A Cultural & Historical Walk through Nakano City: Part 1
The theme of this edition “Nakano seen from foreigners” is getting to interact with Nakano’s culture and history. Nakano is known as the “holy land of anime and subculture,” but it also has many historical cultural assets and buildings. “A Cultural & Historical Walk through Nakano City: Part 1” takes us to visit Tetsugakudo Park, a globally unique place with the theme of philosophy, and “History and Folklore Museum”, which houses a collection of historical cultural assets and materials from Nakano City. Let’s head out!
“Tetsugakudo Park” , Temple garden of philosophy
Hello, I’m Zac. One day in late autumn, I visited Nakano City, Tokyo. The weather was fine and a little warm for the coming of winter… It was the perfect conditions for a leisurely stroll. Nakano has many famous tourist spots and commercial facilities such as Nakano Broadway and Nakano Sun Plaza, but this time I’d like to take a stroll with the theme of culture and history. On this day, the area around the north exit of Nakano station was crowded with many people, including businessmen, students, and elderly people. I could even see street performers performing in the plaza in front of the station, which was very lively. If you head towards Nakano Sunplaza, you will find the bus terminal. I took a bus from platform 1 there and headed for my first destination, Tetsugakudo Park.
Just 15 minutes later, I deboarded at the “Tetsugakudo-shita” bus stop, just in front of northern Nakano’s “Tetsugakudo Park”. This park is filled with both nature and an assortment of interesting manmade structures. This park was established in 1904 by Enryo Inoue, the founder of Toyo University, with the concept of “cultivating a philosophical mind.”
I learned from a park guide and English-language informational pamphlets that in building the park, Inoue’s hoped to promote “educational, moral and philosophical cultivation of the mind.”
This was my first visit to Tetsugakudo Park, and I was expecting it to be mainly a park full of nature, plazas, paths, and benches for relaxing and resting. However, when I actually went there for myself, I found out that amidst the nature were built a number of various facilities. There were many facilities and structures based on philosophical concepts of philosophers and other historical figures, which I found to be very stimulating.
The first thing to do is to enter the park through the “Joshiki-mon（Gate of Common Sense=the entrance to Tetsugakudo Park）” . Then you will find an old building called “Dokuro-an （Skull Hermitage=the guestroom of Tetsugakudo Park）” . The “dokuro（skull）” naming symbolizes the death of people living in a mundane world.
It is connected by a corridor to the “Kishin-kutsu(Demon Grotto)” , which is also a guestroom, where people are supposed to abandon their worldly impurities. Learning the names of these buildings, I had a feeling that this would be more than a mere stroll through the park. Near the “Demon Grotto” is the “Mujin-zo” which serves as a museum of items collected by Enryo Inoue during his travels around the world.
Continuing onward through the park, I found myself in front of a tall hexagonal pagoda known as the “Rokken-dai（Pagoda of the Six Wise Ones）”, a building dedicated to the six great sages of the East. Towering above the other buildings, this red, multi-storied pagoda is dedicated to Prince Shotoku, Sugawara no Michizane, Zhuangzi, Zhu Xi, Nagarjuna, and Kapila.
Viewing the pagoda from the outside, it looked like a lighthouse watching over the park edge. As a matter of fact, in the early days of the park’s establishment, before the surrounding trees became dense, this red tower was visible from a distance and served as a landmark for the residents of Nakano City.
Next, we visited a building called the “Shisei-dou（Four Sages Hall）” near “Rokken-dai（Pagoda of the Six Wise Ones）”. It is dedicated to the four sages defined by Inoue Enryo, namely Confucius, Buddha, Socrates, and Kant. I was allowed to take a peek inside and saw a statue of Buddha lying under a heart-shaped lamp representing “the spirit”.
After our tour of the buildings around the plaza called “Jiku-oka”, we walked down the nearby slope.
Going down this path, there is a monument “Fude-zuka(brush mound) “in the shape of a calligraphy brush.
Beyond that, there is a fork in the path known as the “Kaigi-kou（Junction of Doubt）”, which represents a state of mind that is agitated because there is not enough evidence to determine which of the two philosophical positions—materialism and idealism—is correct. I made my way around the various other spots in the park, including a small amphitheater-like plaza （“Sanso-en”） with portraits of world-famous philosophers.
When I reached the “Yuibutsu-en(Garden of Materialism）” at the bottom of the slope, I was amazed at how much the scenery had changed in only a 30 minutes’ walk from the park entrance. The dense growth of trees that we had seen earlier had disappeared, and a plaza with a great view lay before use. The garden is located on the banks of the Myoshoji River, and the statue of the Garden of Philosophy can be seen beyond it.
In the garden, the character for “matter” (butsu) is written with grass and shrubs. The word “matter” is the opposite of the word “mind,” representing the idea that “everything in this world is based on matter.”
There is a unique tanuki stone lanter here. This Tanuki Lamp called “Ritou” is shaped like a Japanese raccoon dog, but has a hollow belly where a candle can be lit. In Japanese culture, the tanuki is a creature that represents trickery, cheating and lying. However, the fact that there is a space in the belly to hold a light means that even a creature like the raccoon holds a benevolent spirit deep inside.
Near the Tanuki Lamp was the “Shinpi-dou（Cave of Mysteries）”. The waterfront here was lush with plants, and we could see butterflies chasing each other and hear birds chirping from the nearby trees. Continuing beyond the “Shinpi-dou（Cave of Mysteries）” is the “Yuishin-tei (Garden of Idealism).” (&antithesis to the Garden of Materialism)
The stone pathway is flanked by trees and a pond with autumn leaves.
In contrast to the building-lined area at the top of the hill, the lower area is more closely connected to nature, allowing you to connect with yourself on a new, albeit philosophical, level, away from the hustle and bustle of the city.
After spending a moment in the tranquility of nature in this way, I then found a statue called the “Ki-tou(Demon Lamp).” This statue is said to represent the evil thoughts in people’s minds, but at the same time, how such evil thoughts are suppressed by the conscience.
Resuming my journey through the park, I took the steeps and stony steps of the “Ninsiki-ro（Road of Cognition）” up the hill to the “Zettai-jo（Citadel of the Absolute）”. This white building is a library (reading hall) built to commemorate the accession to the throne of Emperor Taisho, and there is an observatory on the roof of the multi-storied building. Although I did not visit the observation deck, I was able to enter the library.
Inside was quite dark compared to modern libraries, but climbing to the second floor loft I discovered windows on one wall, and in the past, light was let in from here visitors could indulge in book-reading. And the aforementioned observation deck was for bookworms who needed to take a break from their reading indulgences. And I expected no less from the philosophy-themed Tetsugakudo Park. This park was thought out well for scholars, I thought.
Leaving the “Zettai-jo（Citadel of the Absolute）” , we passed through the “Tetsuri-mon(Gate of Philosophical Reason)” (main gate of Tetsugakudo Park). On the gate was written the kanji for “philosophy”, 哲 (tetsu). Thinking my philosophical journey would end here, I looked back at the gate I had passed through and discovered that there were statues of tengu and ghosts on each side. The wooden statues of tengu and ghosts symbolize the wonders that man has yet to understand in the “matter” and “spirit” that make up the universe; they represent that the ideal of philosophy is to elucidate these things logically.
By learning about such intentions in this way, I was able to understand another layer of Japanese culture and history, something that cannot be gained merely from sightseeing in modern Japan today.
My visit to Tetsugakudo Park was a very valuable experience for me. From its various buildings, paths, statues and other features, I was met with new philosophical concepts at every turn. Every area of the Tetsugakudo Park is intentional and comes with a deeper story. Even though there are many concepts to try wrapping one’s head around while visiting the park, one has to at the very least appreciate the depth and richness of culture it provides. I would recommend this park as a place to take children to enjoy the unique statues and objects, and for adults to visit to learn about the history of philosophy. At Tetsugakudo Park, you are sure to find something interesting with even a leisurely stroll.
★There is also a video (in English) introducing the 77 spots of Tetsugakudo Park for visitors from abroad.
There are also foreign language pamphlets for Tetsugakudo Park available at the Nakano City Office and the “Marutto Nakano” website, so be sure to take a look if you are planning to visit.
And for those interested in the park, why not also pay a visit to the nearby Renge Temple? Only a couple of minutes away from Tetsugakudo Park, Renge Temple houses the grave of Enryo Inoue, which is open to the public.
The grave actually has a round stone on top of the first kanji “井” in Inoue Enryo’s family name, whose given name’s first kanji “円” means “circle” in Japanese. It is interesting to see the literal meaning of Inoue Enryo’s full name, “井上円了,” which translates literally as “circle atop the well”.
My name is Zac. I am from the United States and have been living in Japan for four years. I became intrigued by Japanese culture in junior high school and have been studying Japanese ever since.