Since the horrendous Tohoku earthquake and tsunami disaster of 2011, social media must be working up its appetite a lot to boost tourism in Japan. Over 2,000,000 visitors have been flocking the country every month in the past year, with more than 3.5% increase since the catastrophe. With the imminent arrival of the Tokyo Olympics in 2020, Japan has been waving its flag more aggressively to tourism agencies everywhere to project its desired image of beauty and safety consistently.
Tokyo has always been regarded as the bubbling capital of overflowing energy, chaos, disarray, and sometimes, animated euphoria — nothing but closely-knit buildings, too many trains, commuters, and high-strung technology, they say. Fortunately, this is not completely true. Statistics reveal that in 2017 the total area of urban parks in the Tokyo metropolis covers about 7,802 hectares, with over 8,000 locations.
During springtime popular cherry blossom viewing spots, such as the Imperial Palace garden, Meguro river, Chidorigafuchi River Park, Shinjuku Gyoen Park, Kinuta Park and many more are filled with crawling flora enthusiasts, unmindful of the flurry but eager to join the merriment. Some of the historic palaces, temples and shrines are themselves surrounded by picturesque gardens, such as the Nezu Shrine in the Bunkyo ward, which is often sidestepped by visitors.
Nezu Shrine is considered, however, to be one of the oldest, most beautiful, and most important shrines in Tokyo, dating as far back as 1706 when it was rebuilt in its present location. It is known to have been founded in the 1st century by Prince Ōsu, son of Emperor Keikō. Since its relocation to the Sendagi district in Bunkyo ward by the fifth shogun of the Tokugawa dynasty, the shrine has been devoted to the gods of the sea and storm.
The distinct architecture of the cultural property is quite typical of the Shinto architecture identified, for instance, by the corridor of the red “tori” gates found beyond the pond going uphill to the azalea bushes. The placement of the bright red gates in a curvature is itself very appealing, both visually and spiritually, as though one passes through a pilgrimage tunnel. Another stone gate, the “romon” stands between the bridge and the “honden” main shrine building, where you can grasp a panoramic view of the entire grounds from above.
The principal walls and gates leading to the main shrine, though not bearing particularly unusual features of Japanese shrine architecture, nevertheless, impress beautiful lattice windows and painted figures and symbols above the pillars.
However, particularly during its spring flower festival between April and May, Nezu Shrine is most visited for its spectacular azalea garden. Just after passing through the winding path of red gates, on the right sits, perhaps, the most breathtaking landscape of colorful azalea blooms in Tokyo. This 300-year-old garden paradise boasts of about 6,600 square meters of approximately 3,000 azalea plants of 100 species, in varying hues of pink, orange, purple, white, green, yellow and blue Rhododendron dilatatum, kiusianum, tosaense, japonicum, and macrosepalum species and more.
The hilly pathway around the bushes allows you to stroll leisurely while stooping over or gazing upwards the blossoms on the perfect landscaping that is terraced on several levels. You can stand for hours admiring the scenery from different angles, whether in front, behind or on your sides. Further to the right end of the path an ideal spot will provide you an awesome glimpse of the shrine gate and “myōjin”-styled building. As you descend down to ground level, the charming bridge and the pond of carps against the mushroom-shaped bushes add that soft sketch of traditional Japanese garden scenery.
During the festival period, there are also typical street food stalls serving fried noodles, grilled fish, rice dumplings on sticks, and other delicacies, plus handicraft toys and traditional products. The night atmosphere is equally vibrant with the orange lanterns lit along the pathways.
It is a relief to discover the moderate balance of urbanism and naturalism in this congested capital, where in today’s digitized lifestyle, a return to the simplest and purest existence of natural beauty is, indeed more than gratifying.