Saturday 16 March 2019

Yoyogi Park: Cherry Trees, Rockabilly Dancing, and Counting Crows

There's still a slight chill in the air in the mornings and evenings - northern Japan had blizzards last week - but the cherry trees are coming into bloom right now. The next week or two will be the best time for holding a blossom viewing 'hanami' party and one of the most convenient places to have your picnic in Tokyo is Yoyogi Park which has over 600 trees plus food and drink stalls.

Yoyogi Park is just a short walk from Harajuku Station, next to Meiji Shrine (to be featured in the next post!). It is one of the largest, most spacious parks in Tokyo (134 acres), with ponds, forested areas, fountains, gardens, statues, a dog run, a bird sanctuary, and bike paths: expect to see joggers, dog walkers, yoga circles, dance groups, cyclists, musicians, jugglers, kite flyers, frisbee throwers, tai-chi classes, and much more! Another thing you'll definitely see are crows - hundreds of them. There's seven in the picture below: according to the superstition of counting crows that means either a secret, a mystery, or a curse!
Yoyogi only officially became a park in 1967: before that it was a military parade ground (pre-war), US military barracks (post-war), and then main athletes village for the 1964 Olympics. A legacy of its military past is the marvellous 'Pine Tree of Imperial Troop Review' (えっぺいしき=閲兵式). The sign below the 12m tree tells us that this was the spot where the emperor would stand when reviewing the troops and giving the imperial salute. There is certainly a special regality to the tree, especially when the trunk is wrapped in a rice-straw mat in winter as the Japanese do to protect trees not from the cold but from harmful insects (the practice is known as komo-maki =菰巻き). The mat is burnt - full of insects - typically at the end of February.

Finally, a post on Yoyogi Park wouldn't be complete without mentioning the rockabilly dancers (ロックンローラー族) who gather outside the Harajuku Gate on (some) Sundays to drink, dance, and listen to 50s rock 'n' roll music. Both young and old, dressed in leather and denim, wearing sunglasses, and sporting quiffs and slicked back hair (men) and pony tails (women), it's fascinating to see a thriving sub-culture in the heart of the capital. One of Australia's best known bands, 5SOS, was so inspired that they wrote a multi-platinum song, Youngblood, accompanied by a fantastic video shot in Tokyo featuring some of the Japanese twisters. Performances are unscheduled but if you're unlucky enough to miss them, check out the video below for a taste of what you missed!