Please start at Day One

Sunday, 24 April 2011

Days 46~55 Tokyo

Before leaving Japan, I spent the last ten days visiting sights in and around Tokyo. Even though I had finished the pilgrimage I still tended to gravitate naturally towards temples and shrines. Sensoji Temple is easily reached by tube in fairly-central Tokyo. Tokyo's oldest temple is very popular, and was busy with Japanese and foreign tourists. The Japanese paper lantern in the Kaminari-mon - Thunder Gate - is massive. I wanted to buy paper lantern souvenirs from the many tourist-stalls with the extensive temple grounds. In my eyes, the red paper lantern decorated with black Kanji is a quintessential image of Japan. However, Kazu thought the souvenirs were just tacky tourist trash and did not want one displayed at home, but I secretly bought one for myself anyway, and I keep it hidden in my locker at work.

Parts of the temple grounds which are usually closed to the public were open on the day that we visited. We did not know this, but quite by chance a Japanese lady who was visiting the temple with a group had two tickets she did not need, and she approached us and gave us the tickets. We joined a relatively small group of ticket-holders, and were shown through a gate, away from the hustle and bustle of the busy main temple precinct, into a peaceful traditional Japanese garden with pond and we were served green tea. Back out in the main precinct, we visited a small Shinto Shrine which was within the grounds of the Buddhist Temple. I have grown accustomed to this close connection between Japan's two main religions, which I think must be unique in the world. Most Japanese that I spoke to explained that they followed both religions, and neither is really mutually exclusive. I had not encountered Shintoism before I came to Japan, but on the Buddhist Pilgrimage I had experienced Shintoism at every step. At Meiji Jingu Shinto Shrine, also easy to reach in central Tokyo, I picked up an English language leaflet about the shrine, which included an introduction to Shintoism. I read it with interest, I wanted to learn more about this religion. The leaflet seemed to explain more about what Shintoism is not, ie. it does not have a single central god, religious text or hierarchy of clergy; I intend to do some more reading.  At Meiji Jingu Shinto Shrine there was an impressive wall of  Sake barrels, given as offerings to the shrine.
While in Tokyo, I stayed at a Business Hotel near Kazu's parents, and I experienced my first ever earthquake, although I didn't realise it at first. I had just stepped out of a hot bath in the hotel room, when I had that wobbly feeling as though I was about to faint. Worried that the bath had been too hot and I was going to collapse, I sat down quickly on the edge of the bath until the feeling would pass. The feeling did not pass, but I felt ok in myself, then I saw the bath water moving and realised what was happening. I wasn't sure what to do in the event of an earthquake, but decided I should probably get some clothes on in case we had to evacuate the building. The quake passed without incident, and I felt a few more while I was in Tokyo. I was in a large department store in Tokyo when I suddenly heard strange ring-tones on lots of people's mobile phones nearby - there is an earthquake early-warning mobile alert system that you can subscribe to. Kazu looked above us: apparently the thing to do is check that you are not standing underneath a chandelier or glass windows, we were clear. Some people stopped and simply stood still for a few seconds while the tremors passed, but most people simply carried on browsing in the store.

I visited the NHK (Japan's equivalent of the BBC) studios in Tokyo and met Kay Fujimoto and Mick Corliss who work for NHK World. I watched them record an edition of their weekly Japan-related English Language radio programme: "Friends Around the World". After I returned to the UK, Kay and Mick phoned me from Japan and recorded an interview about my Shikoku pilgrimage for later broadcast. I now listen to their programme each week on a podcast from their website. It is an interesting glimpse of Japanese life for people - like me - whose Japanese language ability is not yet good enough for regular Japanese TV or radio.

From my base in Tokyo, it was a relatively easy train journey to Kamakura. The train itself was slightly bizarre though. We had been travelling along regular railway tracks for some miles when the train suddenly turned into a high street and we rode down the road alongside cars and pedestrians. In Kamakura I visited the breathtaking Daibutsu - Great Buddha Statue. It cost ¥200 to enter the temple grounds in which the statue is based, but then if you want to climb inside the colossal, hollow, statue it costs another ¥20 which is a bargain at about 15pence.

While I was still in Japan I also visited a charity group Ippo Ippo - Step by Step, which organises events and Mount Fuji walks for cancer patients. The group invited me to give a short presentation on my pilgrimage at their meeting. I started the presentation in Japanese, but this only lasted for about 8 sentences and then I relied on Kazu to translate for me. After the meeting, which was held in Shizuoka Prefecture, we drove for half an hour to a vantage point for viewing Mount Fuji. This was my first proper view of the iconic mountain, but it was a hazy afternoon and we were facing the sun so I did not manage to take any decent photos of it. However, on my last day in Japan while aboard the Shinkansen - Bullet Train - from Tokyo, on my way to Osaka for Kansai International Airport, we were presented with spectacular views of the mountain. This is one of my last views of Japan, and my final photograph from my trip: