Days 2 to 5 – Tokyo

My original plan was to stay two days in Tokyo and travel to Shikoku. But the forces of nature in the form of a typhoon have intervened. As I write this Shikoku is being inundated with torrential rains. So I extended my stay in Tokyo in order to arrive after the storm will have passed.

Day 2 brought a visit from a Tendai monk who has helped train me the past two years. It was a real pleasure to see him for the short time we were able to arrange. Although I am more than old enough to be his grandfather, he has been my teacher and that dominates our relationship. He has such an extraordinary devotion to Buddhist practice which he pursues with a fierce determination. He really inspires me to learn more and try harder. We walked around the city for a few hours. Since it was the weekend the parks and streets were filled with people enjoying their day off. The multitude of little shops were busy some with the owners of some loudly hawking their goods to the passers by.  We heard taiko drumming in the park. He wanted to look for koi fish in a pond in Ueno park. I was astounded to find the pond absolutely filled with lotus plants. In the middle of the pond was a small Tendai temple with a monk inside beating the drum while he chanted a sutra by himself.

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Acres of lotus

We encountered a number of people running along the path around the pond. My friend told me they were playing Pokémon Go. What a mix.

On day 3 I took a long walk from my hotel to the area around the Imperial Palace which has gardens open to the public. For most of the walk I was in a nice residential neighborhood but near the end as I reached Tokyo Station I emerged into a place of power and wealth. Buildings established to impress, to convey stability and permanence, surround the very busy station. A few blocks away are the Imperial Gardens with remnants of the stone wall fortifications that were built long ago, in fact long before the emperors came here. In the midst of a city where space is the most precious commodity there is lavish open space.

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Imperial fortifications

On day 4 things caught up with me and some serious fatigue set in — appropriate to my age I suppose. The weather was turning bad so I dedicated the day to rest, planning and self maintenance. I took the opportunity to go to a local laundromat to wash some clothes. It was a space about 6 feet by 10 feet in which there were three washers and two dryers. People came and went with the wash. They would start their wash or dry and then return precisely when the cycle was done. No inconvenience to anyone because of delay. I had a conversation with a young woman from Oregon and realized I was speaking in English for more than a single sentence for the first time in several days. It felt strange, actually. That evening I went to a restaurant for dinner and found myself across from a family consisting of three generations, including a baby about a year or two old. Grandmother and Auntie were playing peekaboo with the baby who enthusiastically participated. The Japanese smile a lot, but these people were completely lit up with their enjoyment of each other.

Day 5’s adventure was my first encounter with the Tokyo subway. It runs in the same tradition of precision, cleanliness and professionalism I’ve noticed in all Japanese transportation systems. I was somewhat nervous about getting lost, but the many signs in English, clear maps in the cars and some good luck got me to my destination of Tokyo Station. I was there to initiate my Japan Rail Pass for my journey starting tomorrow towards Shikoku. The station is immense, extremely busy and complicated. Somehow I found the right desk, got my pass and reserved a seat on a Shinkansen (bullet train) for tomorrow’s trip. The plan is to go to Osaka, then get a train south to the port city of Wakayama. I’ll stay the night there and on the following day take a two hour ferry ride to Tokushima and Shikoku at last. My adventures will then really begin.

Day One – Tokyo

Arrived in Tokyo yesterday after a 14 hour flight from New York. Although long, I must say the Boeing 787 is kind to economy class passengers in terms of room. The ordeal was the duration of the flight not the physical discomfort of the plane.

By the way, when Japanese transportation systems say something is going to happen at 1:42 pm, it does. Not 1:41, not 1:43. And the ride is smooth as can be. Their systems are fantastic.

After logistical adventures at the airport I reached my hotel after being awake for 24 hours. I donned my yukata (Japanese bathrobe/pajamas supplied by the hotel) and slept nearly 12 hours.

I’ve walked around quite a bit since getting here and am quite aware of being a slack jawed tourist. I really stand out around here and I’ve quickly given up any hope of blending into the crowd. People are so kind. In situations when I’ve needed help it was offered in full measure and with a smile.

In addition to being slack jawed, I’m nearly illiterate. It’s a lot like being a child again. In a way it’s a relief not to be reading advertising all the time. But I still wonder what I’m missing sometimes.

This morning I went out early to find Senso-ji temple which isn’t far from where I’m staying.  It’s the oldest temple in Tokyo and was, until the end of World War II, a Tendai temple.

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The gate at Senso-ji

During the war it was destroyed by American bombs and was rebuilt. It was strange to be in a place where something like that had happened.

Approaching the main temple I purified my hands and mouth in the manner I had learned about in my preparations for my pilgrimage. Then I climbed the steps to stand in front of the main image. I placed my hands together in gassho and bowed and then recited the Heart Sutra in Japanese. The main image in the temple is the Bodhisattva of compassion who is said to respond to the pleas of humans for help. So as I prayed I asked for her support on my pilgrimage. I found the experience very moving and worked hard to keep back my tears of joy. I thought this a wonderful way to begin my pilgrimage. I bought incense, lit it and placed it in the burner before the temple as an expression of my gratitude.

The streets around the temple are lined by shops selling sweets, trinkets, clothing and food. As I wandered around the place began to fill with tourists like myself. I had the good fortune to be there early when things were peaceful.

I have so many impresssions and these are only a few. I hope I can convey some of my amazement at the wonders of this special place here and in later posts.