Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Shinagawa Shrines and People

23 September 2014

Today is the First Day of Autumn - also known as the Autumnal Equinox - and thus is a public holiday in Japan.  Schools are closed, banks are closed, post offices and embassies and government offices are closed.  We aren't sure why this is a public holiday, and people laughed when I wished them a Happy First Day of Autumn.  But there are a few leaves slowly turning colors, so I guess autumn is here.

We thought about taking the train and bus to Mount Fuji, since it was rather clear and sunny today, and rain is predicted for the next few days - the tropical storm that hit Okinawa a few days ago is expected to arrive tomorrow, so we'll be doing indoor activities.  But with the day being a holiday today, we though Fuji might be crowded, and we'll hold off for a few days.

So we walked around our neighborhood yesterday and today, and explored new areas.  We're moving to a new hotel in the city tomorrow, just to experience the busy-ness of Tokyo - this was our last chance to see more of Shinagawa.

And yes, I asked these school girls to pose for a photo - I'm not sure if they're middle school or high school level, but they were coming by in hordes after school, and were so cute and bouncy and perfectly happy to be in a photo.

Shinagawa, being an old town, has a great many temples and shrines.  According to signs we saw in front of some of these sites, there are over one hundred historic sites in Shinagawa.  

We saw several of these cemeteries, with vertical stone markers and giant incense sticks, the joss sticks.

And as we walked, we'd see various temples and shrines - some had names, some didn't, some said there were tombs of unknown persons there.  People were visiting various temples, though we don't really know if they were visiting, sight-seeing, or going for religious observance.


And then I found the temple of the fishing Buddha.  Okay, so it wasn't named that.  It was actually named the temple of whatever bridge was right outside the temple gates (the torii, the tall gate that marks the entrance to the temple property).

But just inside the torii, there was a great Buddha statue.  Smiling or laughing, and holding a bamboo pole.  Looking ready to go fishing in the river just outside the temple.  So in my mind, this became the Temple of the Fishing Buddha.  As good a name as any.

After the Buddha, there was a little structure with a fountain in the large tub, and a scoop.  I'm not sure if people drink this water, or wash their hands before approaching the temple.  I didn't see anyone doing either activity.  But it was a pretty little building, and inside the roof was covered with written messages or names or something.  It sort of looked like bumper stickers with people's names on it.  (Since I don't read Japanese, I really don't know what was written.  They mostly seemed to have single words on them.)

Then there was the main temple, a large structure with almost an altar in the front.  I wandered around, looking and taking photos, and watched a few people - they'd enter the temple compound and walk up to the big box with the gold design on it.  They'd drop some money into it, then clap their hands twice.  And then they'd pray.  Or maybe meditate.  Or focus on some inner thoughts.  I'm not sure, although people did seem to have a rather prayerful pose, and some had their hands in a prayer posture.

So, what could I do.  The Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashana, is approaching.  We haven't signed up with the synagogues in Tokyo.  Here I was at a temple, and Japanese temples feel especially spiritual because they're located in little settings surrounded by nature.  They're peaceful and tranquil, and exude spirituality.

If there is a divine spirit, it/he/she exists in all places where that divine spirit is worshipped.  One religion doesn't have a patent on divinity, however much each religion might claim ownership or the right to be the only true religion.  

So, in this Buddhist temple, most probably Shinto or Zen Buddhist, I dropped a few coins in the box.  I clapped twice.  And said a little prayer for our continuing safe 

Off to the left of the temple, outside the torii and with its own set of torii, was another shrine, the Shrine of the Fox.  Just as the Chinese horoscope has the years of different animals, so too do the Japanese.  And other animals are guardian spirits, and have their own shrines where homage is paid to figures of these animals.  I'm not sure what the fox represents in Japan, but the figures alternated fierce and friendly, in pairs.  Maybe representing some opposite emotions within each of us.

There was a central building with two fox figures, and then two outer buildings, each with a fox.  All of the foxes had red decorations, looking rather like bibs.  Two of the foxes held something in their mouths, and the others were just sort of snarling.

I'm not sure I'm ready to have a fox as a guardian animal or spirit - these didn't look like very friendly foxes.  On the other hand, if I felt they had to defeat some adversarial animal causing problems in my life, like, oh, a rat (I HATE rats), then a fox might be good.  A cat would be good, too.  But I could see a fox catching and devouring rats.

Anyway, there were several lovely bridges over the river in this part of town, each bridge with its own architecture and coordinating lights or entry posts.  Each being very Japanese in its own way.

And of course reflecting beautifully in the river.  Because this is Japan, and the reflection of an object is just as beautiful as the object itself.  So the reflection is planned for, and the object is adjusted for the best possible reflection.

It was a beautiful day, and families were out and about.  This part of Japan is fairly flat, so people seem to bicycle everywhere.  I like the people on a bicycle with a small child in front and another one or two in seats behind the rider.  But older children have their own bicycles, and it isn't unusual to see an entire family riding around.  This particular street we were walking along was closed to traffic, making it wonderful for families as they biked their way around Shinagawa.

I managed to find more of the children's art banners.  I particularly liked the girl in her kimono - every so often we see a woman walking along in a kimono, looking so classic, so timeless.  I also liked the cats.  I'm not sure if a cat is a guardian animal here; I know they are considered lucky, given the stories about the money cat.  So I enjoyed the cats on the banners around the streets.

And then there was the one that, well, I'm not sure who this masked figure is.  I see influences of Japanimation (manga) as well as some Toulouse-Lautrec in there.  I have NO idea what the child was imagining when they created this.  But it is beautifully done, with great shading and creativity, as well as excellent technique - I'd love to have this child in my art class.

We arrived back at our hotel.  Now, there seem to be all kinds of activities in the middle of the courtyard in the business park area.  There was the event with the volleyball players.  There were the couple of days of children catching fish in wading pools.  There was something with Officer Friendly and various police talking to children, while little kids posed on police motorcycles and climbed in and out of police cars.  We have no idea what was going on with that, we only saw the children posing (with child-sized police hats and vests), and saw officers talking to groups of children.

But today - today we are clueless.  This was other worldly.  We arrived and there were creatures on the stage - women, apparently, with masks and huge wigs, all attached.  Making the women look like manga figures, with brightly colored hair.  Neon blue.  Dayglo red.  Electric purple.  Yellow bright enough to rival the sun.  We have absolutely no idea who these creatures are, or why they are famous.  But they were lined up behind tables, and tiny children were clamoring to shake their hands and pose for photos with these characters.  All while a woman was announcing something in a little girl voice talking into a mic.  The children seemed to know who these people were supposed to be.  I was slightly afraid of them, they looked rather creepy.  Sort of life-sized dolls, come to life.  Seriously creepy, actually.  So if someone knows who or what these things are, please let me know.  (I'm thinking they might be some lady Power Rangers, but it's hard to fight crime in mini-skirts and tall boots.  The boots could do some damage, but flying in those short skirts might be difficult.)

We'll move to our new hotel tomorrow, and report on what life is like in the Ginza area.


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