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A Guy's Moleskine Notebook

Thoughts and reflections on works of fiction and literature. Pondering of life through pictures and words. Babbling about gay rights. Travelogues and anecdotes.

  • [1] Annie Proulx: Brokeback Mountain
  • [2] Arthur Golden: Memoirs of a Geisha
  • [3] Yu Hua: To Live
  • [4] Alan Hollinghurst: The Line of Beauty
  • [5] Colm Toibin: The Master
  • [6] Carlos Ruiz Zafon: The Shadow of the Wind
  • [7] William James: The Varieties of Religious Experience
  • [8] Charles Higham: The Civilization of Angkor
  • [9] Graham Greene: A Burnt-Out Case
  • [10] Dai Sijie: Mr. Muo's Travelling Couch
  • [11] Alan Hollinghurst: The Swimming-Pool Library
  • [12] Mikhail Bulgakov: The Master and Margarita
  • [13] Colm Toibin: The Blackwater Lightship
  • [14] Alan Hollinghurst: The Folding Star
  • [15] Ross King: Michelangelo and the Pope's Ceiling
  • [16] Fyodor Dostoevsky: The Brothers Karamazov
  • [17] Jonathan Franzen: The Corrections
  • [18] Colm Toibin: The Story of the Night
  • [19] John Banville: Shroud
  • [20] Leo Tolstoy: Resurrection
  • [21] Peter Hessler: River Town, Two Years on the Yangtze
  • [22] Ian McEwan: The Atonement
  • [24] Gabriel Garcia Marquez: Love in the Time of Cholera
  • [25] Ignacio Padilla: Shadow without a Name
  • [26] Umberto Eco: The Name of the Rose
  • [27] Richard Russo: Straight Man
  • [28] Fyodor Dostoevsky: Notes from Underground
  • [29] Alan Hollinghurst: The Spell
  • [30] Hermann Broch: The Death of Virgil
  • [31] James Baldwin: Giovanni's Room
  • [32] Ken Kesey: One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest
  • [33] Xingjian Gao: One Man's Bible
  • [34] C. Jay Cox: Latter Days
  • [35] Harper Lee: To Kill A Mockingbird
  • [36] William Shakespeare: The Taming of the Shrew
  • [37] Daniel A. Helminiak: What The Bible Really Says about Homosexuality
  • [38] James Baldwin: Tell Me How Long the Train's Been Gone
  • [39] Kenji Yoshino: Covering - The Hidden Assault of Civil Rights
  • [40] Italo Calvino: If, On a Winter's Night A Traveler
  • [41] Arthur Phillips: The Egyptologist
  • [42] George Orwell: 1984
  • [43] Michael Warner: The Trouble with Normal: Sex, Politics, and Ethics of Queer Life
  • [44] Andrew Sullivan: Virtually Normal
  • [45] Henry James: The Wings of the Dove
  • [46] Jose Saramago: Blindness
  • [47] Umberto Eco: The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana
  • [48] Dan Brown: Da Vinci Code
  • [49] Kazuo Ishiguro: Never Let Me Go
  • [50] Ken Follett: The Pillars of Earth
  • [51] Leo Tolstoy: War and Peace
  • [52] Michael Thomas Ford: Alec Baldwin Doesn't Like Me
  • [53] Jonathan Franzen: How To Be Alone
  • [54] Jonathan Lethem: The Fortress of Solitude
  • [55] Matthew Pearl: The Dante Club
  • [56] Zadie Smith: White Teeth
  • [57] Fyodor Dostoevsky: The Double
  • [58] Jose Saramago: The Double
  • [59] Andrew Holleran: Dancer from the Dance
  • [60] Heinrich von Kleist: The Marquise of O & Other Stories
  • [61] Andrew Holleran: In September, the Light Changes
  • [62] Tom Perrotta: Little Children
  • November 22, 2006

     

    Reminiscing Tokyo Part 7: Meiji Jingu Shrine & Harajuku (11/2/06)

    Got up early again to the cold and gloomy morning. It was indeed the coldest day since I came to Japan, but I could still manage with SS polo shirt. As usual, I took a walk around Shinjuku on the way to the train station, where I for the first time hopped on the JR Yamanote Line. This line, other than the Metro Ginza Line, is probably the busiest, the most crowded and the most prominent line in the entire Tokyo metro area. Also known as the green circle line, the Yamanote trains circulate around Tokyo area and pass through major business and entertainment areas like Shibuya, Shinagawa, Tokyo City, Uneo, and Asakusa.
    A short ride on Shinagawa-bound train dropped me off at Harujuku. A short walk upon the exit on the right side led me to Meiji Jingu Shrine, a site that is, to my surprise, not packed by tourists. The Meiji Jingu Shrine was built in 1920. It honors the life of Emperor Meiji. Prior to the Meiji Era (1868 - 1912) Japan was a closed nation, but as ruler between 1869 and 1912 Emperor Meiji rekindled lost friendships, fostered overseas relations and in so doing, laid the foundations of modern day Japan.
    The gate to the shrine, which captured my immediate attention, is made of cypress wood and is one of the largest in the country. Walk under it and up the long gravel path and the city shrinks a mile away--the surrounding woodland covers 175 acres and is said to contain at least one example of every single tree found in Japan. At the end of the serene path I came to the front of the main shrine buildings. The originals were destroyed in the air raids in 1945 so these reproductions date from only 1958.



    The stalls selling religious artifacts also sell leaflets which explain, in English, the procedure for paying respects at a shrine. I made note of the worshippers purifying their hands and mouths with water from the stone basin, and the wooden plaques upon which special intentions and wishes are written. Thousands of visitors have left behind thier prayers on racks. During summer, Meiji Jingu also hosts Shinto wedding ceremonies. A Japanese woman told me that the Meiji Shrine, which carries an air of stolidity and prestige, is a popular, but also very expensive venue.


    I approached an old Japanese old who was paying worship and asked him about the proper manner with which to pay respects to the shrine. I could barely follow his words which now I summarize:
    How to Pay Respects at Shinto Shrines
    1.In appropriate dress (mine were only jeans and polo shirt), I am to proceed along the path through the Torii Gate. At Temizusha (the font for ablutions), I rinse my hands and mouth using water from the stone basin. Take care I should not touch the dipper with your lips directly.
    2.Then I proceed to the Main Shrine building. He said if I wish, I can throw some coins into the Offering Box.
    3.In front of the Main Shrine, I bow twice.
    4.Then I clap my hands twice.
    5.Finally, I bow once again.



    I stumbled upon little boys and girls wearing splendid kimonos around the shrine. Their parents have brought them, along with generous gifts and sacrifices, in order to receive blessing.These kids probably had no clue why they were there, but their parents, often dressed in traditional kimono and fine suits, made sure they abided by the proper etiquette to pay respect to the shrine in order to receive a blessing, which, entails good health and high marks in school. The ceremonies to solicit blessing take place at the age of 3, 5, and 7.





    Not too far from the shrine where the Meji Emperor and Empress are deified do I find this condom store Condomania. It stocks all kinds of condoms here from the most generic durex and trojan to things that are out of one's imagination. Small boxes and cartons of condoms--chocolate flavor, fresh fruit flavor, condoms for women, super ultra thin condoms--lined the store that, if you look from a distance, you would mistake it as a cigarette shop. Condoms are exquisitely packaged into decoys of candy bars, moth balls, napkins... The most amazing kind I find is Penis Pasta.

    Harajuku first burst onto the scene in 1964 - the Olympic year. With the Olympic gymnasium and village located nearby, the prospect of meeting somebody famous in the street drew people from far and wide. Today, the area includes Takshita Street, Meiji Dori Avenue and Omotesando Dori Avenue.
    I found the second-hand store (in Japanese called medieval wear) not necessarily cheaper than the ones selling new apparels. A paperboy's hat at this particular was 2900 Yen, compared to the new one I acquired at Muji for 2000 Yen. So you would have to look around, compare prices, and not to be too rash in buying things.
    Takeshita Dori Street is opposite the Takeshita Dori Exit of Harajuku Station. Here, shops sell a most extraordinary blend of goods reflecting the Japanese notions of "cute", "cool and American" and "rebellious and British". In other words a strange mixture of Hello Kitty, hip-hop and the infamous British punk. As for the shoppers? Well, any form of fancy dress goes.
    Being the focal point of Harajuku's teenage culture, Takeshita Dori (Takeshita Street) and its side streets, which are lined by many trendy shops, fashion boutiques, used clothes stores, crepe stands and fast food outlets geared towards the fashion and trend conscious teens.

    In order to experience the teenage culture at its most extreme, visit Harajuku on a Sunday, when many young people gather around Harajuku Station and engage in cosplay ("costume play"), dressed up in crazy costumes to resemble anime characters, punk musicians, etc.
    I didn't have sightings of people wearing strange costumes or anime characters. But I did have a lot of fun shopping. Many shops offered bargain for hood sweater, t-shirts, and accessories. The Japanese sizes are just perfect fit for me, since in the US there is no equivalent to a Japanese Small. In fact, the Japanese (or Hong Kong) Large would be a Medium in the US. Anyway, here most of the sales people don't speak English so I had to find the sizes and the styles myself and ask for help in Japanese.
    Design T-Shirts Store granlph is a hidden jewel in Harajuku. Unlike the overpriced Beams T, which is just several doors up, this place sells limited editions of simple-design t-shirts by up-and-coming local artists. All SS t-shirts are marked for 2625 Yen each and 2 for 4200 Yen. Long-sleeves are 2900 Yen each. The store was crammed with so many people that even I managed to elbow my way in, at first I had a hard time navigating through and looking at the stuffs. When I was ready to check out, the salesperson was punctilious enough to noticed i had picked t-shirts of various sizes. He politely asked if they were gifts and I said hai, sore wa puresendo o tomodachi desu. Then he carefully wrapped the t-shirts for me and ribboned them very gorgeously. Bidding goodbye to him, he gave me a few postcards and asked me to come visit whenever I'm back in Tokyo.

    It was always dark by the time the Yamanote train took me back to Shinjuku. I decided to have katsu don for dinner so I walked over to the west side of Shinjuku station and looked for a restaurant. I took the elevator up to 5th floor, purchased a ticket for the katsu don, found a seat by the window that overlooked the neoned streets and scribbled on my journal. The waiter arrived with a pitcher of water (yes, a pitcher for each patron), miso soup, and edamame.

    3 Comments:

    Blogger cipriano said...

    Unbelievably great pics, Matt.
    Every one of those kids breaks my heart, so cute they are.
    You must have quite the Air Miles racked up, huh?
    Do you ever just stay in one place more than a day?
    -- Cip

    11/25/2006 7:07 PM  
    Anonymous Chris said...

    I agree with cipriano. You have great eyes for pics. I love those kids.

    Will call you.

    11/26/2006 12:53 PM  
    Anonymous Greg said...

    Your blog unfolds apace, and your pictures of Japan continue to delight me.

    I want especially to thank you for your photos of the Meiji Shrine. I happened to visit the shrine during my trip to Tokyo in the spring of 1970; many of my visual impressions from that time have faded, but the memory of the shrine and surrounding park is still vivid in my mind's eye -- and also the emotional temper of the place. The appearance of the shrine is exactly as I remember it, though the gates look more weathered now. I think I was the only westerner present, though I scarcely felt isolated; I was just one more person enjoying the peace and beauty of the place. I had had a rather disappointing experience with my traveling companion; we had gotten on each other's nerves and had decided to spend a day apart. Rather nettled by that conflict (and the ensuing need to redress it's emotional sting) my visit to the shrine was an opportunity to savor a lovely and spiritual setting. There were some ceremonies being conducted at the central sanctuary; I remember a priest in flowing white robes and his tall, black headdress with rounded crown. He carried an object in his hand which, at one point, he waved in the air with abrupt and rather emphatic (but at the same time controlled) gestures. The object I remember as a large folded fan, though I'm not sure that's what it actually was. I was not able to determine the purpose of the ceremony. I don't recall a groom and bride present, so it must not have been a wedding, unless these gestures were preparatory to a later arrival of the nuptial pair. I do remember a number of children dressed very colorfully, just as in your photographs. Also, a women who was a grounds keeper with a cloth headpiece which resembled the kinds one sees on Dutch women in 19th Century paintings (though it looked Japanese, not Dutch). She seemed to be picking up litter and she was surrounded by flights of pigeons whirring in spirals as they fled from her approach, only to re-alight and peck about the gravel path for bits of food. After reading your commentary, I regret that there was no one who could help me interpret the meanings and purposes inherent in the shrine; so now, after all these years, the lacuna is partially closed thanks to you. The shrine is one of my most treasured memories.

    11/30/2006 6:28 AM  

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