right in the middle of the city

Tokyo for everyone.

Eisa Matsura Festival participants and the Braille pathways I keep tripping over ;-)

Eisa Matsura Festival participants and the Braille pathways I keep tripping over ūüėČ

Accessibility isn’t the first thing you would likely think of when Tokyo comes to mind; however, they’ve made a valiant effort with elevators, ramps, stair lifts and a raised Braille pathway along the sidewalk. Most packaged products also have Braille labels. Do we have that in Canada? I’m thinking we don’t but I could be wrong as it may be one of those things you don’t really notice unless it pertains to you or when you’re in a foreign country and everything is novel. Anyway, today must have been my day to notice how the Japanese treat the disabled or partially-abled. I’m not sure what the correct term is these days. I’ve been here since June 30 and scuffled around, stubbing my toes a few times, on the raised yellow sidewalks but¬†I hadn’t¬†seen one blind person in Tokyo¬†using the aforementioned pathways. Today I¬†saw four blind people–one in the subway station and three at the festival (see below). I’m not kidding AND I’m happy to report they were using the raised yellow sidewalk and it seemed to be fulfilling its purpose guiding people safely through the city and subway stations. Personally, I can barely figure out the subway stations and I can see¬†so I have deep respect for those who navigate this crazy place with any sort of disadvantage beyond not speaking or reading Japanese.

Today I decided to go to the Eisa Matsuri Festival in Shinjuku. There was another festival in Kagurazaka but it necessitated a longer time on the subway and a change of trains and it was simply to hot to cope. Shinjuku is a no-brainer–three stops on the Yamanote Line, 160Y. It was, as usual, ridiculously hot–34 degrees but ‘feels like’ (a term I have grown to hate) forty-one degrees; however, this seems to be the way of things and I can’t simply stay inside all day.

So you’re probably wondering how accessibility, the blind, the weather and a festival all fit together. Well, the weather is simply an aside that I can’t help but mention as it is truly oppressive and hard for me to overlook. The other three do come together nicely. I’ll write more about the festival later but the coolest thing about it was that there were kids with both mental and physical disabilities completely participating in the dancing and drumming. I didn’t actually notice any difference between the kids until the one young man in the photo turned towards me and gave me a huge smile. It was a fun experience, despite the heat and I figured if they’re out in the sun dancing and drumming I should stop whining and take a few photos!

One step closer to the nunnery. Ueno Park, part 3.

Ueno TempleApparently there are many temples and shrines in Ueno Park. This one, Benten-do is the only one I had the actual strength to visit. Based on the fact that it had a big gong in the building, I figured it was a Shinto shrine. Shinto is a general respect for all the gods…sort a pantheistic approach and co-exists easily with Buddhism in Japan.

Upon entering, there is usually a fountain to purify yourself. You are meant to rinse your cupped hands, one at a time and then your mouth. You must transfer the water from your cupped hand to your mouth, not directly from the ladle as that would make the ladle impure for everyone else. Spit the water on the ground. I don’t see people spitting that often…must be one of those customs that is going by the wayside.

You can light incense and put it the sand in the incense-burner thing (Japanese name unknown). You light it (buy it first) and then wave it around to blow out the Ueno temple 2flame but not actually blow out the flame. The smoke is believed to be powerful and healing and people usually waft it towards themselves.

When entering the main building, the offering hall, take off your shoes if it’s indoors.¬†¬†Actually, you have to take off your shoes at a lot of places that are indoors in Japan, particularly temples and shrines. Approach the Offertory box and throw your coin in. If there is a gong that‚Äôs when you ring it to get the attention of the gods. Then you bow twice (some say this is when you make your wish in your heart), clap your hands twice, bow again and pray for a bit.

If you are at a Buddhist temple, there is no gong and you shouldn’t clap as you are praying to the Buddha to help you attain salvation/nirvana not to a group of gods. I guess is that Buddha does not like to be summoned by clapping or loud gongs.

There are very cool little bookmark-like things as well as things that look like cell phone charms. These are called¬†O-mamori¬†and are¬†good luck charms that can be quite specific types of good luck (new job, success on exams, health, wealth, marriage, baby etc). There are also¬†fortunes you can buy called Omikuji¬†that are good or bad luck. Traditionally you would leave the bad luck ones at the shrine thereby ridding yourself of the bad vibes whilst the good luck ones were taken home‚Ķbut apparently you can increase or multiply your luck by leaving a good fortune at the shrine (which is what I did). The wooden plaques are called¬†ema¬†and you write your wish¬†on the back and hang it on a special¬†spot at the shrine. So there you have it‚Ķwhat to do at a Japanese shrine or temple¬†should you happen to run across one ūüôā

 

Ueno Park is big. Part 2.

liliesThe water lilies are amazing! It’s like a forest of water lilies if you can have such a thing. Apparently Ueno is not the best part of town…lots¬†of sex shops and weird bars but not really an issue during the day. I did meet a very friendly transvestite whilst admiring the water lilies, but she/he just wanted to know where I was from, if I liked Japan and if I needed any help finding anything. On my way to the Shitamachi Museum there was an area with people selling used goods. It looked like a bunch of junk so I didn’t spend much time. Also it seemed that there were mainly drunk men hanging out in the area.

Back to the water lilies. I had no idea they could get so tall. They cover the entire pond/lake and are a lovely oasis of green in the middle of the (sort of dirty) city. The wave around in the breeze and the light is amazing. Monet would have appreciated them ūüôā

Sumo in the neighbourhood

For those of you who don’t know much about sumo… It’s an ancient art based on the Shinto religion and sponsored by the Japanese Imperial Court. The successful top-tier sumo wrestlers¬†makuuchi¬†have rock star status in Japan. They can be demoted if they lose but the grand champion, Yokozuna,¬†cannot be¬†demoted; he’s expected to retire if his performances get sloppy. They bow, throw salt (purification) and throw their hands up (Hey guys, I’m unarmed) before they start. Matches are pretty short and whoever pushes the other guy out of the ring first wins. Weight is important and the athletes in the training stables eat a high-calorie stew called¬†Chanko Nabe.¬†There are many training stables in the Ryogoku section of Tokyo as this has been the centre of sumo for over 200 years. There are also many restaurants serving¬†Chanko Nabe if you’re interested in trying it out.

All that high-falutin’ sports stuff aside, there was a charming sumo tournament for kids in my ‘backyard’ sumo ring on Saturday. Cutest thing ever! Anyone could try. Even girls, though women are not allowed to compete professionally. And one intrepid toddler who fought everyone and was either indulged by a kindly older child or simply pushed over immediately. One girl beat about four boys. They all cried. She laughed and walked off with her prize watermelon and her somewhat bemused parents who weren’t sure if they should be proud or horrified. A good time was had by all–except the little boys who were pushed out of the ring by the little girl in the pink dress ūüėČ

Heads up to the sumo world...the toddler and the little girl are the ones to watch. They've got HEART!

Heads up to the sumo world…the toddler and the little girl are the ones to watch. They’ve got HEART!

I live next to a…park for aspiring sumo wrestlers!

In the photo, the image on the far left is my house–the one with the expansive deck with the sliding doors is our room. This little park filled with Zen and bamboo and carved stones (maybe gravestones, not really sure) and a sumo ring is literally in my backyard. It’s an actual covered sumo ring with curtains and tassels, though you aren’t allowed to use it without permission, as well as kiddie playground stuff, contemplative paths and a public toilet.

Motorhead

It’s the motorcycle from Sleeping Beauty’s castle and it’s just down the street from me! And it looks like it’s got the bicycle next to joining in. Very cool and sort of unexpected here where it’s all pretty tidy…though I have to say it overgrown in a very¬†tidy¬†way….

Motorhead

Finding the Middle Way in Omotesando

First day…so tired and so incredibly hot and probably jet-lagged. There’s a sixteen hour time difference between Tokyo and Vancouver and a nineteen hour time difference from Maui. I was wandering around Ometesando (great shopping area) and came across this little gem. The Zenkoji Temple is just off the main drag.¬†Not sure if it’s a temple or a shrine or both but this is the purification station: This is what you do according to Japan Guide¬†At the purification fountain near the shrine’s entrance, take one of the ladles provided, fill it with fresh water and rinse both hands. Then transfer some water into your cupped hand, rinse your mouth and spit the water beside the fountain. You are not supposed to transfer the water directly from the ladle into your mouth or swallow the water. You will notice that quite a few visitors skip the mouth rinsing part or the purification ritual altogether.