Thursday, December 29, 2011

The Shapings of a Park; Its Shaping of an Area

One of the more popular places to go on the weekends is the laid back Yoyogi Kōen (代々木公園).  Kōen (公園) is park in Japanese and Yoyogi Kōen is one of the largest of Tokyo's.  Its large green space is within 15 minutes of our place and makes the perfect place to unwind from the hustle and bustle of Tokyo.  While next to the important shrine of Meiji Jingū, this park did much more to shape the area around it culturally.  Its unique history, both before and after the park's creation explains how the park could have so much impact on its surrounding areas.

Yoyogi Kōen is actually the site of Japan's first powered flight.  On December 19th, 1910, Yoshitoshi Tokugawa flew the first flight from what is now Yoyogi Park.  There is still a first flight monument in the park, but it is fairly secluded and I doubt many people would know Japan's first flight had occurred within the park grounds.  It's certainly not as famous as the area of Kitty Hawk, which had the first powered flight 7 years prior.  Yoyogi Park would be a military parade ground during this time to until the end of World War II.

After World War II, this area became Washington Heights, the residences for American officers during the occupation following the war.  After their departure in 1952 with the end of the occupation, the area of Yoygi Park was now a wide open space.  This space would prove useful for Japan's upcoming Olympics.

Japan was originally supposed to host the Olympics in 1940.  It would have hosted the summer Olympics in Tokyo and the winter Olympics in Sapporo, but obviously World War II had cancelled the event. (In case you're wondering, the summer and winter Olympics were held in the same year until 1994 when they moved the winter Olympics up two years to separate the two.)  However, Japan would win the bid for the 1964 Olympics in Tokyo, making it the first country in Asia to host the Olympics.  This event not only had a major impact for Japan, but caused a lot of dramatic changes for Tokyo.  The Olympics came at and also sparked a big moment for Japan.  Japan's 'Economic Miracle' started around this time, and Japan would begin another phase of modernization and globalization around this time.  The 1964 Olympics not only reflected and symbolized these changes, but also spurred them further.  The first Shinkansen (新幹線) or 'Bullet Trains' were built for the Olympics to provide quick connections between Tokyo and Osaka and Kyoto.  Now, they are a common and popular form of travel in Japan and one of the symbols of Japan's advanced technology.  In Tokyo, the Olympics caused the end of the trolley lines, as all of them were ripped out except for the Arakawa Tram Line, still existing today, because they were seen as not being modern.  It also shaped popular destinations around Tokyo as amenities were added.  One example being the chairlift on Mt. Takao, a popular destination during the Olympics and today.  The site of Yoyogi Kōen and its surrounding area would see big changes too.

Mt. Takao's chairlifts, still a popular attraction today.

This large free space in the middle of Tokyo made the perfect spot for the Olympic Village, and tiny houses were setup throughout.  Near the Olympic Village, the Yoyogi National Gymnasium was built by Kenzo Tange for swimming, diving and basketball during the Olympics.  It is still used as a National Stadium today, along with other sporting events and music concerts, and has had a lasting architectural impact.  Yoyogi Kōen still has one of the Olympic Village houses left, preserved for its history.

Yoyogi National Gymnasium.

The remaining Olympic Village house. (Sorry, seemed to have lost my photo of it and this was the best I could find. I'll try and take a new picture and replace this one when I go to Yoyogi Park again.) [1]

The Olympics left a lasting cultural impression on Japan and was the direct cause of the new culture that has become the essence of the surrounding area.  The Olympics brought a huge variety of global culture into Japan which has drawn interest from Japanese people ever since.  The epicenter of this cultural exchange was at the Olympic Village, which has created a culture hub in the area reflecting the international flair which tastes were first developed then.  The most famous of these is Harakjuku, long known as the famous center of youth culture in Tokyo.  Nearby Omotesando has a more grown-up international fare and even Yoyogi Park still has many music performances and clubs going to the park to play and dance music from all over the world, even drawing tourists and people to go just to watch them.  While there's very little directly remaining from the Olympics, the whole culture of the park and surrounding area still has the culture of internationalism brought from the Olympics.  This can also be seen in the festivals held at the park.  These festivals focus on the food, famous items, music and culture of different locations, almost all of them outside of Japan.  Going to these and experiencing a different country every week is one of the highlights for me during the late summer and early fall when they happen.  I will write more about these festivals in the future when I go and experience them.

For most people, the Olympic memory and legacy has been forgotten, even by those still participating in its legacy.  These days, Yoyogi Kōen functions as just a park and a popular escape from the city since its beginning in 1967.  The park itself is great and has a lot to offer and a lot of things to do and see.

A map of the park. Meiji Jingū to the top left, Yoyogi National Stadium to the top right.

The park has a lot of different things to do.  Around the central area are paths for walking, running and bicycle riding.  There's even a cycling center, where people can rent bicycles in the northwest section of the park.  The park also has a variety of gardens, including a rose garden, the Sample Garden, which is a garden that has the trees and plants brought by other countries and planted here during the Olympics and a bird sanctuary.  The most popular part of the park is the wide open central area where people have picnics, play sports, games and musical instruments which are usually impossible to play in Tokyo, except for the park areas and just relax.  The park also has a dog park, which is one of the few places where dogs can be off their leashes and is separated by size of the dog into a few areas.

Some of the big trees in the center area.  Only the tallest of Tokyo's buildings can be seen inside the park.

The pond and fountains in the central area.  We normally try and find an empty spot around here to spend time at.

During the fall, one of the few spots with leaves covering the ground.

The main avenue towards the pond.  To the right is the rose garden.  I took this picture on the walkway bridge that connects the main area of the park with the athletic fields and the National Stadium.

The pillars on the walkways in the park are covered in interesting graffiti, making interesting backdrops to the dancing and performance groups in the park.

When we go to Yoyogi Park, it's either for the festivals or to relax.  We often bring bento (弁当), or boxed lunch and set up a picnic under the tall trees there.  Then we'll either relax or find an empty spot (a bit hard to do sometimes as there are so many other people) to play some type of game or sport.  Sometimes, we ride our bicycles around the bike path and around the park.  Whatever we end up doing, every time is a great time to get away from the city and be surrounded by green and trees for as far as you can see.


1. 野牛重兵衛, "オリンピック記念宿舎," 脱藩浪士の日々.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

The Spring of Japan

Like in other places, spring is an exciting time to be in Japan.  The wide variety of gardens and plants that are planted and kept everywhere break out of their winter doldrums and splash color all over the landscape.  For many years, spring was the start of the New Year, as Japan followed the Chinese Lunar Calendar until 1872.  The weather starts to get warmer around March and this season is waited and watched for its blossoming seasons.  Spring also has some of the nicest weather of the year, before the rainy season in June and the oppressive heat and humidity of summer after that.

Spring was the traditional New Years in Japan, and while the date has changed to that of January 1st, much of Japanese society and culture is still rooted in this season being the one of change.  The school and fiscal year start in April.  March is the month when people say goodbye to the old.  This not only includes graduation ceremonies from schools, but the time when many people will change jobs.  In fact, many companies in Japan do most of their hiring in April for the start of the fiscal year, and it's an important time for college graduates to have their first job lined up already after graduating.

Spring is also the beginning of the blossoming seasons.  The blossoming seasons are one of the most exciting parts of spring, if not the most.  The most famous one is hanami, or the cherry blossom viewing of course, but before that are the ume blossoms.  These are the 2 most famous seasons these days and something I have already discussed with ume blossoms at Koishikawa Kōrakuen and at the Emperor's Palace; as well as cherry blossoms at Shinjuku Gyoen and at the Emperor's Palace.  These are the main seasons that people will watch, however other trees also have their own blossoming season.  Some of these trees had more significance in the past than now.  With the variety of blossoming trees being kept in various places throughout Japan, starting with the ume blossoms in February, for a few months one blossom season will transition right into the other.  The trees' blossoms even slightly overlap their blooming with the previous flower fading out right before the peak of the next season.  It creates a perfect balance of flowers on display throughout the whole of spring, which makes for an exciting and pretty time to be in Japan.  Here is the order of some of the common blossoms in the spring:

Ume (Plum, but really Japanese Apricot) (February - Early / Mid-March):

Ume Blossoms at Tochō, or Tokyo's City Government in Shinjuku. 

Mokuren (Lily Magnolia) (Mid-March - Early April):

Mokuren Blossoms in Shinjuku Gyoen.

Sakura (Cherry) (Late March - Early April):

Sakura Blossoms in Saitama Prefecture.

Momo (Peach) (Early April):

Momo Blossoms in Akita Prefecture. [1]

Hanamizuki (Dogwood) (Late April - Early May):

Hanamizuki Blossoms in Shibuya.

Some of the blossoms like the Sakura have viewing parties for them here in Japan.  The other ones people go to famous parks and spots where they are kept and people enjoy spring and the flowers during the short time they are here each year.  Some even get incorporated into seasonal foods.  One of my favorites is sakura ice cream, which is ice cream with cherry blossoms which creates a mild cherry flavor.  

Spring also has the longest set of National Holidays in Japan.  In the beginning of May there are 3 national holidays in a row, May 3rd, 4th and 5th.  These days will often combine with a weekend giving 5 days off in a row.  In Japan, this week is called Golden Week and many people travel during this time.  After Golden Week, all of the excitement from the spring settles down and people settle in to the new year.  Even spring at this point doesn't last too much longer as June brings the rainy season, the next season of the year here in Japan.


1. Hidenori Hiruta, "Basho's Peach Blossoms," Akita International Haiku Network.

Monday, December 26, 2011

New Additions to Japan's Oldest Zoo

April 24th, 2011:

March 22nd marked the entrance of Japan's 2 most popular new residents.  Ueno Zoo in Ueno, Tokyo held an opening ceremony for Li Li and Shin Shin, the 2 new pandas given to the zoo by China.  Ueno Zoo is Japan's oldest and most famous zoo and is now home to Japan's newest, instantly famous celebrities.  Ueno Zoo has been without a panda since 2008 when Ling Ling died.  We've been wanting to go since we heard the news and today was our first opportunity.  This would be the second time to visit the zoo, as this was the last trip I took while studying abroad here.

Ueno Zoo opened on March 20th, 1882 at that time under the Imperial Household Ministry.  All of Ueno Park was under control of the Emperor's household after the Meiji Restoration in 1868. [1]  The zoo was attached to the Honkan, which is the main building of Tokyo National Museum, Japan's first museum.  The museum began March 10th, 1872 and had control of the land of Ueno Park granted by the Imperial Household Ministry.  So in 1876 they chose to build a new building in the park that would be completed and opened to the public in 1882 along with the zoo. [2]

In 1924, Ueno Park and the zoo were given to the Tokyo government as a wedding present of Emperor Hirohito's wedding (Emperor Showa).  It would now be a public park administered by Tokyo, which it remains as today.  At this time, the Honkan was heavily damaged by the great Kanto Earthquake of 1923 and was closed.  A new Honkan building was finished in 1938. [3]

The years of World War II would be Ueno Zoo's darkest and most tragic history.  This history revolves around incidents in 1943 and 1945.  In 1943, the governor of Tokyo ordered the killing of some of the zoo's animals due to the ongoing war situation, which was then executed by the zoo director.  Similar orders were also carried out in German and British zoos to protect the populace, in case air raids allowed for dangerous animals to escape the zoos. [4]  What makes this a dark page in the history of Ueno Zoo and not just a tragic one is the reasoning for the order (war propaganda instead of general safety), as well as the way it was carried out (poison, and especially starvation over shooting). [5]

There is much more to this story than what I have written here.  I have purposely shortened and simplified the events here so people would not take this as a final word but a starting point to look into further.  Writing out the whole story now would detract from what I'm trying to write about and would go against the purpose of this post.  If I find that there is further interest in this topic, then I will write a new post about it, taking the time, space and care that is needed for such a history as it is quite a controversial and complex event.  In the meantime, if you are interested I will leave the two sources I came across while doing the research on the subject, which are both worth a read to get a better understanding of what happened and the motives behind the main actors.

1. Frederick S. Litten, "Starving the Elephants: The Slaughter of Animals in Wartime Tokyo's Ueno Zoo," The Asia-Pacific Journal: Japan Focus, Vol. 38-3-09 (September 21, 2009),

2. Ariko Kawabata and Kay E. Vandergrift, "History Into Myth The Anatomy of a Picture Book," Bookbird, Vol. 36-2 (1998),

The other terrible action by the zoo during the war years was what they did to Raymond Halloran, an American B-29 pilot who was captured during World War II in Japan after his B-29 bomber was shot down on a bombing run over Japan in 1945.  The zoo decided to keep Raymond Halloran in the now empty Tiger Cage naked for a month as a spectacle between March and April of 1945 after the March 10th fire raid on Tokyo before being transferred again to a prisoner of war facility and stayed there for the remainder of the war until liberation. [6]

Ueno Zoo after the war has been a gradual rebuilding into Japan's leading zoo that we can see again today.  In the early years, the zoo still had many animals missing due to the events during the war.  Elephants were especially missed and on June 18th, 1949 'Elephant Trains' took children starting in Tokyo, but then other trains from around the country to Nagoya's Higashiyama Zoo, where Japan's last two elephants were.  During that summer over 10,000 children took these trains to see the elephants there. [7]  Ueno Zoo would have elephants again that fall, first on September 4th, 1949 when one was given to the zoo as a gift by Thailand.  The next elephant gift stole the spotlight, as it was a gift from India in response to a letter campaign. [8]  The elephant, Indira was given to Ueno Zoo by Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru with the elephant named after his daughter; after learning of the wish of Tokyo's children.  This gift came with a message of,
"... I hope that when the children of India and the children of Japan will grow up, they will serve not only their great countries, but also the cause of peace and cooperation all over Asia and the world.  So you must look upon this elephant, Indira by name, as a messenger of affection and goodwill from the children of India..." [9]
This elephant arrived to Ueno Zoo on September 25th, 1949 and was greeted by 2,000 people upon her entrance into the zoo.  The next day over 10,000 people came to the zoo to see the new elephant. [10]  The new elephants were some of the important beginnings to rebuilding the zoo and turning it back into the important zoo that it is today.  Through the years, more has been brought to the zoo.  In 1957, Japan's first monorail would be built in the zoo, connecting the east and west sides of the zoo.

The monorail as it looked in 1957.  It's still in operation today. [11]

The 1950s also saw Ueno Zoo make a moving zoo, which created a 'Zoo Boom' in Japan with many zoos being built around the country. [12]  In the 1990s zoos all over Japan had a difficult time with attendance numbers falling due to a combination of smaller child populations, more activities to choose from and the unappealing way the animals were displayed in cages. [13]  Zoos still often had the small cages common in older zoos.  The falling attendance numbers created a need for action and many zoos changed their exhibits to create more natural environments for the animals at this time.  For Ueno Zoo, the 'Gorilla Woods' and 'Tiger Forest' are two of these types of exhibits and have helped Ueno Zoo and other zoos around the country become popular again.  Ueno Zoo now has over 2600 animals from 464 different species. [14]  It also has the world's three unusual animals of giant panda, okapi and pygmy hippopotamus. [15]

The Okapi at Ueno Zoo.

The Pygmy Hippopotamus at Ueno Zoo.

Here are some more of the interesting animals that can be found at Ueno Zoo:

One of the only exotic animal survivors of World War II, giraffes are still at Ueno Zoo today.

The elephants are still some of the most popular of the animals at the zoo.  They sometimes do tricks too, like in this picture, which gather huge crowds and lots of girls yelling out kawaii (かわいい), or cute.

The tiger in his 'Tiger Forest' area.

One of the gorillas in the "Gorilla Woods' exhibit.  Both times I've gone this gorilla has been the funniest animal in the zoo.   It's always wearing something and chills out by himself.

The same gorilla when I went to the zoo as a study abroad student.

There's also a large mountain where about 50 of these Japan-native monkeys are.  There always seems to be a few young ones playing about too.

When we went this time, the Polar Bear Exhibit was being renovated so I'm not sure when  it'll be ready and they'll be back at the zoo.

The zoo also has a wide variety of Asian and native animals that might be hard to see at other zoos.  The zoo has a few red pandas.

It also has the native Japanese Giant Salamander.  Only found in the southern part of Japan, these salamanders can be over 5 feet long and live up to 80 years.  They are the 2nd largest salamander on earth.

The main purpose of visiting the zoo this time was to see the new pandas.  Pandas have long been an important diplomatic gift between China and Japan.  In 685, they were first sent as a gift from China to Japan from the Chinese Tang Dynasty Empress to the Japanese Emperor at that time. [16]  In modern times, Ueno Zoo received the first pandas from China after normalizing relations in 1972 with Kang Kang and Lan Lan (Kan Kan and Ran Ran in Japan). [17]  The Ueno Zoo has worked with China and other zoos in trying to breed pandas that have been in their care.  Lan Lan was the first panda pregnancy outside of China, but unfortunately died before giving birth on September 4th, 1979.  China then gave Japan Huan Huan as a new mate for Kang Kang, but Kang Kang died on June 30th, 1980.  So on November 9th, 1982, Fei Fei was given to Ueno Zoo to be a mate for Huan Huan. [18]

Fei Fei and Huan Huan would have three offspring, but the first, Chu Chu died when he was only 2 days old.  Tong Tong and You You would both live and became the first pandas born in Japan.  Tong Tong on June 1st, 1986 and You You on June 23rd, 1988.  You You would be traded for Ling Ling to prevent in-breeding / provide more breeding opportunities on November 5th, 1992. [19]  Tong Tong would be the only panda born in Japan left at the zoo and became one of the major stars of the zoo until her death on July 8th, 2000.  Ling Ling was the last remaining panda at Ueno Zoo.  China also stopped giving pandas as gifts in the 1980s and now only leases the animals. [20]  Shuan Shuan was leased to Ueno Zoo to be a breeding partner for Ling Ling from December 3rd, 2003 to September 26th, 2005. [21]  When Ling Ling died on April 30th, 2008 it would be the first time Ueno Zoo had been without a panda, since relations between China and Japan normalized in 1972.  Ling Ling was also the last panda to be owned by Japan.  All other pandas are leased from China. [22]

The new pandas to Ueno Zoo are no exception.  Li Li and Shin Shin will be leased to the zoo for 10 years and cost $950,000 a year to do so. [23]  Ueno Zoo will again try and breed the pandas and are happy to have pandas be a part of the zoo again for the first time since 2008.  It was easy to see the people and Ueno were very happy and excited about the new arrivals as well.  Ueno has turned into Panda Mania when we went.  All over town there are pictures of pandas everywhere, and all of the shops have been selling basically anything imaginable that a panda can be stuck onto, both souvenirs and edible items.  Ueno's train station even set up a display in the middle of the station of bamboo and 2 big panda stuffed animals to mark the occasion.  After wading through the stands of panda goods, we waited in line for our tickets.

While the ticket line was short and easy to get through, our wait for the pandas was not.  We got to the zoo pretty early and headed to the panda exhibit first.  Just like everything new or popular in Tokyo, it involves waiting in an incredibly long line to see.  Ropes and zoo officials directed the lines up and down throughout the avenues of the zoo as the line stretched farther and farther from the exhibit.  It felt like almost everyone had come to the zoo just to see the pandas.

Although, the lines did give me a good chance to take some pictures of the new panda display.

After 45 minutes to an hour of waiting, our chance to see the pandas had finally come.  Our time to see what we had finally come for had us for one last surprise that we could basically only laugh about.

Both of them were asleep by the time we got to see them.  They're still cute though.  We'll have to come back to the zoo another time to see them again.  Next time, hopefully with a shorter line and while they're awake.


1. "The first national museum in Japan stands still with history," Taito City.

2. Ibid.

3. Ibid.

4. Frederick S. Litten, "Starving the Elephants: The Slaughter of Animals in Wartime Tokyo's Ueno Zoo," The Asia-Pacific Journal: Japan FocusVol. 
38-3-09 (September 21, 2009),

5. Ibid.

6. "The Autobiography of Raymond "Hap" Halloran," Hap Halloran The Official Site.

7. Frederick S. Litten, "Starving the Elephants: The Slaughter of Animals in Wartime Tokyo's Ueno Zoo,"

8. Ibid.

9. "Japanese Culture and Daily Life Gifts from Animals to People," The Japan Forum.

10. Frederick S. Litten, "Starving the Elephants: The Slaughter of Animals in Wartime Tokyo's Ueno Zoo,"

11. "Monorails in History - Part II," The Monorail Society.

12. "Japanese Culture and Daily Life Gifts from Animals to People," The Japan Forum.

13. Ibid.

14. Tokyo Zoological Park Society, "About Ueno Zoo," Tokyo Zoo Net.

15. Captain Tours, "Ueno Area," Japan Travel Navi.

16. Ed. 梁军, "Giant Panda Pair go to Japan," English People's Daily Online, July 28th, 2010,

17. Giant Panda Zoo, "Ueno Zoo," Giant Panda Zoo.

18. Ibid.

19. Ibid.

20. Ed. 梁军, "Giant Panda Pair go to Japan," English People's Daily Online.

21. Giant Panda Zoo, "Ueno Zoo," Giant Panda Zoo.

22. Kyodo News, "Giant Panda Ling Ling Dies at Ueno Zoo," The Japan Times Online, May 1st, 2008,

23. Giant Panda Zoo, "Ueno Zoo," Giant Panda Zoo.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

KFC and the Curse of Colonel Sanders


Something that might surprise you is the popularity of KFC in Japan.  I already talked a bit about Kentucky's (ケンタッキー) Christmas craze, but there's more wackiness where that comes from.  Every KFC that I've seen in Japan has a full size statue of the Colonel himself standing watch over his restaurants throughout Japan.  At 1,140 restaurants, there are a lot of Colonel Sanders standing watch throughout Japan. [2]  They even get festive.  A few times during the year they are dressed up to match the holiday.  Most common are Santa Sanders, traditional festival Sanders for the neighborhood festival and if you're really lucky, the spectacle of Samurai Sanders in full armor for Children's Day.

The Colonel's exploits in Japan have even gone a step further on the ridiculous side, taking over the title of most entertaining sport's curse from that Billy Goat in Chicago.  Apparently, when he's not busy cooking with his 11 secret spices, he's been busy cooking up a baseball curse.  His curse affects the Hanshin Tigers from Osaka that play in Japan's baseball league.  The Tigers have not won since 1985, making it only 25 years so far, but Japan's baseball league has far fewer teams (12 compared to 30).  The Hanshin Tigers won in 1985 causing their fans to celebrate.  In the midst of all this excitement, the fans caught up in it took the local KFC statue and threw it into the river.  On that fateful toss, the Tiger's fate would be sealed.  The Colonel not taking a liking to being dumped into the river has dished out his vengeance in a cruel curse over the team which has continued to this day.  As for the reason why he would be thrown in in the first place, fans often jump into the river to celebrate the team's wins.  After their championship, fans were jumping in that matched the appearance of members on the team.  The Hanshin Tigers that year had Randy Bass, an American first basemen on the team.  Osaka in 1985 for the celebration of the local baseball team, lacking a bearded white man decided the best alternative to be Colonel Sanders, which was a big mistake. [3]

Recently, in hopes of appeasing the great and terrible spirit that is Col. Sanders, there have been attempts to recover the statue from the bottom of the river which has met some success.  First findings of the statue happened in 2009 during construction for a new walkway in that section of the river. [4]

The Colonel's watery specter manifests itself and the curse on the team.  [5]

The statue was recovered but its curse is not broken, for there are still his glasses and right hand and fingers missing from the statue (the irony of finger lickin' good probably missed on by the Japanese).  There is a belief by some that if the statue were to be fully restored, the curse would finally be lifted.  So finishes the tale of Colonel Sander's curse.


1. "Top 10 Spooky Sports Curses," Listverse.

2. "Restaurant Counts," Yum Brands.

3. "Colonel Sanders pulled from river after 24 years."
March 11, 2009. 
(accessed December 13, 2011.)

4. Ibid.

5. Ibid.

The Emperor's Ume Blossoms

March 6th, 2011:

Before the Ume season ended and the petals disappeared for another year, we decided to go to one more spot to see them.  Ume are known as Plum Blossoms, but really they are a type of Japanese apricot.  They are another of Japan's famous blossom seasons, besides the world famous and iconic cherry blossoms; I wrote about them during our visit to Koishikawa Kōrakuen.  This time, we would be going straight into the Emperor's Palace itself in Tokyo to see the Ume.  If you want to know more about the Emperor's Palace, I have written about the history of the Emperors and the Imperial Palace and gave a palace tour as well.  With everything already explained for this time, we might as well get right to the action.

The Ume trees are located in the Eastern Garden of the Imperial Palace Grounds, which are open to the public.  To get there, we have to go through the main gate, Ōtemon.

The entrance to the Eastern Gardens is right to the left of here after going through the gate.

The garden is free to enter, but you need to pick up a card first that you return when you come back to leave.  Right past the gate is the first taste of the Ume blossoms to be seen in the Eastern Gardens.

Since I haven't talked much about the Eastern Gardens yet, I'll give a short summary of what can be seen along the way besides the buildings I already talked about.  In the first spot along the way is a traditional Japanese garden with a large pond.

In this pond are very fancy koi, with long ornamental fins.

Also along the way, the sakura or cherry blossoms are starting to bloom and take the spotlight from the Ume, but not yet.

A view of the pond from above it on the far side.

Another Ume tree along the way, just before the Suwa no Chaya teahouse.

Here's a view of the teahouse coming from this path.

Right past the teahouse towards the north end of the park is the main Ume grove in the Imperial Palace.  They look really impressive as they hug the old walls that made up the fortifications of this section of old Edo Castle.  

The first view of the Ume Grove along the path.

This is the Bairinzaka (梅林坂), or Plum Tree Slope.  The name might originate from Dokan Ota who was the original founder of Edo Castle, which would become the Imperial Palace of today.  He  planted many plum trees in this spot in 1478.

Heading up the slope, it eventually empties out right near the base of the main keep that still exists here, even though the castle has been gone for centuries.  While the sakura trees in the traditional garden weren't bloomed yet, up on the hill there was one that had fully bloomed before the rest.  Luckily, it was not near the Ume so they didn't have to compete, the Sakura tree definitely stole the show on the top of the hill near the castle base.

For comparison here are the closeups of the Ume blossoms:

This area at the top is the hill is the farthest we can go, so at this point we have to head back to the beginning.  After handing back the card we head back out through Ōtemon again.

Here are some details of the Ōtemon gate:

The door and the inside beam to bar the door.

The hinges to the massive door of this gate.

Ume blossoms are the first of the year and the welcomer of spring.  Traveling through the gardens to see them, we could start to see the nature around us awaken to spring, including this surprising sight at the corner of the wall near Ōtemon.

While it's sad to reach the end of the Ume season and not be able to see them again until next year, the season is also nice because it marks the beginning of spring in Japan and everything that awaits to be seen for the year.