Japan Scene


Horikiri Shobuen Gardens:

An Original Iris Matsuri

By Denis Plamondon
Photos: Sandra D’Sylva & Denis Plamondon

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Koto, Shamisen Horikiri Shobuen Station

Koto and Shamisen at Horikiri Shobuen Station

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As summer kicks off with flowers in full bloom, festivals to celebrate irises, azaleas and hydrangeas have been organized across Japan. On June 7th, we decided to go to Horikiri Shobuen Gardens in Tokyo and, as soon as we pulled into the train station, we discovered that most of the neighborhood had gathered for an annual iris festival! Local organizers had closed the main avenue and surrounding small sinuous streets leading to Horikiri Shobuen Gardens allowing hundreds of performers to exhibit their many talents. They had even laid down tatami (畳)mats for spectators to slip off their shoes, sit down and appreciate the show in comfort. Groups of dancers and musicians paraded one after the other for the enjoyment of their suburban audience and the few foreigners like us who had ventured into the heart of Edogawa. Wadaiko (和太鼓)and taiko (太鼓)[Japanese drums], koto (琴)and shamisen (三味線)[three-stringed Japanese banjos], and traditional dances were in abundance, with performers clad in colorful costumes, unusual hats and head bands. A few female performers in particular added a special texture to their folk dances with specially angled geitas (下駄) [wooden shoes].

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Horikiri Shobuen Station Iris Festival

Horikiri Shobuen Station Iris Festival

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Iris Festival Horikiri Shobuen Wadaiko Dancers

Iris Festival Horikiri Shobuen Wadaiko Dancers

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Iris Festival Horikiri Shobuen Dancers Yellow & Orange Outfit

Iris Festival Horikiri Shobuen Dancers

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Iris Festival Horikiri Shobuen Traditional Dance in Streets

Iris Festival Horikiri Shobuen - Traditional Dances in Streets

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Iris Festival Horikiri Shobuen Dancers Group in Black & White Outfit

Iris Festival Horikiri Shobuen - Traditional Dances in the Streets

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Iris Festival Horikiri Shobuen Dancers featuring Geita variation

Iris Festival Horikiri Shobuen - Dancers Featuring Geitas

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Iris Festival in Horikiri Shobuen, Dion Shinyou Taiko Group

Iris Festival in Horikiri Shobuen - Dion Shinyou Taiko Group

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Iris festivals (Shobu Matsuri) in Tokyo are coming to an end soon (June 1 to June 30). Flowers have already reached their peak, but will last until mid-July.  If you miss them this year, make sure to put one of these festivals on your calendar next year. Horikiri Shobuen Garden and Mizumoto Koen Park in Katsushika-ku, or Yoyogi Park, are among the favorites.

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Iris Violet Horikiri Shobuen Gardens

Violet Iris - Horikiri Shobuen Gardens

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The variety of these flowers is phenomenal . The beauty in their colors and the care that gardeners take to provide them with the best conditions are worth a yearly visit.  Admiration, contemplation and peace are surely the best words to express one’s state of mind when experiencing this extraordinary diversity of nature.

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Iris Violet Unique Horikiri Shobuen

Horikiri Shobuen- Unique Iris Variety

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For more information: see related articles in The Nihon Sun 1) Yomeiri Fune: Wedding Ships Set Sail in Japan and 2) Meiji Jingu Iris Garden

In Spanish: Flores de Iris

In Japanese: 堀切菖蒲園

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Field of Iris in Horikiri Shobuen Gardens

Field of Irises at Horikiri Shobuen Gardens

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Iris viewing rapidly produces a sound peace of mind.
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Iris Festival Horikiri Shobuen Flowers through a Stone Lantern

Iris Festival at Horikiri Shobuen- Irises Seen Through a Stone Lantern

Japanese Lanterns Produce Light as Well

By Denis Plamondon

Photos by Sandra D’Sylva & Denis Plamondon

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Kitano Tenmangu Shrine, Golden lanterns under the drops of rain

Kitano Tenmangu Shrine, golden lanterns under the rain

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What image pops up in your mind when someone mentions a lantern in Japan? If you pass by a yakitori restaurant and the smell of grilled meat begins to tease your senses, you might think of a red paper lamp in front? The same lantern also indicates the location of an Izakaya (Japanese bar). When hundreds are aligned in the trees along a path, you may be looking forward to joining a festival around the corner? Or the sight of another white paper lamp in a doorway could suggest that night is approaching? In fact, very few of us will think of a Japanese lantern as solely decorative.


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Stone Lantern at Kitano Tenmangu Shrine in Kyoto durig Ume Matsuri

Stone lantern at Kitano Tenmangu Shrine in Kyoto during Ume Matsuri (plum blossom festival)

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In your search of knowledge and quest for meanings while visiting Japanese temples and gardens, you will come to discover a wide variety of lamps and lanterns. Style, shape, material, color and location are aspects to consider in evaluating these beautiful objects. They are mostly made of stone (ishi-doro) and paper (chochin or bon-bori), and many adorn Japanese characters (chochin-moji). You will also find them in bronze, metal, wood and a combination of materials. According to its locality, a paper lantern will also bear a particular crest – indicating a mountain temple for example.

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Magnificient Bronze Lanterns at the Sacred Taiyuin Temple in Nikko

Magnificent bronze lanterns at the Sacred Taiyuin Temple in Nikko

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Lamps and Lanterns in Japan Have a Long History

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The origin of the lantern is attributed to China and was introduced to Japan by Korean monks in the 6th century along with Buddhism. There are many questions as to why Buddhism, a religion with no god, was so rapidly adopted by the Japanese whose animist religion (Shintoïsm) depicts many gods. Buddhism was able to give answers as to what to do when a person is deceased. The recitation of sutras and the ‘enlightening of souls’, symbolized by lanterns, gave the Japanese another understanding of the spirits they fear so intensively.

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Wooden lanterns on the way to the Shrine in the beautiful village of Kibune, near Kyoto

Wooden lanterns on the way to a shrine in the beautiful village of Kibune, northern mountains of Kyoto

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Lanterns attached to a Cart during Gion Matsuri in Kyoto

Lanterns attached to a float during Gion Matsuri in Kyoto

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For a very long time, lanterns were only seen at temples as a part of ceremonies, with the intention of illuminating souls. In this manner, offering light is a spiritual gesture and carries profound meaning while transcending the physical notion of light per se. During the long history of Japanese Buddhism, giving a lantern to a temple was a recurrent and popular gesture among warlords and daimyos. Some authors and historians have suggested that they did so due to fear that the spirits of victims they’d killed would return; thus, a stone lantern was a good insurance policy to calm the anger of evil spirits, which could be reminiscent of a strange fusion between Shinto and Buddhist practices and beliefs (I will post an article on this matter later.) Whatever may have been their intentions, warlords have donated a phenomenal quantity of stone and bronze lanterns to temples and shrines all over Japan. Consequently, it has given many artists a chance for expression and communication of an important heritage to younger generations.

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Bronze Lanterns in Nigatsu-Do in the Todai-Ji Complex in Nara

Bronze lanterns in Nigatsu-Do in the Todai-Ji Complex in Nara

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Stone lanterns at Kitano Tenmangu Shrine in Kyoto during Ume Festival

Stone lanterns at Kitano Tenmangu Shrine in Kyoto during Ume Festival

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During the Azuchi-Momoyama period (1568-1600), a famous great tea master, Sen-no-Rikyu, started to assimilate stone lanterns in gardens as a way to “provide illumination for an evening tea ceremony”. This new direction was decisive and one can still see these vestiges very much sculptured in the overall landscape surrounding temples. Nowadays, stone lanterns are part of the Japanese garden design and well integrated among other features; in such an environment, their functionality is purely aesthetic. The perception of their beauty gives “light”. Conversely, lanterns and paper lamps in temples and shrines are still lit with actual fire or electricity. There are numerous festivals across Japan where visitors are invited at dusk to enjoy the splendor of their illumination. The Obon Matsuri is one of them (Visit the beautiful photo album of Gino T. Manalastas). Furthermore, in the surroundings of Kasuga Grand Shrine in Nara, more than 2000 stone lanterns are lit twice a year (February and August).

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Stone Lantern in Katsura Garden, Imperial Villa near Kyoto

Stone lantern in Katsura Garden, Imperial Villa near Kyoto

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Stone lantern perfectly integrated in the garden of Manshu-In, Kyoto

Stone lantern perfectly integrated in the garden of Manshu-In, Kyoto

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Stone Lantern in Shugaku-In, Imperial Villa in Kyoto

Stone lantern in Shugaku-In Imperial Villa in Kyoto

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Huge paper lantern in Yamashina. Stone lanterns in the lower background

Enormous paper lantern in Yamashina; bronze lanterns in the lower background

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Paper lantern in Kitano Tenmangu Shrine in Kyoto

Paper lantern in Kitano Tenmangu Shrine in Kyoto

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Golden lanterns in a mountain small temple between Kurama & Kibune, near Kyoto

Golden lanterns in a small mountain temple between Kurama & Kibune, near Kyoto

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A choregraphy of lights during Obon Matsuri on the Mount Hiei, Kyoto

A choreography of lights during Obon Matsuri on Mount Hiei, Kyoto

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To learn more about the stone lantern and especially about the  2000 units around  Kasuga Grand Shrine in Nara.
To learn about the art f the Japanese gardens and the variety of stone lanterns
More on the Buddhist Gardens with this links.

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I would appreciate your comments. Click on comment link at the beginning of this article

Le célèbre marché de Tsukiji à Tokyo

Par Denis Plamondon
Photos de Sandra D’Sylva & Denis Plamondon

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Secteur du Marché Coin Harumi-Dori et Shin Ohashi-Dori

Secteur du Marché Coin Harumi-Dori et Shin Ohashi-Dori

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Le marché de poisson de Tsukiji, à Tokyo, rafle la palme du plus gros marché de poisson au monde. Il met en circulation près de 3,000 tonnes métriques de produits de la mer à chaque jour. Ses produits atteignent toutes les ramifications de la ville de 12 millions d’habitants avec une efficacité déconcertante. Vous connaissez Tsukiji? Sa réputation dépasse largement les frontières du pays et représente l’attrait touristique le plus couru de Tokyo. Son succès n’est pas sans occasionner des problèmes de logistique et d’adéquation dans les relations interpersonnels entre les 65,000 employés qui y travaillent à longueur d’année et la marre de touristes qui l’envahisse à tous les jours, sauf le dimanche. Le gouvernement du Tokyo métropolitain a même dû émettre une mise en garde en décembre 2008 afin d’ interdire l’accès du public aux espaces réservés à la mise aux enchères du thon, de loin l’attraction la plus recherchée du marché. L’embargo est levé, mais le public doit se conformer à de nouvelles consignes.

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Le marché de poisson de Tsukiji

Le marché de poisson de Tsukiji

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Aire de circulation centrale au marché de Tsukiji

Aire de circulation centrale au marché de Tsukiji

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Une visite au marché de Tsukiji est excitante. Le circuit passionne par son excentricité, la fraîcheur et l’abondance du poisson. L’exercice s’inscrit au chapitre de l’éducation, car les découvertes et les démonstrations sont fort instructives. L’endroit grouille d’activités et de soubresauts : Des camions, des lifts, des chariots motorisés et des bogheis filent dans les corridors étroits du marché, car le transport rapide de cette infinie variété de produits marins est primordial. Les touristes ébahis ou à moitié endormis côtoient et se frottent à tous les corps de métiers qui s’y activent, vendeurs en gros, comptables, crieurs à l’encan, distributeurs, acheteurs et intermédiaires, boutiquiers, employés et manouvriers.

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La valse des chariots motorisés circulant à vive allure

La valse des chariots motorisés circulant à vive allure

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Un peu d’histoire

Le marché en gros tire ses origines de la période Edo alors que le premier Shogun, Tokugawa Ieyasu, le grand bâtisseur de Tokyo au 16e siècle, donna des droits de pêche à quelques privilégiés afin d’approvisionner le château d’Edo; les pêcheurs vendaient les surplus dans les environs du pont de Nihonbashi et, avec le temps,  le marché prit de l’expansion. Après le grand tremblement de terre de 1923, la plupart des marchés de poisson étant détruits, la Ville de Tokyo ordonna la construction d’un marché central pour la vente en gros des produits de la mer.

Explorer  les charmes de la délectation

Est-ce l’événement en soi qui génère autant de charisme ou  la facination vient-elle en partie de la préparation singulière que s’impose le visiteur éphémère? Disons le d’emblée, il faut se lever tôt pour jouir de cette expérience unique et grisante. Dès 3 heures du matin, les produits de la mer arrivent du monde entier par bateau, rail, camion ou par avion. Rappelez-vous que le métro ouvre ses portes entre 5h00 et 5h15 du matin, selon les stations.

La  plus impressionnante de ces activités matinales demeure, sans contredit, la mise aux enchères de ces superbes thons congelés que l’on aligne sur le parquet de la bourse marine.

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Les thons les acheteurs analysent le produit avec attention

Les thons alignés, les acheteurs analysent le produit avec attention

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I faut toujours surveiller ses arrières

I faut toujours surveiller ses arrières

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Dans l’enceinte de cette mise aux enchères, oubliez les gadgets de la ville électronique d’Akihabara. Le folklore, la tradition et les réflexes ancestraux ont préséance sur les prétentions du virtuel. Les acheteurs se promènent entre les torpilles de poisson, lumière de poche à la main, analysent la qualité de la chair, notent sur un petit carnet le prix qu’ils sont prêts à payer et passent au suivant. Vers 5 heures 20, un crieur actionne une cloche et le marathon des enchères commence. Le débit est rapide, le spectacle, captivant. Pendant que des centaines de touristes s’entassent sur un étroit corridor de 30 mètres de long par moins de 2 mètres de large, les lots de poissons passent d’un propriétaire à l’autre le temps que l’encanteur balbutie un chapelet de mots incompréhensibles. Vers 7 heures du matin, le tout est liquidé. L’urgence continue de pousser les acteurs de cette tradition vivante à garder la cadence et la vigueur du tempo, car c’est de la fraîcheur du produit qui en dépend. La ville se réveille, les cuisines s’animent, les habitants auront faim. Il faut maintenir le rythme. Ainsi va la vie japonaise.

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Les enchères commencent, le crieur donne un spectacle intriguant

Les enchères commencent, le crieur donne un spectacle intriguant

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Après l'achat du thon congelé, la course contre la montre

Après l'achat du thon congelé, la course contre la montre

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La coupe du poisson congelé à Tsukiji

La coupe du poisson congelé à Tsukiji

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Après la coupe du thon congelé, la distribution

Après la coupe du thon congelé, la distribution

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L'enchère du thon frais à Tsukiji

L'enchère du thon frais à Tsukiji

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Les chariots s’activent, les trancheuses électriques découpent le poisson congelé alors que des poissonniers émérites émerveillent la galerie avec la beauté de leur art, la dextérité de leurs gestes et leur agilité à manier le couteau et la scie tranchante. Le sol de béton est mouillé, la glace est omniprésente.

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Trois hommes manient la scie pour découper le thon

Trois hommes manient le couteau pour découper le thon

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Le coupeur et le comptable à Tsukiji

Le coupeur et le comptable à Tsukiji

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Le thon en pièces dans un présentoir à Tsukiji

Le thon en pièces dans un présentoir à Tsukiji

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Il est temps de découvrir la variété de fruits de la mer et d’anticiper la nostalgie d’une vie à proximité, car les prix sont excellents, le choix intarissable. Il existe plein de boutiques aux  produits séchés, d’articles de cuisine, de couteaux, de céramiques, etc. Il y a aussi plusieurs restaurants à sushi dont il faut à tout prix essayer. À huit heures le matin, o n se fait plaisir et la dégustation de sashimis délicieux peut commencer. Après plusieurs visites dans ce marché exquis et les restaurants qui l’entourent, je vous recommande le “Sushizanmai” – une chaîne de restaurants spécialisés dans les sushis- autant pour la qualité de la nourriture que pour l’ambiance et la gentillesse du personnel souriant qui s’anime dès que vous ouvrez la porte et qui demeure à votre disposition en s’assurant de votre confort.

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Le restaurant de sushi "Sushizanmai" près de Harumi-Dori

Le restaurant de sushi "Sushizanmai" près de Harumi-Dori

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Après ce festin exceptionnel, dirigez-vous vers Ginza. Prenez la rue Harumi-dori, vous êtes à 5 minutes de marche à peine du célèbre théâtre Kabuki de Ginza.

Le marché de Tsukiji déménage

Selon le Japan Times, le gouvernement métropolitain de Tokyo désire relocaliser le marché de Tsukiji en 2012, dans le district de Koto sur une île artificielle qui contient des contaminants, près du front de mer d’Odaiba. Malgré les pressions du public et les recherches additionnelles du gouvernement afin de vérifier le bien fondé des opposants, il est quasi certain que le projet ira de l’avant. L’opposition est d’avis que la raison principale de ce déménagement se trouve davantage dans le projet de construction d’un “Centre des Médias” pour les jeux olympiques de 2016.

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Un guide en ligne pour visiter le marché et qui contient des informations très utiles est disponible.   Il renferme également des statistiques de 2004 sur le volume, la quantité et la variété des produits transigés dans le marché de poisson, fruits et légumes.

Si vous voulez écrire un commentaire, prière de retourner au début de cet article.

En préparation:

Le célèbre Maché de poisson de Tsukiji

Slicing the tuna

Slicing the tuna

Kabuki in a Hall of Glory

By Denis Plamondon

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Kabuki-za in Ginza Tokyo

Kabuki-za in Ginza Tokyo

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The countdown for the demolition of the old Kabuki-House is imminent. Before the building is torn down in 2010, why don’t you attend a farewell performance at the famous theater in Ginza while you still have a chance?

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Latest Kabuki Sayonara Performance at the Kabuki-za Tokyo

Latest Kabuki Sayonara Performance at the Kabuki-za Tokyo

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The latest “Sayonara Kabuki” performance starts on May 2nd and runs until June 26th at the Ginza Kabuki-Za in Tokyo.  The deep-rooted structure stands honorably with class among newer constructions in the chic Ginza area.  News of its demolition did not go smoothly.  In order to keep protesters and kabuki aficionados silent, the authorities advocated that the old building did not meet earthquake standards and regulations.  So if you come to Tokyo in the next two months, or if you are simply a fan of all forms of authentic and live performance, you may want to part of history and share a moment of grandeur with these great actors before this landmark disappears.

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Kabuki-za is contrasted by a modern environment

Kabuki-za is contrasted by a modern environment

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It won’t be rebuilt before 2013, but the architecture will be quite different then. There is no question that Kabuki will survive this transformation and transcend time and space coefficients, but the aura and treasure of the ancient theater will have vanished and survive only in the memories of those who were there.

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Posters of Kabuki play in front of Kabuki-za Tokyo

Posters of Kabuki play in front of Kabuki-za Tokyo

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As a Kabuki performance can be very long and expensive, you can buy a single act ticket at the west gate of the theater and watch from the last balcony on the 4th floor; the sound is still good, the huge stage is impressive and the colorful costumes of the all-male cast are astonishing. To do so, you must stand in line to purchase your ticket (800 to 1000 yen) at least one hour before the opening.  Arrive even earlier if you can, as word is spreading very fast.  Don’t miss out.

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Characters of Kabuki Play Kabuki-za Tokyo

Characters of Kabuki Play Kabuki-za Tokyo

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For more information, please read a good article by Shane Sakata in The Nihon  Sun

Also, read this information on the new Sayonara series of performance

If you want to comment, please do so at the beginning of this article

Scene of Kabuki in front of the Kabuki-za Tokyo

Scene of Kabuki in front of the Kabuki-za Tokyo

Hanami Season in Full Bloom

by Denis Plamondon

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Hanami inspires a young woman artist Imperial Palace Gardens Tokyo

Hanami inspires a young artist at Tokyo's Imperial Palace Gardens

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Although the Hanami Season is a recurrent event, its splendor has no comparison.  It’s a natural phenomenon that is guided by the weather and its uncertainty.

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Cherry Blossom in full bloom in Naka-Meguro Tokyo

Cherry blossom in full bloom in Naka-Meguro, Tokyo

As accurate as the Japanese may be in their ability to predict their environment, the arrival of cherry blossom season isn’t an exact science like a train that enters a station.  Hanami (literally “flower viewing”) offers an element of surprise every year .

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Intense blue sky with Cherry Flowers at Imperial Palace Tokyo

Blossoms against an intense blue sky Tokyo's at Imperial Palace

In central Honshu, trees are now flourishing as the temperature warms up. At the moment, this topic is on everyone’s mind and featured in most blogs, magazines, ads, and window displays.  Its popularity is not only due to its exquisiteness, but also to the customs attached – a series of gatherings and parties all over Japan.

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Picnic among friends in Ueno Park Tokyo

Picnic among friends in Ueno Park, Tokyo

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Picnic under a Cherry Blossom Tree In Ueno Park, Tokyo

Picnic under a cherry tree in Ueno Park, Tokyo

People from all horizons come to enjoy this special event. Office colleagues, co-workers, students, teachers, old and young, converge at their favorite spots, a gesture that is repeated year after year with the same awe and astonishment.

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Hanami captivates after sunset Ueno Park Tokyo

Hanami captivates even after sunset in Ueno Park, Tokyo

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Hanami season is the perfect time to meet and share a picnic with others under a cherry tree in full bloom. Often, smaller groups may be more open to invite you to join. Don’t look down on the offer; it’s a great opportunity to meet Japanese and enjoy some local cuisine, sake and beer.

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A flow of romance under the Sakura Tress Naka-Meguro in Tokyo

A flow of romance under the sakura trees in Naka-Meguro, Tokyo

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It’s also a good period for business for local citizens living in the vicinity of these popular locations.  Many open their little restaurants and bars onto the street.  If you go along the canal in Naka-Meguro, for example, you will be welcomed by spirited vendors selling all kinds of snacks and drinks that are especially made for the event.

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busy-selling-alcool-during-hanami-season-in-naka-meguro

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The crowd is dense during these rare weekends, so don’t rush your way through.  Enjoy a leisurely stroll under the blossoms instead.

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Hanami is good for Business, Naka-Meguro Tokyo

Hanami is good for business, Naka-Meguro, Tokyo

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Waiting for the train after the Hanami visit in Naka-Meguro, Tokyo

Waiting for the train after the Hanami in Naka-Meguro, Tokyo

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A river of Cherry Blossom Trees in Naka-Meguro, Tokyo

A river of blossom in Naka-Meguro, Tokyo

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Hanami in a mirror in Naka-Meguro, Tokyo

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If you wish to comment, I would be delighted. Just don’t forget to go back at the top of this article to do so.

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