In Oct. 2018, I visited Toyooka, Hyogo Prefecture for the first time. Famous for the Oriental white stork, Toyooka turned out to be a great tourist town with lots to see besides the beautiful storks. Toyooka is about a 2.5-hour express train ride north of Osaka or Kyoto Station.
First on my list for Toyooka was the Hyogo Park of the Oriental White Stork (兵庫県立コウノトリの郷公園). The Oriental White Stork Park is a short bus ride from JR Toyooka Station (JR San’in Line). Free admission. http://www.stork.u-hyogo.ac.jp/
The Oriental White Stork Park is in the middle of rice paddies near some mountains. It is a bird sanctuary, college research facility, stork museum, and tourist attraction (gift shops).
Once found all over Japan, the Oriental white stork (“kounotori” in Japanese) became extinct in the wild in Japan in 1971 despite preservation efforts since 1955. Toyooka was where the last living Oriental white stork in Japan died in 1986. Pesticides in rice paddies (where they feed) and other environmental problems caused their demise.
In 1985, six wild Oriental white stork chicks from the USSR (Khabarovsk) were acquired to be raised in Toyooka. From 1989, the birds from Russia started to breed successfully in captivity in Toyooka every year. From 2005, the park started releasing Oriental white storks into the wild in Toyooka, which was a great celebration. The birds then started to breed and reproduce in the wild. They’ve been releasing only a few birds (fewer than 5) almost every year.
As of Oct. 2018, Japan has over 140 Oriental white storks in the wild. They are also successfully breeding in Tokushima, Shimane, and Kyoto Prefectures. It’s still an endangered species, with only slightly over 2,000 of them in the Far East.
The Oriental White Stork Park keeps nine storks in an open cage (no roof), but their wings have been clipped. So all park visitors are guaranteed to see storks here.
One half of the open cage has these terraced paddies where the park feeds the birds once a day. The storks are carnivores, feeding on fish, frogs, snakes, rabbits, mice, etc. The park feeds them mainly fish.
The best time to visit the park is during the feeding time 9:30 am–10 am. Park staff throw small dead fish into the paddies. The storks then go to the paddies and feed. A few wild storks also fly in to feed.
The storks’ feeding time also attracts unwanted birds like the grey heron (always fighting each other), crows, and black kites trying to steal fish.
The park and adjacent area have nesting platforms. Each nesting platform has a video camera monitoring it 24/7 especially during the egg-laying and hatching season in spring. More Oriental white stork photos here: https://photoguide.jp/pix/thumbnails.php?album=1038
If you take a local bus from JR Toyooka Station to the Oriental white stork park, you may ride a bus that looks like a bag. Toyooka is a major producer of bags. It even has a street named “Caban (Bag) Street” with a number of bag shops.
My next stop in Toyooka was Kinosaki Onsen (城崎温泉), only a 10-min. train ride from JR Toyooka Station. It’s one of the best onsen I’ve ever visited in Japan. It’s picturesque, and the main highlight are the seven public hot spring baths (sotoyu 外湯). They are all distinctly different, the baths, decor, etc. A few of them look palatial. Guests who stay at a ryokan in Kinosaki Onsen can visit all seven public baths for free. But daytrippers like me have to pay admission for each one, costing ¥600 or ¥700. However, they have a public bath day pass for only ¥1,200 (外湯めぐり券). Use it to enter all seven. Great deal! Definitely one of the best bargains in Japan!
Kinosaki Onsen has a long history of 1,300 years. A favorite hot spring for centuries. Lots to see and do. All the attractions are within walking distance from Kinosaki Onsen Station. Compact hot spring town.
Another must-see in Toyooka is Izushi (出石), a short bus ride from JR Toyooka Station. Izushi was town that merged with Toyooka. There’s the Shinkoro Clock Tower, Izushi Castle, and Eirakukan kabuki theater. Izushi soba noodles are also the local favorite. Many soba shops. All the major sights are within walking distance from the Izushi bus terminal.
You should spend at least two days in Toyooka. The Oriental white stork park and Izushi on one day, and Kinosaki Onsen on another day. Toyooka Station also has the Kyoto Tango Railway that runs to Amanohashidate in northern Kyoto. Lots to see and explore in this area.
Visited the new Toyosu Market on the second day (Oct. 15, 2018) it opened to the public. It’s proving to be massively popular among the curious and sushi lovers. This blog post is for people who plan to visit the market. So you know what to expect.
Toyosu Market is near Shijo-mae Station (seen on the left above) on the Yurikamome Line that runs between Shimbashi and Toyosu Stations.
The official website provides this very basic map of Toyosu Market. There are three blocks/buildings all connected to each other and to Shijo-mae Station via pedestrian overpasses. The red lines on this map show the pedestrian overpass to each block. All three buildings have a long tourist corridor with picture windows to see inside the market.
When the market is open (closed on Sun.), tourists can tour the three Toyosu Market buildings from 5 am to 5 pm. However, there’s not much market action after late morning.
Besides the markets, there are sushi restaurants. The problem with this map is that it doesn’t show where the restaurants are. They are in Blocks 6 and 7. Very crowded though.
Block 7 is where the tuna auctions are held, but the public won’t be able to see the auction area until next Jan. But if you come here by 6 am or so, you should be able to see some tuna being hauled away on the floor. This block also has some restaurants.
Block 6 is the largest building of the three. This is where the sold tuna is carved up. This building also has a large sushi restaurant area that is not indicated on this map. The upper floor also has little shops (Uogashi Yokocho Market) for people who work at the market. They sell knives, tea, etc., and also sell to the public, but the shops close by 2 pm or so.
Block 5 is the fruit and vegetable market. Least crowded. No restaurants inside.
Nice bilingual (Japanese and English) explanatory panels in the corridors. At 2 am, they unload the tuna here. At 4 am, buyers examine the tuna and assess the bid price. At 4:30 am, auction starts. At 7 am, the buyers are busy hauling away the tuna.
Block 6’s restaurant section is the larger one at Toyosu Market. However, all the restaurants were totally crowded with people by 1:30 pm. Many restaurants that were at Tsukiji moved here or opened a branch here. Wanna wait 1 to 2 hours for sushi?? Nope, but these people don’t seem to mind.
If you want sushi and don’t want to wait in line, go to the Tsukiji Outer Market instead.
Long lines everywhere for sushi. The restaurants usually sell out by 2 pm, then they close. The huge crowd is either here for the novelty of a new attraction or they may be a strong sign of Toyosu Market’s massive popularity.
I’m afraid the Tsukiji Outer Market will soon be marginalized by Toyosu Market. The market is the heart and soul, and it’s now in Toyosu. The fishmongers in Toyosu are very gung-ho now and really want the Toyosu brand to exceed the old Tsukiji brand.
Block 6 has many windows for tourists, but you can hardly see anything. We can see just a small slit of the market floor. Just a pathway for the people and turret trucks, you don’t see the sellers. However, I was later told that there is also a viewing deck on the first floor where there is a better view.
Block 6’s upper floor has a section of shops called Uogashi Yokocho Market. (This section is not indicated on the official map.) These are small shops catering mainly to market workers. They also sell to the public. However, by 2:00 pm most of the stores were closing.
Since we couldn’t eat sushi at Toyosu Market, we took the train to Toyosu Station two stops away and had a late lunch there instead. Near Toyosu Station is a restaurant called Cafe Haus. It’s a good restaurant. At least we ate in Toyosu.
On a street corner near Toyosu Station is where 7-11’s first store in Japan opened in 1974. It’s still operating here in the same building. Toyosu is quite a new, modern town. Lots of construction still going on. It’s turning out quite well.
With the world-famous Tsukiji fish market moving from Tsukiji to Toyosu in October 2018, Tokyo’s Tsukiji area is undergoing major changes. After 83 years of Tsukiji being synonymous with Tokyo’s fish market, a glorious chapter in Tsukiji’s history has ended.
But every ending has a new beginning. The former fish market’s popular Outer Market with sushi restaurants and shops has been enhanced and will stay put to continue the Tsukiji brand. Also spreading its wings in Tsukiji is the venerable Tsukiji Hongwanji Buddhist Temple (築地本願寺), almost next door to the Outer Market.
Tsukiji Hongwanji is the Tokyo headquarters temple of the Jodo Shinshu Pure Land sect (Hongwanji School 浄土真宗 本願寺派), Japan’s largest Buddhist sect with over 10,000 temples in Japan and over 7 million adherents. It is also the largest traditional Japanese Buddhist sect outside Japan with about 200 temples and groups overseas, mainly in Hawaii (30+) and North and South America (100+). The mother temple is Nishi Hongwanji (World Heritage Site) in Kyoto. Tsukiji Hongwanji employs about 70 priests headed by Ohtani Kojun (大谷光淳 1977– ) who is also the sect’s 25th head priest (Monshu 門主) and descendant of sect founder Shinran (親鸞 1173–1263).
It is not to be confused with Higashi Hongwanji belonging to the Jodo Shinshu Otani School. (Note that “Hongwanji” is pronounced “Honganji.” It is spelled “Hongwanji” because that’s the way it was archaically romanized in the late 19th century when the sect started propagating overseas. It was before standardized romanization [Hepburn system] was popularly adopted in Japan and the sect has not changed this original spelling which remains the official spelling in English.)
Enter Tsukiji Hongwanji’s front gate and behold an imposing Indian-style building unlike any other Buddhist temple in Japan. This is the main worship hall (Hondo) with the center roof having a barrel vault, shaped like a Bodhi tree leaf containing a lotus flower design. The design is similar to the Ajanta Buddhist Caves (Cave 9) in India. It is complemented by stupas on the left and right ends of the building.
Built in 1934 in ferroconcrete, the Hondo was designed by Ito Chuta (伊東 忠太 1867–1954), a renown architect who also designed Meiji Shrine, Yushima Seido, Heian Shrine, Haiseiden, and many other buildings. He had studied architecture in India, China, and Turkey. Tsukiji Hongwanji is one of his greatest masterpieces blending Indian, Western, Islamic, and Japanese design elements. He included many interesting little features like winged lions, animal sculptures, stained glass, and Islamic arches.
The original temple was first built in 1617 near Higashi Nihonbashi and called “Edo Asakusa Mido.” It was destroyed by the Great Meireki Fire in 1657, then relocated and rebuilt on reclaimed land aptly named “Tsukiji” (“built-up land”) in 1679. Called “Tsukiji Gobo” (築地御坊), it was a Japanese-style temple that faced what is now the Outer Market. The Outer Market area was originally a temple town with many secondary temples. Tsukiji Gobo was consumed by fire in 1923 caused by the Great Kanto Earthquake.
The temple was then totally redesigned and rebuilt in 1934 facing the direction it faces today, away from the Outer Market area where only three temples remain today. Tsukiji Hongwanji and the Outer Market have had a long joint history.
During World War II in March 1945, the Hondo luckily missed being firebombed. The Indian-style temple has thus survived to this day. In 2012, the temple’s official name was changed from “Hongwanji Tsukiji Betsuin” to “Tsukiji Hongwanji.” In practice though, people have always referred to it as “Tsukiji Hongwanji.” The nickname is now the official name. It has retained the archaic English spelling of “Hongwanji” (vs. “Honganji”) as part of its official name in English as do the sect’s temples in Hawaii. In 2014, the Hondo, temple gate pillars, and perimeter stone walls were designated as National Important Cultural Properties.
To enter the Hondo, pass the winged lions and go up the center steps to the second floor. The interior is impressive with an ornate ceiling, a large golden altar area, and a huge pipe organ in the back. Instead of tatami mats, there are 550 chairs. No need to take off your shoes. The interior blends Japanese, Jodo Shinshu, Indian, and Western design. Anyone can enter the Hondo for free (open daily 6:00 a.m.–5:00 p.m.). An English brochure is also available.
The large altar is gold to symbolize the Pure Land. The gold leaf was completely redone in 2012 for the first time since the temple was built. The principal object of reverence is a standing Amida Buddha statue in the center. On the left and right of the main altar are secondary altars and sub-chambers for other subjects of reverence. On the right are a secondary altar for sect founder Shinran and a sub-chamber for Prince Shotoku Taishi (574–622) who introduced Buddhism to Japan.
On the left is an altar with a scroll painting of Shonyo (勝如上人 1911–2002), the sect’s 23rd Monshu (during 1927–1977) and former head priest of Tsukiji Hongwanji who widely spread the teachings even overseas. His real name was Kosho Otani (大谷光照), a cousin of the late Emperor Hirohito and the grandfather of the current Monshu. The left sub-chamber has the Seven Jodo Shinshu Patriarchs (scroll paintings) named by Shinran as the key Buddhist monks in India, China, and Japan who helped develop the Jodo Shinshu religion. It is typical for temples of this sect to have secondary altars for Shinran, Shotoku Taishi, and the Seven Jodo Shinshu Patriarchs.
The back of the Hondo has the huge pipe organ with 2,000 pipes. It was donated by the Bukkyo Dendo Kyokai Buddhist propagation society and installed in 1970. Played for weddings, services, and lunchtime concerts on the last Friday of the month at 12:20 p.m.–12:50 p.m.
Another must-see “altar” is the memorial table for hide (pronounced “hee-day”), the legendary guitarist for the heavy metal band X Japan who died at age 33. Ever since his funeral was held at Tsukiji Hongwanji in May 1998 (attended by 50,000), fans have been paying tribute here by leaving memorabilia, letters, photos, and notebooks filled with handwritten messages even in English by foreigners. Perhaps this is the only major temple in Japan to have something like this for a rock star.
On the left of the main temple hall is Mombo Hall (聞法ホール), a small worship hall. This is where the English Service and fellowship is held on the last Saturday of the month at 5:30 p.m.–7:30 p.m. Check their web page for the exact schedule and guest sermon.
In 2017 for its 400th anniversary, Tsukiji Hongwanji started a new outreach project (“Tera to Project” 「寺と」プロジェクト) to make itself more integral, relevant, and helpful in the community. Indeed, their summer bon dance celebration is now a huge outdoor food fest attracting 80,000 over four evenings. People fill the chairs and tables spread over almost the entire area in front of the temple. Lots of people dance around the yagura tower too. The food booths are popular and a few are run by eateries from the Tsukiji Outer Market.
A major part of this outreach project is the Information Center that opened in November 2017 left of the Hondo. It houses mainly Cafe Tsumugi (open every day 8:00 a.m.–9:00 p.m.) along with a multilingual information desk, temple gift shop, lecture room, and bookshop (2nd floor). During the bon dance, the rooftop is open for diners like a beer garden.
Operated by the Pronto coffee shop chain, Cafe Tsumugi has an extensive menu for meals (Japanese and Western cuisine), drinks (including alcohol), and confections. They even have power outlets for laptops, tablets, etc. For breakfast served 8:00 a.m.–10:30 a.m., I had to try their “Japanese Breakfast with 18 Dishes” (18品の朝ごはん). The picture on the menu makes it irresistible. A colorful assortment of 18 dishes including rice porridge, miso soup, and flavorful bite-size dishes like salmon roe, eggplant, tofu, duck, and matcha jelly dessert. A few of the dishes like the fried egg and fish cake were made by famous eateries at the Outer Market. The number “18” refers to the 18th and primal vow (hongan) of Amida Buddha. Hot or cold tea is included. Definitely social media material.
Note that Cafe Tsumugi has become very popular for breakfast (8:00 a.m.–10:30 a.m.). They now distribute reservation tickets (seiriken) to the first 110 people in line for breakfast. It’s less crowded for lunch and dinner when no reservation tickets are required.
Tsukiji Hongwanji has other notable buildings, facilities, monuments, and even graves. The Hondo building has a modern building on both the right and left ends. The building on the right end is the Daiichi Dendo Kaikan (第一伝道会館) open to the public. It houses a tea lounge, restaurant, meeting rooms, and temple lodging facilities (3rd floor).
The left end has the Daini Dendo Kaikan (第二伝道会館) mainly housing the Rengeden worship hall (蓮華殿) for smaller funerals, weddings, etc., for up to 200 people.
The left stupa houses the temple bell. On New Year’s Eve, the public can enter the left stupa to ring out the old year or ring in the new year. The right stupa is currently not used for anything.
Next to the Information Center, the Goudoubo (合同墓) is like a communal gravesite opened in Nov. 2017. Compared to conventional cemeteries, it is a low-cost way to keep and maintain a grave for yourself and to assure that priests will keep praying for you.
With the fish market gone, Tsukiji Hongwanji and the Outer
Market are destined to take the helm and continue working together for the
betterment of Tsukiji and its visitors. I look forward to seeing how Tsukiji’s new
era will unfold.
Tsukiji Hongwanji is closest to subway stations Tsukiji (Hibiya Line), Higashi-Ginza (Asakusa Line), Tsukiji-shijo (Oedo Line), and Shintomicho (Yurakucho Line). Map: https://goo.gl/maps/LocKLpvtNvs
*Special thanks to Tsukiji Hongwanji and Cafe Tsumugi for their kind cooperation for this article.
*This article is an expanded version of my article published in via magazine, the onboard magazine of the Airport Limousine bus in the Tokyo area and lobby magazine at all branches of Mizuho Bank in Japan.