Google+ Rurousha 流浪者: June 2012

Thursday, 28 June 2012

I found peace, and it was good

Would I push the boundaries of acceptable blogging behavior if I published a few more iris photos?

I've known about this park for a while, but I didn't have a chance to visit it until earlier this week. Oh my giddy aunt. It's gorgeous: a river ánd flowers ánd trains ánd Tokyo Sky Tree! I'll definitely have to include it in future lists of Tokyo's best iris gardens.

It's called the Edogawa Koiwa Iris Garden (江戸川小岩菖蒲園) or just the Koiwa Iris Garden. (I couldn't find any internet information about it in English.) It's very close to Edogawa Station on the Keisei Line, next to the river itself. Kids play on nearby baseball pitches, trains trundle across the bridge and the river flows languidly as it's done for centuries. It's free and there weren't many visitors apart from a few old-timers and their caretakers.

Yup, it's me, taking photos.

I walked with a friend from Koiwa Station to the garden. It took about half an hour, but we were walking fairly slowly and chatting up a storm. Then we oohed and aahed over the flowers, parked ourselves under a tree and sat there, soaking up the tranquillity, until she had to collect her child from school and I had to go to my afternoon classes.

That's the Keisei Line. Click on the photos to see bigger versions.


Random trivial information: did you know that Edogawa has the largest percentage of children per couple (currently 1.33) in Tokyo? No wonder. The ward subsidizes private education, offers a child-support allowance and covers children's medical expenses. 





We sat under this tree for a long time. It was good.

Water lily (スイレン, suiren)

I'm not entirely convinced that this colour combination is successful.

Wheee! Sky Tree!

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Tuesday, 26 June 2012

Life, post-quake

The new normal in Tokyo is to have a rucksack with emergency supplies at the front door, just in case there's another big quake. I say "in case", but I should rather say "when". I'm not sure how many people still do this, more than a year later, and I'm not entirely convinced that it will help, but ... at least it's a token attempt at reassuring myself that I'm not ignoring reality.

I'm neither wise nor paranoid enough to keep piles of canned "sea chicken" (tuna), bottled water and toilet paper at home. I've put emergency food in the bag, but this morning – when I wanted to take a photo of some of the contents – I realized that the Soyjoy had expired earlier this month. So I ate it. Grin. I have no concerns about old food, since I happen to think Japan's food expiry dates are overly cautious. Anyway, I'm from Africa, so my stomach long ago realized that either it copes with dodgy stuff, or else we both die.

Why am I not convinced an emergency bag will help? This is Tokyo. We spend less time at home than at work, and what good will it do if I'm on one of my frequent walks when the quake strikes?


I've tried to put chocolate and peanut butter (high energy food, not heavy) in the bag, but it's a waste of effort: they get consumed within two days.

What else do I have in there? Water, warm clothes, cash, small flashlight, batteries, mobile phone charger, an old pair of glasses, some toiletries.

Crikey. I wonder if the batteries are still OK?

Maybe I should add my passport or another form of ID? If all hell breaks loose, I hope I remember to take my handbag as well. The Hero will grab his fishing gear.


Do not laugh – I repeat, do NOT – when I tell you that I've also put a copy of TLOTR in the bag. It occupies too much space, but if you're stuck in a wasteland, you should have something to read! I considered adding The Tale of Genji, another very thick book that should keep me occupied for a while, but then I won't have space for food.

Hmm. Maybe I can throw out the warm clothes?

PS: If you wondering about the boxes in the top photo, the passage from the genkan to the living room is lined with boxes full of books. I'll get bookshelves one day. Promise. Heh. If those boxes tumble during a quake, getting out won't be possible, but at least there will be lots to read.

PPS: The two bronze lions are from West-Africa. They're my African koma-inu.

Sunday, 24 June 2012

A Buddhist Band-Aid for your aches and pains

Forget about Band-Aid. It's just too … blah. No imagination. No pizzazz.

No. If you have pain, an illness or any physical distress, visit the Niō at Tōgakuji in Tabata. Niō are the wrath-filled, muscular guardians of Buddha, but you won't be able to see this pair's splendid physique – they're covered in strips of red paper, placed on their bodies by other not-perfectly-healthy visitors.

Stop! What's going on?


OK, let me explain. Tōgakuji ...

Actually I'm not sure whether it's Tōgakuji or Tōkakuji; I've seen both romanisations. It's written 東覚寺 in Japanese, and I'd love to hear from Japanese readers/experts what the correct pronunciation is. I'll stick to Tōgakuji for now, since the temple's website uses that spelling.

Tōgakuji is a temple in Tabata, and it's so delightfully quirky that I spent an hour on its rather small premises. It was originally established in Kanda in the 1400s and moved several times before it was relocated to its current position in the 1600s. It was built in honour of Fukurokuju, the deity of wisdom and longevity, but it's famous mostly for two Niō statues, called the Akagami Niō (赤紙仁王) or Red Paper Niō, that stand guard at its gate.

Akagami Niō (赤紙仁王). Click on the photo to see a bigger version.

It's not clear when this practice started – perhaps during a plague in old Edo in the 1640s – but worshippers started sticking red paper to the statue's bodies, on the same spot where they experienced pain or any physical discomfort, in the belief that their ailment would disappear. (Red is alleged to ward off evil.) That was 400 years ago. They're still doing it. They’re doing it so enthusiastically that you can barely see the statues underneath the red paper, and it's impossible to see which statue is going "a" and which one is going "un". (Read more about a-un here.) I've included photos of the two paper-covered statues, as well as photos of what the statues actually look like. I spotted the latter on a noticeboard in front of the temple.



More odds and ends

The temple has a dizzying variety of Buddhist deities, Shinto gods, good luck symbols, statues, flowers, ponds, birds … you name it. It also has a garden at the back of the temple, full of further symbols of the so-called Shichifukujin or Seven Lucky Gods, but the garden is only open during the first fortnight of the year. That's because …

The temple is part of the Yanaka Seven Lucky Gods Pilgrimage, apparently the oldest such pilgrimage in Tokyo. It's believed that such a pilgrimage is especially auspicious when done on, or just after, New Year's Day.

While you're at Tōgakuji, you might as well visit the small Hachiman Shrine behind it. (The road to the shrine is on your right if you stand facing the temple.) Temple and shrine used to be one, until Buddhism and Shinto were forcibly separated in the Meiji Era. The shrine itself is nothing special, but you walk there along a nice shadowy alley, lined by small warehouses where the neighbourhood's mikoshi are stored.

A very special thanks to Minor-san of Minor's Diary for telling me about this temple!



The main courtyard of the temple, and (below) various statues found at the temple.

I recognized this guy: it's Fudō-myōō.




This Jizō is for babies and pets.


Rokujizō or Six Jizō, presenting the six realms of desire and karmic rebirth

Aww!

This is Ninomiya Sontoku.


The path leading to the Tataba Hachiman Shrine, lined with storerooms for mikoshi

Mikoshi storerooms

Tabata Hachiman Shrine behind the temple

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Saturday, 23 June 2012

The ninja and the dinosaur in the station

JR and other railway companies in Japan adorn our stations with colourful posters. Many are informative; others are simply self-promotion. I'm not sure why this specific poster caught my attention, but I suspect it's the combination of stereotypes plus tongue-in-cheek humour.

The poster tells commuters that we don't have to worry: we won't get swept away in flash floods. (It's rainy season, after all.) The joy is in the detail.

PS: This post was inspired by Cecilia's Odds and sods.

Full poster

Dinosaur skeleton!

Platform line-up

Salaryman, Buddhist priest, 良妻賢母, student, sumo wrestler, OL

High school students, blonde (but svelte!) tourists, platform guard,
two English teachers?, Akiba type, salaryman

My favourite bit: a ninja!

Oh well. Why not? :)

Thursday, 21 June 2012

Love hotels: it's not the bed, it's the bath!

The best thing about a Japanese love hotel has nothing to do with sex. No. What makes a love hotel truly love-worthy is … its bathroom. I'm sorry if I've disappointed you, but sometimes all you want to do is wash off sweat rather than work up a sweat, and there's no better place to do the former than a love hotel's bathroom. It's awesome.

If you're reading this blog, you probably know what a love hotel is. If you don't know, here's a quickie explanation: a love hotel is where you go to have sex. Unless you've just spent a full day on a fishpedition, lurching up mountains, falling over rocks, getting covered in mud and being attacked by suzumebachi, all of that in killer heat and suffocating humidity. Then you just want a bath.
  
You don't want this bath:


You want this bath:


That first photo is a typical "unit bath" in a typical moderately priced hotel. It's so small that you can't have a bath; you have to have a shower. The shower curtain will strangle you, the toilet paper will get soggy and you will have badly bruised elbows as well as an ill temper for the next fortnight. The second photo is a Jacuzzi in a love hotel.

The real purpose – according to hype and popular belief – of a love hotel is, of course, sex. It provides couples with privacy, a scarce commodity in this country with its high-density living and generally small apartments often constructed of wood or other earthquake-friendly materials rather than sound-proof bricks. Lest you think that Japan is a giant red-light district with employees disappearing on long "lunches", let me assure you that you're wrong. I don't doubt that these buildings have seen their fair share of one-night as well as one-hour stands, but I also suspect married couples use love hotels as often as unmarried couples.

Before I visited a love hotel, I had an image based on nothing but my imagination: mirrors on the ceiling and lots of tacky red velvet. Was I ever wrong. You get that, too, but love hotel décor covers a wide range, from minimalist to ornate French baroque. The rooms are spacious, with bathrooms to die for, and it’s all surprisingly ordinary. You do get hotels that can't be described as normal by any earthling, from S&M dungeons to Hello Kitty pink froth (or both combined), but the majority is matter-of-fact, convenient and efficient.

When you go to a love hotel, there's no interaction with hotel staff. Entrances are private, for both pedestrians and cars. If you arrive by car, there’s often a direct entrance from your parking space to your room. Electronic signs show which rooms are occupied. You make your choice and simply walk in: unoccupied rooms aren’t locked. As soon as you’re inside, an electronic sensor automatically locks the door behind you. You cannot get out again unless you pay, either cash or with a credit card.

Moral of the story: do not forget anything in your car!

Each room has its own pay point. How much does it cost? A one-hour to three-hour "rest" (a misnomer if ever there was one) is ¥4000 to ¥6000, a "stay" (the whole night) is ¥6000 to ¥10 000, but prices depend on area, the day of the week and the time of the day.

Pay point

I'll describe a typical room. Everything was sparkling clean. The room didn't have any windows. The bed was massive. It had a control panel that reminded me of a Boeing 747 cockpit. I thought the bed could tilt, rotate, vibrate and launch into orbit, but no: the panel controlled lights, temperature and television channels. The room was decorated in dark colours, with lots of marble, steel and glass. No ceiling mirrors. No salacious-looking toys. I didn't even see any condoms, but there was a giant box of tissues next to the bed. 

No windows! It can get a bit claustrophobic if you're used to Africa's wide open spaces.

The only time I didn't like our room was in a hotel in Gunma: the bed had seen too much action and sagged like an ancient horse, the air con was stuck on stifling hot and ghastly New Age music played in the background … and try as I might, I couldn't figure out where to switch it off. The Hero was of no use whatsoever: he had collapsed lights out, and was dreaming of the trout that had gotten away.

I had another bath, made some tea, fiddled with buttons and wondered how it's possible that one slender human being can spread across and occupy an entire king-sized bed.

Then I started wondering about love hotel workers, especially the cleaning-up staff. It's a weird job. Don’t you think?

Then I started fantasizing. No, it wasn't that kind of fantasy. You should know me better by now. I speculated that if Tokyo simply flattened all love hotels and expanded apartments to fill the available space, couples would have much more privacy at home.

Then I fell asleep on the sofa.

That's it then. That's how you spend a night in a love hotel. I'm sorry that I didn't include any X-rated details and only a small number of tongue-in-cheek references, but remember: if you want space and an awesome bathroom, consider a love hotel.

If you have a good night's rest, you'll have more energy the next morning.

Ne?

Edit added 26 July 2013: If you want to see photos of some of the quirkier hotels, I recommend this post. If you're interested in the history of love hotels, read this post.

Control panel

Massive TV

High-quality bathroom goodies

Another example of a love hotel room. Very ordinary, isn't it?

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