As I mentioned before, I should stay in Tokyo for a total of three months, meaning that at this point, I should still have a little over one month to go. Afterwards, it would be time to spread my wings and fly, but for now, it’s time to prepare for…
And yup, just like the Statue of Liberty and the Eiffel Tower before, this piece of Indonesian architecture, too, is still within the Radiant Metropolis. We’ll come to it during the duration of this chapter.
By now, the weather has warmed up considerably, and as the temperatures start to stabilize around 20°Cat this time of the year already, I gradually grow more grateful that I have set up my travel plans to avoid being here during the brunt of summer. For the time being, however, the climate is quite agreeable.
Normally, I’d start out by giving you a tour of my new place, because I’m sure you’re all quite curious about which matter of den I have chosen for myself this time, however…
…today is actually a very special day, and so I literally only drop my bags in my new home and leave right away in order to head towards…
The Kanamara Matsuri
Matsuri (祭) are traditional Shrine festivals held at Shinto Shrines, and you might recall that I just narrowly missed one only days after my arrival (see Chapter 2 ~ Touchdown in Toyko). This time around, the winds have blown the scent of one particularly peculiar festival my way, and since it’s an annual festival that makes today my only chance of attending it – possibly ever.
The festival itself is in Kawasaki (川崎 “River Cape”), which is in the Kanagawa Prefecture just south of Tokyo, though still part of the Radiant Metropolis. In fact, if you don’t know that there’s a city boundary there in the first place, you would never be able to tell.
Getting there is actually quite easy due to the convenience of the Japanese Railway system. Since I have a Pasmo Card, I can just use that one to board a train bound for Kawasaki from the nearest station.
…and the appropriate fare simply gets deducted from it when I get off at Kawasaki-Eki. From there, I take a local train to the Shrine’s location (again via Pasmo), and then simply follow the signs.
By the time I finally get to Wakamiya Hachimangu (若宮八幡宮 “Young Shrine Hachiman Shrine”) where the Kanamara Matsuri is being held, it’s already 13:00, and the festival is already in full motion.
In fact, there’s a line to get in.
And that line is long.
Actually, it’s so long that it’s going three quarters around the block.
Eventually, I am starting to wonder if the line just goes full Ouroboros, biting itself into the tail, but then I finally find the end of the line.
Fortunately, the queue moves at a steady pace, so it doesn’t take me much more than 20 minutes to get inside despite the rather intimidating length. Along the way, by the way, I come across another one of those fantastic Japanese jobs: Barrier tape holder!
Aaaand, I think that’s about as long as I can stall the inevitable for those of you who have not yet already looked up the Kanamara Matsuri on Wikipedia. It is another one of those very Japanese things that is hard to imagine in the western world. This time, the reason why is the differing standards of modesty in Japanese society. We have already seen a sample of it with the omnipresent Tanuki statues and their oversized testicles, but those are nothing compared with the Kanamara Matsuri: The Iron Penis Festival.
According to legend, a demon once fell in love with a young woman and hid himself inside her vagina, where he bit off the penises of two young men on their respective wedding nights with the young woman. The woman eventually sought help from a blacksmith, who fashioned an iron penis to break the demon’s teeth. Afterwards, the… artifact was enshrined at Kanayama Jinja (金山神社 “Metal Mountain Shrine”), and the annual festival was instituted.
*sigh* and there goes my PG rating… oh well…
And because this is Japan, things got a little weird afterwards. Most notably there is quite a selection of rather liberal items on sale here, including (but not limited to) penis T-shirts, penis caps, penis keychains, penis candles, penis bags, and my personal favourite: the highly suggestive penis suckers.
Also, there’s the auction of radishes and carrots that have been carved into the shape of penises…
…as well as a priestess in penis costume blessing girls with her… artifact. In fact, this part might be closest to actual tradition, since in olden times courtesans used to visit Kanayama Jinja in order to ask the spirits to protect them from sexually transmitted diseases.
And let us not forget that the front for the preservation of traditional Japanese underwear – the Fundoshi (褌 “loincloth”) – has also sent an envoy. Curiously, young women are standing in line to get their pictures taken in suggestive poses with these well-exposed young men.
Much to my delight, I also find a little Inari side shrine with lots of foxes in the middle of all this… culture.
Afterwards, I stop in front of a little stage where a traditional Japanese ensemble is playing and take in the atmosphere of the festival.
And with that, I leave the festival behind, not because of its graphic imagery, but mainly because it’s too loud and there are too many people for my taste. However since I’m already in this area and the day is still long, I figure, hey, why not have a nice stray through Kawasaki and Ota-Ku (大田区 “Big Field Ward”) ¬– the southernmost ward of Tokyo – before returning home?
Once again, this should entail visits to a selection of Shrines and Temples both big and small, lavish and humble, with the bigger ones near Wakamiya Hachimangu being quite crowded as well as a consequence of the Kanayama Matsuri.
Well, the peddlers running the local stores sure won’t mind all the customers, although I am still puzzled by how a whole road of shops selling primarily Daruma in all colours and sizes can work from an economical point of view. Daruma (達磨 “Accomplished Polish”), by the way, are these characteristic round, (mostly) red, hollow dolls modeled after Bodhidharma, the founder of Zen Buddhism. However, good luck charms though they may be, it’s hard to believe that the demand for them is high enough to warrant this level of supply-overkill.
The next curiosity I come across is Kawasaki Daishi Jidousha Koutsuuansen Inoritouden (川崎大師自動車交通安全祈梼殿 “Kawasaki Great Teacher Car Safe Driving Prayer Hall”)…
…which is essentially a drive-through temple where car drivers can just park right in front of the temple…
…and just have to get out of their cars to listen to a prayer service from a monk, beseeching the gods to extend their protection unto the drivers (the cars are processed block-wise, by the way, with new cars queuing up to wait in rows while a service is in progress, and then moving onto the lots in front of the temple as the last batch departs).
So from now in, this is going to be what I’m going to think of when I hear the phrase “modernization of religion”. Japan is already there. Way there. Perhaps too much so, but oh well. I still like the little Shrines at every corner. =^,^=
Anyway, soon enough I reach the shores of Tamagawa (多摩川 “Many Scrapes River”)…
…from where I get a great view on Handa Airport.
And here’s a hint for all prospective Japan-travellers: Try to get a flight to Haneda Airport. Since this one is literally in the middle of the Radiant Metropolis, you’ll get a great view of the city as you land.
After I cross the river and arrive in Ota-ku, things are slowly starting to get out of hand Shrine-wise, and it all starts with this one, Handa Jinja (羽田神社 “Wing Field Shrine”).
Per se, this is just a little Shrine complex that is popular with people praying for a safe journey from the nearby Haneda airport…
…however, it is in Ota-Ku, and as I am yet to find out, people here really, Really, Really seem to like foxes. The side shrines here are only the beginning.
And that’s great really, but it’s also where my resolve to visit all Inari Shrines in the vicinity finally falters, because the sheer amount of them in the vicinity is getting outright ridiculous, and I realize that I’d not need hours but days to visit all of them and probably run out of pictures even with my 32GB SD card.
As it is, I run into enough of them as I navigate the alleys of Ota-Ku.
And then, I run into the big-ol grand-daddy of all Fox Shrines in Tokyo.
No, it’s not that one, although it’s already quite impressive. However, this is but one of many Side Shrines of Anamori Inari Jinja (穴守稲荷神社 “Cave Guard Inari Shrine”), a shrine so vulpine that I’m getting a fox-gasm just standing in the middle of it.
But the most impressive thing about this shrine is not the main shrine itself (though those two are definitely the biggest fox guardians I’ve ever seen, scary, and yet so beautiful in their own way), but rather the many vulpine Side Shrines which feature a ludicrous amount of little foxies.
In fact, they have so many foxes here, that they even sell them! The prices are a bit steep, but once I figure out how to safely get some of them back home I’ll definitely get myself a bunch. Had they been a bit cheaper, I probably would have bought some right away without even worrying about that.
Instead, I decide to buy a little fox Omamori (お守り "Charm") made of precious silk worm cocoons into which some sort of small paper coin seems to be inlaid. At 1000¥ that’s not exactly cheap for such a little trinket, but considering how cute it is and that I do want to support this Shrine, I deem it worth the cost. On a related note, somehow all of my remaining loose change appears to find its way into the donation boxes on the various Side Shrines here.
And then, there’s the eponymous cave which has more foxes than can possibly be counted inside. I guess this cave is indeed well guarded.
With my mind now completely overwritten with foxes, I gradually proceed to return back home – albeit not without noticing that a nearby garden also has its own private Inari Shrine. Maybe I should build one of those in my garden too… one of these days.
Now, since today is already such a special day, I have decided to round it off by riding the Tokyo Monorail back home. You may recall from last chapter that the Tokyo Monorail connects Haneda Airport with the inner city, and as you know, I'm currently right next to Haneda Airport, and the closest Monorail station – Seibijou-Eki (整備場駅 “Maintenance Site Station”) – is actually just a short ways away from Anamori Inari Jinja.
I happen to arrive just in time to see arrive a Monorail arrive at the station…
…zoom through without stopping and go right out the other end.
What happened? To understand that, there’s one last thing I need to tell you about Tokyo’s local transit system: Unlike in Germany, where all trains of a line stop at all stations, in Tokyo there is a number of lines that has so called “Rapid” trains that skip a number of stops in order to get from one end to the other faster. As a result, the Rapid Trains usually overtake one or two of the normal trains (called “Local” trains) along the line in designated stations that have multiple platforms or a bypass track. The tricky part with this system is making sure you don’t accidentally board a Rapid train when you get in at a major station, but want to get off at a minor stop. The Tokyo Monorail actually has an “Express” service on top of the Rapid service which stops at even fewer stations.
Anyway, before long a Local monorail arrives, and I take a place near the front where I can enjoy the ride as we zoom through the canyons of Tokyo and all the way to Shinbashi.
On the way we also pass the Monorail Depot at Showajima-Eki (昭和島駅 “Shining Peace Island Station”), which has some of the most interesting switches I’ve ever seen…
…and pretty soon we arrive at Shinbashi-Eki (新橋駅 “New Bridge Station”), which is the very definite terminal last stop.
What’s also very interesting about this station is that it only has one track. The train only splits into two right outside the station, so unlike at end stations in Munich, there’s no time for the driver’s to take a break here sicne they need to vacate the station for the next train, like, right away.
As for me, this marks the end of my initial adventure, and from here it’s only a short ride with the Yamanote Line to get to my new place, which gives me the perfect pretext to tell you a little bit about my new home:
The Monterosa Building
The Monterosa Building is a nice little place in Taitou-Ku (台東区 “Eastern Stage Ward”), which is pretty much in the middle of everywhere. There is various supermarkets within walking distance and a metro station only 3 minutes away (by comparison, back at the Ooizumi Mansion, it took me almost 20 minutes to get to the nearest station).
I share my living space there with up to three other people (though there would be a total of four rooms, but one of them should stay vacant for the entire duration of my stay). Come on in, I’ll show you around.
There’s a total of four rooms on that floor, and I have the honour of occupying the biggest one of them… well, kinda. The floor plan also counts the little alcove in the corner which is actually only half as big as on the plan. But either way, it still makes for good storage space.
Flatmate-wise, I start out with an Italian girl by the name of Giovanna, and a French girl named Marine. However, both of them move out, like, right away, which is a bit of a shame since I got along well with them, especially with Giovanna.
In their place, two Kims move in. On is a girl from Germany, and the other a man from South Korea. So now we have Kim, Kim and Kira living in the share house, which is kinda neat, but makes it difficult if you label your food in the fridge with “K”.
Fortunately, my own stuff is always easy to distinguish.
Kim from Germany is rarely around. She leaves early and returns late, not even eating in the house. Kim from Korea, however, is nice. Since English is not his forte, we end up communicating in Japanese, which is just fine for me since it finally Finally FINALLY gives me the opportunity to practice my skills in a real-life scenario (not saying I need it but… Chii-yaa, I need it!).
Also, Kim from Korea is a really kind and generous guy. I’m actually getting a little bit embarrassed by the fact that he regularly gifts me with oranges and mandarins, but hey, thanks for the free fruit! =^,^=
Altogether, this little place is fantastic, and it would soon enough become the first place I’d truly think of as home here in Japan. Not only is one of my flatmates really good company (and the other more or less intangible), but it’s also nice and quiet, making it the perfect environment to get some work and blogging done in between my various excursions.
Another nice thing is that the people who used to live here have left some usable supplies behind, and while some of it is well past its expiration date (the record being held by soy sauce that expired in 2013), a good amount of it is still perfectly usable. Nonetheless, during the few days in which I have the share house to myself before Kim and Kim move in, I clear out the expired stuff in the fridge and the pantry to prevent any unfortunate mishaps.
The one sad thing about this place is that it’s positively doomed. For one reason or another, this place is going to be shut down on 20-May-2018. As such, I’d come to call this house the “House of Doom”. Kinda makes me recall the Dread Fort in Christchurch, New Zealand, and the good times I had there.
I don’t think that it’s because the building will be demolished, since an inscription near the entryway tells me it’s actually only 5 years older than me. This is actually a good example of the Japanese time annotation, since the inscription says it was built in Year 57 of the Showa era (昭和５７年), which translates to 1982.
Oh well, I'm sure there’s a reason, but I probably won’t be able to find it out. And one way or another it won'T affect me personally since I am set to move on on 4-May-2018 anyway, over two weeks before it shuts down. Instead, let’s focus on some of my excursions in this new area of Tokyo, starting with…
The Great Northern Circuit
By now I’ve already covered a good part of Tokyo on foot. I’ve been to the East and to the West. My new location of residence, however, places me in the perfect spot to extend my range further to the north, so that is what I set out to do now. Incidentally, this stray should also lead me through a grand total of seven wards – three of them being completely new territory for me. Altogether, this entire stray should be 16km long and take me 7 hours to complete. The greatest distance so far, if not the longest time.
It starts out with a visit to the troll of Inari Shrines: Yaba Inari Jinja (矢場稲荷神社 “Archery Range Inari Shrine”). Normally, I leave a donation at Inari Shrines, but this time there’s simply no way for me to reach the offertory box, and while there is a ladder leaning against the tree, I’m not sure if you’re supposed to use it. At least there’s no sign saying “please use ladder to reach shrine” or something.
Subsequently, more by chance than by intent, I run into a little Inari Shrine Complex. In hindsight, it was kinda careless of me not to take note of it earlier, given that the nearby metro station is literally called Inari Town (稲荷町 Inarichou). The Shrine itself is called Shitaya Jinja (下谷神社 “Lower Valley Shrine”) and by all considerations is really really hard to miss .
But anyway, my first major waypoint for this stray is Ueno Onshi Kouen (上野恩賜公園 “Upper Plains Imperial Gift Park”), a big lump of refreshing greenery in the otherwise rather urban ward of Taito.
Right next to it, there’s Shinobazunoike (不忍池 “Non-Enduring Pond”), which is more of a lake than a pond really, and most notable for the fact that there’s a Temple built in the middle, which can be accessed via a causeway.
Afterwards, I head further north towards Arakawa (荒川区 “Rough River Ward”), and on the way there pass to what appears to be another red light district, given the number of Love Hotels around there. One thing they all have in common is the “Rest” option which officially is just so that people can relax in the hotel room for about two hours, and thus makes use of a legal loophole. Another common element is that the entrance is often shielded from view and that payment can be taken care of anonymously.
A little further on I come across another one of those ultra-slim buildings. This one is actually wedge-shaped, with a staircase at the narrow end.
Naturally I also come across quite a number of shrines along the way.
Eventually I reach Nishi-Nippori-Eki (西日暮里駅 “West Sunset Village Station”), which not only has a very interesting walkway running between the tracks above and the road below, but is also notable for being a station of the Nippori-Toneri Liner (日暮里・舎人ライナ “Sunset Village-Servant Liner”), which is yet another automated guideway transit similar to the Yurikamome Line of Odaiba.
From there, I continue up a nearby hill, getting a good overview over this part of Tokyo as I cross over to Kita-Ku… (北区 “North Ward”)
…and pass over a road-canyon leading south.
Before I know it, I reach Toshima-Ku (豊島区 “Bountiful Island Ward”), where I run into a very definite dead end for cars. Fortunately, there is a staircase for pedestrians like me.
It is also in this ward that I decide to stop for a bite to eat at Nakau, which by now I’ve learned is a chain that has branches all over the place.
Having already eaten Kitsune Udon at Nakau (twice), I decide to try out Tanuki Udon this time. It’s tasty as well, though I do miss the Inari-Age. Also, before you ask how you eat the Tempura batter pieces that are the main topping in this dish witch chopsticks… You don’t. Full stop. You either use a spoon, or if you want to do it the traditional Japanese way, you just drink it all up.
Moving on into Bunkyo-Ku (文京区 “Culture Capital Ward”), the second half of my stray shouldn’t be any more lacking in Temples and Shrines than the first one.
And it is here that I run into another very special place. If Anamori Inari Jinja was the big-ol grand-daddy of all Fox Shrines in Tokyo, then this one must be the big-ol grand-mommy.
The Sawazoushi Inari Shrine (澤蔵司稲荷 “Swamp Hidden Rule Inari”) is yet another true fox haven. The main shrine is adorned with a fox fresco, and there are already more foxes on the main grounds than you can shake a stick at.
…and that’s without accounting for the nearby fox glade…
…which is a little hollow filled with another seven little fox side shrines and lots of hidden foxes nearby. At this point, we can once again consider my mind successfully overwritten with foxes for the day, and all my loose change successfully donated.
Subsequently, I also pass by Kotobukikyo-Ji (壽経寺 “Longevity Sutra Temple”)…
…which at one point might want to sue Facebook for making use of its ancient symbol.
And as I approach the northeasternmost corner of Shinjuku near the end, I pretty much run right into an impressive and quite successful attempt of an ambitious gardener to add quite some colour to the city.
Finally, I conclude this stray at Iidabashi-Eki (飯田橋駅 “Rice Field Bridge Station”), from where I take the Chuo-Line back to Akihabara.
Speaking if which, after all this running around, I think it’s now about time that I told you a little bit about my…
Life in Akihabara
Ahhh, Akihabara (秋葉原 “Autumn Leaf Field”), also known as Denkigai (電気街 “Electric Town”). It earned that name for being a trade centre for electric household appliances after World War II, and has kept it ever since, going with the times.
Today it’s mostly known for being an otaku cultural centre, as well as a shopping district for video games, anime, manga, and computer goods. And indeed, pretty much every store around here is either a manga shop, merchandise, arcade, game or electronics store. Also, the entire area by now is pretty much streamlined for tourists as well, so every major store has a tax-free counter in case tourists want to skip the 8% VAT. It is, however, no longer a place for an upstanding geek such as myself.
All that’s around here is pretty much pop culture and hype (think Gundam and overly cute anime girls), and most disappointingly, I have to go through a total of 7 different shops to buy replacement earpads, a PS Vita and two games that have only been released in Japan: Eiyuu Densetsu ~ Zen no Kiseki and Ao no Kiseki. Since those games are both completely in Japanese and are both text-heavy RPGs, they are as much language practice as they are entertainment.
One thing that does turn out to be of interest to me personally is that the “Tales of” series is actually kinda famous around here, and there’s both a horribly overpriced “Tales of” shop, as well as a probably equally overpriced “Tales of” VR Café.
It’s at night, however, that Akihabara really shines. Quite literally.
At this time you can really take in the noisy and overcrowded atmosphere of Tourist-Otakupolis as I like to call it, with maid cafes at every corner and maids out an about seeking patrons.
But anyway, there’s more to living here than the Electric Town. For once, just like I unregistered at the Koto City Office before moving out there, I now need to register at the Taitou City Office – a task that should only take me two trips and a total of 3 hours thanks to the fact that apparently at the Taitou City Office you need to bring your rental contract, a fact which I couldn’t possibly have known about in advance. Fortunately, by now my Japanese is good enough that I was just barely able to understand as much.
Next, there’s the rather essential question of where to do my shopping. Granted, I could survive on the stuff the Konbinis at every street corner sell, but since I really like cooking wholesome meals for myself, I quickly set out on a quest to find a suitable store for my everyday shopping needs.
My first candidate for this is a shop by the very promising name of Don Quijote…
…which does turn out not to have any fresh ingredients after all. However, it does have quite a selection of common household items that do come in in handy. As a result, I shouldn’t visit this place regularly, but still occasionally. Also, among the choice selection of goods it carries there are also such things as Pikachu-slippers and… cultural icons.
My subsequent attempt is with a place called Niku no Hanamasa (“Hanamasa’s Meat”). This one is actually located in a really curious place: Right beneath the railroad tracks of the central railway artery.
I soon find out that this place also sells quite a range of vegetables in addition to meat, as is probably well-stocked with ingredients for Japanese meals. The fish and seafood display is particularly impressive.
I should frequent this place quite regularly. However, my main shopping place should turn up to be a supermarket by the name of Life.
This one has a good selection of groceries, as well as common household items and bathroom essentials and is also reasonably close. One thing that’s curious is the cashier system, which is some sort of mix between a normal checkout and a self-checkout: A cashier scans the products for you and afterwards you pay at a terminal behind the checkout.
Also, Life has a typically Japanese Mascot which I think is supposed to be some sort of clover-animal (the clover being the trademark sign of the Life supermarkets), and a song that’s really, really hard to get out of your head once you’ve heard it every time while shopping.
Finally, there’s also a neat walking mall nearby named Satake Shoutengai (佐竹商店街 ”Assisting Bamboo Shopping District”). This one has all sorts of interesting stores, but since it’s quite a bit away I don’t end up shopping there, though I pass by or through it on several of my explorational strays of the neighbourhood. By the way, I have no idea why it’s symbol is an owl.
As I return from one of my shopping trips, I get magically drawn by the sound of traditional Japanese music emanating from in between two houses.
And as a result, I find this cute little hidden Inari Shrine not even 200m away from my home.
Hahah, just kidding! Actually, I knew that Shrine was there all along and visited it, like, right after moving in. In fact, the N°1 reason why I picked this place above all others was the fact that this one had an Inari Shrine this close. In retrospective, I do not regret this choice at all.
This Shrine is called Sakura Inari Jinja (桜稲荷神社 “Cherry Blossom Inari Shrine”), and I should visit it several times during my time here in Taitou. This time, the occasion is the Sakura Festival, which is celebrated because the Sakura Tree under which the Shrine is located is finally in full bloom – a bit later than its kin due to the fact that it’s surrounded by high buildings on all sides.
Also, this should not turn out to be the only Inari Shrine around with foxes. If anything, I should learn that Taitou is apparently a fox Shrine paradise.
One day as I sit in my room and work on my blog, I suddenly hear a strange melody and announcements from outside that are loud enough to even penetrate my sound-proof double-glazed windows. As I look outside, I see that it’s indeed a bulky garbage collector slowly driving through the neighbourhood. Bulky garbage is a bit of a problem since many people in Tokyo don’t have a car for lack of parking spaces, so these pickup trucks driving around the neighbourhoods and announcing their presence have sort of evolved as a solution. The announcement starts off with “This is the bulky garbage collection truck”, continues with a list of sample items that people might want to dispose of, and finishes with a telephone number that people can call if they want to schedule a pickup.
And speaking of garbage disposal, I finally run into one of the recycling trucks collecting the boxes of recyclable garbage. Much to my surprise, this appears to be a one-man show here in Tokyo, unlike guiding pedestrians across a street, which seems to require three or more people.
One last thing that’s great about the Monterosa Building is that we have a free washing machine, and with me having my own balcony, I can just hang out my laundry to dry on my own space. A drier would have been even better, but like this I already save so much time each week, and a bit of money too, and even though the balcony does not lie within the full light of the heavens, my laundry still dries just fine within one day.
And now, let’s have a brief look…
Down the Furry Hatch
So far, I have only met foreign Furs who also live in Japan. Today, however, I would for the first time meet Japanese Furs, or Kemoners as they are called over here. To do so, I finally gather up my guts and go to a weekly local Japanese Kemono Meet, that’s actually within walking distance of my place. Well, my sort of walking distance, but still.
Since the Kemono-Meet is in the evenings, I end up straying east towards the Skytree through the well-lit street canyons of Tokyo.
Incidentally, I have planned my stray to lead me past Sensou-Ji (浅草寺 “Shallow Grass Temple”), which is Tokyo’s oldest Buddhist Temple. Completed in 645, this Temple honours Kannon, the goddess of Mercy. Now at night it’s still a bit busy, so I can only imagine how full it must be during the day. Also, since temple, gate and the Five-Story Pagoda are all well-illuminated, I think it looks more impressive at night time too.
Also, there’s Asakusa Jinja (浅草神社 “Shallow Grass Shrine”) nearby, which even has a little Inari Side Shrine. Now, if you’ve been really attentive, you might have noticed that both Sensou-Ji and Asakusa Jinja mean “Shallow Grass”, and that they are both starting with the same two Kanji, namely 浅草. This is actually a great example of the different readings that Kanji can have in the Japanese language, with “Asakusa” being the Kun’yomi reading and “Sensou” being the On’yomi reading. The existence of those two different readings once again stems from the fact that the Kanji were originally imported from China, and up to this day no one has been able to give me a proper explanation of when which reading is used that I wasn’t able to dismember with several contradictory counter-examples within five minutes.
Right after that, I arrive at Hatch, which turns out to be a little tower building containing a bar on the ground floor, and a gallery, atelier and pizza place on the upper floors.
It’s quite cosy on the inside, and if a patron of the upper floors wants to come through, everyone has to make space for the stairs are in the back. The fact that it’s a Kemono place, however, is obvious straight from the bat, so I don’t have to wonder for long whether I’ve found the correct address.
The menu of this place is also quite notable. The illustrations were made by the owner – Ookami the wolf – himself. Here we have the Fox Trot, the Salty Dog and the Blush Wolf cocktails.
And then, there’s not only furry stuff lying around…
…but also lots of furry guys (and gals) going around.
My personal favourite is this stylish Tengu…
…but the sight of Ookami playing the accordion is also priceless.
Today is actually a very special occasion here at Hatch, for I learn that it’s Ookami’s birthday, which would probably explain why so many people have come to celebrate.
I stay a little bit longer to watch him blow out the candles, but after that, it’s high time for me to embark on the stray back home, this time going along the waterfront of Sumidagawa.
It’s there that I should have my closest approach to the Skytree thus far – just next to the bridge of the Tobu Skytree Line. It already looks so tall, and yet it’s still over a kilometre away.
From there it’s a relaxed walk all the way back to my little den. However, to see interesting sights I do not necessarily have to walk this far, for there are already plenty of interesting spots to find while…
Well, strictly speaking, not all of these places are in Taitou, but they are usually pretty close. Yushima Tenmangu (湯島天満宮 “Hot Spring Island Heaven Heavenly Satisfaction Shrine”) for example is located right south of Shinobazunoike and Ueno Kouen, but is actually located in Bunkyo-Ku.
One very notable detail here are the animal frescos adorning the gables. I can only imagine how much work must have gone into making these.
Beneath the Shrine, and still barely in Bunkyo, there’s Yushima Kyoshi Tenshin Shiroin (湯島聖天心城院 “Hot Spring Island Sacred Providence Castle Temple”), a tranquil little Buddhist Temple…
…with a tranquil little fish and turtle pond. The tranquillity is palpable, so I end up staying a bit and decelerating my hectic life. Why don’t you join me for a time of turtle-y tranquillity?
Going south from there, I come across Kanda Myoujin (神田明神 “Gods’ Field Gracious Deity”), a shrine dating back and amazing 1,270 years. Nowadays, it is also known as the Shrine of Technology due to its proximity to Akihabara, and is frequented by worshipers seeking blessings for their electrical appliances.
And a little bit further south yet, just on the north bank of the Kanda River, there’s Yushima Seido (湯島聖堂 “Hot Spring Island Sage Hall”), the first Confucian Temple I should visit on my journey. The architecture follows the functional principles of Confucianism to a “T”, and stands in stark contrast with the lavish embellishments of the Shinto Shrines and Buddhist Temples.
Most notably, there’s a statue of the Great Sage Confucius standing in one of the gardens, looking all serene and sovereign.
A little bit further to the west and into Bunkyo, there’s Tokyo Dome City, a vibrant little amusement park in the middle of the city next to the Tokyo Dome Stadium. The most striking features are the ferris wheel, and the roller coaster running directly through it.
Back in Akihabara – which is strictly speaking in Chiyoda-Ku – there’s a really well-hidden Inari Shrine in a little courtyard-chimney accessible only through a very narrow alleyway that by itself is already hidden in a backroad.
On the other side of Taitou – to the east – there’s Sumida-Ku (墨田区 “Black Ink Field”) just across the Kanda River. It is there that I should, among other things, find a most curious underground Snake Shrine as a Sie Shrine of Ejimasugiyama Jinja (江島杉山神社 “Bay Island Cedar Mountain Shrine”).
And to finally get back to Taito-Ku again, the parks here have adorable toys such as ride-able foxes…
…as well as a storm-rabbit-monument. I don’t know the cultural background of this story, but this piece of art it is labelled Takonami Usagi (凧浪兎 “Kite Wave Rabbit”).
That concludes the summary of my shorter tours through Taitou, which should contrast starkly with my next endeavour, which should turn out to become…
The Longest Stray
I have planned this one for a while. Ever since I’ve gone to the Kanamara Matsuri, it has been bugging me that this stray would not be connected to the others, and so I eventually resolved to dedicate an entire day to hike all the way south from Mita to the Anamori Inari Shrine. Actually, this one should be 2km shorter than the Great Northern Circuit with only 15km, but owing to the rather impressive amount of Shrines and Temples along the way, it should still take me much longer to complete, namely a full 9 hours. Also, this should definitely be my most linear stray so far, taking me from Minato-Ku crosswise through Shinagawa-Ku (品川区 “Freight River Ward”) and almost all the way through Ota-Ku.
I start out from Tamachi-Eki (田町駅 “Field Town Station”) at around 10:00, connecting to the southernmost node of my connected strays. For the first part, my path simply takes me along Daiichi-Keihin (第一京浜 “Number One Capital Beach”), a major traffic artery connecting Tokyo with Yokohama, as well as one of the few named roads.
Along there, I do not only come across the ruins of Takanawa Ōkido (高輪大木戸 “High Wheel Large Tree Door”), an old gate that has long since been decommissioned…
…but also pass by the first few of what should soon enough become many shrines.
Afterwards, I cross over into Shinagawa-Ku and leave the main thoroughfare behind in favour of more quiet side roads and harbour/river promenades…
Interestingly enough, I find out that there appears to be a collection of 100 scenic spots here in Shinagawa. I wonder how many of those I’ll end up finding by chance during my stray.
One other thing I should soon enough learn is that apparently I have unbeknownstly walked right into the Shinagawa Shukuba Sampo (品川宿場散歩 “Freight River Relay Station Walk”), a historic pilgrimage route also known as Toukai Nananfukujin (東海七福神 “East Coast Seven Gods of Fortune”).
This route not only has Shrines and Temples dedicated to said seven gods, but also a stupendous selection of minor Shrines and Temples, making this without a doubt the place with the highest Shrine and Temple Density I’ve seen thus far.
As for the 100 scenic spots here in Shinagawa, I do find #34 – Kaiunji (海雲寺 “Sea Cloud temple”)…
…#52 – Samezu Hachiman Jinja (鮫洲八幡神社 “Shark Sandbar Hachiman Shrine”)…
…as well as #55 – the former Site of Suzugamori Keijou (鈴ヶ森刑場 “Small Bell Forest Execution Grounds”).
I probably found a few of the remaining 96 spots as well without realizing it because I didn’t take note of the plaque. However, now my way leads me into the alleys of Ota-Ku…
The Shrine-density is not as high there, but it’s still quite considerable.
As my stray finally nears its end, I cross through Ota Kuritsu Higashikojiyabosai Kouen (大田区立東糀谷防災公園 “Big Field Ward Standing East Malt Valley Disaster Prevention Park”), aka “AHHHH! That which cannot be pronounced!”…
…and then I finally make the connection at the one appropriate place: Anamori Inari Jinja, by entering through its third entrance – the western one, which I figure is probably the main entrance.
After paying my respects at the altar once more, I make my way to the Anamori Inari Eki of the Keikyu-Kuko Line. Having already taken the Monorail on my last visit to this place, I want to try another way of getting back this time. It is only as I approach the station itself that I realize how much of an influence Anamori Inari Jinja has on this district. The entire neighbourhood is pretty much a temple ward, and there are even fox-specific sweets being sold.
The cutest thing, however, is the district mascot Kon-Chan (“Kon” being the Japanese “fox-sound” and by extension also a cute way to call foxes, and –Chan being a cutesy name suffix usually used for girls or cute animals).
The train ride turns out to be a bit tricky since I have to unexpectedly change trains along the way, but it’s also quite scenic since the tracks run above the roofs of the city for the most part – just like the ones of the monorail. In fact, I now realize that I have followed these very same tracks south for quite a portion of my stray.
And then, I arrive back in Akihabara…
…just in time to do some shopping in preparation for…
Some people say that breakfast is the most important meal of the day, and while I can’t wholeheartedly agree with that, I still think it makes for a good start into the day. By now, however, I’m afraid I have eaten too many Onigiri, and find myself drawn to more traditionally western breakfasts such as Müsli with Yoghurt…
…Bread with Tomato Paste, Strawberry Jam and Mayonnaise-Mustard…
…or my personal favourite, traffic-light toast (with Matcha, Orange Juice and Strawberry Jam).
Lunch is more of a simple meal for me, though I do like to add a little personal touch to my ready meals by adding my own tasty home-made Inari-Age.
Also, I decide give Japanese refrigerated pizza one more try, this time using the little stove in our kitchen to make little pizzas.
The verdict: If you bake it in a little stove like that (and leave it in about 50% longer than recommended) it’s actually quite good. Maybe not as great as German refrigerated pizza, but still good.
The most important meal of the day for me is, however, still dinner. It’s at dinnertime that I go all-out and cook up a variety of tasty dishes using fresh ingredients. I usually cook two portions at a time, so I only have to cook once every two days.
Most notably, I come up with the new dish of Togitsune (飛狐”Flying Fox”) as I go about using up some ingredients left over by former flat mates. This one is made from garlic and onion with ham and rice in tomato sauce, and turns out to be surprisingly savoury.
As for my favourite ingredient… by a combination of cute and tasty it would have to be the Ryu-Chan Shiitake mushrooms (Ryu meaning “Dragon”).
Drink-wise, it’s only now, over two months after coming to Japan that I finally discover sparkling water at an affordable price (though it’s still more expensive than in Germany)…
…though my favourite drink is still the good old Lipton Lemon Tea.
And then, there’s the convenient fact that one of the previous inhabitants of this place has apparently left behind a big bag of walnuts in the freezer that are just waiting to be thawed up and devoured one bowl at a time.
As for eating out, one day during a stray from Koto through Sumida to Taitou, I stop by a store of a burger-chain by the name of Mos-Burger that I’ve been wanting to try for some time now.
Ordering in Japanese at such a place is still a challenge for me, and I'm quite nervous, but I eventually manage to order a nice set of a burger, fries and drink, that turn out to be quite delicious. One notable thing is that the burger has a smaller base-area but is higher, making it almost cube-shaped. One way or another it’s filling even if it doesn't look like much at first glance.
One night, I go out to eat Udon at a nearby Udon-ya by the name of Hanamaru-Udon (花丸うどん “Flower Circle Udon”)…
…where I order what has become my Japanese favourite dish by now: Kitsune Udon.
However, the dinner-wise absolute highlight in Taitou is the Yakiniku dinner to which Kim invites me one night.
Yakiniku (焼肉) literally means fried meat, which wouldn’t be all that special if it wasn’t for the fact that you order raw meat and grill it on your own table.
After a little back and forth we decide on a shared plate of mixed meat and another plate of something called Horumon (ホルモン), which turns out to be some sort of intestines – two thirds of which actually taste quite good.
And then we get started grilling our meat a few pieces at a time which can get quite fiery at times. Turns out it is quite tasty indeed, and the sauces that are served to it fit perfectly.
So much for the food. Now there’s only one more adventure to be mentioned for this month, namely my visit to…
As I mentioned above, I’ve been to meet a number of Japanese Furries, or Kemoners. Kemono is the Japanese equivalent to Furry, and means as much as “beast” or “animal”.
Anyway, it was at the meet at Hatch that I was made aware of a Kemono event by the name of Kemoket which was scheduled to happen at the 30-Apr-2018. Not knowing what to expect but still definitely curious, I decided to give it a try, and include a little stray in the experience while I’m at it, branching off from the path I took during the Longest Stray.
Once again I take the Keikyu Line, but this time south instead of north, and get off at Oumorikaigan-Eki (大森海岸駅 “Big Forest Coast Station”), a station that I’ve walked right by only four days ago.
I mean sure, I could just have taken the Monorail and gotten off at the station right in front of the Ryutsu Centre – where the event is being hosted – but where would the fun in that have been?
At first I’m not sure if I’ve found the right place. However, the presence of a telltale queue makes it blatantly obvious that I have managed to reach my destination.
So, after only a minor detour that included me finding the backdoor entrance to the area, I line up at the end of the queue and eventually follow its course three quarters around the building and into a courtyard where the queues are lined up and processed in blocks. So far it’s surprisingly well organized, even though I still don’t have any idea what it’s all about.
Only once inside does its true nature finally become apparent for me. It’s basically one huge sales event for Kemono stuff, not unlike the dealer’s den of the Eurofurence, but much bigger, more crowded and only for a single day.
The stuff on sale includes mostly Kemono Mangas, but also trinkets, accessories, and even masks. The selection is quite remarkable, and if it wasn’t all in Japanese, I might even be tempted to buy a book or two.
However, I do not leave empty-handed. After a bit of looking around, I settle on a cute little fox keychain that will henceforth accompany me on my travels.
All in all, I don’t quite get the hype of this event however. There are too many people, too much commercialization, and not enough cuddles. So before long, I leave and enjoy a relaxing stroll through the nearby Heiwashima Kouen (平和島公園 “Peace Island Park”) instead.
Incidentally, I also happen to run into a cute little Inari Shrine on the way back, purely by chance. This one is called Saginomori Inari Jinja (鷺之森稲荷神社), meaning “Heron’s Forest Inari Shrine”
Afterwards, I continue through the backroads of Ota-Ku until I reach Oumorimachi-Eki (大森町駅 “Big Forest Town Station”), from where I return back home via the Keikyu Line once again.
With all these adventures now having been told, let me tell you a bit about this month’s…
For starters, let us begin with the 6-hour interactive experience “Ingrain Wallpaper: Unchanged Through the Ages”.
Just kidding, but I do get a somewhat similar experience while changing from the Yamanote Line to the Keiyo Line at Tokyo Station. Not only does the transfer path lead me an approximate 13 floors down, but it’s also so long that travelators have been installed in the underground passages.
And speaking of train stations, here’s a genuine experience of how transferring from one line to another in the Tokyo Metro feels outside of rush hours. Note the jingle that plays before the train departs (rudely interrupted by announcers yelling “Careful the doors are closing! Please take the next train!” repeatedly).
And then, there are those stations that are excessively fun during rush hours.
Although I’ve used quite a number of the Tokyo Metro Lines by now, there’s one particular… uhhh… “subway”-Line that I’ve yet to try, namely the Marunouchi Line, which takes that whole “underground” thing a bit liberally.
Continuing from the topic of train to road traffic, I notice that the traffic lights here in Japan function somewhat differently than those in Germany.
No wonder that the traffic regulators with their lightsabers have their hands full making sure that no one walks into the crosswalk at the wrong time.
And then, there’s the ambulance, fire fighter and police cars racing across the intersections at breakneck speeds while also shouting: “Careful, the ambulance/fire fighters/police is coming through” because the siren is obviously not enough.
Some people have definitely watched “My Neighbour Totoro” once too many…
…while others appear to have a very interesting definition of a drive-in café.
From driving to walking, sometimes there are exceedingly dangerous pipe bumps on the sidewalk. It truly is a good thing that there are usually one or two attendants in place to safely guide hapless pedestrians across this oherwise insurmountable obstacle.
Meanwhile, the following signs were likely placed with good intentions, but have not quite been thought-through.
Speaking of signs, some of the road signs here are really swell, such as the three-way left turn or the fish-bone intersection.
And then, there’s also the Happy Earthquake Fish informing people that certain roads are designated as emergency access roads in the event of a major earthquake. To explain this: According to Japanese mythology, a giant catfish by the name of Namazu (鯰) dwells in the mud beneath the Japanese Island and is guarded by the god Kashima who restrains Namazu with a giant stone. However, whenever Kashima’s guard fails, Namazu trashes around and causes earthquakes.
Yet another interesting sign I came across would be this one.
I know I’ve mentioned them before, but this time, I give you one of these amazing Sparkle Crossings in action!
Now here’s one thing that I very strongly feel we should introduce in Germany as well.
Leaving the concept of traffic and sidewalks behind for now, here’s some very interesting artwork, such as a life-sized whale statue…
…and whatever the hell that is.
Here’s a place where you should definitely think twice about hitting on beauties.
Going from feminine to masculine, Tanuki statues can naturally be found all over the place as well.
Finally, here’s a few more scurrile Japanese adds the message of which remains a mystery to me even to this day.
With all that having been said, it’s now once again time for me to proceed to…
Wrapping it up
Just like that, the month comes to an end, and the day of my departure – 4-May-2018 – is rapidly approaching. So once again, it is time to pack up my belongings, and unlike in the Ooizumi Mansion where I was happy to leave, this time I’m actually quite sad about leaving this place, which I’ve come to think of as my home in Japan, behind.
On our very last evening together, I cook a traditional German dish that I learned from my dear grandmother for Kim and myself: Fleischpflanzerln!
It’s a dish unlike anything he’s ever tasted before, and together we make short work of this delicious feast. And since this is a special occasion, I also empty the can of coke that a former inhabitant has left behind in the fridge.
And since I feel he’s deserved as much for the great company he’s been, not to mention the time he’s invited me to dinner and all the fruit he’s shared with me, I present Kim with the first proper piece of gift artwork I should draw here in Japan. Since he wasn’t sure about his favourite animal, I depicted him as a species of fictional animal that has been on my mind for some time. Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you Kim from Korea, depicted as a Flirial, the first I should ever draw.
The next morning, all that’s left is erasing my name from the door…
…and folding up the blankets, leaving the room as empty as I’ve found it, and probably a bit cleaner as well.
Unlike on my last move where I carried an extra basket of belonging, this time I’ve shed all baggage that did not fit into my backpacks – such as the cushion and clothes basket, washing powder, as well with some food supplies – so I'm once again only travelling with two pieces of luggage, just as I did back in New Zealand.
Chatting with Kim, I await the arrival of the share house manager to complete the handover, and after that is done with, all that’s left is…
The Road Ahead
Much to my delight, Kim decides to accompany me on the way to my new accommodation. At first he says he’s only going to come to the next road, then the river, and in the end we end up walking the entire way together. And as yet another pleasant surprise, we should even come across a little Inari Shrine by the name of Umemori Inari Jinja (梅森稲荷神社 “Apricot Forest Inari Shrine”) along the way.
The entire route should take us all the way to the east of Taitou-Ku, across Sumidagawa and into Sumida-Ku and be about 3km long.
Along the way, we also pass by two Buddhist Temples, and for Kim this is actually the first time he’s consciously taken them into account.
Eventually, we arrive at my new accommodation – the Asakusa Smile Hostel.
However, since it’s still too early to check in, I merely drop off my baggage and together, Kim and I go on a walk to explore Sumida-Ku, starting with that thing to the north, which points almost directly to my new accommodation.
While we fail to figure out what it’s supposed to be, we at least learn that it belongs to the Ashai Beer company, and that the building it rests on top of is apparently a restaurant of some sort.
From there on, our destination is the Sky Tree, which is not even a kilometre to the east from here.
This colossal structure is a whopping 634 meters high, and grows only more impressive the closer we get. It even has its own railway access line, the Tobu Skytree Line.
Before long, we arrive right beneath the towering giant. It’s worth to note that the steel lattice framework surrounding the Skytree starts with a triangular base area and gradually tapers of to a circular shape over the length of its shaft.
Today should not be the day for me to ascend the Sky Tree. However, the two of us should still explore the surrounding megaplex, which includes a beer garden with fish flags adorned with the world’s nation’s flags…
…as well as an exhibit featuring a transformer fighter jet model from one manga or another…
…and Tentetsutou (天鉄刀 “Heaven Iron Sword”), a modern 20th century katana forged from parts of the Gibbeon Meteorite that originally impacted near Gibbeon, Namibia in 1838 by the Japanese master sword smith Yoshindo Yoshihara.
Afterwards, Kim invites me to one last meal together in a nearby Soba-Ya, which is apparently qute popular, for we have to wait outside for at least 15 minutes.
It’s quite cosy inside, though the actual reason why we’ve chosen this place lies in its menu, which – owing to some cute illustrations – is understandable even to me.
So we both order Kitsune-Soba, and thus complete the list of Japanese meals which I definitely have to try. It turns out to be quite to my liking, and Kim, too, enjoys it. It’s a little bit like Kitsune Udon, and yet distinctly different.
Afterwards, it’s ultimately time to say goodbye, and while Kim heads for the city, I proceed to explore the nearby parks on the way back to the hostel.
Naturally, I also pass by a number of Temples and Shrines along the way. Actually, it’s mostly Buddhist Temples this time – just like Taitou, Shinagawa and Ota are apparently Shinto (and Inari)-heavy districts, Sumida appears to be a haven for Buddhism.
By the time I return, it’s already way past the earliest check-in time, and all that’s left for me to do is pay the rent and lug my baggage up the narrow stairs into the fourth floor, promptly collapsing on the squeaky bed of the four-bed dorm room afterwards.
My time in Tokyo is rapidly coming to an end now. Tomorrow, I’ll pick up my best friend Robert from Narita airport, and afterwards we’ll spend two more days in Tokyo, and then embark on an epic journey up the east coast and all the way to Sapporo. However, that is a story for another time, and shall be told in the next Chapter of the Travelling Fox Blog.