Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Yasukuni on the 70th anniversary of the end of WW2

I had no plans to go to Yasukuni shrine this year. No plans at all.
August 15th was a Saturday and I wanted to stay home, sleep until noon and do nothing at all.
Read a book maybe.

And yet I went after all.


There is a group of ladies that likes to meet and visit shrines and temples and collect goshuin. Goshuin are red temple or shrine stamps that are stamped in a special book called goshuin-cho. You can also get them on loose pieces of paper, and you can make your own goshuin albums.
Usually, they cost anywhere from 300 yen to up to 500 or 600 per stamp.

And yes, you guessed it, that group that collects goshuins that's me and my friends. Most of us have two goshuin books, one for shrine (shinto) stamps, and one for temple (Buddhism) stamps. Yes, we are real goshuin otaku.
Sometimes we go crazy and do a stamp rally. We try to visit as many shrines and temples in one day as possible. And of course, we get our stamps.
Our record was 17 stamps in one day in Nikko. Man, that was painful.

People lining up to pray at Yasukuni shrine on August 15th, 2015.

You see, getting a stamp is just half the fun.

The real big deal is to get the stamp on a special day.
For example, at Toshogu in Nikko you'd want to get your stamp on the day of the Thousand Warrior March during the Toshogu Spring Festival.
Important dates, anniversaries of special events, and so on, are the ones you want to aim for to make your goshuin extra special.

So yes, at Yasukuni (the controversial shinto shrine in Tokyo) that date would be August 15th. The day marking the end of WW2 in the Pacific.
I got my shrine stamp last year on August 15th. I even bought a goshuin book at Yasukuni last year.

There are two designs of goshuin books available at Yasukuni shrine.

So why did I go again this year?
Because last year was the 69th anniversary. Not special enough.

Yep, the ladies insisted we had to go this year.
And so we went.

Taking the first train to Utsunomiya was painful. I almost missed it.
We wanted to catch the 5:59 train to Tokyo. We barely made it. Once on the train we slept like drooling zombies.

We got to Yasukuni right around 8:30AM. It wasn't that crowded. Not yet.

Some people (right wingers, I'm guessing) came dressed for the occasion. Well, almost. The boys, instead of shiny black dress shoes, were wearing less than shiny sneakers.

Some people came dressed in whatever:

While my friend got in line to pay her respects and pray for world peace, I got accosted by two journos.

There were plenty of press and TV people, as always. Waiting for some action, as always.

It all started innocently enough. They asked me where I was from. I told them.
They asked me if I knew what this place was. I told them.
And then they went on a fishing expedition, and just for shits and giggles I decided to play along.

You see, back in the days when the earth was still young, in a far distant land there was a girl whose job was to create fairy tales and make you believe whatever the company she worked for wanted you to believe. Welcome to the world of commercial advertising! We were the bullshit kings of the world. And as they say, it takes one to know one.

The journos were fishing and I let them. They had a story to file, and honestly, the morning at Yasukuni was very uneventful. And what a good journo does when there are no exciting events to report on? He creates one, of course.

They asked me if I knew why it was a special day at Yasukuni. I told them.
We chatted briefly about WW2. Seriously, don't lecture me on WW2. I can outWW2 you any day of the year and twice on V Day.

At 8:30AM it wasn't crowded at all.

They started to circle around the topic of why Yasukuni is controversial and wanted to know if I knew why. I told them that yes, I knew. Some of the dudes enshrined there were not exactly the paragons of virtue.
The journos felt they struck gold.
They shoved their mic in my face and proceeded to ask why *I* was there.
"For the same reason everyone else is here, except you, of course," I said.
And that is...? They wanted to know.

'To pray for world peace and the future of humanity," was my answer.

The journos were so disappointed you could literally see the air escaping from their lungs. Like a pair of deflating sex dolls.
They picked up their mics and cameras and quickly went in search of a more exciting interviewee with more news worthy answers. Not even a thank you. LOL.

Oh yes, I know what they wanted to hear.
They wanted to see me righteously foaming at the mouth at the attempts to revise history by the Japanese government, at the lack of sincere apologies, at the controversy of enshrined war criminals. The usual shiz and whiz that is a desperate journo's wet dream.

Press waiting for white doves to be released at Yasukuni shrine on August 15th, 2015.

Because just like in the world of commercial advertising where the bullshit makers create your world for you and then make you believe it's true, the reporters create their version of the news and serve it to you as factual facts. And if there is no news to report on?
Then, of course, you gotta make some. Simple as that. Your average journo has about as much "journalistic" integrity as Kim Kardashian. Except that she makes a lot more money than a sweaty guy toting a huge camera on a hot summer day.

And while I was at Yasukuni, I thought I might as well try my hand at the white dove thing.
Every year at 10AM a flock of white doves is released into the sky. Symbols of peace and all that.

The shinto priest giving instructions - say "arigato" as you release the bird you're holding.

Birds terrify me. They smell and they poop. But this year I was wearing my awesome Hello Kitty arm covers and thought "why not?" Only the tips of my fingers would be touching the feathery beast.

Girls be ambitious. I got my bird.


My friend got into the press line with her iPhone and channeled her inner paparazzi.

After the bird ceremony it started to get crowded. Really crowded.
When we were leaving the shrine the line to pray was stretching way past the wooden gates and spilling into the sandō.

The usual assortment of police vehicles was at the ready.

And even more people heading towards the shrine as we made our way to the subway station.

Same as last year. But as it was the 70th anniversary of Japan's surrender, there were more cops, more press, and more people.

This sign on the way to the station caught my eye:

Instead of going directly to the subway stop, we took a small detour (nature was calling) and noticed a different kind of subway. The kind that made us hungry for BLTs.

And sitting at Subway and munching on our sandwiches we watched as the Metropolitan Police Department bomb squad guys and reinforcements arrived.

Some were quite good looking and I offered to go outside and ask if anyone was interested in dating my friends. But before I had a chance to play Yente, the cops marched off.

And that was our morning at Yasukuni shrine on August 15th, 2015.

And oh yeah, of course we got our stamps:

After that, we went to brave the crowds in Asakusa.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Want to really understand Japan? Try these:

As most sites with "user" generated content, RocketNews24 can be a hit or miss experience. But mostly a miss, as I suppose its intended audience are otaku-wannabes in far away lands and teenage girls, who just "love Japanese culture". But mainly J-pop idols. Whoever they might be these days.

Then, there are "articles" that on the surface give useful advice, but are nothing more than filler for ad space. The recent piece about 7 things you should know before moving abroad immediately comes to mind. Not sure what kind of lobotomized drones that one was intended for. If you so completely lack common sense that this "helpful" list was news to you, please, do yourself and the world a huge favor and stay at home.

And then, there are articles, with obligatory catchy titles, that pretend to offer something new and exciting, but in reality are nothing more that the same stale, gag-inducing, regurgitated content.

(Why have I suddenly started reading RocketNews24? I've rejoined the Twitterverse and had nothing to do at work today.)

It's even more trying on your gag reflex, if such an article is committed by a Japan veteran, a journalist, and a person, who (supposedly) has some sort of intimate knowledge of the convoluted reality of this country. But you'd never know it from reading this piece.

Yeah, these are the "8 things you need to do to really understand Japan" by the illustrious Ms Chavez.
The same sort of drivel that could have been copied verbatim from any guidebook, or a more ambitious tourist brochure.

Not sure how this itinerary for a 10-day package tour is supposed to help you understand Japan. To really understand Japan.
The only thing missing from this list to make it an even more complete moron's idea of Japan is a visit to Harajuku and / or Shibuya.

You want to REALLY understand Japan?
One of the commenters had a few good ideas.

I'll add a few of mine:

1. Go to an old people's home/ assisted living facility, or whatever the politically correct name is these days.
See for yourself how Japan is going to look in the future unless either more babies are going to be born very soon, or the government eases immigration rules.
Your visit will be the most exciting thing that happened to the residents in... oh, about the last decade. You'll be the star of the show, and not because you are a foreigner, but because you are a living, breathing human being. Don't speak the language? Don't worry. Chances are nobody's going to notice. Just smile and enjoy the glimpses into Japan's future.

If you've read any of the alarmist news about Japan's aging population, you are, no doubt, aware of the problem facing this country. The nation is getting old. Literally getting old. What you don't see at the old folks' assisted living facility are the countless families where sons and daughters in their 60s or 70s care for the parents in their 90s.

That should help you to REALLY understand Japan.

2. Visit a nursery.
To see the other end of the spectrum, go and take a look at the babies that are being born. The babies, who when they reach the ripe age of 6 months, go to a nursery school, so their mothers can work during the day.

What? Women in Japan work after marriage? Unheard of! What? Mothers in Japan work after having babies? Can't be! This is contradictory to what's reported by every news source out there!
Yes, shock and horror, mothers in Japan do work. Not because they want to, but because they have to. We're not talking about trailer trash here, but normal families, who are scraping by, working a string of part-time jobs to pay the bills and provide for their children.
Some nurseries take babies as young as 3 months old. It must take a really heartless mother to do that. Or a really bad economy and a stack of household bills to pay.

That should help you to REALLY understand Japan.

3. Visit a school, or a kindergarten, on sports day (undokai).
It doesn't matter who wins and who loses. What matters is the team.

Curious about Japan's conformist, obedient, herd collective? Start on a sports field during undokai. The Borg would be proud.

That should also help you to REALLY understand Japan.

4. Missed the undokai season? No worries. Take a look at the yard or parking lot of any semi-large company early in the morning and enjoy "rajio-taiso".

image source

Watch as the employees in unison perform their morning exercises to the accompaniment of piped music. A magical moment when maintenance workers and salarymen are doing their part to build morale, foster a sense of group unity, and exhibit such collective mentality that many a cult would be put to shame.

That should definitely help you to REALLY understand Japan.

5. Go to the countryside. Visit a farm. Or better yet, volunteer on a farm.
See a familiar patter of old folk doing backbreaking work with nary a young face in sight. Who will grow our rice and take care of our cabbages, when the old farmers are gone? Ah, right, there's always food imports.

6. While you're there, go to a local countryside restaurant. You know, the type that is housed in somebody's converted living room, where there are no menus, and you get what grandma cooks for you from the produce that grandpa brought from the field.

This is the Japanese cuisine that nobody told you about. And guess, what? It's delicious.

7. Go a step further - take a cooking lesson.
Learn how to make udon the traditional way, how to cut fish for sushi and experience the 267 varieties of soy sauce. 

If that won't help you understand Japan, then nothing will.

8. Matsuris and pilgrimages are lovely, but they won't help you really understand Japan. Instead, you'll end up looking like a wapanese, weeabo (or whatever the correct term these days is) schmuck. How do I know? Been there, done that.

Instead, read the English translation of Kojiki and then visit one of the grand shrines of Japan. Izumo Taisha immediately comes to mind.

That should most definitely help you to REALLY understand Japan.

But if you just want to do what the tourists do and post some sweet shots to Instagram, then by all means, go see a geisha show, watch a sumo tournament, visit onsen.

But please don't say that it somehow helped you to really understand Japan. Because regardless of what the internet gods of RocketNews24 might say, Japan is a lot more complicated than that.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Kanamara Matsuri 2015 (NSFW)

It always rains the first weekend of April. Sometimes it rains on Saturday, like in 2013 and 2014 when we had the first mini-typhoons of the season. Sometimes on Sunday. It rained the first Sunday of April both in 2013 and 2014, but only for a little bit. And sometimes it just rains all weekend. Like it did this year.

And why do I remember the weather on a particular day two years ago? Because on this particular day, namely the first Sunday of April, there is a matsuri held at Kanayama shrine all the way down in Kawasaki city. Not just any old matsuri, but the world famous (well, nearly), the one and only Festival of the Steel Phallus. Or more properly - Kanamara Matsuri. Or more commonly - chin-chin matsuri.
And that's how you just learned not one, but two words of Japanese: matsuri - festival, chin-chin - well, you know, that part of the male anatomy.

This year it was raining, and we should have stayed home, or gone to Starbucks at FKD Interpark, or watched a stupid movie. But noooo... Once we'd made our minds to go to Kawasaki city, there was no turning back.

Luckily for us, the Utsunomiya line doesn't terminate at Ueno these days, but continues all the way to Tokyo and beyond. So, at least getting there was easy - directly all the way to Kawaski. No mad dashes changing platforms at Ueno anymore. Awesome!

In Kawasaki - more rain.
Luckily for us, you can transfer between the stations (from JR to Keikyu) through an underground passage. That's the good part. The bad part was that walking underground we missed the much needed Starbucks.

The Keikyu Daishi line wasn't packed at all. Very unusual. Either we were very early, or the rain kept most festival goers away.

Kawasaki Daishi station was virtually empty. On Kanamara matsuri day! Unheard of.

We arrived at Kanayama shrine around 10AM (don't ask me what time we had to get up to catch the first train, it's a painful memory).

The first thing that I noticed was the increased number of porta-potties. Wow! They were literally everywhere on the shrine grounds.

(taken last year next to a portable toilet)

Other than portable toilets, there were also more food stalls than last year, and a lot fewer "souvenir" stands. Miss I. was determined to get some chocolate and a lollipop. I was forced to get a towel to protect my camera from the rain. I was miserably cold and my pretty shoes were getting muddy. I had enough sense to wear a rain jacket, but apparently not enough to put on a pair of rubber boots. That will teach me.

Kanayama is just one of the shrines in the complex properly known as Wakamiya Hachimangu.

 (taken last year when it was sunny)

The main big building is the "hachimangu". The smaller building off to the side, the one with a black penis statue next to it - that's Kanayama shrine.

 (taken last year)

It's inside that smaller building where the important religious ceremonies are performed during Kanamara matsuri.

 Well, yes, the matsuri...

In its present form it started in 1977, if them innertubes don't lie. But its history goes back all the way to the Edo period.

Kawasaki city had the good fortune, or misfortune, depending on how you look at it, to be the second station on the historical Tokaido road leading from Tokyo (back then known as Edo) to Kyoto. It was a busy road, it's starting point was in Shinagawa, but in reality, station number two, Kawasaki, was the town where all the pre-departure action was. The last place where busy travelers could fill up their stomachs and empty their balls before the long journey to Kyoto.

(taken last year)

The emptying of balls business was handled by a thriving prostitution scene. These ladies started coming to Kanayama shrine to pray for good business and for protection from STDs.
Why to Kanayama, and not to a different shrine?

 (taken last year)

Ha, as always in such cases, a legend is to blame.

Kanayama was (still is) the shrine where Kanamara-sama (Lord Iron Penis) is venerated.
The legend goes more or less like this:
There was a girl. There was a demon with big teeth. The demon got into her vagina. When the girl's husband tried to perform his husbandly duty on their wedding night, the demon bit off his manhood.
The same thing happened to husband number 2.
In desperation, the woman asked a local blacksmith to create an iron phallus to trick the demon and break his teeth. The blacksmith did as he was told, the woman used the iron dildo, the demon lost his teeth and departed from the woman's hoo-ha.

Happy end all around.

 (taken last year)

The legend of vagina dentata (a.k.a. womanly bits with sharp teeth) is actually not as uncommon as one might think. These days most people who study legends agree that it's a metaphor for a sexually transmitted disease. The prostitutes of the Edo era must have thought the same. Hence their prayers for protection from STDs at Kanayama shrine.

And supposedly it's in their honor why the pink penis mikoshi is being carried around by men dressed like women.

 (taken last year)

While these days you won't see prostitutes praying at the shrine, Kawasaki city is still pretty famous (or infamous, depending on your point of view) for its thriving pleasure business catering mainly to blue collar workers. Nowadays it's women from Eastern Europe and South East Asia, considered too low class for Tokyo, who work in Kawasaki's hostess bars, strip clubs, and brothels.

Anyway, about the festival...

 You wish, buddy... you wish...

Kanamara festival still retains its sexual health past, and in present times it has expanded to AIDS awareness. In addition, it's an occasion to pray for fertility in general, to ask and thank for healthy delivery of babies (as evidenced by numerous couples with small children), to wish for happy marriages, to promote gender equality (as evidenced by throngs of transvestites in attendance), and to raise the awareness of FGM (as evidenced by a special section of this year's procession).
So yeah, it's your all purpose ob-gyn event.

Only a mobile unit offering cervical cancer screenings and prostate exams was missing. Now, there's a healthy idea for next year!

Kanamara festival starts with off with religious ceremonies performed inside the shrine. That's supposedly the place to be, if you want to be healthy and fertile.  Though if you're early menopausal, like me, even the Lord Iron Penis won't be able to help you.

After the ceremonies, the window finally opens and you can get your goshuin (red temple or shrine stamp). This year I was smart and remembered to take my goshuin book. Here you have to make some tough choices.

 (last year)

Wait in line for a goshuin, or hop over to the area in front of the main shrine and watch the ritual dance and ceremonies before the mikoshi procession.
I watched the ceremonies last year.
This year I stood in line to get a red shrine stamp (500 yen).

(not this year's photo)

There are 3 mikoshi in total:
  • black schlong (a.k.a. Fune mikoshi, in honor of the iron penis that defeated the sharp-toothed demon)
  • pink schlong (a.k.a. Elizabeth mikoshi, carried by men dressed as women)
  • small schlong (the sacred one that is supposed to give you all sorts of sexual good fortune)

The procession starts at noon and perambulates in the vicinity of the shrine.
Last year I dutifully waited along the street and then followed the procession, or rather - ran in front of it to take this video:

This year we were wet and cold and decided to shield ourselves from the elements under a restaurant awning along the route.

The restaurant was full of local matsuri participants of the male variety, who were joyfully getting stark raving drunk. All still technically in the morning - before 12 o'clock.

As soon as the procession passed us by, we took the back street to the station and went to Koreatown to have lunch.

The procession:

Surprisingly, Tengu (the one in a red mask) has a normal nose. One would expect that here it would be, you know, more suggestively shaped.

I love the "get me out here" look on the woman's face.

Of course what would a mikoshi procession be without fundoshi:

While attending Kanamara might be good for the health and well being of my private girly bits, getting soaked in the rain and shivering for the rest of the day gave me an awful cold.

Apart from the religious ceremonies, there are also additional activities to keep the masses occupied. One of them is the radish carving contest.

I was going to participate this year, I even dutifully practiced all week, but... well... it was raining.

The festival, due to its "shocking" value is very popular with foreigners.

(No, not me. A random Russian chick.)

 Last year it seemed that every gaijin in the Kanto region was there.

And most of them seemed to be quite drunk:

(last year)

This year the crowds were not as intense, but still, plenty of foreign folk around. We chatted with a French family who thought that parading a giant pink penis around town in full view of everybody, including small children, was just the coolest thing ever.

 (taken last year)

Some people come dressed in costume.

(last year)

Some? I don't know?

Miss I. was looking forward to seeing Mr Kobayashi for the very first time. Alas, no luck. He arrived after we left. I showed her a picture I took of him in 2013.

Mr Kobayashi is a cult figure of sorts of the schoolgirl uniform subculture in Japan. In a gaijin mind he's a symbol of everything that's sick and perverted in this country.

Instead of Mr Kobayashi, we had to make do with a different school girl.

This matsuri claims to raise funds for AIDS research. Not sure how it does it, but when it comes to funds, there are plenty of opportunities to part with yours.

Anything and everything, penis and vagina shaped, of course.

Candles, candies, lollipops, keychains, T-shirts, pseudo-dildos and plenty of things that I'd rather not know what they're for.

All in all, a fun day when the weather's nice.

 (last year)

And a miserable, wet and cold day when it's not.

This year. Poor guys... I mean, girls...