|After taking care of
more personal business, I left Nippori around 9:30, hoping to head to
Asakusa and say goodbye to the Kannon there. My tape-recorded log
sounds something like this
9:33--left the apartment
9:35--stopped to pick up the things I
9:39--stopped at the mini-mart to get
the passport I left in the copy machine earlier
9:42--retied the things I dropped
onto the bag
9:45--stopped again to...
You get the picture.
10:15--Passed a "4 km to
Nihombashi" sign before reaching Ueno station. All distances
for major roads in Japan are measured from Nihombashi, the starting
point that I'm heading for. On foot. This system was
established by the Tokugawas, who also brought the Tokaido
10:20--A near 40-minute stop at Kinko's
in front of Ueno station to finish up (almost) some business.
10:55--On my way to Nihombashi,
stopping at a bank and a post office on the way.
Pretty exciting so far, isn't it?
But there's a point to all this. It is simply this: things
brightened up considerably once I reached the actual start of the
But I did have one or two bright
moments before I got there. One--a busload of boys waving and
shouting hello--will be discussed in a different context below.
The other was a quick goodbye prayer at
a local temple, since I had decided there was no time to go to Asakusa.
I have lived for 2-1/2 years in Tokyo's
Shitamachi, literally "downtown"--but with a very different
meaning from that in the West. In Tokyo, the rich lived in the
high places--the "Yamanote" or foothills--and the less-rich (as in my home city) lived down in the flats.
One of the distinguishing marks of this
area is that--lacking gardens--the people of Shitamachi have a tradition
of growing flowers in pots in front of their houses. So the temple
where I stopped to say goodbye to the neighborhood has a yearly Asagao
Matsuri--morning glory fair.
After praying in
front of the temple's main hall, I sat a bit and thought about morning
glories, and leaving, and wrote this haiku, the first of my
bad poems you'll have to suffer through:
last walk near
morning glories in bloom, but
they fade, they fade, they
11:50 I arrived at Nihombashi and took several photos of myself in
front of the bridge. Compare this one to Hiroshige's
Those of you familiar with temple
tromping know about the no kyo cho or "temple books"
that pilgrims carry. You go to the temple, find a little office,
and ask them to stamp the book in red ink and add calligraphy in black.
It's beautiful, and makes a great memento.
Well, I had a funny idea. There
are 55 stops on the Tokaido (53 plus the start and end). I'll try
to find someone to sign my book at each stop. Usually it won't
be done at a temple or shrine, unless that's really appropriate (as at
Nagoya, which used to be
called "Miya" after a major shrine there; of course I'll try
to have the book signed there).
[NOTE: This project has since been
aborted. Read my Journal for September
10th to see why.]
So who, I wondered, should sign the
book at Nihombashi? Some homeless guy, like the one I saw
sleeping there on a nighttime visit the week before my trip?
So I dawdled and I thought, and as I
was packing up to leave, my first signers approached and stood looking
at the bridge holding hands.
They are Takayuki
Kikawada and Akiko Hoga. (Takayuki was proud of his family
name, telling me that in the three months of my travel, I will probably
never see another like it.)
why are they appropriate representatives of Nihombashi? Easy.
This is a big business district, and it was lunch time, and they were
on break. And clearly in love.
I introduced myself, showed the letter
my friend Naoko translated explaining what I'm doing, and made my
request. After they signed,
we chatted a bit. He works for Tokyo Electric Power Company, where
I taught lessons for nearly a year. Small world.
And he gave me my first official "o-settai"
of the trip (not counting all the gifts given before the
trip)--an Orange Card for buying train tickets, imprinted with his
Tokaido: Nihombashi, The
Beginning of the Old Tokaido
This print from the Hoeido edition of
Hiroshige's Tokaido series shows the beginning of a daimyo's procession
crossing the bridge, headed toward Kyoto. (Read more about these
processions tomorrow.) The
fishmongers at the lower left are approximately where I took my photo.
Well, I left the bridge around 12:20,
and --like generations of pilgrims before me--stopped at Starbuck's for
a Raspberry Frappuccino for the road. The reaction from the staff
as I walked in was priceless. Unbridled curiosity, amusement,
puzzlement--eight young people staring at me agape. So I gave one
of them a brief explanation and my card, asking her to check this
homepage. This, I thought, is gonna be fun.
Immediately after I walked out, a girl
came around the corner and almost ran into me. Usually people are
startled, then smile. She didn't. The look of horror
remained on her face as she backed away. I thought she was going
Soon, I looked to the right and saw
Tokyo Station. If the station weren't there I could have seen the
Imperial Palace grounds. Well, in the Tokugawa Period the station wasn't
there, so people starting out on this trip would have been looking at
Edo Castle, the seat of the Tokugawas.
Next I strolled
down Chuo dori through the Ginza; there's a page of Words-and-Pictures
of some of the things I saw. The old and the new can be seen
together here. (By the way, today's route was easy to
follow--entirely on Route 15.)
Through Kyobashi ("Old
Bridge") and nearing Shimbashi ("New Bridge") one of
those coincidences so common in my life happened. There was a
traffic counter at the corner--a guy with a bank of clickers counting the passing people.
I thought, "This is something I won't see out in the country,"
so I thought I'd chat the guy up and try to get a picture.
"Who are you working for?" I asked. "The City?
A company?" He was grumpy, and grunted out that he had no
idea, this was just a part time job.
Photo opp aborted. But because I
missed the signal, I got to the other side of the street just in time to
see TOSHIO NAGAI! Who? you may ask. Toshio is a
former student and a donor to this
project. Because he's getting ready to go to Mauritius for two
years to work for JAICA (a kind of Japanese Peace Corps), he couldn't
make it to the party Sunday.
So I was really happy to see him, and we wished each other well on our
a bite of lunch, I began thinking about where I would say today's prayers.
Zojoji, a major temple, was nearby. The shot you see here is of
the Daimon (great gate) with Zojoji behind--and a pretty typical
street scene. Old and new, new and old.
Although praying at Zojoji was
tempting, I really wanted to go to Sengakuji. On my way there, I
passed the "5 km from Nihombashi" sign. But this was south
of Nihombashi, so I'd walked over 10k since I started. The time
I have to talk a bit
about the effect of my "costume" on the people around me.
After over 4-1/2 years of living in Japan, I am used to surreptitious
stares, and avoidance of eye contact. Now I am gawked
at openly, and people--especially old people--are not only looking me in
the eye, but smiling and greeting me. It began today when a
busload of boys (mentioned early) began shouting and waving near my
house. But it culminated with this man, who stopped to take
my picture near Sengakuji. When he was finished, I took his!
[See the update on Sept. 8th]
I've written another Words
and Pictures about Sengakuji: Not enough
time or space to tell you everything there is to know about it.
You can read the basic story of the Ako Roshi--a truly amazing story--in
Alan Atkinson's article.
Basically, a group of samurai avenged their lord, and were condemned to
commit suicide as a result. Their graves are here. I have
attended the yearly festival celebrating their "heroic deed"
in the past, and hope to do so this year again, because the
"disciple" at the temple told me this is exactly the 300th
anniversary of the event. [By the time the date arrived, I had
returned to the U.S.]
a page I had signed in a temple book at Sengakuji.
After I said my prayers and took
pictures at Sengakuji, a very energetic--and somewhat pushy--older woman
came hurrying past with the day's shopping and asked me in to the
temple's living quarters for "teatime"--virtually her only
word in English. After hearing my story, she gave me a new face
towel, some fruit, and a charm (omamori) for "success."
Then she volunteered to go in and ask the chief priest if I could stay
(although, she said, they were full-up with disciples). She
returned to say that there was no room, but I could take a
shower. As I have promised myself an afternoon break--something I
didn't do on my Chichibu pilgrimage--I accepted the offer.
(Besides, we must accept o-settai, right?) A disciple took
me in and showed me the system, and left me to a long, luxurious
dowsing--my first of the day.
As I was leaving, the lady wasn't
around. I said goodbye to the disciple, and asked about the lady.
As I suspected: she was the chief priest's wife! Ministers' wives
are the same the world over.
last I trudged on toward Shinagawa. I'll write about the barrier
there, and show you pictures, tomorrow. But for now I want to talk
IT WAS A DEBACLE! Even the
expensive rooms near Shinagawa station were booked (not that I really
wanted to stay in The Prince!). I walked around for quite
awhile--30-kilo bags and all--and finally stopped in a police box to ask
for help. This cop got on the phone for over 10 minutes,
and finally found me a place. I asked him to sign my
book--especially fitting, as he is a sort of "modern guard
man" like those that kept the gate at Shinagawa--which, as I said,
I'll explain tomorrow.
Now I had a problem, or so I thought.
This policeman hung up and told me the hotelier was coming to get me--in
his car! Yet I've sworn to walk. What to do? Ask the
cop to call the guy back, decline the ride, and ask directions? NO
WAY. Accept the ride; some things can't be helped. [This was
written when I still expected to stay entirely on foot for the whole
trip--a plan soon to be abandoned.]
But when the man from the inn arrived,
he was on a bicycle! And we walked to Gotanda, where I'm staying
now. Things work out.
That's all for tonight. Thanks
for sticking with me to the bottom of the page!