Friday, August 16, 2013

At Yasukuni-jinja on August 15th

Hello world!
Remember me?
No? It's ok. I know, it's been a looooong time.

But today is a day as good as any to resuscitate this poor excuse for a blog.
soooo... here we go!

Yesterday was August 15th, and if you wanted to experience a side of Tokyo not very often seen by foreigners (or locals, for that matter), the place to be was Yasukuni-jinja. Yes, the controversial shinto shrine.

True, the shrine is there all year long, but on August 15th (the anniversary of Japan's surrender in WW2), the circus comes to town.

Yesterday was no different. At least on the surface. At least to a casual observer. But if you'd been to Yasukuni on other 15ths of August, you could tell that this year it WAS different. How?

It was boring. My boggingly boring. And for the most part - very orderly and civilized.

People came, paid respects, clapped their hands shinto style, bowed, and left. Next!

The only half-memorable event was held at 10 AM. In one of the shrine precincts, a ceremony dedicated to World Peace took place. Spectators were handed white doves, and after a minute of silence, at 10AM sharp, the birds, as symbols of peace, were released into the sky.

I'm a poultry fan, so I thought it might be a good idea to saunter over there, push my way through the anticipating crowd and anxious reporters from all over the world, and take a look for myself. This is the same ceremony that we were unable to witness during our previous visit. Why? Because somebody overslept and we were late! Ahem, ahem...

This time I was on time and this is what I saw.

Yep. The birds are all here. The people and photographers, too. All ready already!

At 5 minutes to 10, priests and shrine maidens started handing out the birds. I was repeatedly asked to take one, and repeatedly, I had to decline. The reporter standing next to me was quite unhappy about it, he really wanted to have a shot of a dove-holding gaijin woman at Yasukuni, I suppose. He made his dissatisfaction known by "accidentally" hitting me with his bag and his equipment. Over and over again. I finally put an end to it by pushing myself in front of him. Stupid jerk.

The people around me were holding terrified birds. To be fair, some people were equally, if not more, terrified. Especially one young man who got a special present from his dove.

A second after I took this photo, the guy on the right got shitted (shat?) on. That's what you get for squeezing a pissed off pigeon.

A thoughtful moment of silence...




Peace to the world, la la la la... Oh, wait. That's a different occasion.

And here they went...

What else?
There were lots of flags:

Some inept uyoku wannabes:

Who didn't even know that the golden knob at the end of the flag pole should have been wrapped in black for the occasion, like so:

Ehhh... what is this world coming to, if a common gaijin knows the August 15th right-wing etiquette better than right-wingers... Shame on you, uyoku boys, shame!

And, as always, Tokyo's finest were at the scene, doing what they're best at - directing pedestrian traffic. In full bunker gear, no less.

This team here, positioned very strategically by the first Kudanshita subway entry/exit, was very helpfully announcing that this exit is for exiting only. To enter the subway, please go 50 meters straight ahead, thank you very much, and we apologize for the inconvenience.

And that was the day at Yasukuni-jinja.
I got me a goshuin (red shrine/ temple stamp) as a souvenir and went back home.

I doubt I'll be back next year.
Honestly, I'd rather play solitaire mahjongg and eat potato chips.

But this trip gave me a much needed excuse to visit the import store at the station in Uts. I bought tortillas and salsa. Yay!

Friday, August 17, 2012

Yasukuni - revisited

Ok, so it's hot. As expected. And humid. Also as expected. And our living room aircon is still dead. Not as expected. We had two different guys coming and looking at it and scratching their heads, and finally this morning we got a phone call that a third guy will show up this afternoon. Hopefully, he can fix it. Because living like this is driving me crazy. We are all holed up in the bedroom again and the cats are getting restless. And frankly, I can't blame them. I'm getting restless myself. I think I might go to the laundromat later today.

But that's not what I was going to complain about. I mean, write about.

August 15th came and went and, even though we did plan on visiting Yasukuni that day, we didn't. Why? Because somebody (hint - not me) didn't feel like getting up at an ungodly hour of the morning. He opened one eye, mumbled something along the lines of "jdkasdjaskjd too early lshfkajf sleep flksdjldjf too hot", then rolled over and ignored me.

He did make it up to me later in the day by cleaning the entire house top to bottom and taking me out to dinner. To MY favorite place. One that he doesn't like. Hah! Serves him right. And what did I do on August 15th? Stayed in the bedroom, naturally. With the aircon on, of course. With two cats for company.

And we could have witnessed something like that instead:

or that:

Yes, those are photos from a few years back, but I doubt if much has changed since then.

Instead, I thought today we might revisit Yasukuni on a less crowded day. On April 21st during its annual spring festival - Reitaisai.

The shrine looked suitably springish:

Unfortunately, the season for cherry blossoms was pretty much over by then. Pity. :(

The priests, all nicely lined up, marched to a roped off area to the left of the main shrine building.
There, they did their priestly things:

It was all very brief and very compact. After that, they retreated to the shrine.

And what about the small crowd of people who came to watch the events? They milled around aimlessly and most of them moved to the other side of the shrine where an open-air concert was going on. Mellow acoustic music, peace-themed, of course.

Some paid their respects and then left:

There were quite a few foreigners there that day and they looked visibly disappointed. Not sure what they expected. Riots? Protesters? Demonstrations? Wrong time of the year, folks.

I didn't visit the garden, but I know it's there. And it's quite nice, actually:

The whole place was very quiet and, dare I say it, even boring.

On my way out, I saw this tour bus. How appropriate, I thought:

And then I went to look for a toilet and a Starbucks. I found both right nearby the metro station.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Obon is here

So... Obon is upon us. For those who don't know, obon is a Japanese buddhist ritual to honor the spirits of dead ancestors. But more commonly known here as "summer vacation". Most people are off work and head back to their hometowns to visit their relatives and cemeteries. Sometimes all at once, actually.

 Stores are fully stocked with obon items

I've been off for however many weeks, lost count by now, and still have two more weeks to go. All fully paid. Read and weep ALTs and eikaiwa teachers! Last year I had a six week summer vacation. This year, due to the economic downturn and such, it's only 5 weeks. Bummer... And I'm spending it all in Japan. At my lovely house in lovely Tochigi. Joy, oh joy. But I do plan to pop in to Tokyo this week (August 15th, Yasukuni, of course, and then for some whale meat in Asakusa maybe) and then again on the 23rd (no Yasukuni, no whale meat, only a doctor's appointment, bleh.)

Other than that, it's been a grim and miserable vacation. Now even more so, because just today our living room aircon unit gave up and died. DrT promptly called the service center and was told that, with it being obon now, someone may, or may not, get back to us sometime soon. Or not. Frankly, we didn't expect a call back before next week, but surprise surprise, someone did call just now. And said that a service person would be dispatched to us sometime tomorrow. Whether or not said service person will be able to fix our aircon, that unfortunately, they don't know until they can figure out what is wrong with it. Fair enough. I don't expect to get it fixed this week. Obon, you know...

Right now we're all sitting in the bedroom. Two humans and two cats. And enjoying the cool air, because luckily, this unit works. And I'm nursing my left hand, which got skinned and bruised when a piece of DrT's exercise equipment decided to fall down on me. While I was using it. Well, sort of. Not exercising, just stretching, to be honest. But it did fall. And, in the process I did make a hole in the wall with my knuckles and destroyed a big swath of wallpaper. But the hole looks oh-so-rugged, and none of my fingers are broken, so it's all good. I didn't like this wallpaper anyway. DrT picked it, LOL.

So, what else is new? Not much. We had a lovely lunch with friends today. Steak Gusto. Yay!

Add to that all-you-can-eat salad buffet, bread, soup, curry, fruit, yogurt and shaved ice for dessert. And a drink bar. What can I say? That's where cheap (or poor, like us) and very hungry people go to feed.

And I got a lovely present from the US.

Yay me! There's even a little something for my babies :-)
Now I'm going to finish reading "Snuff" by Terry Pratchett.

Have a lovely evening, everyone!

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Day in Chuzenji

Tohaisai came and went and guess what? We pretty much ignored it. Well, kind of. We got as far as Futaara shrine in Chuzenji, and instead of doing the Mt Natai midnight climb (because that's what this Tohaisai thing is), we looked around, stayed for the fireworks and then drove back home.

DrT felt awfully guilty, and me? I was glad, actually. I didn't really feel like climbing Mt Nantai again. But my dear husband even made funny noised about maybe perhaps, if he felt like it, climbing it sometime before August 7th. And guess what? August 7th came and went and he didn't. Meh, you climbed it once, there's no need to do it again... the mountain is still exactly the same as it was two years ago, right? Right.

Posters for the event

So, since we went there and didn't climb the damn mountain, what on earth did we do there? I mostly napped in the car, because it was pleasantly cool. Chilly, in fact. And I was tired.

But before taking a nap, we saw this:

A line of pilgrims being treated to a drink by the shrine maidens.

And this:

Local kids paying their respects at the shrine.

And this:

A very short mikoshi procession.

Then we went for a walk along the lake. It was lovely.

While I was sleeping DrT enjoyed a traditional Japanese dance competition, and I woke up just in time to catch the end of it.

And no, that's not DrT. He didn't dance. He just watched.

I met some parents who obviously knew me very well, but for the life of me I couldn't figure out from where, how and when. They were very friendly though and happy to see me, which I suppose, was a good thing. Especially considering how many people I piss off on a daily basis.

Then we watched the fireworks on the lake:

And then, while everybody and their mother started to get ready for the midnight climb, we climbed into our car. And let me tell you, driving the Irohazaka at night is not something I want to do again anytime soon. Especially not with DrT sitting behind the wheel. In MY car!!!

Here's a short video of the day's activities:

And that was it.
All of it took place on July 31st.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Water Discharge Tunnel Tour

Last Thursday we drove to Kasukabe City to tour the Greater Metropolitan Area water discharge tunnel, or rather - a huge surge tank, which is part of the Tokyo Metro Area flood prevention system. Complicated? Only a little. I'll explain it all later.

Dr T already posted his trip summary on his blog. Now it's my turn.

Before we could take the tour, we had to somehow get to Saitama (that's where Kasukabe City is). And we got there by driving. Even that part of the trip was very exciting for me. My first time in Saitama! Yay! Up until now, the farthest south we had ever driven was to Sano, to the outlet mall. And now, a drive all the way to Saitama! How cool, I thought.

I changed my mind as soon as we left the highway - we got stuck in a massive jam. Dr T, who once upon a time, a century ago, lived in that area for a couple of years, claimed it had always been like that. Endless jams. Endless traffic. Endless hell. I was missing Tochigi already.

We stupidly believed our car navigation system and let ourselves be led right through the center of Kasukabe City. That was when I was not just merely missing Tochigi, but hating Saitama.

The only redeeming feature of that prefecture? Its drivers. They actually stop, flash their lights and let you make a right turn. Happened to us three times in as many minutes. Amazing. And unheard of in Tochigi. Here instead of stopping, flashing the lights and letting you go, it's common to speed up, lean on the steering wheel, honk and scare the living crap out of you. All of that happening while the light is changing from yellow to red, leaving you stuck right in the middle of the intersection like a stupid idiot. That's Tochigi driving for you. No wonder we lead the nation in fatal road accidents. But hey, we gotta be good at something, even if it's vehicular homicide, right? Right.

Finding the drainage pump station is easy. It's clearly marked and judging by the line of taxis delivering other tour participants, it's must be quite well known in the city.

We simply followed the signs.

The tour has to be booked online and you need to be there 30 minutes before the starting time to register yourself, collect your badge and watch a mind bogglingly dumb anime about the whole flood prevention system. Because the whole tour is conducted in Japanese and you need to be able to follow safety/ emergency instructions in Japanese, you either need to understand the language, or be with someone who does. Or simply nod and say "hai" and "eeeeeehhhh!" or "ah soooooo!" to everything the guide says. It works just fine.

You also need to wear sturdy shoes and be able to climb up and down a whole lot of steps, which can be wet and/ or muddy and very slippery.

But before you can do that, you are going to listen to a very informative lecture on how the greater metro area flood prevention system works. If you come early, you can even watch a proper movie. In English. I quite enjoyed that part, actually.

This is the control room:

The whole system consists of 5 intake banks, a huge underground tunnel, a humongous surge tank and a pump station that pumps all this excess water to the Edo river. So, basically, they build a river and a dam underground. When it rains and local rivers overflow, this overflow is collected 50 meters underground, it fills the surge tank and then is spat back to a larger river 6.3 kilometers away.

And this is the pump:

Don't ask me what happens during a major earthquake. I don't want to know.

The fun part is, of course, when you get to visit the surge tank. It does look like an underground temple. Or, as the English language brochure described it - as an underground Parthenon-like structure.

The steps were not as bad as I thought. Yes, they were wet and slippery, but nothing like what I thought it was going to be. It was an easy climb up and down. Or rather - down and up again.

When we were there, the space was occupied by a film crew filming some dreadful live action anime hybrid. They didn't want us to take any photos of them, but their orders were universally ignored by everybody in our group.

And that was it.
The whole tour, from beginning to end, lasts only 90 minutes, of which just 15 are spent underground in the surge tank. And there's no tour on days when it rains and the tank is filled.

When you leave you get a free postcard and you can roam the grounds more or less freely and take photos. I didn't see one guard or a single security person.

All in all, an interesting way to spend a free afternoon. However, I don't recommend this tour for kids - they'll be bored out of their minds, misbehave and only frustrate the guide. And embarrass their parents. And piss off other tour participants. Trust me, I know what I'm talking about. There was a bunch of elementary school kids in our group.

More info here (in Japanese).