Saturday, January 15, 2011

Tokyo: Shrines & Izakaya Dining

Sake barrels at the Meiji Shinto shrine in TokyoTwo major religions co-exist very nicely in Japan: Shinto and Buddhism. Actually, most people in Japan practice both religions. That may seem like a problem to those from the Abrahamic faiths, however both Shinto and Buddhism do not require professing faith to be a believer. I had an opportunity to visit Meiji Jingu, one of the most popular Shinto shrines in Tokyo. The moment you enter through the large torii gate, you leave the city far behind. The grounds of this shrine are surrounded by large gardens and the most tranquil feeling envelops you immediately.

Meiju Jingu shrine in TokyoMeiju Jingu is dedicated to deified spirits of Emperor Meiji and his consort Empress Shoken. The shrine was built in 1920 and has since been rebuilt after the temple complex was severely damaged during World War II air raids. As you walk through the garden complex into the temple, you can see large barrels of sake lining the walkways. Sake is considered auspicious and sacred by the Japanese, and sake offerings are omnipresent in places of worship here.

Meiju Jingu shrine in TokyoThe temple complex is peaceful, open and airy. People usually wash their hands briefly before entering the main temple. Large gongs stand next to the central courtyard. Just outside is a small area where people write prayers on small wooden parchments and hang them up for the spirits.

I also visited one of the large Buddhist temples in the capital, the Akasuka Kannon temple. The ambiance here was very different from the Meiji Shrine. Set right in the middle of the busy, historical section of town, the temple complex was crowded with worshippers and tourists.

Akasuka Kannon shrine in TokyoSmoke drifted from hundreds of incense sticks that were placed in the front of the temple by the faithful. Up ahead was the famous Nakamise shopping street, a street lined with small shops selling everything from street food, handicrafts to fashion accessories. Apparently, this shopping street has existed for a few hundred years.

Akasuka Kannon temple TokyoAfter buying some of the cute little stuff that exemplifies Japan's voracious appetite for all things kawaii, I went back to my hotel.

I dined with a few colleagues at one of Tokyo's many izakaya restaurants: Shinobu Tei in Shibuya. As you walk down stairs into the basement, you enter an area of intricately designed ponds, dried trees and small bridges that add a distinctly Japanese touch to the atmosphere. A large number of private booths provide a place for groups of friends to eat, drink and chat for hours - which is exactly what we did.

Shinobu Tei in Shibuya Tokyo
Along with small cups of sake, we shared from numerous small plates: greens, sashimi, sushi, salmon tartare topped with a raw quail egg and rice plates. Of course, a hot cup of miso soup too, which I was by now quite addicted to! I also tried the plum wine, which was sweet but nice.

Sushi at Shinobu Tei in Shibuya Tokyo
Dining in Tokyo is so much fun. The Japanese are obsessed with food and it shows in the number of restaurants in Tokyo. A variety of eating places dot the lanes of this city. Some do not even advertise their shops and you cannot eat there unless someone introduces you to the owner! Small, intimate restaurants serve sushi, tempura, tonkatsu and yakitori among other things. For groups of friends, the best places are the many izakayas where you share food and drinks sitting on cushions around a low table.

Previous post from this series: Kaiseki at the Ritz
Next post in this series: Imperial Gardens and Bento Boxes




Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Shantanu said...

@Harekrishnaji: Thank you for visiting.