Kawasaki Daishi Heikenji Temple (Kawasaki Daishi Sama) is the headquarters of the Chizan sect of Shingon Buddhism and was founded in 1128. The temple was destroyed during the Pacific War — the current structures are reconstructions of the Heian Period buildings.
Kawasaki Daishi is a popular destination for hatsumode, the first temple visit of the new year. Nearly 3m people visit Kawasaki Daishi for hatsmode each year, making it the third most popular such destination in Japan. In addition, the temple is known as “Yakuyoke No Odaishi-sama” for its rituals devoted to yakuyoke, the warding off of evil.
Kawasaki Daishi lies just a few hundred meters from the western abutment of the eponymous Kawasaki Daishi Bashi (bridge) over the Tamagawa River separating Tokyo from Kanagawa Prefecture, near Haneda at the river’s outlet into Tokyo Bay. Entrance to the temple area is through a vermilion gate which opens onto a marketplace of shops featuring traditional Japanese hard candy, soba and daruma.
The candy makers beat their knives against the cutting board in rhythm to attract customers.
Once past the marketplace, the entrance to the temple is via Dai-Sanmon Gate, housing the traditional dharmapala figures.
As the headquarters of a major Buddhist sect, Kawasaki Daishi often has displays of religious artifacts and artworks. One such artwork on permanent display is the statue “Prayer For Peace”, by Entsubakatsuzō Kōbōdaishi (installed 1984).
Kawasaki Daishi can become very crowded during festivals and hatsumode. On the other hand, it can be surprisingly quiet, even on a weekend when the food stalls are out with the hawkers practicing their English on passers-by. Although at first glance the temple does not appear large, in fact there is a number of halls and facilities, each with its own purpose.
I’d been biking in Japan for years, mostly up and down the Tamagawa, when I stumbled across this brilliant short loop route that takes in a lot of famous Tokyo sites. On the downside, the ride is almost entirely in traffic. Riding on a Sunday minimized this in some places, but others (e.g., Ginza) will be busy no matter when you go.
I pick up the route where it brushes the corner of Shinjuku Gyoen and continues down through Sendagaya to Gaien. Along the way it passes the construction for the new Olympic stadium.
From Gaien we continue down through Midtown and Roppongi before coming to a fairly open view of Tokyo Tower in Azabu.
From Tokyo Tower it’s a bit of a climb and then a long lateral across and through Azabu and Toronomon to Kasumigaseki, with all the government ministries.
The Ministry of Justice is at a corner adjacent to the Sakuradamon gate of the Imperial Palace. Rounding the corner, we come to Hibiya Park, which is an opportunity to fill up the water bottle before striking out in heavy traffic towards Ginza.
Braving the traffic, we continue southwest through Ginza and then past the Kabukiza. We had to cross to the other side to get a good photo as the theatre comes right up to the pavement.
Next in quick succession come the world-famous Tsukiji Fish Market (although there’s not much to see as it’s closed on Sundays) and the Sumida River.
It’s still a long, straight stretch to Odaiba, which we reach after a gentle but prolonged climb up Harumi Ohashi (bridge). The Rainbow bridge is visible off to the right from Harumi Ohashi, but don’t bother to stop and take photos here. By continuing right on Ariaki Avenue, on the first and only cycle path we’ll encounter along the route, we’ll come to a much better view.
We were passed by the Mario Cart tourists as we took this photo, but we can’t guarantee you’ll have the same luck.
As Odaiba is entirely reclaimed land in Tokyo Bay, it’s very flat and there’s nothing to protect us from the wind except the few buildings here — rather sparsely constructed compared to the situation we just left behind as we crossed Sumida River. At least we can’t claim it was both uphill and against the wind.
Another turn by the ferry terminal brings us to Tokyo Big Sight and an opportunity to dismount and fuel up on onigiri at a nice shaded bench by the side of a park. There’s a 7-11 right here to provide both the onigiri and fresh, bottled water (and there’s a water fountain as well for those less picky).
With the lunch break over, we continue past Tokyo Big Sight and turn again towards one of the many channels and passageways of the Sumida River. To the left we’re treated to a serene view of the polluted Toyosu Fish Market, and — in a bit of luck — a water skier!
Back across to the mainland (via a much lower bridge) we have another long, straight dash (OK, a couple of jogs left to be honest) in traffic before reaching Ryogoku, where we pass the Edo Tokyo Museum before coming to Ryogoku Kokugikan, Tokyo’s sumo arena. And we’re in luck! It’s the summer basho and all the flags are flying. (And just our luck — the sumo walked by in bright pink, blue and yellow yukata the moment we put the camera away.)
Now follows another long stretch in a lot of traffic to take us back west, aiming for the opposite side of the Imperial Palace this time. Along the way we pass the sporting goods stores in Kanda and then the famous used book district, and that’s the signal we’re just about to reach the last big attractions of the day. It’s a bit of a workout to go from Kundanshita (lower Kudan) up to Kudanue (upper Kudan), but we like to make it to the top before turning back and coasting down the sidewalk to Chidori-ga-fuchi and Budokan.
Apparently it’s permissible to cycle through the famous Tayasumon gate into Budokan, but we prefer to dismount and enjoy the views of the cherry trees lining the path, as well as the reflections of the sunlight in the ripples of Chidori-ga-fuchi.
There’s one more attraction, if you will, just a bit further on and on the opposite side of the street: the justly infamous Yasukuni Shrine. We prefer to pass it by, pausing just long enough to shoot a photo through the gate for the purpose of this exposition.
Finally, we’re nearing our starting point. After a couple of brief hills it’s another long, straight shot back towards Shinjuku Gyoen. That completes the loop, but we continue on just a bit farther past Shinjuku Station to see the Tokyo Metropolitan Government building towering over Central Park.
Our petit Tour de Tokyo is a fun ride overall despite being in traffic (heavy traffic at times). Within a few hours we see lots of famous Tokyo attractions, and at the same time get a new understanding of where things are in relation to one another which is hard to come by for the daily subway commuter. The roads are paved and mostly flat, and the plus side of dodging in traffic is fewer encounters with pedestrians compared to the Tamagawa cycling path. The course is also brief enough that there’s no worry about running out of daylight, regardless of the season.
The Nakaminato Fish Market, just a stone’s throw from the famous Oarai Isosaki Shrine on the edge of a natural harbor, offers a fantastic variety of the freshest seafood possible. Make your choice early for great seafood in one of the restaurants arrayed in the abbreviated mall or even fresher offerings from the food stalls lined up near the waterfront.
The crowds form up early for both the restaurants and the food stalls, mingling with the hawkers, the purchasers and the forklifts carrying loads of ice to preserve the catch.
Do yourself a favor: pass up the comforts of seating dining and savour the delicacies of the food stalls (屋台): fresh oysters the size of both your hands clasped together, crabs stewed in their shells and flatfish that are so fresh they’re still trying to leap out of the bucket. You can check the calendar to see what’s fresh at any given time. (Japanese only.)
A 10-minute walk from Nakaminato Station on the Hitachinaka Kaihin Minato Line.
Ashikaga Flower Park is a flower theme park established in 1997 in Ashikaga, Tochigi. The park is renowned for its hundreds of wisteria, with the most famous being the 150-year-old “Hazama no Fuji (迫間のフジ),” which spreads over more than 1,000 square meters. Other wisteria are formed into tunnels up to 80 meters long which guests can pass through, a half dome resembling an orchestra shell, and walls which serve as backdrops for floral tableaux.
The highlight of the year comes from mid-April through May with the blooming of the wisteria. The park remains open until 9 p.m. during the season and illuminates the wisteria in the evening to create a colorful fantasy in the dusk. The park can be very crowded at this season, particularly during the Golden Week holidays, and visitors should expect some waiting in line for parking spaces and admission.
To provide a beautiful and interesting experience throughout the year, Ashikaga Flower Park marks “Eight Floral Seasons” such as “Spring Flower Festival” and “Water Nymphs (Water Lilies)”. The basic details of the seasons are available at the park’s English page, but the full details are given in Japanese only.
Other types of flowers at the park include Christmas rose, tulips, crocus, azaleas, hydrangea, sage and pansies.
Admission and access
The park is open from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., with longer hours for some events such as the wisteria illumination. The admission price varies with the season and the condition of the flowers. At the peak it is ¥1,700 for adults and ¥800 for children. Check the website for details. Ashikaga Flower Park is about a 13-minute walk from the Tomita station (100 minutes from Tokyo via the Keihin Tohoku and JR Ryomo lines). Additional access information is available on the park’s website.