’s quite apparent that I’ve never really written much about these gardens in Komagome. Rikugien has had brief mentions when I cycled Tokyo’s top 25 sights…in one day and when my friend Hugo visited (both in 2010) but despite going there half a dozen times it’s never had an entry all to itself…..until now!

This pleasant traditional Japanese garden is actually open during the cherry blossom season until 9pm offering visitors the chance to see the sakura illuminated with floodlights. My girlfriend and I did this a few years ago but I wasn’t that bothered by yozakura (night sakura) instead preferring the place in daylight.

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With other commitments and haphazard weather, the window of opportunity for seeing sakura this year has been very limited so I had to venture on up to Komagome last Wednesday before work. On entering the garden (300 yen) you encounter a weeping cherry tree and I was expecting much more from there on in but was a tad disappointed to realise that beyond that initial tree, the sakura was fairly scarce! I can only guess that it looks at its very best during the koyo (Autumn leave) season.

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However, there’s far more to Rikugien than its brief flirtation with sakura for it is very much a beautiful and tranquil place to wander and collect your thoughts without too much exterior traffic noise. The tallest hill in the garden is called Fujishiro-toge and its a whopping 35 metres high! The views from the top really are quite wonderful.

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For the record, it was laid out in 1695 though nothing too much seemed to happen for a couple of centuries before it was properly created in 1938.

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The name rikugien is taken from the six principles of waka poetry and the landscaping is inspired by Japanese and Chinese poetic references which of course I know nothing whatsoever about! Six is usually read as ‘roku‘ but the ‘riku‘ part of the name is derived from the Chinese pronunciation of the word.

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It should be noted that these gardens may look quite natural in appearance but they are actually artificial. It is supposedly typical of an Edo-period garden and it features a large central pond surrounded by hills, open lawns, forested areas and a teahouse or three. All of these are connected by a network of trails and it takes about an hour to stroll around.

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