Great Kanto Earthquake

How The Allied Occupation Helped Promote The Popularity Of Tokyo Style Nigiri Sushi

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When the Allied forces arrived in Japan in 1945 for what was to be the seven year military occupation, there was little doubt that the country would be changed forever. However, some traditions were retained in an effort to maintain Japanese culture.  One of these traditions was sushi.

The earliest form of sushi in Japan was called narezushi (salted fish).  Fish was stored in fermented rice for long periods of time without spoiling and provided an important source of protein in the Japanese diet. The sushi we are familiar with today is called nigiri sushi.  It had its origins in Edo (Tokyo). A restaurant owner named Hanaya Yohei is credited with having invented this type of sushi during the 19th century.  The Edo people were known for their busy lifestyle and lack of patience, therefore many fast food businesses began cropping up. Nigiri sushi, which was known as Edomaezushi at the time, was a type of fast food, conveniently shaped to be eaten by hand and no longer reliant on the fermentation process utilized by narezushi.

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While nigiri quickly became the most popular style of sushi in Edo, it did not immediately dominate the sushi landscape as it does today. There were two events which aided the popularity of nigiri sushi outside of Tokyo: one was the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923 and the other was the military occupation of Japan in 1945.  The earthquake caused many people to leave Tokyo and return to their hometowns.  Among these were the various sushi chefs who opened restaurants upon returning home and served Edomaezushi to their clientele. In post-war Japan, many sushi shops were forced to close due to the rice rationing at the time and not allowed to reopen.

Eventually it was impressed upon the American Forces General Headquarters that the sushi restaurants should be allowed to reopen as sushi was an important part of Japanese culture.  When the restaurants reopened however, they had to adhere to one strict rule.  That rule was that the patrons were to bring in their own rice rations for the sushi.  One cup of rice was to be used to make ten pieces of sushi hence the nigiri sushi shrunk in size.  In pre-war Japan, nigiri sushi was three times larger.

Eventually the same system was implemented throughout Japan and Tokyo style nigiri became Japan’s predominant form of sushi.

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Japan: Tokyo, Kita Ward (Kyu-Furukawa Gardens)

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Located in the Kita Ward of Tokyo, is an urban oasis combining both the Western and Japanese style landscaping. Built in 1917 by British architect, Josiah Conder, Kyu-Furukawa Gardens was once the home of the prominent Meiji diplomat, Mutsu Munemitsu. Conder’s other works include the Rokumeikan Hall and the Holy Resurrection Cathedral (Nikolai-do) in Tokyo.

With an area of over seven acres, the gardens feature a Western-style building which served as Munemitsu’s residence from 1844-1887, a rose garden and a traditional Japanese stone garden, which was designed by Jihei Ogawa. The northern part of the garden lies on the slopes of the Musashino Hills, while the Japanese garden and its pond are situated in the lower southern part.

When Munemitsu’s second son was adopted by Baron Toranosuke Furukawa, the third-generation head of the renowned Furukawa zaibatsu, the property was turned over to his family and they remained in residence from 1887-1940. The gardens were opened to the public on April 30, 1956.

The Western-style home is designed in the style of classic British aristocratic residences, with the facade featuring andesite stones. The building was used in 1923 to accommodate refugees from the Great Kanto Earthquake. Currently it houses the Otani Art Museum Foundation.

The Western-style rose garden is designed as a terraced garden. The roses are in full bloom during the spring and autumn months.

The Japanese garden features a pond (Shinji-ike) shaped like the Chinese character for heart, “ji” (心) or “shin” in kanji. Several stone lanterns, pagodas and a waterfall measuring 10 ft. in height are arranged around the pond to create the illusion of a cliff and a river gorge in the mountains.

Across the pond, there is a karetaki or dry waterfall created with granite and other rocks. Karetaki is one of the elements of karesansui, a Japanese rock garden representing mountains and water using rocks and gravel.

If you happen to be in the Kita Ward, why not visit the Kyu-Furukawa Gardens and see how the Japanese managed to blend both traditional and Western-style designs in such a wonderful way. You will walk away relaxed and filled with wonderment.

Furukawa Gardens is a seven-minute walk from Kaminakazato Station on the JR Keihin Tohoku Line and 12 minutes on foot from the Komagome Station on the JR Yamanote Line.

The gardens are open to the public daily from 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM. (Closed from Dec. 29 to Jan. 1.) General admission ¥150 (¥70 for those over 65 years old and free for elementary school students and junior high and high school students residing in Tokyo).

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Shinji ike (pond)

Pond

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Photo credits: Kenichi Yoshifuji

Japan: Tokyo (Ginza)

Today, many people know that the Ginza district in Tokyo is home to numerous upscale shopping, dining and entertainment venues.  But before one square meter of land in the district’s center became valued at well over ten million yen, Ginza was a swamp, which was filled in during the 16th century. Its name was derived from the silver coin mint established there in 1612 during the Edo period. (Ginza means silver mint in Japanese.)

A fire destroyed most of the area in 1872 from which point the Meiji government designated Ginza as an area for modernization.  The government planned the construction of fireproof European-style brick buildings and larger, improved streets connecting the Shimbashi Station to the Tsukiji and important government buildings. In 1873, a Western-style shopping promenade on the street from the Shinbashi Bridge to the Kyobashi Bridge was completed. It wasn’t until after the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923 that Ginza developed into the upscale shopping district it is known for today.

Most of the European-style buildings have disappeared over the years, but some of the older buildings still remain.  The most prominent being the Wako building with its iconic Hattori Clock Tower. The building and clock tower were originally built by Kintaro Hattori, the founder of Seiko.

Having evolved into a prominent outpost of western luxury shops in recent years, Ginza is a popular destination on weekends, when the central Chuo-dori Street is closed to traffic. The traffic blockade began in the 1960s under Governor Ryokichi Minobe. The closure takes place from 2:00 PM to 5:00 PM on Saturdays and from 12:00 PM to 5:00 PM on Sundays (until 6:00 PM from April-September). Ginza is where shoppers and tourists can find the infamous $10 cups of coffee and virtually every leading brand name in fashion and cosmetics.

Aside from the shopping and dining, another popular destination in Ginza is the Kabuki-za, the premier theater in Tokyo for the traditional Kabuki drama.

The original Kabuki-za was a wooden structure that came into being in 1889. It was destroyed and rebuilt several times due to fires, earthquakes and World War II raids. The current Kabuki-za underwent a transformation beginning April 30, 2010 where the façade was retained but a 29-story modern building was added to house the theater and commercial office space.  The theater was reopened to the public on April 2, 2013.

Shopping may not be your primary goal when visiting Japan, but the Ginza District is definitely worth browsing when you are there.  If you have time, try and catch a performance at the Kabuki-za if one is available. Your travels in Ginza will definitely provide you with experiences which you cannot find anywhere else.

The famous Ginza District of Tokyo

The famous Ginza District of Tokyo

Ginza sparkles at night

Ginza sparkles at night

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The historic Wako building with its iconic Hattori Clock Tower

The historic Wako building with its iconic Hattori Clock Tower

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The famous, upscale Mitsukoshi Department Store

The famous, upscale Mitsukoshi Department Store

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Ginza Café on Fourth Street

Ginza Café on Fourth Street

Even in Ginza, plastic displays of menu offerings prevail

Even in Ginza, plastic displays of menu offerings prevail

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A trendy tourist destination, you will find many tour buses crowding the already congested streets of Ginza

A trendy tourist destination, you will find many tour buses crowding the already congested streets of Ginza

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