Nagoya, Japan: Hydrangeas and Divine Histories in Chayagasaka

I am always excited to take photos whenever I travel anywhere, but the lesser known the places and the fewer pre-existing photos of them in the media, the more excited I tend to be.

Professionally-taken photos of popular attractions in Nagoya have graced countless international tourism brochures, travel magazines, websites, and social media and I had fun visiting and taking photos of those locations too. However, the opportunity to study and live in Nagoya for a few years led me to discover many hidden gems from local pamphlets and websites. Oftentimes, these sources included only a few pictures or even only one per recommended spot, and their professional photos barely exist on mainstream platforms. I truly enjoy and feel inspired by all the brilliant photos of professional photographers and fellow bloggers, but the sense of mystery before visiting also intensifies my photographic groove. Not knowing can help us become even more exploratory, I think. (Though admittedly, the amount of photos I am going to share may inspire you or lessen that sense of mystery I talked about, depending on your preferences, and I am sorry if the latter is the case for you, haha).

Chayagasaka area was among Nagoya’s local spots that really got me into my groove. You can go there in any season for a pilgrimage of Japan’s most famous and deified historical figures, but there is nothing better than an early summer visit for the nature’s beauty that is hydrangeas.

01Chayagasaka

I initially visited Chayagasaka Park to see over 4,000 hydrangeas in early June 2021. 4,000 may or may not be an impressive number, depending on your previous experience. But since hydrangea is the flower that I like the most and Chayagasaka Park has the largest number of the color-changing flower in Nagoya, I still would like to recommend flower lovers to see them.

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Hydrangeas in Chayagasaka Park are best seen in early-June or mid-June. Most of the flowers are white, pink, and purple.

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I stumbled upon a few colorful lilies among the vast expanse of hydrangea bushes. Nice surprise. Lilies bloom until early-June in Japan.

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Did you know that Japan has its own language of flowers as well? The Japanese language of flowers is called hanakotoba and I first heard about it in, you might have guessed, anime and manga. Different types of flowers are used to symbolize characters’ feelings or personalities, set the mood in certain scenes, foreshadow, or even used as a plot device. Not everyone in Japan is serious about hanakotoba, but it remains a contemporary thing and it can come in handy to know what some common flowers can say in the Japanese culture.

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13ChayagasakaPark

Hydrangeas didn’t exist in Thailand until a few years ago, when they have since been grown at some farms and gardens in the north in winter. Some say Japan is the birthplace of hydrangeas and I first learned about the flower from anime and manga too. Apart from the flower’s ability to change colors depending on soil conditions and their memorable shapes, I have become a fan of hydrangea because of its intriguing multifaceted symbolisms.

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Hanakotoba of hydrangea, or ajisai as it is called in Japanese, shares some of the meanings with the Victorian counterpart and some meanings are more common than others. I like that family bond, persevering love, and pride are among hydrangea’s most widely known meanings in Japan. Hydrangeas grow close together, so they are seen as family and symbolize strong bond, while purple hydrangea can be gifted to show that the giver is proud of the recipient. Blue hydrangea can show gratitude or apology. However, I remember blue hydrangea being used in darker context in anime and manga too. It can symbolize cold heart. Since early-June doubles as the rainy season in Japan, hydrangea is considered both summer and rainy season flower and when the flower is shown in rainy scenes in anime and manga, the melancholy is somehow amplified.

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Chayagasaka Park is home to some lacecap hydrangeas too. They are so unique for me.

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I had seen hydrangeas in other places in Japan before my Chayagasaka visit, but that was my first time seeing that many hydrangeas. Chayagasaka Park isn’t that big compared to other parks in Nagoya, but I was happy to see my most favorite flower and got reminded of the nature’s beauty without having to go far.

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Spotted some hollyhocks while walking back to Chayagasaka Subway Station.

Chayagasaka is more of a residential area, but there are a few restaurants near the subway station. I had sushi for dinner at Sushiro.

25SushiroChayagasaka

Sushiro is one of Japan’s top kaiten sushi restaurant chains (sushi served on conveyor belt). They have a huge range of sushi options with free refills of green tea. Sushiro might not be top-notch like those high-end or local long-standing sushi places, but the restaurant chain still offers fresh and delicious sushi at great prices (pay-per-dish). I actually had eaten at Sushiro before with my friends in Japan and both my Japanese and non-Japanese friends love the sushi there.

In early-November 2021, I found a local recommendation of Ueno Tenmangu Shrine and became immediately interested in the few pre-existing photos of colorful little human dolls. Turned out the shrine is also near Chayagasaka Subway Station. After digging through the limited information, I got intrigued by the local shrine’s links to not only one but two deified major historical figures, so I revisited Chayagasaka.

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I heard of Sugawara no Michizane, later deified as Tenjin the god of learning, before. I had visited a couple of shrines dedicated to him. Ueno Tenmangu Shrine is far from the most well-known or biggest among Tenmangu shrines (shrines of Tenjin), but it was most enjoyable to explore and photograph in my opinion what with its many artistic details.

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The little man figurines in traditional Japanese clothes are Ueno Tenmangu Shrine’s historical painting-based cartoonification of Sugawara no Michizane. Michizane was one of most famous Japanese poets and scholars from 845-903 in the days Kyoto was still named Heian and served as the capital of Japan.

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Michizane eventually fell from his glory due to wrong accusations though. He was demoted and exiled from Heian to Kyushu, a region very far from Heian. Michizane’s name remained tainted until the day he died, but a few decades later, many disasters like flood and lightning struck Heian and family members of the accuser and the emperor died.

33UenoTenmanguShrine

In those days, the Heian court believed that these were the doings of Michizane’s spirit, so they tried to pacify him by posthumously restoring his honor and deified the deceased scholar as Tenjin the god of the sky (referring to the disasters in Heian believed to be caused by Michizane’s spirit) and if worshiped, he can ward off disasters. Eventually, Tenjin gained another status as the god of learning because of Michizane’s scholarship while he was alive and the lesson that if one works hard, effort, sincerity, and justice will prevail one day. (Justice came late for Michizane though…) This latter status of Tenjin was how I was introduced to Michizane’s history in the first place.

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There were less than two months left for me to write my thesis at the time. An easy local trip was how I destressed and it was even nicer to destress at a shrine dedicated to the god of learning himself. Every Tenmangu shrine has nadeushi or cow statue that you can rub its head and become smarter. Another belief is that if any part of your body hurts or is injured, you can touch the same part on the cow statue and you will be healed. Cow’s tie to Michizane came from the legend on the day he passed away. The cow that was pulling a cart carrying Michizane’s body stopped at a place in Dazaifu, Kyushu, and refused to move, so it was thought that Michizane wanted the place to be his resting place and cow has since been worshiped as the god’s messenger.

36UenoTenmanguShrine

If you want, you can buy one of those tiny Michizane dolls or Tenjin Mikuji (Tenjin fortune dolls), pray for academic or job examination success, and place the doll at Ueno Tenmangu Shrine. The Michizane figurines come in red, green, and yellow and they make the shrine look colorful.

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The fallen figurine was such a mood for me during my own academic struggle with thesis writing.

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The ema votive plaques at Ueno Tenmangu Shrine are my favorite details too. The type featuring Sugawara no Michizane is expected. I don’t know the meaning behind the two other types, but let me show you the last type.

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41UenoTenmanguShrine

The yin and yang-shaped ema is related to another historical figure who turned into a divine being, Abe no Seimei. The local legend says Abe no Seimei’s descendants had Ueno Tenmangu Shrine constructed about 100 years after Michizane’s passing. Though the family didn’t have any direct relation to Michizane, they suffered a similar fate. Being accused of things they didn’t do and exiled from Heian, Seimei’s descendants came to live in present-day Nagoya and worshiped not just Seimei but also Michizane.

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Not much is known about the descendants, but Abe no Seimei himself was an important figure in the Heian court like Sugawara no Michizane. Seimei was alive from 920-1005 though, which was after Michizane’s death. He was an astrologer and advisor to the emperor of Japan in the more metaphysical matters, like divination, praying and performing rituals for the emperor, and protecting Heian from the evil spirits. This kind of occultism is onmyodo or the way of yin and yang. The practitioners are called onmyoji. Onmyoji has been mentioned, become an important element, or even used as the central theme in anime and manga. Yes, anime and manga was how I got to know about onmyoji and Abe no Seimei too. Seimei is the most well-known onmyoji in Japanese history, believed to possess great magical power (some legends even said he wasn’t fully human) and eventually also gaining the deity status.

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The five-pointed Seimei Star in this basin is the seal of the onmyoji. Each of the five points on the pentagram represent the five elements of wood, fire, earth, water, and metal.

The last location on my mini trip is directly related to Seimei himself. I had known about Nagoya Seimei Shrine long before I discovered Ueno Tenmangu Shrine. I actually also heard that Nagoya Seimei Shrine isn’t difficult to get to from my Malaysian friend who is a big fan of Seimei legends, but because I found it out of the way, I didn’t think about visiting before.

Compared to the more well-known main Seimei Shrine in Kyoto, Nagoya Seimei Shrine is small, but if you combine it with a visit to Chayagasaka Park and Ueno Tenmangu Shrine, it won’t feel out of the way. You can also complete your pilgrimage right at the spot Seimei had been to. The small hill that Nagoya Seimei Shrine is located on is named Seimei-yama because Seimei once stayed in the area and warded off venomous snakes.

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The Seimei Stars decorate the shrine building and structures around it, like lanterns, komainu guardian lion-dog pedestals, and more.

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My friend told me Seimei Shrine can give love-related blessings and one can try asking for a lover also.

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I finished my trip by walking until Nagoya Dome Mae Yada Station. I walked past Vantelin Nagoya Dome, one of Japan’s three biggest domes to hold baseball matches, concerts, and other events. Before I went to Japan, I dreamed of watching my favorite K-pop groups SHINee and NCT 127 perform at Nagoya Dome with my own eyes, but due to the pandemic that led to Japan’s border closure to even those with student and business visas until March 2022 and my scholarship obligation to return to Thailand in that same month, I couldn’t realize my dreams. I am glad to have found some time to visit the historic area and photograph the hydrangeas and the shrines though.

Guide

Chayagasaka Park
When to visit: Always accessible

How to get there: Take Subway Meijo Line to Chayagasaka Station. Then walk for about five minutes to Chayagasaka Park.

Sushiro Chayagasaka Branch
When to visit: They are open daily, but please check the business hours and last order time on their official website here.
How to get there: Walk for about five minutes from either Chayagasaka Park or Chayagasaka Station.

Ueno Tenmangu Shrine
When to visit: 9am-5pm, daily
How to get there: Walk for about ten minutes from either Chayagasaka Park or Chayagasaka Station.

Nagoya Seimei Shrine
When to visit: Always accessible, but if you want to buy amulets, the shrine office seems to have different business hours each day. It is open from 1-4pm on Tuesdays and Thursdays and from 10am-4pm on Saturdays and Sundays. The shrine office doesn’t open on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. I am not sure if this is a special measure due to COVID-19, but please keep this information in mind and double check with Google before visiting.

How to get there: Walk for about ten minutes from Ueno Tenmangu Shrine.

Alternatively, you can start your trip by walking from Sunadabashi Station (about ten minutes) or Nagoya Dome Mae Yada Station (about 15 minutes) to Seimei Shrine and continue to Ueno Tenmangu Shrine and Chayagasaka Park.

This post is also part of the Lens-Artists (week #211: What’s Your Photographic Groove), Flower of the Day (recent challenge), Cee’s Fun Foto Challenge (Reminds You of Nature’s Beauty), Cee’s Midweek Madness (August Close Up or Macro), Sunday Stills (Summertime), Photographing Public Art Challenge (recent challenge), Fan of… (recent challenge), Thursday Doors (recent challenge), and Which Way (recent challenge) Photo Challenges.

23 thoughts on “Nagoya, Japan: Hydrangeas and Divine Histories in Chayagasaka

  1. Quite the stunning displays of hydrangeas, Gift! 4000 on display? I’m happy when I have 4-5 in my pot! How interesting that the Japanese have a language to describe the moods of flowers. Thanks for sharing for Sunday Stills!

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  2. What an amazing place, Gift πŸ‘ All the flowers make it so colourful & the shrines are real pieces of art to look at πŸ˜ƒ The tiny, wee colourful dolls are intriguing & add a real splash of colour & interest to the scene; fantastic post 😁

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  3. Hi Gift, I love the hydrangeas, too, but the little dolls are fascinating. First, they stay upright for the most part. Second, they are not stolen or molested. Finally, their sheer number is noteworthy, They remind me of the Russian nesting dolls in their size and colorfulness. Thanks for linking them to PPAC this week. πŸ™‚

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    • Thank you, Marsha. I’m glad you found them fascinating. Some Japanese shrines have these kinds of little dolls for making a wish and the designs of the dolls are so diverse (depending on each shrine’s history). They are interesting and not that expensive, so I can see why many people want to buy and make a wish with them, hence the sheer number!

      Liked by 1 person

      • So what you are saying is that instead of taking them, people buy them and leave them there. Maybe that’s the answer to all our problems in the world. All people to give rather than just receive. πŸ™‚

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      • Yes, these dolls are for sale at shrine offices and then the buyers/wishmakers place them as offerings to the shrines’ gods. The money goes to shrine maintenance (and I think the dolls can garner attention, promoting the shrines and attracting more visitors/donators). As you said, we give too and that’s really nice!

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Lovely photos! I especially like the hydrangeas. I planted a blue one in the spring and it’s not doing well here in the heat. Hoping it comes back. I would love to see many hydrangeas in one place. 😊
    You’ve got me beat on the number of challenges you linked to. Great job! πŸ€“πŸ˜Ž

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    • Haha, thank you very much. These photos from Chayagasaka area worked so well for the last week’s themes. Sending strength to your hydrangea. I wish they were able to grow in Bangkok, but it’s impossible with the almost constant heat.

      Liked by 1 person

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