Tokyo Diaries – Happo-en Garden

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The sheer number of hidden gems in Tokyo never ceases to amaze me.

When people dismiss Tokyo as a soulless and grey modern megalopolis, they reveal their own ignorance more than anything else.  It’s here more than anywhere else that the duality of Japan is most inescapable – the juxtaposition of ancient and aggressively modern that for me defines the very nature of the country.  Tokyo is a city of neighborhoods, of hidden gardens and temples and shrines clinging to survival in a sea of concrete and neon and steel.

Happo-en is a place even many Edoites don’t know about, and it doesn’t get much attention from the travel guides either.  Tucked away next to Shirokanedai Station near Meguro, it’s a garden that’s been around since the 17th-Century, when the area was the estate of one of the Tokugawas’ mot trusted aids.  It seems most popular as a site for weddings these days – there were at least two happening that I saw today, and there’s a modern wedding chapel on the grounds.  But it also presents yet another opportunity to see Tokyo’s amazingly late-arriving autumn colors, which I’d put at just past peak but still spectacular.

This was one of those rare days when the stars are aligned so that even with my meager skills I snap some pretty good shots.  The weather was clear and bright (despite the tenkeyohou to the contrary), I arrived at just the right time for the perfect light, and I had the best of my limited camera options – a solid but outdated Canon PowerShot gifted to me by a good and generous friend that I don’t often carry because it’s quite bulky.  I did take it today despite having a pretty serious flare-up with my back (a recurring event I’ve come to call “Time of Eve” – Eve being the brand-name of the best over-the-counter painkiller I’ve found here) and I’m glad I did, as Happo-en is yet another of those discoveries I can hardly believe I didn’t make a long time ago.

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14 comments

  1. t

    gorgeous.
    thanks (:

  2. e

    *Pats blogger's back. Cautiosly*
    Indeed you can be proud, these shots are even better than usual. Thanks for sharing.
    Also these are some mighty 'Come visit Tokyo ye fellow gaijin' ads. They should hire you :,)

  3. W

    I agree — these pictures are quite nice.

    They caused my racing mind, preoccupied by the hectic pace of life here in the Bay, to pause for a moment, and be replaced by great memories of being lost in Japan and stumbling upon something perfect.

    I hope the back gets better soon and that you continue to enjoy your journey in Japan.

  4. Thank you, Wall. I often lean against you when the back is really hurting.

  5. H

    They don't have stuff like Tylenol over there? I wouldn't want to be stuck in a foreign country without at least my Tylenol, maybe even Excerdin for my headaches that make me feel like death.

  6. What makes you think Eve doesn't work better than Tylenol? I do have Tylenol, but on its own I don't find it all that effective for back pain. Eve is ibuprofen based but has some secret Japanese ingredient that's listed as a "hypnotic" in the 1907 PDR… It seems to help, a little.

  7. G

    Love the Japanese maple and koi!!! So very very beautiful *___*..It's snowing in my place and I'm freezing my butt off while typing this. How I miss autumn.

    As for your back pain, maybe you can try some Japanese ointment?..According to my mom, it work much better than painkillers.

  8. I have a tube of Icy-Hot from the USA that helps some. Any specific Japanese ointment you have in mind? Those tubes have a lot of Kanji I don't recognize…

  9. G

    The brand my mom uses is Chinese (so don't think you can get it in Japan…lol) I did some digging, there are Japanese brands with the same function, one name came up consistently, here is a link (they actually have an english site) http://www.hisamitsu.co.jp/english/products/salonpas_pain_relief_patch.html

  10. R

    What happened to your back? Hope that the pain doesn't persist, and you're free of it soon. Take care, Enzo.

    There photos are just so beautiful…love the composition in some of them, too. I like that the seasons are so distinct there, and the weather is more moderate, too. It's only white here and has been pretty cold lately with temperature dropping to -30 Celsius with windchill.

  11. Funny, I'm very jealous of the snow. We'll likely get little here.

    I have chronic back problems, disk-related. Hereditary and a lifelong companion.

  12. R

    Poor Enzo… I can't say I understand the pain that you have to bear, but a friend of mine has disk-related problem in her lower back, and that has hindered her from having a more active lifestyle. There's no cure according to the many doctors and physiotherapists that she has consulted with but to rely on prescribed drugs when the pain kicks in. I'm glad that you're staying positive and keeping yourself busy with pursuing your dream…knowing what you have makes me respect you more.

    Yes, when the sun is bright and the wind is calm, it can be quite beautiful — and romantic — with snow everywhere. It makes Christmas feels more christmasy. The first snow, in particular, when falling just after sunrise, feels like millions of sparkles descending from the sky. It's all fun and games until the wind picks up and the temperature drops below -30 Celsius — it's like the cold is cutting through your bones and ripping every inch of your skin apart. I certainly won't be jealous of the cold weather but have to embrace it as part of life in the place that we call home :-).

  13. Those prescribed drugs pretty much can't be prescribed here, sadly – they're classified as criminal narcotics. I have to rely on what I can get OTC.

    The best solution, long-term, may be disc replacement surgery – which is gaining popularity in Europe but still not covered by insurance in the US.

  14. R

    I hope that the OTC drugs that you can get there are helping, or you can find other solutions locally soon.

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