Trains, trees and more shrines.
We started our day trip to Omiya at the space theater near Omiya station. The space theater was hidden inside a big building, but unfortunately the theater itself was not very interesting. Thus we did not stay there for a long time and went to Omiya Park instead.
To get to Omiya Park from Omiya station, you will walk around the city for a while (approximately 20 minutes). After that you will see two gates. After entering the first gate, a road covered by trees leads to the second gate. When you go through the second gate, you have entered Omiya Park.
You can find all sorts of small shrines in the entrance part of the park. In the picture below you can see two Japanese people paying their respects. One of the persons inside the small building, a traditionally dressed and painted man, was doing some sort of ritual. I think it was some sort of blessing, but I do not know for sure.
The other parts of the park contain a lot of green, statues and trees. There is also another pond in the Northwest corner of the park and you can even go to the zoo inside of the park.
Dredging water by hand
Right before we entered the Hikawa Shrine, we walked over a small bridge with water on both sides. They were dredging the water. As a Dutch person, I’m pretty used to see water being dredged or cleaned. In the Netherlands big machines are used to clean ponds and (little) lakes. But in all of my life, I have never seen it being done like this: a pipe operated by hand. This Japanese guy was standing in the center of the water and using a pipe to suck up all of the mud. The Japanese people keep on impressing and amazing me.
Drinking tea in the Hikawa Shrine
When we entered the Hikawa Shrine, a Japanese woman immediately started talking to us, asking if we wanted to have some tea. They offered tea to everyone who was walking inside. You were able to sit there, covered from the drizzle rain, and enjoy some peace while watching the shrine and the surroundings.
The shrine itself is nice and colorful. There are some big trees in the center of the shrine and almost every single person visiting the shrine also touched at least one (and most of the times all) of the trees. Touching as in putting two hands against the tree or even hugging the tree.
While walking to the Bonsai Village, we came across an archery competition. The competitors seemed to be high school girls, dressed in simple robes. They used huge bows for the competition, which was quite funny, because the girls are not that tall (the bows were way taller than the girls).
From what I know of bows, is that bows are symmetrical. During this competition, the bows were not: the top part of the bow is taller than the bottom part of the bow. Bows are called yumi in Japanese. In the English language, yumi refers to the asymmetrical bows that the Japanese people use. These longer bows are called daikyu.
During the competition, 12 girls would line up and tried to shoot their marks. Every single time one of the competitors hit her mark, the girls in the crowd would yell something that was not understandable for me as a novice Japanese speaker.
Home of the Bonsai?
After visiting Omiya park, we had planned to go to the so-called Bonsai Village. We thought that we would be able to see something like a garden with only Bonsai trees in it. We were a little bit mistaken about that: Bonsai Village is a neighborhood around Omiya, where the people have lots of bonsai trees in their back yards. You can see some parts of the gardens if you look closely, but most of the bonsai trees were not that visible from the streets.
The Bonsai Village in Omiya was established by a group of professional bonsai gardeners who moved from Tokyo to Omiya after the Great Kanto Earthquake (1923). Near the Bonsai Village is the Bonsai Art Museum. Here you can have a good look at different kinds of bonsai trees.
Bonsai Art Museum
The Bonsai Art Museum is really close by the Bonsai Village. The museum starts with an explanation about bonsai trees in general: what are they, how do the grow in these fascinating shapes, the ages of the trees (there were trees that were older than 100 years! That’s so old for such a small tree!), different species of bonsai trees, et cetera. Even if you are not really into museums, this museum is just awesome and you should definitely visit it!
There were also compositions of rooms to be seen. Every room contained at least one bonsai tree and was arranged and furnished in a way that the tree would look most beautiful in its surroundings. Even though most of the rooms and trees were not allowed to be photographed, there was a special exhibition were you were allowed to take photos.
The inner garden, where you were not allowed to take photos (only from the above terrace), contained stunning bonsai trees. There was a bonsai tree that was 1.6 meters high and that had a width of 1.8 meters (which is kind of impressive for these small trees). There were also really small bonsai trees that would color white in the winter. During the autumn, the leaves of lots of bonsai trees would turn red, orange and yellow colors.
The evolution of trains
In 1872 the first Japanese railway was opened between Tokyo and Yokohama. Since then, a lot of things have changed. Nowadays, trains ride all over Japan. You can get from Tokyo to Kyoto (if you use the fastest Shinkansen/Bullettrain) in about 2 hours and 20 minutes. In comparison: if you drive by car it is at least 5 hours without traffic.
The Japanese Railway Museum, located near Omiya station, hosts a large exhibit of trains. You can see freight trains and passenger trains. You can also read about the entire history of the Japanese Railway.
Shops, shops and more shops!
Last but not least we visited LakeTown. Not the Lake town destroyed by the dragon Smaug, but Aeon LakeTown. Aeon Laketown is the largest shopping center Japan has to offer. It is an enormous building (3 floors) with lots and lots of shops. It even has its own outlet and cinema!
We enjoyed a nice ramen dinner and after that we walked around for another hour or so, until the shops closed. We were not able to see all of the mall, but it is definitely worth it to return some other time!
Visited on the 1st of October, 2016