Friday, September 6, 2013

Tokyo: Ueno

Yesterday was an amazing day. Amazing. 

We started off early (still adjusting to the additional time difference - five hours behind Maui), went down to the lobby of our hotel (pictured below) to have better WiFi access, then went to breakfast at 6:30 in the basement of the hotel. A fabulous buffet of western and Japanese foods that would easily cost well over $30 at a restaurant back home, but is provided to guests as part of their hotel cost.

My breakfast selections

After breakfast, we headed over to Ueno Park across the street, walking past the lotus plant "field" in part that forms part of the pond. A sea of lotus leaves with their nascent blooms. The following pictures speak a thousand words.

I think this may well be the most beautiful picture I have ever taken.

We sat down at a bench alongside an open area of the pond to write in our journals, watching people walk through the park on their way to work. Then, it was off to explore Ueno Park, the oldest public park in Toyko and the cultural center of the city.

Buddha outside the Bentendo Temple on an island in the middle of the pond.

Prayers left at a temple

Around mid-morning, after browsing through a couple of temples and shrines, we spied a very nice Starbucks and decided to have a coffee and people watch for a while. Well, I people-watched; Mark wrote in his journal. It was an amazing day for him yesterday as memories of his childhood days in Tokyo crept back from the deep recesses of his mind, illuminating his path and bringing new perspectives on his journey through life.

I enjoyed simply sitting and watching, breathing in the air and feeling the gentle, refreshing breeze that, together with the overcast skies, kept the temperatures and the humidity at bay. Considering the forecast that we saw for Tokyo while still in Maui, we have been very lucky with the weather. It was sunny the afternoon we arrived and, though cloudy all day, did not rain yesterday. 

Sidenote: It rains so much here that a couple of the museums we visited yesterday have several large carts outside their entrances where people can "check" their umbrellas in little slots that lock. Apparently, umbrellas are more valuable than bicycles, as we saw literally hundreds of bicycles on sidewalks during our walk across Asakusa to Senso-ji Temple that were not locked up. It was amazing (I'll probably use that 

The Student Festival

We experienced an unexpected treat while sitting outside Starbucks. We heard drums and whistles, then saw the beginning of a parade of students carrying floats into the plaza in front of us. I asked one of the Starbucks employees, and in her limited English I managed to learn that this is a high school student festival that happens every year at this time.

One of a half-dozen or so "floats," which I assume represented each school

This girl led them in. As seen below, her costume left little to the imagination.

We saw several groups of adorable children. Some with red hats, some with white hats, some with green hats, some in uniform, others not. The pictures below were taken as we walked through the park. They were eating lunch out of their bento boxes - something Mark used to do when he was a child here.

Kan-eiji Temple

Our next destination was Kan-eiji Temple just beyond the northern edge of Ueno Park. This had been the family temple of the Tokugawa clan, who founded the shogunate that ruled Japan from around 1600 to 1868.

We noticed, as pictured below, red bibs and hats on a number of statues throughout the day, so when we got back to the hotel late yesterday afternoon, I did a bit of research. I hit pay dirt with one particularly helpful website, from which I quote extensively below

"Jizo [interesting to note how much this sounds like "Jesus"] is a patron for travelers and children. He helps children build walls in the underworld and is associated in Japan with helping aborted fetuses and children who died young. According to tradition, Jizo was an Indian monk who became a Bodhisattva [an enlightened being who helps those who are not yet enlightened]. In India he was known by a different name. There is no evidence that he ever had a large following there. In China he gained a reputation for being compassionate and helping people to avoid reincarnation as terrible beasts. 

"Jizo didn’t develop a large following until he arrived in Japan. His association with rescuing people from unfortunate births was focused on children who died in the hope that they would have good afterlives. Jizo developed a particularly large following among women, who placed statues of him along roadsides and in Buddhist temples. Over time statues of Jizo changed from large ones of a dignified man to small ones of childlike man with a bald head. When abortions became commonplace in Japan places on hillsides were set aside for thousands of jizo statues. 

"Jizo statues for children usually wear red bibs and are decorated with clothing and items such as toys associated with children. Often small piles of stones can be found near the figures. Jizo statues comes in several variations, distinguished by the objects they hold in their hands under the bibs. Jizo also appears in a variety of avatars, including one in which he is a fierce victory god for warriors riding on a horse. 

"Jizo statues are often found in groups of six, each with their hands in a different mudra (position) and each linked to relieving the pain of residents of the six realms of Buddhist cosmology: 1) one holds his hands in a praying position next to his chest and is associated with the Amida Buddha and the realm of humans: 2) one holds a sacred jewel and holds his hand in the no fear mudra and is associated with deva living on Mt. Sumisen; 3) one holds a set of Buddhist rosary beads and is associated with the realm of the non-human creatures; 4) one holds a sacred jewel and a pilgrims staff and is associated with Ashura, the realm of the deities; 5) one holds an incense banner and is associated with hell; and 6) the last one holds an incense censer and is associated with the realm of the hungry spirits. The six statues are grouped to together because the people who placed them there may not know where their deceased loves ones are and thus say prayers to the entire universe and all realms to reach them."


A 330-year-old bell on the temple grounds

Museums and Senso-ji Temple

Before we left Ueno Park, we went to the National Museum of Western Art and the Tokyo National Museum. The highlight at the former was a special exhibition of Michelangelo's sketches and letters that had just opened that day. At the latter, our highlight was seeing this Standing Amida Nyorai (Sakyamuni, or Buddha) that dated from the 1200's:

The walk to Senso-ji Temple took about 30-40 minutes across Asakusa neighborhood. On the way, we passed another temple (there are literally dozens in this area of Tokyo).

Electric Lantern

Detail of stone lantern

Before entering a temple, patrons are encouraged to take a dipper and pour some water into one's hand which one then brings to the mouth to cleanse it, then water is poured over each hand, again as a ritual purification.

The pagoda at Senso-ji

My man

Detail of a lantern with the temple gate in the background. Note the "swastika" on the lantern.
This symbol is used in connection with temples here. I need to do some research on that.

Out on the Town

After leaving Senso-ji, we took a big step - our first ride on the subway. I had read in guide books about this, and they made purchasing a ticket sound as complicated as rocket science. As it turned out, it was very easy to figure out how to get the right ticket, and away we went back to our hotel.

After bathing in the hotel's sent (public bath) and relaxing a bit in the room, we headed out to the streets behind our hotel. It's amazing what a difference 100 yards can make.

As we walked around looking for a place to eat, we were each approached by pimps asking if we wanted sex. A simple no was sufficient. Mark picked a place to eat which was packed, which is always a good sign.

Placing our order

It had been an amazing day. We were in bed by 8:00.

1 comment:

  1. What a beautiful travel journal and insights into daily life and your experience! The sense of time there is overwhelming: the bell that is over 300 years old, the beautiful standing Amida Nyourai from the 1200s (Europe's middle ages). It puts things into a perspective about the East's advance in time with regards to "classicism" and "enlightenment".

    Interested to know what you find out about the swastika. Originally, if I remember correctly, they symbolized to do good/to be one's higher self. Of course, this was twisted and took on such a negative connotation in the 30s in Europe.

    What a beautiful gift to reconnect with Mark's memories: for both of you.