Saturday, August 30, 2008

Memorials

In conversations with those at the conference, as well as with Hisako-san I have been thinking about the two disasters that have struck Tokyo in this century, the Great Kanto earthquake of 1923, and the fire bombing of Tokyo by American Air Force in 1945.
So after some web searching, I went to visit Yokoamicho Park. It was busy with workmen setting up stalls etc, which on visiting the memorial halls, I realised it is for commemoration of the Kanto earthquake which struck Tokyo at 2 minutes to noon on September 1st 1923, the epicentre of which was 80 klms north-west of Tokyo.
The greatest loss of life was from fires that raged through the city which was mainly made of wood. The fires burned for 42 hours and about 70% of the City was destroyed. The site of the Earthquake memorial hall, used to be an old army clothing depot that had closed, so many people headed there to escape the fire, as it was an open space. But fire, in the form of whirlwinds hit the area and killed all 58,000 people who were there.
There is also a memorial to the 5000 children killed in the schools of the city. The hall hold the ashes of approximately 162,000 people who perished.
There has been a serious earthquake every 80 years, so Japan is 'overdue ' for "the big one" and there is a lot of Municipal planning set up for that; but there is only so much you can do.
There was a huge rebuilding after this with a lot of foreign aid and the museum has posters of the appeal as well as this graph of the quake.
It was only 22 years later that near the end of the war, the American Air force made 46 bombing runs over Tokyo in a few days and laid waste to the city. (March 10 1945) There was loss of 851,000 houses and loss of 105,000 civilians.
On looking for the place to visit I came across some controversy about the memorial It seems that while the earthquake is OK to acknowledge there has been great reluctance to acknowledge those lost in the bombing raids. It's almost a "don't talk about the war." Talking with Hisako she said that it was very hard after the war, even when she was about 10 and things were still very hard, she said the one thing she wanted to create was a clean toilet!
This green memorial (the fact that it is low and sort of underground, & has only a list of the names of all those known to have perished in the bombing raids) is also considered not enough.
On a lighter note (sort of) One thing that I hadn't put together was that Japan was the headquarters of the US coordinating the Korean war. I know Hawk Eye Pearce and co. in M.A.S.H. went to Tokyo for R & R, but didn't click that was because America was still here!

Friday, August 29, 2008

People Watching

As I rested between explorations at the Shrine yesterday I spent the time watching and snapping pictures of people. On the approach to the Shrine there were lots of stalls of food as well as flowers and entertainment for the kids. These things are similar at nearly all festival events in Japanese specially the food!
these people were lined up and waited patiently for Takoyaki, sort of balls of dumplings with pieces of octopus inside, served with katsuboshi (dried Bonito flakes) a special sauce or Japanese mayo on top.
They were waiting for a good 5-10 minutes as the shop had obviously run out (or just started) and they were cooking some more. At one point his work was interrupted by some sinister looking characters who turned out to be collecting fees. Or maybe it was for protection from the queue? Note the character in the orange with the towel on his head and a cap as well. Obviously an attempt at disguise!
While the queue was waiting a little girl was busily tidying up by sweeping at the gravel with her fan. She spent the whole time industriously working with the paper fan.

The kids below are fishing for gold fish to take home and the high school students made a dash for a stalls selling cards and game things!
But the highlight of the day was the sartorial splendour of the tracky shorts and umbrella

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Meguro Fudo

I spent today in a fine film of cold sweat, despite lots of drinks and rest, but worth the effort!
I walked from Meguro station to the area where the Daien-ji Temple has 500 Rakan (deities entrusted by Buddha to remain in the world as role models for ordinary people) stone bas-reliefs. The Rakan here are associated with a big fire in 1772 which started at the temple and spread to Nihonbashi and Asakusa, leaving several thousand dead in its wake.
But what took my fancy was the individual nature of the different shrine features, A bell in a lantern, the dragonfly wire rest for the water ladles, the automatic fountain (it ran when you went close, rather than all the time). The beautiful detail of the Jizo statues, the faces on some of the small statues, especially the little one on the turtle rock
My next stop was the Kaifuku-ji Temple, whose red-painted gate is set back from the street. A pair of memorial stones in front of the gate commemorate the collapse of Eitaibashi Bridge during the Hachiman festival in 1807 and inside is a small beautiful garden with a rock garden (literally) A bonsai garden on a rock!

Along the street were all the small stalls outside shops and cafes, but I turned down the road to Ryusenji, the Fudo temple along with a steady stream of people.
As I approached the Shrine (up a long flight of stairs; obviously blessings require some effort!) I could hear drumming and chanting, from the main building so I headed up there. There was a crowd of people behind a black lattice screen (I think you contribute to the Temple to go in) and priests were chanting and drumming as well as with clapping sticks. It was very atmospheric with more people inside the entrance standing with hands clasped and heads bowed and others who arrived tossing coins over their head to get into the huge collection box. On either side were two monks with a candle rack and for 100 yen they light a candle for you. The drumming and chanting stopped, and then the priests turned to us and did a fancy action that tucked their 'baton" under the arm and covered their hands with kimono sleeves, then the main priest sprinkled water over the audience, (drops only) then we all bowed and left.
I then went outside to the bottom of the stairs and sure enough the procession came out down the stairs.
The other main blessing sought was from the statue in the pool, ?Fudo? where a fountain of water from a dragon's mouth fed the pool. Attendees then poured water over the statue and said a prayer.
I then went down to the main area where there was lots of activity but I will record that tomorrow.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Chin chin densha

Today the warm weather is coming back so I planned a tram trip (yes Tram not train!) on the Toden Arakawa line. The line was originally constructed by the Oji Electric Tram Company with the oldest section still operating today opened in 1913. The streetcar system began running in Tokyo in 1911 with bus operations added as an emergency measure due to the extensive damage caused by the 1923 earthquake.
In its heyday, there were 41 lines carrying an average of 2 million passengers a day. Decline set in with the arrival of the automobile and by the 1960s the trams were cramping the streets and inevitably couldn't compete with the traffic. The Olympics of 1964 sounded the death knell as the city tried to put on its most modern face for the world and free up as much space as possible. The tram's demise was finally sealed with the removal of 181km of track between 1967 and 1972.
The Arakawa line partly survives because of nostalgia, public pressure and the fact that it only partially runs on ordinary streets.
The entire 12km route is aboveground, the stations are tiny and the trams only seat about 20 people with standing room for as many as can squeeze in during peak hours.
I traveled from Machiya and its
quite a surprise when the tram suddenly emerges from its own tracks behind houses and other small buildings, into heavy traffic on the streets around the Sunshine Building and Otsuka, trundling along at an average speed of 12kmph. A lot of passengers got off here for Sugamo, a bustling town of old folk. Popularly known as "Obasan Harajuku" a place I visited on my last visit; a street of shops selling everything from dried fish to winter long johns.(red)
There is no obsessive split-second timetable that sandwiches passengers in the doors. The driver waits for stragglers, will reopen the door for latecomers and is considerate of the doddering old folks. People dodge in front and behind the tram. Paying a driver instead of automated gates or ticket machines also gives the tram a human touch. Best of all, there are mercifully few recorded nasal announcements on board. It's all rather quaint and perhaps suggestive of a different set of values, or maybe its just cute in this high tech city!
The name is taken from the sound of the bell, and the noise they make, not unfamiliar to this little tram-city-dwelling duck!

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Pokemon Pilgrimage

I had been wondering what the kids at the station were doing when I met Campbell & Brigid. I must admit I did not recognise the yellow ears on the hats of hundreds of kids I saw on the trains earlier this month. Turns out it's the annual GREAT POKEMON ADVENTURE JAPAN RAILWAYS STAMP RALLY, or something similar.
Outside 95 stations in the Tokyo vicinity are Pokemon stamping stations. The point is to travel around on the trains and get stamps on your sheet at listed stations. You pick up a form at the local station, collect any 6 stamps on it and then head to a GOAL station, where the real challenge begins, For here you will be presented with a collection book for ALL 95 stamps. Wow!
To make things more difficult the stamps are only available between 9:30AM and 4PM so depending on the distance between selected station you may need several days. Part of the technique is to plan as many stops in a short distance as you can; so you travel around in these times and line up to stamp your book.
The kids at Osaki when I met Campbell were a short queue but I gather there can be up to hundreds lined up, and I am sure the kids, being Japanese, are very meticulous about stamping, getting the right amount of ink, and pressing firmly, then putting their book back in it's cover!
Parents are saints! So this time of year, the trains are swarming with kids in Pikachu visors, riding from station to station for no purpose other than to collect stamps for their booklet, which they`ll then send away for some token toy. They are escorted (often at a slower pace) by their saintly parent (usually mother and maybe Oba-san) who look as if they may collapse from heat exhaustion at any moment. I saw a few mothers stay on the seat and send the kid over to get their stamp where the JR station staff was enthusiastically calling them to come.

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Unlike this guy I have never been into Pokemon, or even really know about it, but check out this blog of someone who decided to do it!! Obviously has some Japanese language skill and a good writer!!

http://goliweb.com/blog/labels/pokemon.html

A summary of his efforts
-Japan is too hot in the summer.
-Air conditioning on trains is good.
-Too many Japanese people like pokemon.
-Japanese children can't walk in straight lines but they can run into things very well.
-Japanese people are too perfectionist and take way too long to do a simple stamp.
-I probably shouldn't still like Pokemon. The target audience is clearly 10 years old.
-The Yamanote line is pretty marvelous.
-Japanese adult pokemon fans are dangerous.
-Kumagaya is a long way away.
-Urawa station is a mess.
-Teleporting would be a very useful skill.


Ebisu

I headed up to Ebisu today to take in the New Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography Exhibit Still / Motion, about video and moving images as Art. Some images were stunning, some puzzling and some downright weird. A weird one was a bowl of fruit (videos thankfully not live!!) gradually turning to almost dust, (seen that before I think) but next to it a dead hare gradually turning to liquid!! A highlight was the work of Yasumasa Morimura, a Japanese "appropriation artist" (means like it sounds) he borrows images from historical artists (ranging from Manet to Rembrandt), and inserts his own face and body into them. His work engages with issues of gender, and challenges both Western and Japanese notions of good taste. This work was obviously Vermeer. This consisted of a video of him dressed like this reading a letter (silently) then at the end turning towards us in the familiar pose. He also had a mock up of the painting of The letter, but she had a trombone and a laurel wreath on her head, and he, as Vermeer was painting her. Initially when I saw the poster I presumed it was a Vermeer exhibition , then looking closer I thought "that's not right!"

I loved the symmetry of this view looking down to the Museum cafe.

The Gallery is in the Yebisu Garden Place, built on the former Yebisu beer factory. (moved, not defunct)
The place is reached from Ebisu station via a walkway taking you 5 minutes to 'walk' to the Plaza.

Some language trivia... I wondered why it was Yebisu, not Ebisu (one of the 7 gods) turns out you can no longer write 'ye,' as the syllable 'ye' (only ya, yu, yo) and corresponding kana have almost completely disappeared from modern Japanese and been replaced by 'e'.

View, left is part of the main centre area with department store in the background. The display is one of Cosmos flowers, obviously changing with the seasons.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Temples and Jizo

On a wet day, when I ended up with soaked shoes, but otherwise dry, owing to my large umbrella left by the previous tenants, I explored the temples in Yanaka district. I was particularly interested in seeing the Jomyoin temple reputed to have 84,000 statues of Jizo lined up.I didn't count them but they were endless! This is just one corner.

In modern Japan, Jizo is popularly known as the guardian of unborn, aborted, miscarried, and stillborn babies. These roles were not assigned to Jizo in earlier Buddhist traditions from mainland Asia; they are instead modern adaptations unique to Japan. At the same time, Jizo serves his customary and traditional roles as patron saint of expectant mothers, children, firemen, travelers, pilgrims, and the protector of all beings caught in the six realms of reincarnation. That's us!

Jizo is the statue usually dressed in a red bib and hat. Clothing to keep warm on the journey. At one shrine there was an image with a collection of toy cars at the base. A touching memory of a small boy.

In this district which is old, with many residents living there all their lives, there are many original traditional shops selling sembe (rice crackers) tofu, tatami mats, and
tools.
There is a huge Cemetery as well and many of the shrines have tombs, with wooden buckets there to be used to organise flowers for the graves.
One of my favourite garden features as well as the water bowls is the "chain drain" from the guttering, into a lovely metal receptacle. Today doing its work!

Walking along the area it is always a good idea to look up as what is as street level may be ordinary , but the building above may be fascinating.
This one covered in corrugated iron and the lovely doors, seemed to be some kind of store, but no information that I could see helped me work it out. But I still love the look of it.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Parasites!

Today I met with Tatsuya who is the organiser of the Museum Meet-up group. Instead of art we were off to the Meguro Parasitological Museum. There were six of us to meet, and I had previously met Mitsui, a woman who had recently returned from 4 years in Thailand. The new people were a photographer/English teacher, an engineer of English/Canadian/American living, with his wife Masako and their 2 yr old who was asleep.
The Museum is a short walk from the station over the Meguro River bridge, and is housed in a 7 storey building with research labs on 3-7 floors and the museum on the first two. The first floor presents a general overview of parasites, while the second focuses on the life cycle showcasing 300 specimens. There were lots of people there, often shuddering at the sight of the effect of some of the parasites, as well as the look of them. I must admit after a while I started to feel a little queasy.
There are 8 endemic parasite diseases in Japan, Liver flukes etc as well as a disease I had not heard of Creeping disease. Refers to the parasite creeping along under the skin!
There was also a list of diseases of the world like Tse Tse fly (sleeping sickness). The only endemic parasite disease in Aust. according to the map is Dengue fever, isolated to the whole top of Australia.
Mitsui said if she had been here first she would never have gone to Thailand!!
The museum design and layout was very nice but with displays only in Japanese or Latin., bt we had handy translators in the group! The highlight of the exhibition is an 8m tape worm. They had a piece of tape hanging beside it so you could see how long that is!
All the exhibits come from hospitals around Japan. There was also information about some of the breakthroughs they had made on diagnosis and life cycles. Some of the charts I recognise from school!!
I resisted buying a t-shirt with a tapeworm design!
We finished off with a cleansing ale at the cafe over the road!

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Shinjuku

I was heading to the Keio Hospital yesterday to pick up my printer and as that is on the line from Shinjuku I decided to explore this area a bit. Well I didn't really make it out of the station environs.
That is not surprising as it is the busiest station in the world with over 3.5 million passengers every day. There are 10 lines that have a stop here so the interconnections are amazing. It is spread over 15 acres of land, with 14 ground level platforms on NE axis connected by two overhead and two underground concourses, while the Toei Shinjuku and Keio New Lines share the same 2 platforms 5 floors below! Thank goodness they have good, make that excellent signage.
I walked to the other side of the tracks via the new South Entrance, and was disconcerted to see an Aussie Flag flying, closer inspection showed it was a over a store for Driza Bone.
The new escalators in the court were full of commuters even at 2pm on a weekday.The Video screen was running an
advertisement about not smoking as you walk around, ash on people, secondary smoke to children; this scene showed a mother and two preschoolers looking aghast at a smoker coming towards them, the mother keeping the children close, the end of the ad is the smoker moving to a smoking area. These are set up all around common meeting spots and at entrances to stations and other venues. I have not encountered many people smoking as I walk around, and the subways are all non smoking. Long distance trains have no-smoking carriages, but often these are booked out: maybe they need to reduce the smoking ones more!

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Kids Park

Along the street from the corner bookshop is a small kids park, one of three in the area near the station. It often is deserted when I go past, but busy at the weekend.
As you can see from the photo it serves many apartments in the immediate area.
This is a very small park and I am curious as to the design decisions. Kids I have seen are enjoying the sculptures, but why they chose those over climbing frames etc. is interesting.
The bigger park near the child care centre is more traditional climbing equipment, but I like to think this was an artistic decision!









Walking back from the station past a shop I was very surprised, (despite having seen one before) to hear a dog barking not a baby crying from this stroller!!


The draft layout doesn't end up the same once posted, so I will experiment with a wider Template design, so I don't end up with picture and text all chopped up.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Kanji Practice

I often try and work out the meaning of the station names by reading the Kanji (Characters) and I now know most of the stations on the Yamanote line by the kanji without having to wait for the announcement or the English to appear.
But you can look at something for ages (like at least weekly on my last trip) and not register something.
Today I was going through Mejiro and saw the kanji as White eye 目 eye 白 white. In Japanese that is meshiro but they change the letter for compounds but I never can work out the rule, so it becomes Mejiro. This made me realise that my local station Meguro is 目 as well but I couldn't remember what the guro was. So on the way home I checked it out and it is 黒 , black (kuroi)

So there are two station called White eye and Black eye; needs some investigation!

Turns out the eyes belong to statues of Fudo, of the Sendai sect of Buddhism.
Ryusenji Temple in Meguro, is the oldest Fudo temple in Japan and counted as one of Japan’s three largest Fudo temples, one of five statues to guard Edo Castle.
Five temples were built in Edo (Tokyo) to house five sculptures of Fudō, each with eyes of a different color. The Mejiro station is named after the White-eyed Fudō and Meguro after the Black-eyed Fudō.
I have on my list of to-do things a Temple walk in Meguro so I will check it out.
The Information says that on 28th day of each month there is a festival at the shrine .
So I will blog that on 28th August.


The only other event of the day was I had my hair cut, and to kill some time I browsed in Seibu Department store and thought of Winter with these beautiful wool colours.