By this point in the week, I was itching to, as Lee had done, strike my own trail for a period of time and head out to some places that I had been itching to see but the others had not been so enthused by. As such, I arranged to meet up with my cousin David (who, alongside his wife, Yoshiko, has been living in Japan for about 20 years) for dinner in Ginza that evening. Thus, Dan and Lee arranged to meet up in the afternoon. That morning, however, Dan and I made our way to Ueno-koen, a park that could easily take an entire day to explore.
Ueno Park is dotted with shrines, temples, museums, and even a zoo, but throughout the winding pathways and in the open areas, crowds are drawn to performing artists. We watched as two adept swordsman fought each other in a stunning display of traditional Japanese swordplay mixed with more than a little humour, first with wooden swords, then with demonstrably sharp katanas. There were also dancers and an astonishingly talented yo-yo trickster.
It wasn’t street performers that had drawn us to Ueno beneath the scorching sky, though. It was the Tokyo National Museum, the largest collection of Japanese art, including tapestries, kimonos, swords, armour, pottery and Buddhist imagery. We went around the Honkan (main building), following displays through ancient Japanese art, the National Treasure Gallery, the Art of the Imperial Court, swords and armour, ukiyo-e and kimonos, and the gallery of religious sculptures and folk art. We also visited the Gallery of Horyu-ji Treasures, a collection of beautiful Buddhist sculptures.
After the museum, we headed through the various shrines and temples of Ueno (of which there are many) and eventually came down a stone path through a lake to more shrines. I purified myself at the fountain and paid my respects there, as had been shown to me at Yushima-shrine, and watched in wonder as an elderly gentleman hand-fed sparrows. A young German girl, no more than seven years old, was watching in wonder – he gestured her over, held her hand out steady, filled it with seed and whistled the birds over. The girls terror swiftly changed to delight, and it was such a wonderful sight to see the glee on both their faces.
We then stumbled upon something that I found profoundly beautiful, “The Flame of Hiroshima and Nagasaki”. Rather than try to explain it, I’ve typed out the notice that explained it verbatim:
“On August 6, 1945, US forces dropped the world’s first atomic bomb on Hiroshima, and another on Nagasaki on August 9 the same year, claiming the lives of hundreds of thousands of people in an instant. Even now, many survivors are still suffering from the damage.
Sometime later, Tatsuo Yamamoto went to Hiroshima in search of his uncle, and found a flame of the atomic bomb burning in the ruins of his uncle’s house. He brought it back to Hoshino-mura, his hometown Fukuoka prefecture. He kept it burning in his house as a memento of his uncle and an expression of his resentment. But years went by, the meaning of the flame turned into a symbol of his desire for abolition of nuclear weapons and for peace. Hoshino-mura village built a torch and transferred the flame to it on August 6, 1968. It has been keeping the flame ever since as the flame for peace, with the support of its villagers.
…In 1988, a flame was taken from the torch and was merged with another flame lit by the friction of broken roofing tiles of Nagasaki. Along with 30 million signatures collected in support of the “Appeal from Hiroshima and Nagasaki”, it was carried to the third Special Session of the UN General Assembly for Disarmament taking place in New York City.
In April of the same year, members of “Shitamachi People Association” put forard an idea of lighting the flame at the precinct of Ueno Toshogu Shrine in Tokyo. Rev. Shozen Saga, the Chief Priest, warmly welcomed the proposal and promised to set up a monument and work together to keep the flame burning.”
This, is that flame. From there, Dan and I parted ways, myself headed back west to Kagurazaka, and he, south-west to Shibuya to meet up with Lee.
I had wanted to head back to Kagurazaka for several reasons. Firstly, I wanted to revisit Akagi-jinja now that I knew how to pay my respects, as the shrine there is for Sugawa no Michizane (845 – 903), a politician and scholar who’s Kami is widely worshipped as a god of learning. As it was right next to the metro station, this was my first stop. Secondly, I wanted to visit an establishment called Mugimaru, a tiny ivy-veiled cafe down a narrow alleyway that was renowned for the quality of it’s chai tea and manbyun (and I can wholeheartedly recommend it if you can find it, just north east of the intersection of Okubo-dori and Kagurazaka-dori). Thirdly, I wanted to see Geisha Shinmachi, the street that made Kagurazaka famous. Though the Geisha no longer live and work here, the street still holds all of it’s charm, and Kagurazaka itself is still a wonder to explore. The thrill of asking one of the locals, in Japanese, for directions was powerful, and the lady I asked was extremely helpful – though she didn’t know, she grabbed the postman, who led me away from his round to the street and bade me farewell.
I still had a few hours left before I was meeting David and Yoshiko, so I hopped on the metro to the Tokyo Bay area to scope out where the Tsukiji fish market was, ready for the next morning with Dan. Again, I ignored my maps and, instead, conversed with the locals, seeking directions, first to the site of the fishmarket (where the lady led me for fifteen minutes, practicing broken English with me, before turning back the way she had come when we were there – she had gone completely out of her way for a complete stranger!), then to the nearest smoking area (where I then had a lovely chat with another local woman in broken English and Japanese – I swear, it’s pure coincidence that it was women! There were no men around!), then again back to the station (even though I knew the way, I was enjoying practicing). The views of the sky across the bay area were gorgeous.
Time was beginning to get on, so I made my way to Ginza, an up-market business and shopping district, to meet up with Dave and Yoshiko. Again, I made sure to stop a local policeman and ask for directions to the Sony Building (who happily obliged in walking me until the building was obvious), where I perched on the wall outside and waited. I didn’t wait long before David and Yoshiko arrived and took me for dinner at a local izakaya called Gonpachi. How Tokyoites know of all these places when they’re hidden up floors and behind other businesses, I will never know, but we slipped down corridors, up stairs, around further corridors before arriving and taking our seats right at the front counter.
The last time I had met David properly, I was eight years old. We had greeted in passing at his mother’s funeral when I was sixteen. In any case, I hadn’t seen him at all in ten years, so it was an absolute delight to catch up, to talk about Japan and to try some new exciting food, which we were watching being prepared right in front of us. I had never actually met Yoshiko before either, and she was lovely to speak to, and so friendly – she even complimented me on my chopstick skills.
From there, we hopped on a train ride that took us right around the bay. I took plenty of photos of the bay area lit up at night that I will cherish, but the quality of them, blurred as they are, is not sufficient for sharing on a blog. Suffice it to say, that taking the circular route around the bay area is a cheap and enthralling ride that takes you right around the bay area, past the Rainbow Bridge and around where the Olympic Stadium is being built.
It was sad to say farewell, but we parted ways with the promise that I would return to Tokyo one day, and I made the long train journey back to Ayase.