Category Archives: TOKYO SIGHTSEEING

Hachikō – Tokyo’s Iconic Dog

I’d like to set the scene as Maria in Sound of Music suggests “Let’s start at the very beginning” but maybe it’s better if I tell you first that this is Hachikō, the most famous dog in Japan, and that people come from all over Japan to visit his statue in central Tokyo. We tourists also come, led by guide books and the moving story of the faithful dog who waited at the train station for his owner to return from work, every day for nearly a decade.

Hachikō was a golden brown Akita born in November 1923 in Japan’s Akita prefecture: a year later, still a puppy, he was acquired by Hidesaburō Ueno, a professor who taught at Tokyo Imperial University and lived in the Shibuya neighbourhood of the city.

The pair formed a close bond and their life became one of routine. In the morning Professor Ueno would walk to the Shibuya Station, Hachikō trotting alongside, and take the train to work. After finishing the day’s classes, he would return by train arriving at the station at 3 p.m. on the dot: there Hachikō would be waiting for him.

This continued until May 1925 when the Professor died suddenly at work, having suffered a brain haemorrhage while teaching.

Hachikō, who had come to meet his master as usual on that day, was left waiting at the station. Day after day for nigh on ten years the dog returned to the spot where he had always waited for his owner, patient and loyal despite not being welcomed by the station employees.

The loyal dog, one of only 30 purebred Akitas on record at the time, never gave up hope and although reportedly given away after his master’s death, he regularly ran off to Shibuya Station at 3 p.m. hoping to meet the Professor. Days turned into weeks, then months, then years, and still Hachikō returned to the station each day to wait.

At first, the station workers were not all that friendly to Hachikō, but his fidelity won them over and they began to bring treats for him and sometimes sat beside him to keep him company. Soon, the lone dog and his story began to draw the attention of other commuters. His presence had a great impact on the local community of Shibuya and he became something of an icon.

It is thanks to one of Professor Ueno’s former students, Hirokichi Saito, who also happened to be an expert on the Akita breed, that we know much of this story, because when he got wind of the tale he took the train to Shibuya to see for himself. When he arrived and saw Hachikō there, as usual, he followed him from the station to the home of Ueno’s former gardener, Kuzaburo Kobayashi. There, Kobayashi filled him in on the story of Hachikō’s life.

The student wrote articles about the situation at the Shibuya station one of which was published in the national daily Asahi Shimbun in 1932. The tale spread throughout Japan bringing nationwide fame to Hachikō and people then began to arrive from all over Japan to visit the dog who had become something of a good-luck charm. Many travelled great distances just to sit with him.

For the next nine years and nine months, Hachikō came to the station every day at 3.00 pm on the dot. He was found dead in the street in March 1935, the cause of death (not discovered until 2011) later found to be a cancer. His death made national headlines and after cremation, his ashes were placed next to Professor Ueno’s grave in Aoyama Cemetery in Tokyo. His fur, however, was preserved, stuffed and mounted and is now housed in the National Museum of Nature and Science in Tokyo.

The stuffed Hachiko in the National Museum of Nature & Science, Tokyo

The original bronze statue of Hachikō was raised from donations and erected in the exact spot where he had waited for his master for so many years but after World War ll erupted the statue was melted down for ammunitions. In 1948 however, the current statue was erected in Shibuya Station.

The death of Hachiko: Credit Shibuya Folk and Literary Shirane Memorial Museum, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

There is a similar statue, erected in 2004, in Odate, Hachikō’s original hometown, where it stands in front of the Akita Dog Museum.

On the 80th anniversary of Hachikō’s death, in 2015, the University of Tokyo unveiled yet another brass statue of the dog.

TOKYO SIGHTSEEING

One concentrates on districts in Tokyo rather than buildings and monuments of which there are few, because, despite hundreds of years of history, there is nothing of any permanence left in the city, apart from the Imperial Palace which you can only look at from the Imperial Gardens.  The lack of permanent buildings and monuments is because the houses burnt down regularly as they were traditionally made of wood, and because frequent earthquakes made the use of stone too dangerous.

Tokyo’s districts, however, are many and varied and it is a good idea to know what you want to do and see before setting off to explore.  Each area offers something different, but if you like a frisson of naughtiness, then maybe keep Roppongi for nighttime.

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Rickshaws for Hire –

Akihabara– Electronics town – is what the name implies.  It’s heaven for gadget freaks, where thousands of square metres are given over to nothing but electronics, from wide-screen televisions to electronic toilet seats, through all beauty products, kitchen appliances, cameras, ‘phones and games.   Hard not to spend money in a place like this especially when you see, and covet, the latest model of camera or ‘phone, maybe 3 years ahead of when we’ll see it in the West. Electronic Japan

Fortunately, it’s so easy to do a ‘phone check on prices these days wherever you are, and we found, much to our surprise, that most of the goods in Electronics town were priced higher than they were in our own country (possibly to do with the currency fluctuations) so prices were a disincentive to buy.  We did succumb, however, to one or two items unavailable to us at home: I defy anyone to walk through this store or the next on my list, the Sony Building, without buying something, even if it’s only a camera case!

The Sony Building is another Mecca for electronic-mad visitors.  All the trend-setting Sony stuff is laid out on six floors and you can have hands-on fun with the latest games, listen to car stereos, see a demonstration of the future of television and even have a meal.  On the ground floor, there is an English pub where the food, wines and spirits are pretty good.  Japanese beer, Asahi, can be recommended.

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Mother photographs laughing daughter at Senso-ji Shrine

Asakusa District is said to retain much of the atmosphere that existed before the Second World War when it was Tokyo’s hub of popular entertainment.  You’ll see fewer businessmen here with briefcases, few banks and few high-rises but there are interesting small shops and craft stalls, and you can climb to the viewing platform of the Tokyo Skytree – the World’s tallest tower at 634 metres – for panoramic views over the city.

If hot spring baths are your thing and you are not planning a visit to one of the Ryokans where you usually have your own volcanic spring on your balcony, then the Jyakotsuyu Onsen (hot spring) at Taito-ku, Tokyo 111-0032, will give you the authentic experience.

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The Red Lantern at Senso-ji Shrine

Asakusa also houses the oldest and most impressive temple in Tokyo, the Senso-ji, one of the city’s most treasured temples.  The Thunder Gate dominates the entrance with the red lantern immortalised in Hiroshige’s early 19th-century woodblock print still dominating the entrance.  Beyond the gate lies a bustling street where 54 shops line what is one of the oldest shopping streets in Tokyo, and which leads to the temple buildings with their heavy lead roofs.

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A Young Couple Check out the Fortune Slips

The temple grounds are incredibly busy with sightseers, people praying, shopping and taking selfies of themselves and their families, and those seeking a look into the future.  For 100 yen your future will be foretold but should it not be what you hoped for, them you simply tie the fortune ticket to the nearest wire tree and it will remain forever within the temple grounds.  And then you buy another, hoping that this time, your luck will be better.

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Senso-ji Temple

Incense blows from the great bronze urn in front of the main hall and men and women dive into the smoke and stroke it over their heads (for clearer thoughts? more hair?) while others light their incense sticks and just pray.

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Bathing in the Smoke

Ginza District is famous for its up-market shopping and the range of designer shops that line the street.  It’s a great place for admiring the window dresser’s art where the placement of a purse with a belt and a scarf is like a modern still life. All the top designer names are here.

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Louis Vuitton in Ginza

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Budget-conscious shoppers should head for the Uniqlo store which offers floors of trendy designs at cheaper prices.  Both men and women are catered for here and although the music is loud, the staff is cheerful and helpful.

Roppongi District is where the Japanese go to let their hair down.  It could be called sleazy in some senses, raucous and tasteless in another, but it is undeniably what a lot of people want as you will see if you venture into this Vegas in Japan area where behaviour you don’t see anywhere else in the city is tolerated.

Kagurazaka was once a 200 strong Geisha town which was razed in the 1945 bombing and there are still some 20 Geisha here.  If you take a stroll down the cobblestone alleyways of the town  you may meet some of the ghosts that they say still haunt the place.

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On Tokyo Bay

And when you want to have an hour’s rest, take the boat trip on Tokyo Bay, which gives you a totally different look at this fabulous city, as well as a comfortable ride in a well-ventilated boat with large picture windows on either side.  Once at the end of the trip, you can, if you wish, continue on to Odaiba island complex and ride the Big Eye for another view over Tokyo.

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Night time Tokyo

Shinjuku District is considered now to be the heart of the entertainment area, especially adult entertainment where nothing seems forbidden.  Bars, restaurants serving food from every nation, and discount shops abound with street entertainment on every corner.  If any place in Tokyo might be considered slightly unsafe, this would be it, so beware of pickpockets and don’t go into any bars with unlisted prices.  Check it out during the day before venturing into it at night.

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Shinjuku Ni-chrome is a couple of blocks away from the centre and is the gay and lesbian nexus of Tokyo.

Outside the Shibuya subway station in Tokyo is an intersection where it is estimated as many as 2,500 people cross the street every time the light changes.  It handles over 2 million people a day but you won’t be pushed or jostled, the Japanese are much too polite for that.  It is the beginning and end of two main subway lines and during the day or at night when the neon is crackling all around you, join the surge of people at the famous crossroads as the cacophony of music, horns, tannoys and talk assault your ears.

Worth checking out.

Towers

The Tokyo Metropolitan Government building comprises two huge towers each 248 metres.  From the viewing level on floor 45 of either building, the views of the city and surrounding areas are stunning.  In the winter (because of the clarity) you can usually see Mt. Fuji on the horizon.

SUMO

The writer with Sumo Wrestler in Subway

The writer with a Sumo Wrestler met on subway

If it isn’t the season for the Sumo tournaments and you’d like to see them in action, then head for their stables at Arashio Beya 2-47-2 Nihonbashi-hamacho, Chuo-ku 103-0007 (1 min. walk from Hama-cho station on the Asakusa line, and usually from about 7 a.m. – 10. am.  Many consider these practice sessions even better than the tournaments as they are constant.  Make sure you follow the rules of not pointing your feet at the wrestlers (bad luck), no flash photography, no tripod, don’t stand up to get a better shot, and don’t bring food or drink.

Tokyo may seem weird but it is a fabulous city, a glorious hotchpotch of lights, noise and incredibly well-behaved people who stand patiently at the lights waiting for them to turn green when there isn’t a car for miles around.  It’s fun whether you take it in during daylight hours or nighttime.