Google+ Rurousha 流浪者

Friday, 22 May 2015

Hanging out with Enma, the king of hell

It was an experiment. Science, sacrifice, success.

I can't go hiking with a backpack anymore, since an old injury is causing too many complications. Even my Canon EOS is a tad hefty for this wonky support system called the cervical spine. (It's really not a particularly efficient design: there's too much stuff happening in too narrow a space.)

So I opted for minimalism.

I can't hike in mountains? Fine, I'll walk in my neighbourhood. Can't carry a backpack or even a bag? OK, I'll take my camera, cash and my front door key. That's it. Not even a smartphone. I defy any Tokyo woman to go for a 3-hour walk with nothing but a camera, cash and a front door key. I can think of two who'd accept that challenge: a friend who's an anthropology professor who's gadded about in deserts for months on end, and Kaori, who's a barbarian from Okinawa.

Enma, the king of hell

I walked from Asakusa to Monzen-Nakachō to say hello to the king of hell. He's been ruling my life lately, so I thought I'd pop in and tell him to … well … go to hell. Then I walked back. It was about 10 km in total. I had a faint headache when I got home, but it was ignore-able. No migraine, no nausea, no blurred vision.

The lord of the underworld has many different names: Enma or Yenma, Enma-ō (King Enma) and Enma Dai-ō (Great King Enma). He's one of the twelve devas (kings of the twelve directions in esoteric Buddhism), and he's the chief judge in the afterlife: when people die, they have to appear before Enma, who decides whether they are good or bad, and then sends them to the appropriate afterworld.

I met him at Hōjō-in (法上院), established in 1629 in Fukagawa. It has the largest seated statue of Enma in Japan: it's 3.5 m high, 4.5 m wide and it weighs 1.5 tons.


"Now listen, boet," I told him, "we all know I'm doomed to go to hell, but this ain't it yet. It's still this world, here, now. So enough already with this pain crap. Put a sock in it and save it for later. You'll get your chance, but right now yamete bugger off tjaila time. Come back later. Kbye."

Enma glared at me. I glared back. He sneered. I snarled. He sulked. I got stroppy and left.

He won't leave me alone quite yet, but I'm not going down without a fight. Hmph.

Enma is in there, behind glass.

The temple also has a collection of paintings of hell, but it's usually closed to the public. I saw it years ago during a shichifukujin meguri (seven lucky gods pilgrimage) in that area. I've included a few photos from way back when.

I'm going to stop now, because skewwhiffy necks and computers aren't best buddies. I haven't – as per usual – responded to all previous comments yet. You know I will, eventually, one day.

Patience is a great virtue.



Jizō statues with babies. Jizō, the protector of children and travelers, always carries
a staff with six rings that jingle to warn animals of his approach.

These statues are in an exhibition hall at the temple. It's not always open to the public.
Ditto the paintings of hell below.

Friday, 8 May 2015

Daien-ji, the temple that stops headaches

I've mentioned before that my life can be a pain in the neck. Literally: an old injury, sustained in a car accident, still causes severe headaches. It's called occipital neuralgia, a fairly rare …

What? You didn’t expect me to go for a dead-ordinary garden-variety problem, did you? Oh ye of little faith.

It's a fairly rare neurological condition in which the occipital nerves – the nerves that run from the top three vertebrae up through the scalp – are inflamed or injured, and the end-result is a headache that's a bit not good. When it gets really bad, you can't see, lose your balance, retch violently. It feels as if you're carrying something very, very, very heavy on your head.

The baking pan Jizō that protects you against headaches.

I've learned to manage it with physio and neck exercises, but earlier this year it went to hell in a handbasket, and since then I've been struggling to control it.

I was getting so grumpy that I jumped onto websites that list genze riyaku (現世利益) or goriyaku (ご利益) – “this-wordly benefits” bestowed on the worshiper by the resident deity at a shrine or temple – and checked for headaches. Surely, I thought, there must be at least one god that would take pity on me?

I wôs right: there's a Jizō called the "baking pan Jizō" (焙烙地蔵 Hōroku Jizō) at a temple called Daien-ji (大圓寺)  in Hakusan, which is apparently the only Zen temple in Bunkyō-ku.  As soon as I discovered that, I took off. It's not far from my apartment; it took about 30 minutes to get there.

Lo and behold, a Jizō with earthenware baking pans known as hōroku ( or ほうろく) on his head. Some hōroku, especially those used in the tea ceremony, are hollow and have handles; others are flat (link, link). I haven't been able to determine the link between the baking pans and headaches, but, dunno, maybe it's because an intense headache really fries your brains? Mark Schumacher says, "Devotees offer earthenware plates to images of this Jizō when they suffer from headaches or other head ailments. They write their prayers on the earthenware, and present the plates to Jizō, or place it atop the statue's head." Gabi Greve says, "During the ancestor festival O-Bon in August temples provide hōroku that you can place on the graves and make a little fire in them to welcome the ancestors."

I was at Daien-ji on a public holiday, and not a soul could be seen except another enthusiastic photographer. I didn't pray or make an offer or buy a plate. No no no. I'm a cynic, remember, who visits temples to satisfy an intellectual curiosity, not a spiritual need.

I did have a chat with the Jizō. "Yo, bro," I said, "this neck thing is a bummer, if I may mix my metaphors and anatomy. I can't even go on decent hikes anymore because I can't carry a backpack; I've tried twice and both times I spent the next 24 hours curled into a ball; and it's not a good idea to lose your sight and your balance on a mountain. So. Like. You  know. If you're getting tired of salarymen with hangover headaches and you want to give a girl a hand, here I am. I haven't contributed financially to your temple, but I've done a bit of free PR for you. I wish I could take all these plates with me because, holy whatsimicallits, I'd love to smash them on my students' heads. However. Compassion, tolerance and all that. Understood. So, umm, this neck. Please? Kbye."

Let's hope I picked up Virtuous Vertebra Vibes at this temple.

PS: I know of more than one person who's waiting for a post about Chiba, local trains and nanohana. I'll get there. Promise.

The entrance to Daien-ji

The main temple


Selfie! :)

Friday, 24 April 2015

A happy Hachiko, reunited with his owner

I'm not going to retell the story of Hachiko. Does anybody NOT know it? Impossible. What may be news -- though it received a lot of publicity -- is that Hachiko has been reunited with his owner, Hidesaburo Ueno, in a new statue that can be seen at the University of Tokyo, where Ueno was a professor of agricultural engineering.

Here's an excerpt from an Asahi article:
The statue, which depicts Hachiko jumping up to greet Ueno, who is extending his hand to pat the dog, stands about 1.9 meters high and weighs about 280 kilograms. It is located near the main gate of the campus for the university’s Faculty of Agriculture in Tokyo’s Bunkyo Ward.
The university faculty had started the project to bring the Akita breed dog and his owner together in a memorial statue. Faculty members have solicited donations from individuals and companies since last year and collected more than 10 million yen ($83,000).
Hachiko is believed to have patiently waited for his owner’s return from work every day at Tokyo’s Shibuya Station for about 10 years even after Ueno's death. In commemoration of the daily vigil, a lone statue of Hachiko was erected in front of Shibuya Station in 1934, even while the canine was still alive. The current Hachiko statue at the station, the second of its kind, was installed in 1948 after the first was melted down for much-needed scrap metal during World War II.
You can read more in this article, as well as this one.


I haven't responded to all comments at previous posts, and I will probably take my own sweet time to respond to any comments left at this post. Sorry, all. Real life has launched a coup d'état.

Sunday, 5 April 2015

The suddenest, shortest sakura season

I need to get my act together and write, but it would really help if I could have either three parallel lives or 27 hours a day or damnit Ru stop finding excuses and start writing.

So. It's Easter in Tokyo – not that the city is aware of the fact, or cares in the least, and why should it? – and I'm enjoying a rainy Sunday at home while listening to Hildegard von Bingen. Surely that's what angel choirs sound like?

My original plan to go the Kawasaki's infamous fertility festival today was cancelled due to rain, and I can't say I'm devastated because I couldn't go dickpeditioning. It gives me a chance to relax – probably my last such opportunity for the next four months, since university classes start next week – and write a bit about this year's cherry blossom season.

It was the suddenest, shortest one I've experienced in my ten years in Tokyo. It started early due to fairly warm weather, burst into full bloom and barely a week later was blown to bits by frisky wind and persistent rain.

I could fit in only two blossompeditions: one to Jiyūgaoka and the Tama River; another one to Tokyo Midtown, where the trees are lit up at night.


Jiyūgaoka is constantly rated as one of the most desirable neighbourhoods in Tokyo, and it's generally accepted that you need a fairly bloated bank balance in order to afford it. It has two famous streets: Marie Claire Street, aimed at Ladies Who Lunch & Only Wear Designer Outfits Even To Their Daily Yoga Classes & When They Pick Up Their Toddlers From Yochien, and Green Street. The latter is a narrow green belt that runs from Midorigaoka Station to Jiyūgaoka Station, and the "green" is provided by cherry trees.

It's a very easy, very beautiful walk; and it's oh-so-genteel compared to the cherry blossom spots where the smelly masses gather. Strollers for babies vie with strollers for lapdogs, and the men who are about during the day – i.e. for some strange reason they're not slaving away at a big corporation – all sport hats and facial hair. It's that kind of place.

It makes me giggle, but ignore me: I'm an unsophisticated, ill-mannered, ignorant barbarian who doesn't appreciate the finer things in life, like precious little pastel-coloured frocks that would obliterate six months' salary.

I got a bit claustrophobic after a while, fled to nearby Todoroki, galloped through the valley (I still think it's a ravine rather than a valley) to the Tama River and then strolled down to Tamagawa Station.

That stretch of the Tama River is really not pretty, but it provides wide open spaces and several massive cherry trees. Happiness, especially since my walking companion was another Afrikaans-speaking South African (Yes! There are two of us in Tokyo!) who kept me in stitches with his running Afrikaans commentary.

Tokyo Midtown

I go to Tokyo Midtown once a year, when I have my annual health check at the Midtown Clinic. The rest of the time …

Look. I don't do shopping, I don't do fashion, I don't do nightclubs. (Please re-read above-mentioned description of unsophisticated barbarians.)

Last week, however, I accompanied fellow Google Plusser Larsen Wulff, who's visiting from Germany, to take photos of the nighttime trees. It's a truly beautiful sight, and not nearly as crowded as I feared it would be. Highly recommended.

All in all this season was …

Hmm. It almost feels as if it didn't happen, because it was over so quickly. Now we prepare for summer peonies, wisteria and azaleas.

I'm going to stop writing now, because I want to do another post about Chiba's nanohana (rapeseed flowers) and local trains. I also need to respond to comments that were left, umm, last Easter? Sorry sorry sorry. Busy. Distracted. Africa time. Sorry. Kbye.

Tuesday, 24 March 2015


When you make a mistake, especially a public one, for heaven's sake don't be a politician and try to hide it. Admit it, say sorry and move on. Plenty more to make.

I misread a Blogger notice and thought it applied to the current situation, but instead it was a notice that cancelled an earlier notice, but maybe it still means that look actually perhaps ...


I do know that notoriety that I thought was mine at last? Not. Drat.

I missed a huge brouhaha last month when Google announced, in an email to NSFW bloggers, that it would ban blogs with explicit content. Life is what happens while you're distributing porn planning a new academic writing syllabus.

That notice says/said: 
In the coming weeks, we’ll no longer allow blogs that contain sexually explicit or graphic nude images or video. We’ll still allow nudity presented in artistic, educational, documentary, or scientific contexts, or where there are other substantial benefits to the public from not taking action on the content. The new policy will go into effect on the 23rd of March 2015. After this policy goes into effect, Google will restrict access to any blog identified as being in violation of our revised policy. No content will be deleted, but only blog authors and those with whom they have expressly shared the blog will be able to see the content we’ve made private.
I write about Edo's history. It wasn't exactly a city of genteel ladies sipping tea, composing haiku and swooning delicately under cherry blossoms. Well, that, too, but not only that. It was also about beheadings and prostitution and fertility festivals.

Google's first announcement was met with such outrage that they've decided to maintain the status quo. Various other bloggers and experts have advised me that no action is necessary for my specific blog, despite a few dickpeditions, grin, so it remains up for now.

I would like to migrate to my own domain name, but I'll have to do my research first.

Special thanks to A.V.Flox (excellent writer; read her), Brian Kemper, Meg L, J. Helmi, Dmitri Popov, Hinomaple, Toby Oxborrow and many others (yell if I've left you out!) for their suggestions, ideas and virtual cuppa tea to calm down a snarling Ru.

I don't know how active I'll be in the next few months, because I'll be teaching at an eikaiwa as well as two universities, but at least I'll still do a few cherry blossom posts and … if all goes according to plan … perhaps I can do a post about the Festival of the Steel Phallus after all. More to follow.

Sorry, Google, and thanks for being a sport. Oops.

Sunday, 22 March 2015

Shinjuku's fertility shrine

I watched the tourists. I'm not sure why they were there, but perhaps …

1) their guidebook had told them that this is one of the most important shrines in Tokyo,
2) or they were nearby and the shrine is right there, in the heart of Shinjuku,
3) or they were slumming it up in Kabukichō.

Whatever their reason, they walked in, huddled in groups, looked bewildered, wandered around, looked befuddled, walked out.

Meantime I was standing right underneath the shrine's most interesting attraction, and the tourists – and I suspect many of the local visitors – were blissfully unaware of it.

"You see, but you don't observe," in the words of the immortal Sherlock Holmes.

Though one could argue that tourists look, but don't even see.

Anyway, before I continue, please be warned ...

I had to edit my original post. I was going to warn you that I would publish photos of a phallic carving, but then I received a dire warning from Google that "porn blogs" would be deleted (see previous post). So I'll tell you the story but I can't show you the photos.

If you're a long-time reader of this blog, you'll be aware of my interest in phallic stones. I find it delightfully quirky that the biggest metropolis in the world, a modern city of skyscrapers and a fiber-optic internet network, still has ancient phallic stones in unexpected places that nobody knows about. I'd much rather search out these old monuments to the gods of fertility than visit whatever the modern pop culture equivalent in Akihabara is.

If you want to see the wooden carving, you'll have to follow this link, since I'm apparently not allowed to publish my own photos on my own blog, but a Google Images search will still take you to other blogs. THIS IS RIDICULOUS!

It adorns a small Inari shrine called Itoku Inari Daimyōjin (威徳稲荷大明神), which you can find at the more famous Hanazono Jinja (花園神社)  in Shinjuku.

It's an Inari shrine, i.e. dedicated to the god of rice and, by implication, fertility. It's believed that you can pray here for a happy relationship and children, courtesy of Makkachin. Yup. Apparently the phallic sculpture is nicknamed Makkachin, which refers to the red colour of an American crayfish. However, caution, it's mentioned in passing on Japanese blogs, but I couldn’t verify it in official resources. Where in heaven's name would you find an "official resource" for such a topic?

Makkachin also bestows good luck on businesses. It doesn't specify which kind of business, but a gentle reminder that Kabukichō is just around the corner.

If you want to see it, it's in the small Inari shrine to the right of the main shrine (facing the main shrine). Walk through a narrow passage of red torii, right up to the shrine itself, and then look up. The sculpture is fitted between the two top bars of the last torii. Since everything is painted lobster red, and given that most people remain oblivious to the world around them thanks to their bloody smartphones, and taking into account that I'm probably regarded as odd by your average person … it's perhaps understandable why nobody notices it (or if they do, they're very discreet) and why there's no information about this on English sites. Now there is. Ladies and gentlemen, meet the big dick in the flower garden.

That's what Hanazono means: flower garden.

The shrine was first established in the middle of the 17th century during the early Edo period. The land surrounding the shrine was once part of the Imperial Gardens. During the 1830s and 1840s the shrine was surrounded by fields which were famous for bell peppers and squash known as Naito bell peppers and Naito squash. The shrine has been destroyed by fire numerous times, but it's still here, in the heart of Shinjuku, dwarfed by tall buildings.

The shrine hosts a flea market (including antiques) on Sundays.

I find it a rather bland shrine with too much concrete and not enough atmosphere, but it certainly hides unexpected treasures. Two: the wooden sculpture and, behind the tiny Inari shrine, another phallic stone. Photo censored.

So there you have it. May Inari bless you with whatever your heart desires.

To my shrinepedition companion: Thanks. It was fun. ;)

PS: I'm actually thoroughly pissed off at this point. My original headline was "Ru goes on a dickpedition in Shinjuku". I thanked my "bigdickpedition" companion. I had more photos. I had to self-edit all that, and it infuriates me. If I do believe in a god, it's the god of freedom of speech. Publish and be damned. I'll have to think about moving to a different platform.

PPS: No. Sod this for a lark. I will not apply censorship. I grew up in South Africa, where press censorship helped to ensure a sick, skewed, racist society. Bye-bye, Blogger, it was nice to have known you. I'm off to other platforms.

I'm not going to delete my blog or turn it private. Let's see what Google does. I trust they won't delete it without at least a warning. Various other sites have linked to my blog – some of those sites rather scholarly themselves – so who knows what's going to happen.

To my readers and followers, the year ahead will be a crazy one, since I'll be teaching at a conversation school and two universities. I won't have any free time from next month onward, and blogging will become well-nigh impossible anyway. I will probably continue my presence on Google+, but we'll have to see if that works out.

To new readers, if you expected smut and filth, you may be disappointed. It's all a bit academic, but you'll find references to naughty stones and prostitution in Edo if you search a bit.

To everybody, thank you, from a very humble and slightly overawed nomad, for reading my scribbles for so many years. It's been a wonderful experience, and I've made lifelong friends thanks to this blog.



Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...