Walking Through Japanese History With Paul Christie


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  • Japan is a country that is steeped in history and culture. Among the high-tech skyscrapers and the neon-lit shopping areas are remnants of a glorious past. In this episode, take a walk through the majestic Imperial Palace located in the heart of Tokyo with Paul Christie from Walk Japan. He leads a fascinating walking tour of the Imperial Palace, citing its historical significance and the role it played in establishing Tokyo as the economic center of Japan.
  • Anthony also talks to Juju Kurihara from Iromegane about the Shichi-go-san Festival, which translates into English as 7-5-3 and celebrates the coming of age of young children.

Shichi-Go-San Festival

In the studio, Anthony is joined by Juju Kurihara from Iromegane, which documents the history, culture, and people of Japan. They discuss in particular the Shichi-Go-San or 7-5-3 Festival that is celebrated every November 15. On this day, one would see many Japanese families taking their children dressed in kimono to the shrine.

In the early days of Japan, it was difficult for parents to bring up children. Some kids do not grow into adults; mostly die due to sickness. It was there that Japanese people started regarding their little ones as a gift from gods which they get to keep until the children reach 7 years old. They bring them to the jinja or shrine to thank the gods. When the kids turn 7, they are accepted into society and are finally regarded as humans!

The practice dates back to the Heian period when noble people would dress up children aged 3, 5, and 7 years old in beautiful kimonos. Some ages are believed to bring bad luck. To get rid of bad luck, they follow some superstitions habits. For example, little boys and girls have their hair shaved off because they can get bad things from it. Parents would only let them grow their hair once they reach the age of 3. At the age of 5, boys start to wear hakama, a type of kimono that look like trousers. Meanwhile, the age of 7 is for girls. They finally get to wear an obi or a wider belt with the kimono.

The children are also given white and pink stick candies called Chitose ame. These are placed in little bags that have drawings of turtles and cranes. These symbolize the desire for children to grow a long and healthy life, just like turtles and cranes which can live for a thousand years.

You can catch these kids in their traditional garb at the Meiji Jingu near Harajuku station in Tokyo or just about any local shrine in the area.

Tracing Ancient Japan in Tokyo

Anthony leaves the studio and visits the Imperial Palace located in the middle of Tokyo. Together with Paul Christie, CEO of WalkJapan, a company for off the beaten walking tours in Japan, they trace back the remnants and significance of the old capital Edo which is now modern-day Tokyo.

They come to the heart of the old shogun’s palace which is part of the Imperial Palace grounds open to the public. This is where Japan’s seat of power was held for nearly 300 years through the shogunate or military dictatorship of Tokugawa Ieyasu. The castle grounds were actually wider since it included the barracks and residential areas where the daimyos of Japan also lived. One would see the stone works surrounding the palace. Even amongst modern buildings, one would find more stone works if you know where to go.

A large stone structure is a base of what was once the Edo Castle tenshukaku. Edo was known as the city of fire as many fires broke out in the city. For nearly 3 months, large parts of the city disappeared in flames and more people died here than the Nagasaki and Hiroshima bombing! This left the shogun’s palace with almost nothing, though some buildings were reconstructed. The large-scale buildings showcased the power of the Shogunate. Kyoto and Osaka were ruled by another powerful daimyo Toyotomi Hideyoshi. The emperor meanwhile was simply installed in the capital Kyoto where the center of tradition is. They effectively moved the capital to Edo by making the Meiji emperor visit the new Tokyo now and then until he no longer went back.

The city was built to establish its authority over the country. Within a short space of time, the small marshy area grew into a base for power and wealth. Peace reigned and Edo culture flourished in its heydays, with art practitioners coming to the city.

So what caused its downfall? Paul speculates people eventually wanted change. As some were not favored by the Tokugawa clan and were suppressed, they began to seek more power and influence in the way things were run. There was also the advent of foreigners coming in. Samurais not connected to the shogunate sent their people to the west to study politics, economics, cultural affairs, and like. These traders supported those clans that would go against the shogunate. The young and best ones who went abroad ran the country soon after the Meiji restoration in 1969 when Tokugawa fell and modern Japan started to rise.

The walking tour tells the story of Tokyo and how it was brought to life through the sites it visits. Not only do they tell a story with just the shogun’s perspective, but they also talk about the towns people’s lives. People all over Japan, particularly craftsmen, had to be brought to Edo to build it and live there. An example of this is the big department store Mitsukoshi in which its merchant’s roots can be traced back to Kyoto.

Walk Japan offers many kinds of tours across Japan for students, companies, and other visitors. It is an excellent way to know the history and ways in Japan. They have different scheduled tours throughout the year. They also do interesting, custom tours like gourmet tours!

Paul states that often overlooked in Japan tourism are the people themselves. He regards the Japanese people as the real beauty of the country. While it’s great to see these fantastic icons of Japan, these can easily be overshadowed by the Japanese people who are kind, helpful, very safe, and pleasant to be around. This gives foreigners often with a desire to come back.

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