Japan Italy: Next stop: Japan! Interview with Stefania Sabia

"An Italian in Japan" the series - Stefania Sabia

The brotherhood between Italy and Japan in recent years has become increasingly close and supportive. It is not rare to find our compatriots wishing to move to the land of the Rising Sun, but few succeed in realizing this dream. Today we want to share with you the experience of Stefania Sabia, a very Italian girl who has been living and working in Japan for about two years!

JIB: Hi Stefania, first of all thank you for agreeing to have this interview with us.
S: Thank you for contacting me and thinking about my blog!

JIB: Tell us a little about yourself and what you do in life.
S: My name is Stefania, I graduated in Japanese language and literature and I have been living and working in Tokyo for about 2 years.
I'm the creator of the Prossima fermata Giappone (Next Stop Japan) blog, which I opened together with the Facebook page 4 years ago, during my first study trip to Tokyo, followed by Instagram and Youtube about a year ago, which I update daily.
Since then I continue to share my travels and my daily life in Japan through articles, photos, videos, with all the love that I have.
I have a particular passion for the Shitamachi of the capital, the ancient places of Tokyo mixed with the modern urban fabric, but which retain a unique atmosphere, often accompanied by incredible small cafes.
I love the explosion of colors of the Japanese blooms, and the cute themed restaurants that invariably snatch you a smile and, when I have the chance, I love to wear the kimono.
Exploring and sharing this wonderful country always fills me with an immense joy.

JIB: How and from what your passion of Japan was born?
S: The passion for Japan arises as a result of the curiosity about the culture of this country. I have always found fascinating its history, folklore, literature and even the language. I could spend hours listening to the smooth sound of Japanese, relaxing as gurgling water.
One of the first legends to have enchanted me, I still remember that now, was that of the Tanabata.
As a child I dreamed of being able to participate in the festivities one day, to wear the yukata and see the sea of shimmering decorations above my head, typical of this occasion.

JIB: And in the end you made it! You have been living in Japan for a few years now, tell us something about your experience and how you got to today.
S: Living here in Tokyo is an incredible experience, sometimes difficult, but that in any case I would not change with anything else in the world. It can be a challenge, a trial, a surprise.
Living so far away from home there are many first times, you learn so many things about yourself and others, and what perhaps in Italy I had never done alone I found myself having to face it.
The part that I love most is undoubtedly the exploration, having the opportunity to know Tokyo deeply and calmly, to reveal the layers of the city first hand, all his anaba // the small locations, the secret corners, the places of heart. I love this city with all of myself.
I came to Japan for the first time 4 years ago, during my second year of university, thinking that a study period could help me with the language and the following exams. So I enrolled in a 3 month course at a language school in Nippori (one of the areas of Shitamachi I mentioned above) and have literally been struck by the capital.
With a heart full of feelings, I returned to Italy knowing that once I graduated I would have absolutely wanted to come back.
After graduation I left again as a student, with the intention of improving my Japanese as much as possible and try to get a job visa.
I got my 3-year work visa about 3 months ago and now I work in a Japanese company, I especially take care of helping other Westerners find jobs in Japan.


JIB: Which Japanese city has captured your heart?
S: Maybe you can already understand that from other answers, but I love Tokyo with all my heart. I think it's a unique city. A “patchwork” city, made of rainbow remnants of every kind and shape. An extraordinary interlocking of modern and ancient. It doesn’t have the typical beauty of traditional Kyoto, it has more the charm of the places that you live at the fullest. those places that are able to tell you a story at every corner, to amaze you again and again without ever failing. This city is a whole universe, you never stop understanding it, learning it.
If we talk about extraordinary places for beauty and memories, then I must mention Takaragawa Onsen, one of the most magical places I've ever been in Japan. I have wonderful memories of this ryokan with onsen, which seems to come from another era, lying in the middle of the forests of Gunma, very far from the city, next on the course of the river Takara. I also talked about it on the blog. It’s just pure marvel.

JIB: Your story is really exciting and we are sure that you can have unique experiences every day and create many memories that will always be in your heart. Would you like to share with us one of the most amusing or significant moments that have happened to you since you live in Japan?
S: One of my favorite experiences was to bring the mikoshi during the matsuri o my neighborhood. The feeling of community cohesion and the meaning of festivals is something fantastic.
It was incredible to be able to see a matsuri in its life, from the gathering of the participants, to the toast and prayers and have the opportunity to bring the divinity, inside the mikoshi, so that it could be thanked by everyone and therefore guarantee luck and prosperity to the district and its inhabitants.


JIB: It must have been a really intense experience. Also, from what was our blog born, prossimafermatagiappone.com, and how did you develop the concept until you got to what it is today?
S: The blog was born from the desire to put into words the boundless love I feel for Japan.
I have always loved to write since I was a child, and I thought that telling stories about this country could connect and help many other lovers of Japan.
It's a travel blog, but it's often the feelings for places that dominate, a genuine and total enthusiasm for what I see or what I do.
The sincere affection for certain districts, the fascination that the ancient and the traditions exert over me, the places that sing to my heart. One thing, which I think and hope can be understood by reading the blog, is that I don’t write just for the journeys themselves, but for the emotions and the paths that I share.
I actually think that often, even a day-to-day and less visited or less famous place can reserve great discoveries and a lot of wonder.
The blog was born like this, from the sincerity of my feelings for Japan, for 4 years, almost every day I published stories, photos, itineraries, tips for those who are preparing to leave for a trip, to study or to live in Japan .


JIB: This feeling that moved you to create your blog is really beautiful, and that's another thing we have in common. So many people like us dream of living in Japan and walking the same path you followed. However, as we all know, all that glitters is not always gold, and even Japan, like any other country, has its ups and downs. What are the difficulties you encountered in the early days in the Land of the Rising Sun?
S: I have to say that I have never encountered enormous difficulties since I moved. Or rather, nothing that I could never overcome with a little commitment or anything that I consider particularly negative.
It's funny and of uncertain result the first times you find yourself having to do things that in Italy would have been considered normal and easy, but which instead represent the unknown here. For example going for the first time to the doctor, making a phone contract and later embarking alone in the contract for the house and having to call the services to connect the utilities.
The most difficult moment was the search for a job, those were really tough and challenging months, made even by many “no thanks” and many "Will I be able to do this? I won’t give up! ". The job market for a foreigner is not always easy.
Last but so obvious was the distance from home, I would certainly love to have the opportunity to see more often my family.

JIB: What are your plans for the future?
S: Even if time is scarce at the moment, I would like to work more with the blog. Collaborate more with local companies, propose more activities to do on holiday.
It would be nice to be able to show Japan more and more and I hope to have the opportunity to do this.
Another dream would be to write a guide, particularly on Shitamachi, the ancient preserved areas of Tokyo, survivors of fires, earthquakes and bombings, these areas still not very famous are of a unique richness. They are my favorite part of the city and I would like to talk more in depth if I ever have the chance.
Work wise, in future I would like to do more tourism experiences in Japan, I would really like to work in this direction.


photo credits: @georgeyajima

JIB: It's really very interesting what you're sharing with us, and we too from Italy are convinced that we need more information about these particular areas of Japan, which are very often put aside by the masses . What do you think are the strongest connections you can find between Italy and Japan?
S: I think we are dealing with two deeply different countries, but surely both of them carry a thousand-year-old history, culture and traditions that are very great and fascinating. In both countries there is a great love for food, a great love for their artistic and historical background.

JIB: Do you think there is a future for an even closer collaboration between the two nations?
S: I hope so, especially from a tourism point of view, I think there is an increasing interest in Japan.
Italian tourists have been increasing for a couple of years and I hope that this mutual interest, this curiosity of travel, will open the door to new possibilities.
It would also be nice to have the working holiday for Italians in the future.

JIB: Do you ever miss Italy? Do you plan to come back here permanently?
S: As I said before, I miss Italy, my family, Italian friendships. If I didn’t have good Italian friends here it would be doubly difficult.
The other serious missing is the cured meats and cheeses (more than pasta and pizza that are very well done here), there is a very scarce and expensive selection for the most part. The sadness of not being able to make a mega salami sandwich!
Perhaps sooner or later I will return to Italy or Europe anyway, but for now it is difficult to say what the future holds for me. For the moment I would like to stay in Japan.

JIB: And we too hope you can stay in Japan! Thank you so much for your time and for the beautiful words and moments you shared with us. One last thing, send some greetings and advice to all our readers.
S: I thank you first for the interview, you were very nice to host me and it was amazing to have the chance to talk with you.
I would be really happy if more people could read the blog and find ideas, whether they are traveling or living in Japan, I am always available to help anyone who is looking for answers on the subject.
To those who would like to study or live in Japan I say not to abandon your dream, it can be a difficult country in some aspects, but if you love it and want to try, why not?
The only suggestion is to come here ready, Japan gives a lot but also asks a lot. And if the life of a student can be quite calm, that of a full-time worker has often a very hectic pace.
A work visa also requires a degree in 99% of cases, without that immigration is unlikely to issue a visa. Many office or tourism related jobs also often require a spoken ability that is business / N2. Come to Japan with these things in mind and persevere until you have achieved what makes you happy!
A hug to all readers!


Follow Stefania

Blog: prossimafermatagiappone.com
Facebook: facebook.com/Prossimafermatagiappone/
Instagram: @prossimafermatagiappone

Japan Traditions: Wakakusa Yamayaki Matsuri

One of Japan's most famous matsuri is the Wakakusa Yamayaki Matsuri held in the city of Nara on the fourth Saturday of January.

photo credits: matsuritracker on flickr

Le Origini

On the top of the third hill of Mount Wakakusa we find the Uguisuzuka Kofun, a keyhole-shaped tombstone.
Legends say that in the past if the mountain was burned by the end of January in the new year, it was possible to repel deaths returning from their graves. On the contrary, if the mountain was not burned by the end of January, a big period of misfortune layed before the city of Nara. As a result, the stories tell that people passing by Mount Wakakusa began to ignite the mountain without permission.


photo credits: smartus & matsuritracker on flickr

Following this, there were some incidents where the fire from Mount Wakakusa came to approach the boundaries of the Todaiji and Kohfukuji temple repeatedly. Because of this, in December 1738, the Nara magistrate's office (Bugyosho) prohibited people from burning the mountain. However, the arson fires continued at the hands of anonymous people and on some occasions approached the nearby cities and temples. To avoid similar dangers, the city of Nara established a rule to allow people to burn the mountain with the participation of representatives of the Todaiji and Kohfukuji temples along with the Nara Bugyosho at the end of the Edo period.

photo credits: toshimo1123 on flickr

The Yamayaki festival (burning mountain) comes from superstitions to calm the spirits of the dead at the Uguisuzuka Kofun located at the top of the mountain, so the Yamayaki could also be considered as a moment of service in memory of the dead.

Modern history and present day

Since 1900, there have been a series of changes related to Wakakusa Yamayaki Matsuri. Firstly, the time was shifted from day to night and even its date moved to 11 February (Day of the Empire), although during the period of World War II, the celebrations were held during the afternoon. Later, in 1910, the organization passed into the hands of the prefecture of Nara.


photo credits: karihaugsdal on flickr

After the end of the war, the Yamayaki once again became an evening event together with a fireworks display of over one hundred fireworks.
During the fifties, the date of the Yamayaki was moved to January 15, the "Coming of Age day", while in 1999, due to the implementation of the so-called "Happy Monday System Act" (law that moved some public holidays on Mondays) , the festival was celebrated on the Sunday before the "Coming of Age day".

photo credits: toshimo1123 & nwhitely on flickr

Since 2009 we find the combination that still exists today, where the event is held on the fourth Saturday in January with a fireworks display of hundreds of fireworks.
On this matter, this is the only event in Nara that uses the Shakudama fireworks that have a diameter of over 30cm. An absolutely magical fireworks display that we guarantee will always remain engraved in your memories.

Mount Wakakusa

Mount Wakakusa is 342 meters high and 33 hectares wide and is covered with grass with delicate slopes. Here you can see deers, seasonal flowers and plants, like the traditional Japanese cherry trees in spring and the fantastic autumn colors typical of Japan. Also from its top, it is possible to see the whole panorama of the city of Nara with all its historical part.


photo credits: 158175735@N03 & mashipooh on flickr

Mount Wakakusa is surrounded by many UNESCO world heritage sites such as the temples Todaiji and Kohfukuji and the spring forest of Mount Kasuga, so be very careful to avoid accidents such as spreading the fire.

The parade

Led by the sound of shell horns played by the mountain priests of the Kinpusenji Temple, more than 40 people face the solemn parade through the park, wearing the traditional costumes of the representatives of the temples of Kasugataisha, Todaiji and Kohfukuji and of the officers of the judiciary office of Nara in the Edo period.


photo credits: toshimo1123 & katiefujiapple on flickr

The event begins with the Gojinkahotaisai, the sacred fire acceptance ceremony held at the Tobohino park, on the site of the Great Round Bonfire. In this ceremony, the sacred fire is transferred from the Great Round Bonfire to the torches. Following this, the parade will take the sacred fire to the Nogami temple. Once arrived at the Mizuya temple, the sacred fire brought by time Kasugataisha will be transferred to a series of torches. Once at the Nogami Temple, at the base of Mount Wakakusa, the sacred fire forms another great bonfire.


photo credits: katiefujiapple on flickr

During the parade, the fire is accompanied by constant prayers in the first place for the safety of the Yamayaki. The fire is then transferred back to the torches, accompanied by the songs of the priests of the temples Todaji, Kohfukuji and Kinpusenji. At this point, the parade moves towards the big bonfire in the center at the base of the mountain where it is lit, thus giving birth to the spectacle of light and heat.

photo credits: nara-park.com


Mount Wakakusa is about a 10 - 15 minute walk from the Todaiji temple and Kasuga Taisha. The mountain can also be reached on foot from Kintetsu Nara station in about 35 minutes or from JR Nara station in about 50 minutes. Alternatively, you can use buses departing from both the station and Kasuga Taisha for a small fee.
If you are in Japan during this period, the next Yamamaki will take place in a few days, January 26, 2019. Do not miss it and we’ll wait for your stories!

photo credits: ks_photograph

Japan History: Hasekura Tsunenaga

photo credits: wikimedia.org

Tsunenaga Rokuemon Hasekura (1571 - 7 August 1622) was a Japanese samurai and servant of Date Masamune, the daimyo of Sendai, famous for having led numerous delegations of ambassadors that led him to travel the whole world.

He led a delegation of ambassadors in Mexico and later in Europe between 1613 and 1620, after which he returned to Japan. He was the first Japanese officer sent to America and the first to establish relations between France and Japan.

The Spaniards began their travels between Mexico ("New Spain") and China, through their territorial base in the Philippines, following the journeys of Andrés de Urdaneta in the sixteenth century. Manila became their definitive base for the Asian region in 1571.
Contacts with Japan began due to the continuous shipwrecks on the Japanese coast, at which point the Spaniards began to hope to expand the Christian faith in Japan. The attempts to expand their influence in Japan met strong resistance from the Jesuits, who had begun the evangelization of the country in 1549, as well as the Portuguese and the Dutch who did not wish to see Spain trade with the Japanese.

In 1609 the Spanish galleon San Francisco shipwrecked on the Japanese coast at Chiba due to bad weather on its way from Manila to Acapulco. The sailors were rescued, and the captain of the ship, Rodrigo de Vivero y Aberrucia, met Tokugawa Ieyasu.

A treaty under which the Spaniards could build an industry in the east of Japan was signed on November 29 1609, so that Spanish ships would be allowed to visit Japan if necessary.

The embassy project

Luis Sotelo, a Franciscan friar who was proselytizing in the Tokyo area, persuaded the Shōgun to send him as ambassador to Nueva España (Mexico). In 1610 he sailed to Mexico with the Spanish and 22 Japanese sailors aboard the San Buena Ventura, a ship built by the Englishman William Adams for the Shogun. Once in New Spain, Luis Sotelo met the Viceroy Luis de Velasco, who agreed to send an ambassador to Japan, in the person of the famous explorer Sebastián Vizcaíno, with the mission to explore the "Gold and Silver Islands" that were thought to be east of the Japanese islands.
Vizcaíno arrived in Japan in 1611 and had many meetings with the Shogun and the feudal lords, but he was not very respectful of Japanese customs, and he found the Japanese to be against Catholic proselytism. Vizcaíno eventually set off in search of the "Silver Island", during which he encountered bad weather, which forced him to return to Japan with serious damage. The Shogun decided to build a galleon in Japan, in order to bring Vizcaíno back to New Spain.

Statue of Hasekura Tsunenaga in Coria del Río
photo credits: tradurreilgiappone.com

Date Masamune was head of the mission and Hasekura Tsunenaga was appointed one of his attendants. Date Maru was called by the Japanese to build the galleon and later he was joined by San Juan Bautista, called by the Spaniards. With the participation of technical experts from the Bakufu, 800 naval workers, 700 blacksmiths, and 3,000 carpenters it took 45 days to build the whole ship.

After its completion, the ship sailed on 28 October 1613 from Ishinomaki to Acapulco in Mexico, with about 180 crew members, including 10 Shogun samurai, 12 samurai from Sendai, 120 between merchants, sailors and Japanese servants.

The ship arrived in Acapulco on 25 January 1614 after three months of navigation, and a ceremony welcomed the delegation. Before the trip to Europe, the delegation spent time in Mexico, visiting Veracruz and then embarking on the fleet of Don Antonio Oquendo. The emissaries left for Europe on the San Jose on 10 June, and Hasekura had to leave most of the group of Asian merchants and sailors in Acapulco.

The fleet arrived in Sanlúcar de Barrameda on October 5, 1614.

The Japanese embassy met the Spanish king Philip III in Madrid on January 30, 1615. Hasekura handed over a letter from Date Masamune to the sovereign and the offer for a treaty. The king replied that he would do what was in his power to meet the demands.

On February 17, Hasekura was baptized by the king's personal chaplain and renamed Felipe Francisco Hasekura.

Statue of Hasekura Tsunenaga in Civitavecchia
photo credits: tradurreilgiappone.com


After travelling through Spain, the delegation sailed into the Mediterranean Sea aboard three Spanish frigates to Italy. Because of the bad weather, the ships was forced to stay in the French bay of Saint Tropez, where they were received by the local nobility, with amazement from the population.

The visit of the Japanese people is recorded in the chronicles of the area as a delegation led by "Filippo Francesco Faxicura, Ambassador to the Pope, from Date Masamune, King of Woxu in Japan".

Many picturesque details of their behaviour and appearance were remembered:

"They never touch the food with their hands, but they use two thin sticks holding three fingers".
"They blow their noses in soft silky sheets of the size of a hand, which they never use twice, and then throw them on the ground after use, and were delighted to see that the people around them rushed to pick them up."
"Their swords cut so well that they can cut a thin sheet of paper by resting it on the edge and blowing on it."
("Reports of Mme de St Tropez", October 1615, Bibliothèque Inguimbertine, Carpentras).

The visit of Hasekura Tsunenaga to Saint Tropez in 1615 is the first documented example of relations between France and Japan.


The Japanese delegation arrived in Italy, succeeding in obtaining an audience with Pope Paul V in Rome, in November 1615, disembarking in the port of Civitavecchia, reason why even today Civitavecchia is twinned with the Japanese city of Ishinomaki. Hasekura handed the Pope a letter decorated with gold, with a formal request for a commercial treaty between Japan and Mexico, as well as sending Christian missionaries to Japan. The Pope accepted without delay to dispatch the sending of missionaries but left the decision of a commercial treaty to the King of Spain. The Pope then wrote a letter to Date Masamune, of which a copy is still preserved in the Vatican. The Senate of Rome gave Hasekura the honorary title of Roman Citizen, in a document which he later brought to Japan and which is still visible today and preserved in Sendai. In 1616, the French publisher Abraham Savgrain published an account of Hasekura's visit to Rome: "Récit de l'entrée solemnelle et remarquable faite à Rome, par Dom Philippe Francois Faxicura" ("Tale of the solemn and remarkable entry made in Rome by Don Filippo Francesco Faxicura ").

Conferral of honorary Roman citizenship to "Hasekura Rokuemon"
photo credits: wikimedia.org

Second visit to Spain

For the second time in Spain, Hasekura met the king, who declined the offer of a commercial treaty, because he thought that the Japanese people did not seem an official delegation of the sovereign of Japan, Tokugawa Ieyasu. He, on the contrary, had promulgated an edict in January 1614 ordering the expulsion of all the missionaries from Japan and had begun the persecution of the Christian faith in the country. The delegation left Seville for Mexico in June 1616 after a two-year period in Europe. Some of the Japanese remained in Spain, more precisely in a village near Seville (Coria del Río), and their descendants still have the surname Japón.

Return to Japan

In April 1618 the San Juan Bautista arrived in the Philippines from Mexico, with Hasekura and Luis Sotelo on board. The ship was bought by the Spanish government, with the aim of building defences against the Dutch. Hasekura returned to Japan in August 1620 and found the nation very changed: the persecution of Christians in the effort to eradicate Christianity had been active since 1614, and Japan was moving towards the "Sakoku" period, characterized by overwhelming isolationism. Because of these persecutions, the trade agreements with Mexico that he had tried to establish were denied, and much of the effort in this direction had been in vain.

It seems that the embassy he represented has had few results, but has instead accelerated Shogun Tokugawa Hidetada's decision to cancel trade relations with Spain in 1623 and diplomatic relations in 1624.

What happened to Hasekura after the diplomatic adventure is unknown, and the stories about his last years are numerous. Some argue that he abandoned Christianity, others said he defended his faith so deeply as to become a martyr, and others said he remained a Christian in intimacy, professing his faith in secret. Hasekura died in 1622, and his tomb is still visible today in the Buddhist temple of Enfukuji in the prefecture of Miyagi.

In 2015, was the 400th anniversary of the arrival of Keichō Kenō Shisetsudan, the first official delegation from Japan. A procession was held in historical costume in the main street of Civitavecchia for a historical re-enactment of the entrance to the city of the delegation led by a Hasekura Tsunenaga. In the evening, a concert was organized by local choral musicians at the Church of the Holy Japanese Martyrs. This event was also attended by Civitavecchia Mayor Antonio Cozzolino, Deputy Director of the Bureau of Reconstruction Policies of the city of Ishinomaki, Junichi Kondō, the Ambassador of Japan Kazuyoshi Umemoto and Consorte and citizens of both cities.

The delegation of Japan landing in Italy
photo credits: it.emb-japan.go.jp

Japan Travel: Meiji Shrine

The Meiji Era

The Meiji Period (明治 時代 Meiji jidai, "period of the illuminated kingdom") is one of Japan's most famous historical moments. It expands from October 23, 1868 until July 30, 1912 and includes the 44-year reign of Emperor Matsuhito.

photo credit: Wikipedia

Following the fall of the Tokugawa Yoshinobu shōgunate, the era of Emperor Meiji, the first with political power, began. It is precisely during these years that the political, social and economic structure of Japan began to change based on the Western model.

Following the death of Tokugawa Ieyasu in 1866, Tokugawa Yoshinobu was named as his successor, remaining in power a few months, until November 1867, when the shōgun submitted his resignation and ceded his powers to the court. In January 1868, Tokugawa's troops were replaced in Kyoto by a coup. And it is precisely in this period that the Meiji Restoration begins, restoring power to the emperor after centuries of shogun’s rule.

photo credit: Wikipedia

The first action exercised by the new Meiji government was to give some more privileges to the samurai class, which remained dissatisfied with the previous regime. Following the numerous contrasts in 1869 the daimyō were appointed governors of their feuds. However, the latter were suppressed in 1871, allowing the "formal" centralization of power and the reinforcement of the imperial institution. Not everyone agreed to the renunciation of their feuds, but to maintain order and stability, the government persuaded the daimyō with promises of strong rewards.
Along with this compromise, the government also compromised with the samurai class, approving a law that allowed them to carry out any occupation in the business field and public administration (the most popular were the institutional police body and the imperial army) . As a result of this, the maintenance of the samurai class was taken over by the central government, also by giving the remuneration.

In this new state, the image of the emperor became more and more significant and in June 1869, with the "oath of the Charter" in favor of the emperor Meiji, the first constitution was born. Here the full powers of the central government were enunciated, even if the political decisions of the country were still entrusted to an oligarchic government.
Until 1881, the regime governed in an authoritarian way with no opposition from the ruling class, but it is in this year that a great crisis broke out. Here, with a request to the emperor, he invoked the desire to transform the government into a parliamentary form.

photo credit: Wikipedia

Despite the difficulties, the Meiji period remains one of the most important eras and one with more changes in Japanese history. It is here that the foundations were laid for today's government of the Land of the Rising Sun.

The Meiji temple

Located in the heart of Tokyo and surrounded by a natural and urban forest, the Meiji-Jingu is a pearl of Shintōism and one of the city's most symbolic sanctuaries.


Located in the Yoyogi park, in Shibuya, the structure was completed in 1920, in honor of Emperor Meiji (1852 - 1912) and his wife Shôen (1849 - 1914). The shrine was also the victim of the bombings during the Second World War, but rebuilt completely soon after. This is a great demonstration of Japanese gratitude to this emperor, and the most striking example is the huge park that surrounds this place of worship, with more than one hundred thousand trees sent by the inhabitants of the archipelago in honor of the memory of this emperor.

To access the sanctuary, still in activity, you have to cross the large surrounding forest and pass under the magnificent Torii in cypress. Before you can enter the courtyards and sacred buildings, you must respect some rules of etiquette, such as the purification of the body with water and the greeting to the Torii.


It's amazing how after passing the big Torii gate, Tokyo's noisy comings and goings are replaced by the quiet sounds of the forest and the thick foliage of trees. Here temple visitors can take part in typical shinto activities, such as offerings in the main area, buying goodies and amulets, or writing your own wishes on the famous ema tablets. It is not rare, in fact, to find people of all ages who buy these wooden tablets and express their desire by writing on these supports. Once you have expressed your wish, you can hang the ema on a central support in the temple and subsequently they will be recovered by the priests who will then send messages to the Kami (gods).

The Meiji Jingu is one of the most popular temples in Japan and at this time of year, just after the Omisoka, it regularly welcomes more than three million visitors for the Hatsumode, the first prayers of the year.
In the northernmost part of the temple-related lands, visitors can find the treasure house of the Meiji Jingu, built a year after the temple was opened. In this place are contained many personal objects related to the Emperor and the Empress, including the carriage that accompanied the emperor to the formal declaration of the Meiji constitution in 1889.


A large area of the southern part of the temple lands is occupied by the Interior Gardens, which require a small entry fee. These gardens are particularly popular in mid-June to admire the blooming of the Iris flowers in all their glory, together with the famous Japanese gruidae birds. And if you have enough patience, you might have the opportunity to see a small flock of these fantastic birds cross the lake, a unique and magical spectacle.


Also, walking along the inner streets of the temple and the park, you can come across what I call "wall of sake", a wall of gigantic sake barrels, a gift for the emperor by all the sakagura of Japan . Opposite this wall, on the other hand, it is possible to find a wall of wine barrels, a gift to the emperor from all the foreign nations.

Also, in preparation for the 100th anniversary in 2020, renovations are taking place for some of the temple buildings, scheduled until October 2019, so if you plan to visit Tokyo in 2020 you can not miss this goal, between an Olympic race and the other!

Japan Travel: The imperial Palace & Gardens

photo credit: Google Images

I’ve been to Tokyo a few times now and one of my favourite spot in the whole city are the Imperial East Gardens in the Chiyoda area. Whenever I’m in the city, I always find a moment (sometimes even more than one) to visit this amazing place, a green heart in Tokyo, full of history and tradition but surrounded by the modernity of this frantic city.

The Tokyo Imperial Palace (皇居 Kōkyo, literally "Imperial Residence") is the primary residence of the Emperor of Japan. With its large parks it is located in the heart of the Chiyoda ward and contains buildings including the main palace (宮殿 Kyūden), the private residences of the Imperial Family, an archive, museums and administrative offices.
The current palace is built on the site of the old Edo Castle built by the shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu and the total area including the gardens is 1.15 square kilometres.

The history


photo credit: japan-guide.com

Edo castle

Built by Tokugawa Ieyasu and assigned it to be the residence of the Tokugawa family, after the end of the shogunate and the Meiji Restoration, the Emperor left the Kyoto Imperial palace and moved to Edo Castle. This became his new residence and it was renamed to Tōkei Castle (東京城 Tōkei-jō), at this time, Tōkyō had also been called Tōkei.

On 5th May 1873, the Nishinomaru Palace (formerly the shōgun's residence) was destroyed by a fire, and the new imperial Palace Castle (宮城 Kyūjō) was constructed on the site in 1888.
The non-profit organisation "Rebuilding Edo-jo Association" (NPO法人 江戸城再建) founded in 2004 has the aim of a historically correct reconstruction of at least the main donjon. This group plans to collect donations and signatures on a petition in support of rebuilding the tower of the old castle so that the capital city can have a symbolic building.


photo credit: Wikipedia, thetraveltester.com

The Old palace

In the Meiji era, most structures from the Edo Castle disappeared. Some were cleared to make way for other buildings while others were destroyed by earthquakes and fire.
In this case, the wooden double bridges (二重橋 Nijūbashi) over the moat were replaced with stone and iron bridges while the buildings of the Imperial Palace constructed in the Meiji era were made of wood.
When you first face the Imperial Palace you are suddenly transported into the classical and traditional Japanese architecture, but if you have the chance to walk those halls you’ll discover that on the inside, the palace is a mixture of then-fashionable Japanese and European elements. Western chairs, tables and heavy curtains furnish the spaces, the floors of the public rooms have parquets or carpets while the residential spaces us traditional tatami mats.

Guests were received in the main audience hall, which was the central part of the palace. Its floor space was more than 223 tsubo (approximately 737.25 m2 - 7,935.7 sq ft) and the interior the ceiling was in traditional Japanese-Style, while the floor was made out of parquet. For the roof, a style similar to the Kyoto Imperial Palace was maintained, however it was covered with fireproof coppered plates rather than the traditional Japanese cypress shingles.
More concrete buildings were added in the late Taishō and early Shōwa period, such as the headquarters of the Imperial Household Ministry and the Privy Council.

During the Second World War, on the night of 25th May 1945, most structures of the Imperial Palace were destroyed in the Allied firebombing raid on Tokyo. Due to this, a new main palace hall (宮殿 Kyūden) and residences were constructed on the western portion of the site in the 1960s and this area was renamed Imperial Residence (皇居 Kōkyo) while the eastern part was renamed East Garden (東御苑 Higashi-Gyoen) and became a public park in 1968.


photo credit: tokyobling.wordpress.com

The Imperial Palace today

After surviving defining moment in history, the modern palace Kyūden (宮殿) was designed for various imperial court functions and reception is located in the old Nishinomaru section of the palace grounds.
As of today, the residence of the current Emperor and empress is located in the Fukiage Gardens and it is now on a much more modest scale, compared to what originally was.

Except for Imperial Household Agency and the East Gardens, the palace is generally closed to the public, except for reserved guided tours from Tuesdays to Saturdays. Each New Year (January 2) and Emperor's Birthday, the public is permitted to enter through the Nakamon (inner gate) where they gather in the Kyuden Totei Plaza in front of the Chowaden Hall. On this occasion, the Imperial Family appears on the balcony before the crowd and the Emperor normally gives a short speech greeting and thanking the visitors and wishing them good health and blessings.

The Gardens


Fukiage Garden

This is probably the oldest garden of the complex. The Fukiage Garden has carried the name since the Edo period and this is where the Imperial Family lives today.
The Fukiage Ōmiya Palace (吹上大宮御所 Fukiage Ōmiya-gosho) in the northern section was originally the residence of Emperor Showa and Empress Kōjun and was called the Fukiage Palace. After the Emperor's death in 1989, the palace was renamed the Fukiage Ōmiya Palace and was the residence of the Empress Dowager until her death in 2000.
Here you can also find the Three Palace Sanctuaries (宮中三殿 Kyūchū-sanden), parts of the Imperial Regalia of Japan and the sanctuary plays a religious role in imperial enthronements and weddings.


photo credit: Wikipedia

Tōkagakudō (Music Hall)

The Tōkagakudō (桃華楽堂, Peach Blossom Music Hall) is located to the east of the former main donjon of Edo Castle in the Honmaru and it was built was built in commemoration of the 60th birthday of Empress Kōjun on 6 March 1963. The ferro-concrete building covers a total area of 1,254 m2 (13,500 sq ft) and each of its eight outer walls is decorated with differently designed mosaic tiles.

Ninomaru Garden

If you want to have a quick look of the whole Japan vegetation, this is where you should be since symbolic trees representing each prefecture are planted in the northwestern corner of Ninomaru enceinte. Such trees have been donated from each prefecture and there are total of 260, covering 30 varieties.



Located in the northern part of the enceinte of Edo Castle, this public park is famous for being the house of the Nippon Budokan Hall, one of the biggest sites for concerts, sports event and more.
Here you can also find a bronze monument dedicated to Prince Kitashirakawa Yoshihisa (北白川宮能久親王 Kitashirakawa-no-miya Yoshihisa-shinnō).

East Garden

And last but not least, the East Gardens the most famous of this whole complex. This is where most of the administrative buildings for the palace are located and encompasses the former Honmaru and Ninomaru areas of Edo Castle, a total of 210,000 m2 (2,300,000 sq ft). Located on the grounds of the East Garden is the Imperial Tokagakudo Music Hall, the Music Department of the Board of Ceremonies of the Imperial Household, the Archives and Mausolea Department Imperial Household Agency, structures for the guards such as the Saineikan dojo, and the Museum of the Imperial Collections.

Construction work began in 1961 with a new pond in the Ninomaru, as well as the repair and restoration of various keeps and structures from the Edo period. On 30 May 1963, the area was declared by the Japanese government a "Special Historic Relic" under the Cultural Properties Protection Law.


This is actually my personal favourite and whenever I come to Tokyo, I always try to spend one afternoon here. It’s one of the most visited landmarks of the city, that’s true, but in spite of all the tourists walking around, there is this magical atmosphere of tranquillity in the air and it’s the perfect spot to just sit, read a book, write on your notebook all the adventures you’ve had in this amazing city and just take in all the history this place has seen.


The Otemon entrance to the East Gardens is a short walk from Otemachi Station on the Chiyoda, Tozai, Marunouchi, Hanzomon and Mita Subway Lines. It can also be reached in a 10-15 minute walk from Tokyo Station.

Opening Hours

9:00 to 16:30 (until 17:00 from mid April through August; until 16:00 from November through February). Admission ends 30 minutes before closing.


Mondays, Fridays, New Year (Dec 28 to Jan 3) and some special occasions. If Monday or Friday is a national holiday, the gardens are closed on the following day instead.



Japan Italy: Hiroshige Hokusai. Beyond the Wave

The fascinating world of Ukiyo-e on show in Bologna

photo credit: mondomostreskira.it

After the exhibitions in Rome and Milan, the initiatives launched in 2016 to celebrate the 150th anniversary of Italy-Japan bilateral relations continue in Bologna with the wonderful exhibition of Hokusai and Hiroshige titled "HOKUSAI HIROSHIGE. Beyond the wave ". Until March 3, 2019, it is possible to explore at Museo Civico Archeologico the fascinating world of Ukiyo-e - the Japanese art press, the iconic representation of the floating world - through a selection of about 250 works from the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, for the first time available in Italy.

The project, excellently curated by Rossella Menegazzo with Sarah E. Thompson and produced by MondoMostre Skira, develops in a very rich path through which the visitor can enjoy an aesthetically refined experience full of contents and insights related to the life and the artistic experience of the two masters.

The audio guides, provided free of charge with the admission ticket, allow the visitor to fully appreciate the artistic significance and historical value of the exhibited works, accompanying the visitor step by step through exhibition spaces that with their elegant and essential design provide an ideal setting for prints (the only flaw is the lighting, which forces to a very close and sometimes laborious vision due to the reflections created by the glass that covers the framed works).

photo credit: artribune.com

Masters comparison

The exhibition opens with a section dedicated to Hokusai and to his thirty-six views of Mount Fuji. The collection, published between 1831 and 1833 and rightly considered one of Master's masterpiece, is dedicated to the mountain, the symbol of identity of Japan, seen by different provinces and in different seasons, always the same and always new. It is an exercise of meditation, through which the author tries to capture the essence of time through the representation of the immobility of the mountain, as opposed to laborious human activities and the incessant renewal of nature.

Part of the collection is the famous woodcut The great wave of Kanagawa. The exhibition approach cleverly combines, in a sort of ideal passage, the great wave of Kanagawa with the Hiroshige’s The Sea in Satta in the province of Suruga, made 28 years after that of famous teacher. The vision of the two works side by side allows the visitor to fully grasp the artistic value of the two authors and at the same time their differences. Hokusai represents his wave horizontally, in a sort of circular vortex, with the Mount Fuji appear very small in the background, impassive witness of the dramatic event that instead takes place in the foreground, represented by the unequal struggle between the boat of the fishermen and the superhuman power of the waves.
Instead, Hiroshige chooses a vertical format, allowing his wave to rise upwards into the sky and dissolve into minute white foam, from which the birds in flight seem to almost originate. Here too there is a boat, seen in the distance while serenely sailing a peaceful sea, thus completing the picture of general harmony created by the natural elements in perfect balance.

The exhibition continues with an exciting journey into the world of Utagawa Hiroshige through various thematic sections titled Travel Images, Tokaido and Kisokaido; Fish, Molluscs, Crustaceans and Herbs, and also Flowers and Birds; Views of Distant Places; Parodies and Humor and finally the Hundred Views of the Famous Places of Edo.

The visitor can explore the entire creative universe rightly called "Master of rain and snow", because of the extraordinary skill and elegance representing the different atmospheric conditions. This ability is immediately evident in the illustrating i its historical as well as artistic significance.

The talent of Hiroshige, constantly guided by an almost religious sensitivity towards the different manifestations of the natural world, is not detected only by his prodigious ability to represent landscapes, flowers or animals. The Japanese master has been a great innovator able to regenerate the classic way of representing the landscape through visual elements anticipating characteristic of the future photographic vision. His illustrations are in fact characterized by the striking photographic cut of the composition, made up of overlapping layers where large elements placed in the foreground capture the viewer's attention, leaving everything else small in the background.

photo credit: artribune.com

photo credit: pinterest.it

Hiroshige and the West

The photographic characteristics of Hiroshige’s works, the firm tract, the uniform color of backgrounds bordered by dark contours, absence of nuances and chiaroscuro effects, lack of symmetry, had great influence on the art of some impressionists and post-impressionists such as Manet, Monet, Degas and van Gogh. They showed their admiration by absorbing and reworking these graphic and elements or even explicitly citing them, as Vincent van Gogh did in the Portrait of père Tanguy using six ukiyo-e images as background for his character.

It is therefore particularly exciting to admire in the Bologna exhibition prints like "Shin-Ōhashi Bridge in the rain", "Susino in bloom" and "Inside the sanctuary Kameido Tenjin", appreciated by van Gogh and Monet to the point of inducing them to make copies, albeit reinterpreted according to their personal figure. Ukiyo-e prints were originally imported in Holland by the India Company and exploded as a socio-cultural phenomenon in the West and in particular in France after the Universal Exhibition of 1885. They became so influencial on the art and fashion of the era to determine the phenomenon that the engraver Philippe Burty in 1873 defined Japonisme.

Inside the exhibition, for the first time, the visitor can see very rare works, such as the Indian ink drawings, preparatory work for the production of wooden matrices. These drawings were in fact destroyed during the woodcutting process and it is therefore a rare and precious fact to be able to appreciate the master's original trait through them: fluid, safe, essential, surprisingly similar to that of the greatest mangakas (contemporary manga designers). The entire production process of the prints is also visible in an interesting video, projected in a special room, which completes the educational steps of the exhibition.

photo credit: timesnewromance.art

Ukiyo-e: the fleeting beauty of the floating world

Hiroshige was considered a modern artist by his contemporaries for his innovative compositions of the landscape. However, he also dedicated himself to the traditional Ukiyo-e more requested by the market of the time, as the scenes of daily life of the nascent town social class in the most beautiful and known places of the time, in particular Edo (the current Tokyo).

The last section of the exhibition, One hundred views of Edo's famous places is the most representative stream, the red thread linking the different creations of the masters of the Japanese art press. The Ukiyo-e ('images of the floating world') is a genre that flourishes in the Edo era in the pacified and prosperous Japan of the Tokugawa shogunate It responds to the taste of the rising city bourgeoisie, representing the new chonin lifestyle ( people of the city), the lifestyle of those artisans and traders who, thanks to their activities, now hold economic power, while the austere samuraic caste, more and more bureaucratized and less warlike, deals with managing political power.

The Ukiyo-e is therefore an optimistic representation of that "floating world", of that palpitating life of the city, ephemeral and of short duration, which must be enjoyed in a sort of oriental carpe diem, plunging fully into its incessant current, in contrast ironic to the Buddhist ukiyo, indicating instead the 'world of suffering', the constant cycle of death and earthly rebirth from which the Buddhist monk tries to free himself.
Also in this representation of the life of the city and its protagonists, Hiroshige excels, giving to his compositions the same sense of balance and harmony that pervades his depictions of the natural world.

The Bolognese exhibition is therefore an unmissable opportunity to approach an artistic genre that has been fascinating the West for centuries and will not fail to conquer the neophytes, as well as to deepen the knowledge of a world maybe already known. In addition to the extensive information in the exhibit, it is in fact possible to take advantage of thematic guided tours, structured both for schools of different orders and degrees and for the adult public.

The initiative is completed by a series of special events and conferences focused on different aspects of the world of Ukiyo-e and of the Japanese culture. The complete calendar of events can be consulted at the official website of the exhibition: www.oltrelonda.it

Japan History: Tokugawa Ieyasu

Photo credits: wikipedia.org

Tokugawa Ieyasu (徳川家康, Jan. 30, 1543 - June 1, 1616) was the founder and first shōgun of the Tokugawa shogunate, who effectively commanded the Battle of Sekigahara in Japan in the 1600s until the reconstruction of Meiji in 1868. Ieyasu obtained power in 1600, became shōgun in 1603, and abdicated in 1605 remaining in power until his death in 1616. He was one of the three unifiers of Japan, along with Lord Nobunaga and Toyotomi Hideyoshi.

Tokugawa Ieyasu, originally Matsudaira Takechiyo, was the son of Maytsudaira Hirotada, the daimyo of Mikawa of the Matsudaira clan and of Odai-no-kata, the daughter of the samurai lord Mizuno Tadamasa. His parents were 17 and 15 years old when Ieyasu was born.
In the year of his birth, the Matsudaira clan broke up. In 1543, Hirotada's uncle, Matsudaira Nobutaka, defeated the can Oda. This gave Oda Nobuhide a way to attack Okazaki. Hirotada divorced from Odai-no-kata by sending her back to his family to remarry again, in fact Ieyasu had 11 brothers and sisters.
As Oda Nobunaga continued to attack Okazaki, Hirotada in 1548 asked for help from Imagawa Yoshimoto who accepted the alliance.
Oda Nobuhide, having learned of this agreement, had Ieyasu kidnapped by his entourage on his way to Sunpu. Ieyasu was only five years old at the time.
Nobuhide threatened to execute Ieyasu unless his father broke all ties with the Imagawa clan. However, Hirotada refused, stating that sacrificing his son would show his seriousness in his pact with Imagawa. Despite this refusal, Nobuhide chose not to kill Ieyasu, but instead held him hostage for the next three years in the Manshoji Temple of Nagoya.
In 1549, when Ieyasu was 6 years old, his father Hirotada was assassinated by his own vassals, who had been corrupted by the Oda clan. Around the same time, Oda Nobuhide died during an epidemic. The death of Nobuhide has dealt a blow to the Oda clan. An army under the command of Imagawa Sessai besieged the castle where Oda Nobuhiro, the eldest son of Nobuhide and the new head of the Oda clan lived. With the castle about to fall, Sessai offered an agreement to Oda Nobunaga, the second son of Nobuhide. He offered to renounce the siege if Ieyasu had been delivered to Imagawa.

Photo credits: Rekishinotabi on flickr

The ascent to power (1556-1584)

In 1556 Ieyasu officially became an adult, with Imagawa Yoshimoto presiding over his genpuku ceremony. Following the tradition, he changed his name from Matsudaira Takechiyo to Matsudaira Jirōsaburō Motonobu. He was also allowed for a brief period to visit Okazaki to pay homage to his father's grave and to receive the homage of his nominal servants, guided by the karō Torii Tadayoshi.
A year later, he married his first wife, Lady Tsukiyama, a relative of Imagawa Yoshimoto, and changed his name to Matsudaira Kurandonosuke Motoyasu again. When he was allowed to return to Mikawa, Imagawa then ordered him to fight the Oda clan in a series of battles.
Motoyasu fought his first battle in 1558 at the Siege of Terabe. Terabe's castellan in western Mikawa, Suzuki Shigeteru, betrayed Imagawa by defeating Oda Nobunaga. This was within the territory of Matsudaira, so Imagawa Yoshimoto entrusted the campaign to Ieyasu and his servants of Okazaki. Ieyasu led the attack in person, but after taking external defenses, he began to be afraid of a counterattack, so he retired. As anticipated, the Oda forces attacked its lines, but Motoyasu was prepared and drove out the Oda army.
He managed to deliver supplies to the siege of Odaka in 1559. Odaka was the only one of the five frontier forts challenged by the Oda clan attack, nevertheless it remained in the hands of Imagawa. Motoyasu launched diversions against the two strong neighbors, and when the garrisons of the other forts came to his aid, Ieyasu's supply column managed to reach Odaka.
In 1560 the leadership of the Oda clan had passed to the brilliant leader Oda Nobunaga. Imagawa Yoshimoto, head of a large army (perhaps 25,000 people) invaded the territory of the Oda clan and Motoyasu was assigned a separate mission to capture the stronghold of Marune. So he and his men were not present at the Battle of Okehazama where Yoshimoto was killed in Nobunaga's surprise assault.

The Alliance with Oda

With the death of Yoshimoto and the Imagawa clan in a state of confusion, Motoyasu took the opportunity to assert his independence and bring his men back to the abandoned Okazaki castle to claim his place.
Motoyasu then decided to ally with the Oda clan. A secret agreement was needed because Motoyasu's wife, Lady Tsukiyama, and her newborn son, Nobuyasu, were held hostage to Sumpu by Imagawa Ujizane, Yoshimoto's heir.
In 1561, Motoyasu conquered the fortress of Kaminogō, detained by Udono Nagamochi, attacking in the night, setting fire to the castle and capturing two of the sons of Udono, who he used as hostages to free his wife and son.
In 1563 Nobuyasu was married to Nobunaga's daughter Tokuhime.
For the following years, Motoyasu undertook to reform the Matsudaira clan and make peace with Mikawa. He also strengthened his main vassals by assigning them lands and castles. These vassals included: Honda Tadakatsu, Ishikawa Kazumasa, Kōriki Kiyonaga, Hattori Hanzō, Sakai Tadatsugu and Sakakibara Yasumasa.

In the early days of Mikawa Ieyasu's daimyō he had difficult relationships with the temples of Jōdō, which became increasingly numerous in 1563-64.
During this period, the Matsudaira clan also faced a threat from a different source. Mikawa was an important center for the Ikkō-ikki movement, where the peasants united with the militant monks under the Jōdo Shinshū sect and rejected the traditional feudal social order. Motoyasu undertook several battles to suppress this movement in its territories, including the Battle of Azukizaka. In a fight, he was almost killed by two bullets that did not penetrate his armor. Both sides were using the new gunpowder weapons that the Portuguese introduced to Japan only 20 years earlier.

Photo credits: wikipedia.org

Growing political influence

In 1567, he changed his name again, this time to Tokugawa Ieyasu. In doing so, he claimed the descent from the Minamoto clan. No evidence was actually found for this alleged lineage from the Emperor Seiwa. Yet, his family name was changed with the permission of the Imperial Court, after writing a petition, in which he was awarded the courtesy title Mikawa-no-kami.
Ieyasu remained an ally of Nobunaga and his soldiers were part of the Nobunaga army that conquered Kyoto in 1568. At the same time Ieyasu was expanding its territory. Ieyasu and Takeda Shingen, the head of the Takeda clan in the province of Kai, made an alliance with the aim of conquering the whole territory of Imagawa. In 1570, Ieyasu's troops conquered the castle of Yoshida (modern Toyohashi), and entered the province of Tōtōmi. Meanwhile, the Shingen troops conquered the province of Suruga (including the capital of Imagawa, Sunpu). Imagawa Ujizane fled to the castle of Kakegawa, which Ieyasu laid siege to. Ieyasu then negotiated with Ujizane, promising that if he surrendered, he would help Ujizane regain Suruga. THe latter had nothing left to lose, and Ieyasu immediately ended his alliance with Takeda, forcing a new alliance with Takeda's enemy, Uesugi Kenshin of the Uesugi clan. Through these political manipulations, Ieyasu obtained support from the samurai of the Tōtōmi province.
In 1570, Ieyasu established Hamamatsu as the capital of his territory, placing his son Nobuyasu at the head of Okazaki.
The same year, he led 5,000 of his men to support Nobunaga at the Battle of Anegawa against the Azai and Asakura clans.

Conflict with Takeda

In October 1571, Takeda Shingen, now an ally of the Odawara Hōjō clan, attacked the Tokugawa lands at Tōtōmi. Ieyasu asked Nobunaga for help, receiving from him about 3,000 soldiers. At the beginning of 1572 the two armies met in the battle of Mikatagahara. The considerably larger Takeda army, under the expert leadership of Shingen, overwhelmed the Ieyasu’s troops and caused serious casualties. Despite his initial reticence, Ieyasu was persuaded by one of his generals to withdraw. The battle was a great defeat, but in the interest of maintaining the appearance of a dignified retreat, Ieyasu shamelessly ordered the men of his castle to light torches, play drums and leave the gates open, to adequately receive the returning warriors. To the surprise and relief of the Tokugawa army, this spectacle made General Takeda suspicious, so instead of besieging the castle, they camped out for the night. This error would have allowed a band of Tokugawa ninja to raid the field in the following hours, further disrupting Takeda's disoriented army, and in the end, Shingen's decision resulted in the cancellation of the entire offensive. Incidentally, Takeda Shingen would not have had another chance to advance on Hamamatsu, much less on Kyoto, since he would have died shortly after the siege of Noda Castle a year later, in 1573.
In 1575, Takeda attacked Nagashino Castle in the province of Mikawa. Ieyasu appealed to Nobunaga for help and the result was that Nobunaga personally headed a very large army (about 30,000 fighters). The Oda-Tokugawa force of 38,000 fighters won a great victory on June 28, 1575, at the Battle of Nagashino, however Takeda Katsuyori survived the battle and retreated back to the province of Kai.
For the next seven years, Ieyasu and Katsuyori fought a series of small battles, following which Ieyasu's troops managed to wrest control of the Suruga province from the Takeda clan.

In 1579, Ieyasu's wife and his heir Nobuyasu were accused by Nobunaga of conspiring with Takeda Katsuyori to assassinate Nobunaga, whose daughter Tokuhime (1559-1636) was married to Nobuyasu. This is why Ieyasu ordered his wife to be executed and forced his eldest son, Nobuyasu, to commit seppuku. Ieyasu then named his third son, Tokugawa Hidetada, as heir, since his second son was adopted by another rising power: the general of the Oda clan, Toyotomi Hideyoshi, who would soon become the most powerful daimyo of Japan.
The end of the war with Takeda came in 1582 when a combined Oda-Tokugawa force attacked and conquered the province of Kai. Takeda Katsuyori was defeated at the Battle of Tenmokuzan and then committed seppuku.

Uma containing the ashes of Tokugawa Ieyasu in Nikkō
Photo credits: wikipedia.org

Death of Nobunaga

At the end of June 1582, Ieyasu was near Osaka and far from his territory when he learned that Nobunaga had been murdered by Akechi Mitsuhide. Ieyasu managed the dangerous journey back to Mikawa and he was mobilizing his army when he learned that Hideyoshi had defeated Akechi Mitsuhide in the battle of Yamazaki.
Nobunaga's death meant that some provinces, governed by Nobunaga's vassals, could be conquered. The head of the province of Kai made the mistake of killing one of Ieyasu's helpers so he promptly invaded Kai and took control. Hōjō Ujimasa, head of the Hōjō clan, responded by sending his much larger army to Shinano and then to the province of Kai. No battle was fought between the Ieyasu’s troops and the great army of Hōjō. However, after some negotiations, Ieyasu and Hōjō accepted an agreement that left Ieyasu in control of the provinces of Kai and Shinano, while Hōjō took control of the province of Kazusa (as well as pieces from both the provinces of Kai and Shinano).
At the same time (1583) a war was waged to rule Japan between Toyotomi Hideyoshi and Shibata Katsuie. Ieyasu took no position in this conflict, relying on his reputation both for prudence and for wisdom. Hideyoshi defeated Katsuie at the Battle of Shizugatake and with this victory, he became the most powerful daimyo in Japan.

Ieyasu and Hideyoshi (1584-1598)

In 1584 Ieyasu decided to support Oda Nobukatsu, the eldest son and heir of Oda Nobunaga, against Hideyoshi. This was a dangerous act and could have led to the annihilation of the Tokugawa clan.
The Tokugawa troops took the traditional Oda stronghold of Owari while Hideyoshi replied by sending an army there. The Komaki campaign was the only time one of Japan's great unifiers fought each other. The campaign proved to be undecided, and after months of marches and unsuccessful feuds, Hideyoshi resolved the war through negotiation. First made peace with Oda Nobukatsu, and then offered a respite to Ieyasu. The agreement was stipulated at the end of the year and Ieyasu’s second son, Ogimaru (also known as Yuki Hideyasu) became Hideyoshi’s adoptive son.
Ieyasu's aide, Ishikawa Kazumasa, chose to join the daimyo and so he moved to Osaka to be with Hideyoshi. However, few other Tokugawa keepers have followed this example.
Hideyoshi was understandably suspicious of Ieyasu, and this was five years before they fought as allies. The Tokugawa did not participate in the invasions of Hideyoshi of Shikoku and Kyūshū.
In 1590, Hideyoshi attacked the last independent daimyo in Japan, Hōjō Ujimasa. The Hōjō clan ruled the eight provinces of the Kantō region in eastern Japan. Hideyoshi ordered them to submit to his authority, but they refused. Ieyasu, even if he was a friend and occasional ally of Ujimasa, joined his great strength of 30,000 samurai with the huge Hideyoshi army of about 160,000 men. Hideyoshi attacked several castles on the edge of the Hōjō clan with most of his army besieging Odawara Castle. Hideyoshi's army captured Odawara after six months. During this siege, Hideyoshi offered a radical deal to Ieyasu. He offered to Ieyasu the eight provinces of Kantō that were about to take from Hōjō in exchange for the five provinces Ieyasu controlled at the time, including Ieyasu’s one, Mikawa. Ieyasu accepted this proposal. Prey to the overwhelming power of the Toyotomi army, the Hōjō accepted the defeat, the top leaders Hōjō killed themselves and Ieyasu entered the field taking control of their provinces, putting an end to the clan kingdom of over 100 years.

The Battle of Sekigahara (1598-1603)

Hideyoshi, after another three months of illness, died on September 18, 1598. He was nominally succeeded by his young son Hideyori but, at only five years, the real power was in the hands of the regents. In the next two years Ieyasu made alliances with various daimyōs, especially those who had no love for Hideyoshi. Fortunately for Ieyasu, the oldest and most respected, Toshiie Maeda, died just a year later. With Toshiie's death in 1599, Ieyasu led an army to Fushimi and conquered Osaka Castle, Hideyori's residence. This angered the three remaining regents and began to structure their plans on all fronts for the war. It was also the last battle of one of Ieyasu's most loyal and powerful servants, Honda Tadakatsu.
The opposition to Ieyasu focused on Ishida Mitsunari, a powerful daimyo who was not one of the regents. Mitsunari conceived Ieyasu's death, and news about this plot reached some of the Ieyasu generals. They tried to kill Mitsunari but he escaped and obtained protection from none other than Ieyasu himself. It is not clear why Ieyasu protected a powerful enemy from his men, but he was a strategist and may have thought it would be better to drive the enemy army with Mitsunari rather than one of the regents.
Almost all Japanese daimyōs and samurai split into two factions: the western army (Mitsunari group) and the eastern army (anti-Mitsunari group). Ieyasu supported the anti-Mitsunari group and formed them as its potential allies. Ieyasu’s allies were the Date clan, the Mogami clan, the Satake clan and the Maeda clan. Mitsunari allied himself with the other three regents: Ukita Hideie, Mōri Terumoto and Uesugi Kagekatsu and many daimyō from the eastern end of Honshū.
In June 1600, Ieyasu and his allies transferred their armies to defeat the Uesugi clan, who was accused of planning an uprising against the Toyotomi administration. Before arriving in the territory of Uesugi, Ieyasu learned that Mitsunari and his allies had moved their army against Ieyasu. He held a meeting with the daimyos and they agreed to follow him, so he led most of his army west to Kyoto. At the end of the summer, Ishida's forces captured Fushimi.
Ieyasu and his allies marched along the Tōkaidō, while his son Hidetada followed the Nakasendō with 38,000 soldiers. A battle against Sanada Masayuki in Shinano province delayed Hidetada's forces, so they did not arrive in time for the main battle.
Fought near Sekigahara, this battle was the largest and one of the most important battles in Japanese feudal history. It began on October 211600, with a total of 160,000 men facing each other. The battle of Sekigahara ended with a complete victory of Tokugawa. The western block was crushed and in the following days Ishida Mitsunari and many other Western nobles were captured and killed and Tokugawa Ieyasu was now the de facto governor of Japan.
Immediately after the victory at Sekigahara, Ieyasu redistributed the land to the vassals who had served him, he left some the daimyōs unharmed, like the Shimazu clan, but others were completely destroyed. Toyotomi Hideyori (Hideyoshi's son) lost most of his territory that was under the management of the western daimyō, and was degraded to ordinary daimyō, not to a governor of Japan. In subsequent years the vassals who had sworn loyalty to Ieyasu before the battle became known as fudai daimyō, while those who promised him loyalty after the battle (in other words, after his power was unquestioned) were known as Tozama daimyō. The latter were considered inferior to the Fudai daimyōs.

Shōgun (1603-1605)

On March 24, 1603, Tokugawa Ieyasu received the shōgun title from Emperor Go-Yōzei and he was 60 years old. He had survived all the other great men of his time: Nobunaga, Hideyoshi, Shingen, Kenshin. As shōgun, he used his last years to create and consolidate the Tokugawa shogunate, which inaugurated the Edo period and was the third shogunal government (after Kamakura), claiming the descent from the Minamoto clan, through the Nitta clan. His descendant will then marry into the Taira clan and the Fujiwara clan. The Tokugawa shogunate ruled Japan for the next 250 years.
Following a well-established Japanese model, Ieyasu abdicated his official shōgun position in 1605 and his successor was his son and heir, Tokugawa Hidetada. There may have been several factors that contributed to his decision, including his desire to avoid being bound by ceremonial duties, to make it harder for his enemies to attack the true center of power and to ensure a smoother succession of his son. The abdication of Ieyasu had no effect on the practical extension of his powers or his government. However, Hidetada assumed the formal role of the shogunal bureaucracy.

Ōgosho (1605-1616)

Ieyasu, as a retired shōgun (大 御所 ōgosho), remained the effective ruler of Japan until his death. He retired to Sunpu Castle, but also oversaw the construction of Edo Castle, an impressive construction project that lasted for the rest of Ieyasu's life. The result was the biggest castle in all of Japan, the cost of building it was supported by all the other daimyōs, while Ieyasu collected all the benefits. The central donjon, or tenshu, burned in 1657 and today, the Imperial Palace is in place of that castle.
In 1611 Ieyasu leading 50,000 men, visited Kyoto to witness the coronation of Emperor Go-Mizunoo. In Kyoto, Ieyasu ordered the reconstruction of the imperial court and buildings, forcing the remaining Western daimyos to sign an oath of loyalty to him.

In 1613, he composed the Kuge Shohatto (公家諸法度), a document that submitted the court under the daimyo’s close supervision, leaving them as simple ceremonial nominees.
In 1615 Ieyasu prepared the Buhat shohatto (武家諸法度), a document that illustrated the future of the Tokugawa regime.

Relations with foreign powers

Like Ōgosho, Ieyasu also oversaw diplomatic affairs with the Netherlands, Spain and England. Ieyasu chose to remove Japan from European influence from 1609, although the shogunate continued to grant preferential commercial rights to the Dutch East India Company and allowed them to maintain a "factory" for commercial purposes.
From 1605 until his death, Ieyasu frequently consulted with the English master of arms and pilot, William Adams, who, fluent in Japanese, assisted the shogunate in the negotiation of commercial relations.

Significant attempts to limit the influence of Christian missionaries in Japan date back to 1587 during Toyotomi Hideyoshi's shogunate. However, in 1614, Ieyasu was sufficiently concerned about the Spanish territorial ambitions that he signed an edict of Christian expulsion. The edict banished the practice of Christianity and led to the expulsion of all foreign missionaries. Although some minor commercial operations remained in Nagasaki, this edict drastically limited foreign trade and marked the end of Christian witness open in Japan until 1870.

Siege of Osaka

The last threat to Ieyasu's dominion was Toyotomi Hideyori, Hideyoshi’s son and rightful heir. He was now a young daimyo who lived in Osaka Castle. Many samurai who opposed Ieyasu gathered around Hideyori, claiming to be the legitimate ruler of Japan. Ieyasu criticized the opening ceremony of a temple built by Hideyori because it was as if he had prayed for the death of Ieyasu and the ruin of the Tokugawa clan. Ieyasu ordered Toyotomi to leave Osaka Castle, but the inhabitants refused and summoned the samurai to gather inside the castle. Then the Tokugawa, with a huge army led by Ieyasu and the shōgun Hidetada, besieged Osaka Castle in what is now known as the "winter siege of Osaka". In the end, Tokugawa was able to join the negotiations and an armistice after the attack and after threatening Hideyori's mother, Yodo-dono. However, once the treaty was agreed upon, Tokugawa filled the castle's outer moats with sand so that his troops could cross it. Through this stratagem, Tokugawa obtained a huge tract of land through negotiation and deception. Ieyasu returned to Sunpu Castle, but after Toyotomi refused another order to leave Osaka, he and his allied army of 155,000 soldiers attacked Osaka Castle again in the "Osaka Summer Siege".
Eventually, in 1615, Osaka Castle fell and almost all the defenders were killed including Hideyori, his mother (Hideyoshi's widow, Yodo-dono) and his newborn son. His wife, Senhime (Ieyasu’s niece), pleaded to save the lives of Hideyori and Yodo-dono, but Ieyasu refused and forced both to commit a ritual suicide, or perhaps both killed. In the end, Senhime was sent back to the Tokugawa clan alive.

The death

Ieyasu died at the age of 73 in 1616. It is thought that the cause of death was cancer or syphilis. The first Tokugawa shogun was posthumously deified with the name Tōshō Daigongen, the "Great Gongen, the light of the east". It is believed that a Gongen is a Buddha who appeared on Earth in the form of a kami to save sentient beings.
In life, Ieyasu had expressed th desire to be deified after his death to protect his descendants from evil. His remains were buried in the Gongen mausoleum in Kunōzan, Kunōzan Tōshō-gū. As a general opinion, many people believe that after the first anniversary of his death, his remains were buried again in the Nikkō Shrine, Nikkō Tōshō-gū and they are still there today. Neither of the two sanctuaries offered to open the tombs, so the location of the physical remains of Ieyasu is still a mystery. The architectural style of the mausoleum became known as gongen-zukuri, or gongen style. First he was given the Buddhist name Tosho Dai-Gongen, then after his death he was changed to Hogo Onkokuin.

Ieyasu Tomb in Tōshō-gū
Photo credits: wikipedia.org

Ieyasu's rule era

Ieyasu had a number of qualities that enabled him to rise to power. He was both attentive and audacious, in the right times and in the right places. Calculating and subtle, Ieyasu changed alliances when he thought he would benefit from the change. He allied himself with the late Hōjō clan, then he joined the army of conquest of Hideyoshi, who destroyed Hōjō and he himself took over their lands. In this he was like the other daimyo of his time. That was an era of violence, sudden death and betrayal. He was neither very popular nor personally popular, but he was feared and respected for his leadership and his cunning. For example, he wisely kept his soldiers out of Hideyoshi's campaign in Korea.
He was capable of great loyalty: once he allied himself with Oda Nobunaga, he never went against him, and both leaders took advantage of their long alliance. He was known to be loyal to his friends, and was said to have a close friendship with his vassal Hattori Hanzō. It is said, however, that he remembered the wrongs he had suffered and that he executed a man because he had insulted him when he was young.

Ieyasu protected many former Takeda servants from the wrath of Oda Nobunaga, who was known to harbor a bitter rancor toward Takeda. But he also knew he was ruthless, for example, he ordered the executions of his first wife and his eldest son, a son-in-law of Oda Nobunaga and he was also Hidetada's wife uncle.
He was cruel, implacable and ruthless in eliminating Toyotomi survivors after Osaka. For days, dozens and dozens of men and women were hunted down and executed, including Hideyori’s eight-year-old son from a beheaded concubine.
Unlike Hideyoshi, he had no desire to win anything outside of Japan. He just wanted to bring order, end the open war and rule Japan.
While at the beginning it was tolerant of Christianity, its attitude changed after 1613 and Christian executions increased sharply.
Ieyasu's favorite pastime was falconry. He considered it an excellent training for a warrior. "When you go to the countryside, you learn to understand the military spirit and the hard life of the lower classes: you exercise your muscles and you train your limbs. You can walk and run and become indifferent to the heat and cold, and therefore it is very unlikely that you may suffer from some disease ". Ieyasu often swam and even in old age it is said that he swam in the moat of Edo Castle.
He also took a scholarship and religion, attending scholars such as Hayashi Razan.

Two of his famous quotes

Life is like a long journey with a heavy burden. Let your pace be slow and steady, do not stumble. Persuade yourself that imperfection and inconvenience are the greatest thing of mortals, and there will be no room for dissatisfaction or despair. When ambitious wishes arise in your heart, remember the days of extremism that you went through. Tolerance is the root of all tranquility and security forever. Watch the wrath of your enemy. If you only know what it means to conquer, and you do not know what it means to defeat. Find flaws in yourself rather than others.

The strong virile in life are those who understand the meaning of the word patience. Patience means limiting one's inclinations. There are seven emotions: joy, anger, anxiety, adoration, pain, fear and hate, and if a man does not give way to these he can be called a patient. I'm not as strong as I could be, but I always knew and practiced patience. And if my descendants want to be as they are, they have to study patience.

Japan Modern Culture: The New Tsukiji Fish Market opens and is called Toyosu Market


photo credit: nika-88 on flickrkaripkarip on flickr

All the fans of Japan have heard of the Tsukiji Fish Market at least once. Tsukiji's wholesale fish market (in Japanese 築地市場, Tsukiji shijō) was the largest fish market in the world. It was in Tokyo, in the Tsukiji district, and it moved to the Toyosu area last October.

Visited every year by thousands of tourists, today's Toyosu (Tsukiji) Fish Market hosts a number of workers ranging from 60,000 to 65,000, including accredited sellers, administrative staff and workers.
The Tsukiji Fish Market was, and still is, a showcase on an important element of Japanese gastronomic culture and the nation's economy. Considered a national institution, from October it finally established its roots in Toyosu's new space, retiring after 80 years from the space in the Tsukiji district. The Tokyo fish market continues to maintain its record as the largest wholesale fish market in the world.

Tsukiji Fish Market has always been one of the symbols of the iconic relationship between Japanese cuisine and the ocean. It is not rare to find international chefs and restaurateurs from across the city walking among the auctions every morning and being bewitched by the atmosphere of this place.


photo credit: yuichi38 on flickr & 584laurel on flickr


The history of the Tsukiji is equally impressive. Over 500 species of fish sold daily, including some really expensive sushi cuts, 700 thousand tons of product sold each year, more than 12 million euros in daily turnover.

Already replacing the previous market in the Nihonbashi area destroyed by the Great Kanto earthquake in 1923, the Tzukiji fish market opened its doors in 1935. With its hundreds of stalls, the market is famous for selling fish that varies from scampi to whale, but especially for the daily auction of bluefin tuna, sold for thousands of dollars each. A tradition that also continues in Toyosu's new market is also that of the New Year's auction where restaurateurs compete against each other to pay the highest price for the first tuna on January 1st each year.


photo credit: jpellgen on flickrthisisinsider.com

The market opens at 5 am and is also very popular with tourists. If you want to take advantage of your jet lag, be sure to get in line to be selected in the small group of visitors who are allowed to watch the tuna auction.
The tuna appear in various sizes and, during the auction, they are placed on the ground, in order, still frozen. Each cut is provided with a tag that indicates its weight, quality and provenance, and comes without head and tails so as to be able to view the color of the meat.

At the end of the auction, all visitors can put themselves in even longer queues to see those in charge of cutting and preparing ready-to-use tuna slices. It is here that you can see and taste the classic sushi cut and the best sashimi you can eat.


photo credit: thisisinsider.com & jpellgen on flickr

Where is the Toyosu Fish Market now?

IThe New Tsukiji Fish market, now renamed Toyosu Fish Market, is located near Shijomae Station on the Yurikamome Line, in Tokyo's Koto district, about 2 km east of Tsukiji. It is housed in 3 interconnected buildings (two for the sale of fish and one for the sale of fruit and vegetables). The buildings are connected directly to the station with a covered overpass, making it perfect for any climate. Toyosu is almost twice the size of the old Tsukiji market, about 40.7ha which allows it to maintain its status as the world's largest fish market.


photo credit: CNN.comthisisinsider.com

Admission to the Toyosu Fish Market

Entry to the Toyosu Fish Market is free and you can watch auctions from dedicated platforms. You just need a visitor pass to enter the buildings and you can also taste all the delicious dishes in the restaurants, most of which was transplanted by the old Tsukiji.
There is not much else around there, but if you want to stay in the area, you can go explore the nearby Odaiba. Furthermore, it is said that in 2022 the Senkyaku Banrai will be opened, a street dedicated to shopping, a major part of a project to make the community more livable and lively.

photo credit: falloutxthisisinsider.com