Tokyo landmark hopping
We exit Hamarikyu Gardens and enter Section 6. The route between Shiba Park and the Imperial Palace presents countless familiar landmarks of Tokyo. Passing directly below Tokyo Tower, we visit two shrines—Atago Jinja and Hie Jinja—and circle the National Diet Building to Kensei Memorial Park. Beyond that appears a distinctive korai-mon structure. This is our goal, the Sakuradamon Gate.
The Shiba Park area is a secret treasure trove of big trees. Among them is a Japanese bay tree estimated to be 200 years old. Here also is Grant’s pine, a Himalayan cedar on the grounds of Zojoji Temple, planted in 1879 by former US President Ulysses S. Grant, who was then nearing the end of his more than two-year global tour. But it’s through the bald branches of the dawn redwood forest around Icho-zaka Slope that we catch glimpses of Tokyo Tower.
Atago Jinja Shrine is perched on Atago Hill, the tallest natural landform in Tokyo’s 23 wards. At 25.7 meters above sea level, the location provided an excellent view of Edo (present-day Tokyo), and the shrine was erected to protect the residents from fire. The grounds are famous for the steep flight of steps known as the “stairway to success.” Next, we stop at Hie Jinja Shrine, in Akasaka. The modernized approach comes complete with an escalator. We pass through the Sanno Torii gate shaped like a mountain and pray at the main hall.
Of all the shrines we visited in TTT, this one is situated closest to the center of Tokyo, and yet its tutelary deity is the monkey, the guardian of mountains and nature. We feel a curious connection to this irony as we wander through the trees from all 47 prefectures planted around the National Diet Building. As we pass through the contrasting Japanese and Western style gardens in the Kensei Memorial Park, the Sakuradamon Gate comes into view. Here we take our final steps in the pine grove at Kokyo Gaien National Garden and, reaching our goal, pause in reflection: “This is the first time I came to the Imperial Palace on foot. The Sakuradamon Gate feels fresh” (Mori). “I didn’t even realize the pines in the garden were so well tended” (Ikeuchi).
Although we have already arrived at our goal, we go a bit farther to the “Kubikake ginkgo” at Hibiya Park. Kubikake means to put one’s neck on the line, to risk everything for a cause, which is what the forest designer of Meiji Jingu, Dr. Seiroku Honda, did to save this ginkgo from being cut down. The fine branches and stout trunk will be dressed in a bright yellow gown come autumn.
• Shiba Park
• Daihonzan Zojoji Temple
• Atago Jinja Shrine
• Kamiyacho Ryokudo
• Hie Jinja Shrine
• Kensei Memorial Park
• Kokyo Gaien National Garden
• Hibiya Park