Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Nagoya in 24 Hours Part 6 - Shotengai Overload at the Osu Shopping District

On this 24 hour stopover in Nagoya, I inadvertently stumbled into one of my favourite places ... a shotengai or covered shopping street.  
More than a block or two long,  Nagoya's Osu Shopping district consists of a network of several streets, pure bliss to a shotengai addict like myself. 
You can have your air conditioned malls and super shopping centres -- give me a traditional, quaint shotengai every time!

One of the main entrances to the Osu shotengai is right outside the Osu Kannon Temple.
This is Nioumon street.
Do you see the fierce face on the wall on the top left of this photo?  He must be the the defender of the shotengai -- to make sure that everyone who enters parts with some of their money and leaves it behind in one of the stores.

This friendly little poodle was all decked out in a vest -- just like his owner, the shopkeeper.
I wonder if he gives out discounts?

It was just past 10 in the morning and some of the stores had not yet opened.  

I browsed through stores selling senbei or rice crackers and other traditional snacks ...

and specialty shops like this one that made various types of bean stuffed pastries. 

Small stores like this selling various sundries from  hosiery to shampoo to tonics seem like a throwback to another shopping era.

"Brand" shops like this can be found all over Japan.   You can find pre-loved name brand purses and luggage at a fraction of the cost.  The Japanese are some of the world's top shoppers of high end luxury  brands and quickly turn over last season's it bag for this season's must have.  Their discards, still quite new looking find their way to these discount stores.

Japanese of a certain age have a penchant for hats -- whether male or female, they wear them at all seasons of the year.  The hat shop is an ubiquitous feature in the shotengai. 

Looking for summer yukatas or traditional coats -- there are stores selling all kinds for all types of styles and budgets.

For bargains and pasalubong, the 100 yen store is always a good idea.  
There are all sorts of cute-but-useless items not to mention your everyday mundane useful stuff inside.

The owner of this bag shop was a very persuasive old lady -- I should know because I ended up buying a small sling bag when I stopped to just look at her displays.  

There is a Christian chapel tucked in between the various storefronts.  If I hadn't glanced up I would not have noticed the cross.

The church was running an art exhibit with proceeds going towards its various projects.

At the end of the block is more of the shotengai.  If you turn left or right, there are more stores all along the side streets.  The Osu shopping district has more than 1,000 shops, cafes and restaurants to choose from -- shop till you drop in Nagoya!

This portion of the shotengai takes you from small local boutiques to shops with a more "international" flavour --  Italian pizza and Istanbul coffee are  right across from each other.

There is a bazaar selling halal food items, souvenirs and middle eastern dry goods. 

What would be right next to the halal shop but a kebab place?

This Vietnamese restaurant advertises its pho and those delicious baguette sandwiches, the banh mi. 

This is truly the global food area ... how about some Brazilian cuisine? The chicken spinning on the rotisserie gave off such tempting smells. 

If you're up for a  bossa nova beat, you can linger at Pukio where you can even learn to play 
Latin music.  The llamas are friendly too.

You can also indulge in Indian and Nepalese fare served in a restaurant appropriately called Inpal. 

While cars are free to pass on the side streets surrounding the shotengai, the covered areas are pedestrian only thoroughfares with a few delivery vehicles allowed in.  Watch out for the bikes though as the residents bring their mamachari bikes when they go shopping. 

At the end of the street is Fureai Plaza with a huge statue of the maneki neko, 
the "waving" cat that is a symbol of luck and good fortune.  Come in to the shotengai, it seems 
to say.  Come in and leave your fortune behind in the many stores inside.

I ran away from the maneki neko before he could beckon more money from my wallet and found myself in Banshoji street, another  part of the Osu Shopping district.

The stores here were larger and  featured well known Japanese brands.  I missed the slow paced vintage feel of Nioumon Street, with its quaint, old-fashioned stores. 

Looking for shoes?  You can always find something at ABC Mart, the mega shoe chain found everywhere in Japan.

It was nearly lunchtime and more shoppers had arrived.  Shotengai cater basically to locals so you 
are generally spared the jostling, pushy mobs of foreign tourists buying everything they can get their hands on.

The are contemporary everyday fashion along Banshoji street. There are vintage clothing shops 
and even some stores that are branches of well known shops in Tokyo

More shops loomed ahead and I could have gone on and on but I had to get back to Nagoya 
station to catch the shinkansen to Tokyo.  I would have to explore Shintenchi street some other time. 
Good bye for now, Osu Shopping District  -- certainly the biggest shotengai I  had ever seen in Japan. 


The Osu shotengai is well signposted and laid out in an orderly grid.  You may lose yourself in the shopping but you will certainly not get lost.  Here's a map of the area that I got from  

Happy shopping!

Friday, February 16, 2018

Nagoya in 24 hours Part 5 - The Osu Kannon Temple and Kobo Daishi


Having accomplished one shrine visit, I left Atsuta Jingu to head for Osu Kannon, a local temple belonging to the Shingon sect of Buddhism. 
This is the sect that Kobo Daishi, my favourite Buddhist saint founded in the 9th century. 
I had read that he was said to have carved the temple's main statue of the goddess of mercy,  
Kannon and I was not about to miss a chance to see it.  It seemed that on this trip, I kept "running into" Kobo Daishi.  Perhaps I was not travelling solo at all. 

Since I had to be in Tokyo by mid afternoon, the fastest way and most convenient way to get from southern Nagoya to Osu in the eastern part of the city,  was by cab.  Vowing to make budget slashes elsewhere on the trip,   I hopped  into a waiting cab and gave the driver my (distant) destination.

The taxi driver took me right to the front of the temple, at the bright orange Deva Gate.  
Tokugawa Ieyasu himself chose this site for the temple,  moving it here in the 17th century from its original location.   The earliest temple buildings were destroyed by floods and wars so the current buildings that you see were reconstructed in the 1900s.  

Two fierce, warrior  looking statues flank each side of the gate.  These are the Deva Kings -- 
tasked by Buddha as guardians of the earth -- protecting us all from evil and malevolent spirits.  
It's comforting to see them still on the job.                   

There are a number of buildings in the temple grounds -- this is the Main Hall, the Daihiden where you can see the the goddess of mercy Kannon on the altar.  Below the Daihiden is the
Shinpukuji Bunko Library where over 15,000 ancient Japanese and Chinese texts are kept, 
some of them are National Treasures. 

I climbed the stone staircase of the Daihiden to view the statue of Kannon.   Before entering the hall, I lit some incense sticks from the fire in a large brass urn as an offering to the goddess of mercy.

Osu Kannon is very popular in Nagoya. One of the reasons may be the famous wooden statue of Kannon said to have been carved by Kobo Daishi himself.
This morning, worshippers were praying at the altar when I arrived.  Unfortunately, photos were 
not allowed inside the hall. 
The statue of the goddess of mercy is placed in the middle of an ornate altar and is not very big.  
It is a beautiful depiction of Kannon showing her serene and kind face.  
The statue stands on a lotus flower and is flanked by more giant gold lotus blooms.   
The lotus is a symbol of purity in Buddhism. 
Kobo Daishi says that even in muddy waters, a lovely flower like the lotus can flourish.  
Thus, he exhorts us to strive to be virtuous even while surrounded by the dross of daily life. 

After praying to Kannon and  Kobo Daishi, I headed down to the temple office where I was able to get my goshuincho inscribed with the temple's seal. It is a printed keepsake of finding Kobo Daishi, seemingly everywhere,  on this trip to Nagoya


Thursday, February 15, 2018

Nagoya in 24 Hours Part 4 - I visited Atsuta Jingu, a Shinto shrine and found Kobo Daishi

On the plane on my way to my first visit to Nagoya, I opened a guidebook and started to read about the city (cramming was more like it). 
One thing that stood out was that one of the top recommended local attractions was a major Shinto shrine,  Atsuta Jingu.  
Sugoi desu yo!  Shrines and temples are some of my favourite places to walk through.  
I enjoy their serene and spiritual spaces. 
I did not realise when I set out to see Atsuta Jingu, that not only would I see an important shrine, 
I would also be "tracing" the footsteps of my favourite Buddhist saint, Kobo Daishi.

Atsuta Jingu  in the southern part of Nagoya is easily reached via subway or train.  I took
the Meitetsu Limited Express train from Nagoya Station, the same line that goes all the way 
to Nagoya Centrair Airport.  Just two stops later, I was at the Meitetsu Jingumae station, just a few minutes walk from the shrine.

At the crosswalk, I came upon this monk with his begging bowl.  It isn't very common to see monks begging in the streets in Japan.  To give alms  is considered an act of virtue so I dropped some coins in his bowl.  He bowed and started to chant some sutras.  I could hear his soft voice even as I walked away. 

This being July, the weather was hot and quite humid.   I was happy to see many trees in the shrine grounds, I would at least have some respite from the sun's rays.

The shrine occupies a sizeable acreage with the buildings spread out over spacious grounds.

I walked through the gate under the shade of countless trees.  The traffic noise from the road quickly evaporated and  even the temperature seemed to drop by a few degrees.  

One of the first buildings I saw was the Amulet Office where visitors can arrange for Shinto services, buy tokens, charms, souvenirs and amulets.  This is also where I got my goshuincho or temple and shrine seal book inscribed by a shrine priest.  

This is an ema -- a wooden plaque commonly sold in shrines and temples.  You can write your prayers or wishes on the ema and hang it on specially made racks in the shrine grounds.  
Each temple or shrine has a specific design for its ema, usually the symbol of the place itself.

This is the front or the exterior gate of the main shrine of Atsuta Jingu.  Ordinary visitors cannot 
go beyond this point.  The deity enshrined within is Amaterasu, the Sun Goddess. 
Atsuta Jingu dates way back to the first century.   The shrine buildings look new because  Shinto tradition dictates that major shrines are dismantled and rebuilt every 25 years.  
After the  Ise shrine in Mie (which I had also visited a few years ago)  Atsuta Jingu is the second largest Shinto shrine in Japan.

This is the door to the main shrine or the Hongu,  about 100 meters from where visitors stand.  
No one is allowed through those doors except for very select Shinto priests and sometimes some members of the royal family.   
However, ceremonies are conducted in the grounds in front of the Hongu.   You can see the Shinto priests in white on the right side performing prayers and rituals. 
The Hongu houses one of Japan's three major imperial regalia, a sword called the Kusanagi no Tsuragi.  The presence of this treasure makes Atsuta Jingu one of the three most important shrines 
in Japan. 

I took a walk through the shrine grounds, bowing in front before passing through a massive wooden torii. When walking through the torii, remember not to walk in the middle but walk only along the sides.  The middle path is reserved for the kami or gods.

It was a quiet weekday morning and not too many people were walking around.  In the distance you can see the faint outline of another torii, there are three in the shrine grounds.

A long panel of posters shows the shrine's history and significant events.  Sadly everything is in Japanese, I would have wanted to know more about the place.

You will most likely see these large sake barrels stacked on top of each other at Shinto shrines.  Mostly decorative, these barrels are donated by brewers and serve as some sort of advertising for their brands.  But mainly, sake barrels are present in shrines because sake is the drink of the gods.

This giant camphor tree is protected by a wooden fence and encircled by shimenawa from which shide are hung.  Shimenawa is a straw rope used in purification rituals.  They also denote a sacred 
and holy place.  This ancient camphor tree is said to have been planted by the great Buddhist saint, Kobo Daishi 1,300 years ago!  
I was happily surprised and moved to find Kobo Daishi's presence here in Nagoya. 

Past the sacred camphor tree is this modern building.  This is the  Bunka-den.  
It is the Treasure Hall, a museum for all the valuable artefacts of the shrine. Many of these items 
are designated Important Cultural Assets  and are on display for the people to view and appreciate.

This giant stone lantern seems to have been swallowed up by the surrounding shrubbery.  This is 
the Sakuma-doro stone lantern, another important landmark in Atsuta Jingu's grounds.

If you turn off the main path and walk a bit deeper into the woods, you will find a small stone bridge spanning one of the many streams that meander through Atsuta Jingu.   
Called the Nijugocho Bashi, it is built with 25 stones and is the oldest stone bridge in Nagoya.  
To preserve this centuries old bridge, it is no longer used except perhaps for important ceremonies and festivals.

Crossing the stream, I came upon this blissful scene ...  lush greenery around a sun dappled pond 
complete with a lovely wooden pavilion that seemed to float above the water.    
Ducks floated lazily and several turtles were sunbathing on a large rock.  
I saw a stone bench and sat down on the cool surface.  I stayed for as long as I could, enjoying 
this grace filled moment -- saying a quiet prayer of thanks to the kami sama of Atsuta Jingu and 
of course, to Kobo Daishi.