A Day in Tokyo...

Our second day in Tokyo, we arranged to meet my Japanese brother, Shoji Yamazaki, who is now an English teacher in a Tokyo suburb. He had come to live with my family in Arizona as a foreign exchange student when he, my brother and I were in high school.

I realize now how overwhelming our little farming town in Arizona with its heat, cactus and casual ways must have been when he arrived on our doorstep lo those many years ago (more than 30!). Sho had come from Hokkaido, in the north of Japan with its cool forests and snow, and prescribed ways of Japanese society. It was a wonderful year for our family, and we have traded visits and letters over the years.

Sho brought Akiko with him, the oldest daughter of the Mizuno family—friends of Shoji's who opened their home and their hearts to me when I visited over 25 years ago (and at whose expense I learned about dumb gaijin trick #2—Akiko still remembers the day her family had no bath!). She has had a family, is divorced and has her own business—she is just a cracker jack! She was our happy navigator for the day, being much more familiar with Tokyo than any of the rest of us.

Our troupe acquiesced to my desire to visit the nearby Meiji - jingu Shrine. Events were being held there in honor of national "Culture Day," "Meiji Reidaisai" (such as traditional archery are held at the shrine to commemorate the Meiji Emperor's birthday), Shichi-go-san (Seven -Five -Three Festival) for girls aged seven and three and boys age five who are dressed in traditional finery and taken to shrines, and to top it all off, the "Fresh Vegetable Festival" which was pretty much like a county fair sans the midway.

We practically skipped the distance to the park, and, although it was past 11 a.m., we managed to see the last sets of traditional archery, and the closing ceremonies and parade. The long bows quivered in the sunlight as men and women in traditional robes of embroidered silk and tall black net hats plied their arrows or stood or bowed or moved in formal unison. There were old and young in the lines of archers but all with a serious grace, and long months and years of study of an ancient art were evident.

After that we slipped though the Fresh Vegetable Festival sampling traditional foods, admiring various vegetables (especially the three junks made entirely of vegetables, their sails were made of leeks, the rest was various stacked and shaped vegetables), bees and honey and other agricultural bounties. There was a demonstration of rice pounding with several men taking turns at pulverizing rice with large wooden mallets in a round wooden bowl made from a tree stump. Their rhythm was interrupted every round by another man who would knead the rice. Shoji said that this was traditionally done in every Japanese household at New Year's to make special rice cakes. Usually the father would pound and the mother would knead. But like so much, this tradition is slipping away.

After, we went to the temple where we witnessed a traditional Shinto wedding in progress, the bride nearly hidden in her robes, and gongs playing while the wedding party paraded through the shrine.

A young girl begins her Shinto ceremony with a sip from the well outside the temple gates
Wedding Party

Then we witnessed the electrician's guild doing special prayers, moving forward and back in rows, and gongs being struck and chants being said and answered. We wrote good wishes on strips of paper to hang in the trees, tossed coins for blessings, and dipped into the sacred well to wash and bless our hands and rinse our mouths (George swallowed his and complained of the taste afterwards). And we enjoyed the scads of little children coming for 7-5-3 Day dressed in traditional kimonos, sometimes accompanied by mothers and other relatives in kimonos, but more often in Chanel or Armani suits. It was all very wonderful. Or, as Shoji would have said during his stay with my family back in Arizona, "breathtaking" (this got to be a family joke between us).

We left by a different route, marveling at the quiet of the place in spite of being filled with hundreds of people. The tall trees created a cool, dark, ancient and peaceful atmosphere that could not be spoiled. Once we were out on the street the world was a different place.

The exit we chose was next to Yoyogi Park, where all the rock'n roll wannabes spread their wings. When we stepped out on the street in was like going straight from ancient Japan to Soho, London circa 1966. There were young folks (mostly girls) with tattoos, colored sculpted hair, painted bodies, glued on feathers, and costumes that would make Madonna jealous!

Akiko said they were groupies getting ready to greet some rock 'n roll group--but it was also just the usual Sunday afternoon show. There were street mimes, singers, musicians, dancers and just the free uninhibited actions of free youth.

And square in their midst was a blind Japanese woman playing a traditional stringed instrument in her conical straw hat and traditional peasant garb, with her bit of crockery out for donations. Just amazing. We repaired for a pasta lunch and then went in search of "The Elephant Army" store that Samantha had read about in a guide book. Our travels took us down a street teeming with youthful Tokyo.

We plunged in, but we could hardly move. About half way down the street we were met by some tall Africans shilling for the "Hip Hop Shop" on a side alley. Much of what we saw could have been in New York or LA or pretty much any large US city. The same jeans, and tees, and... stuff. Samantha's store turned out to be just more of the same.

It was just after we'd left this street and were exploring a Sunday flea market that Cassidy had her "accident." A case of the "touristas" that left her covered almost from head to foot. Akiko had taken her to the bathroom, and had left her locked in a stall while she came to get me with the hope that I had a spare set of clothes for her. No such luck. I stripped Cassidy and frantically tried washing her clothes in the bathroom basin. Akiko slipped out and came back with a whole new set of clothes, for which she would not take any money.

We decided to take the train back to save Cassidy's stamina (this kid never complained – she just kept being sorry that she caused a problem – Sho and Akiko were quite impressed, and I was quite proud of my trooper). Akiko managed to get through the crowd to get us tickets, which you put in to a turn style when you enter, get back, and have to put into another turn style when your ride is over and you leave your station. Somehow on that short ride, Cassidy lost her ticket. Akiko took great delight in being an outlaw and taking her through with her (it is easy to do, but in Japan, it just isn't DONE). When we got back to our hotel, the girls went upstairs to clean up a bit, and the adults stayed in the lounge to chat.

Pretty soon it was evident that everyone felt better, and we were off on another adventure. This time to a traditional Japanese restaurant, where Akiko ordered us more food than we could ever eat—incredible varieties of good food and an ocean of sake and beer. We giggled and told tales and feasted on sashimi, sushi, tempura, and other things we can't name. We glowed in the warmth of friendship, sake, good food and good times.

To finish off the night we decided to see if we could find the Irish Pub that Cassidy and I had spotted earlier that day when we ran an errand. While wending our way through the streets, we happened across a boy from Minnesota "playing real good for free" (well actually for any donations he could get). We stopped and listened for a while, and the contrast of the earlier Japanese street musician was not lost on us. He took a break and we chatted with him for a bit—it turned out that he does this every year or so (coming to Japan and playing on the streets), and that he'd met an Alaskan, a legislator, on one of his trips to Japan, and from his description, we are pretty sure she is an old friend of ours. Small world.

We found our Irish pub and finished off the night with Irish whiskey and a few Irish tunes in the midst of more gaijins than we'd seen all day. We walked Akiko and Shoji to the train station with great sadness, but with the expectation that we'd see them again on our return. Time, money and circumstance did not allow that, but I know we will see them again soon... somewhere.

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