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Saturday, 16 March 2019

Book II ~ Final Chapter ~ Of Spirits and Shrines

30-Jan-2019 – 6-Feb-2019

By now, I have been in Japan for almost a full year. Almost! I have travelled around the whole country, visited every region, and yet…

And yet…

…I don't think I've ever given you a proper introduction to the very first region that I visited. So, let me use this opportunity to make amends during this my final visit to…


Kanto (関東 "Gateway East") stands in direct contrast to the Western Gateway of Kansai, and yet both regions share some striking similarities. For one, Kanto is composed pretty much exclusively of metropolis, with only a few bits and pieces of open landscape in between and around the borders. This should come as no surprise since with 42.5 million inhabitants and a population density of 1,314 people/km², Kanto is both the most populous and most densely settled area of all of Japan. In terms of population it is on par with the Ukraine and Algeria, and the population density lies somewhere between Malta and the Maldives (or to put it on a World Rank scale, place 5.5 of the top 10 national population densities). With its area of 32,424km², it's right in the middle of the areas of Japan, and closest to Moldova and Belgium on a global scale.


In fact, people who have played the first generation of Pokémon games (or one of their remakes) will recognize that name of this area as being the same as that of which the game takes place, and that is no coincidence! The Kanto area in the Pokémon games was indeed modelled after the Kanto area of Japan, with Tokyo being represented by Celadon City and Saffron City, Yokohama becoming Vermilion City and the starting city of Pallet Town being based on Shimoda (okay, so we took a bite out of Chuubu there). Izu-Ooshima became the Cinnabar islands, and even the Tokyo Bay Aqua Line that connects the Chiba peninsula to Kawasaki was replicated in the form of the Cycling Road.


Also, this is not the only region of Japan that has served as a model for a Pokémon game (although it is the only one that retained the name of its original): Kansai became Johto, Kyushu and Okinawa served as a model for Hoenn (rotated 90°) and Hokkaido and Sakhalin gave birth to Sinnoh. And it doesn't stop there: All of the other Pokémon Regions have a real-world equivalent too: Unova is based on New York and its surroundings, Kalos was modelled after France, and I don't think I need to tell you which pacific island group Alola was modelled after. For more info see this article.

Anyway, moving on. Within Kanto I am now located in the southern prefecture of Kanagawa (神奈川 "Gods What River?")…


…and within there, in the city of Kawasaki (川崎 "River Cape"), just south of the official city border of Tokyo, which runs more or less in the middle of Tamagawa (多摩川 "Frequent Grinding River") at this point.


Finally, In Kawasaki my stay place is located in what I'm going to call "Urban Backwaters". It's about 10 STEPs to the nearest station in three directions, and there's only one bigger supermarket nearby. However, once you walk a little bit of a distance, you arrive in a downtown area with lots of options. In that regard, it's actually a little bit like my very first stay place in Koto (see Book II ~ Chapter 2 ~ Touchdown in Tokyo).


Latitude-wise, not much has changed again. But since I already said that for the last two chapters and this is my last stay place in Japan, let me give you one final comparison of my latitude in comparison to Europe and New Zealand. I am now at 35.53°N, which is pretty much the same longitude I was at in Daisen. It is still south of all European mainland and just narrowly grazes the north of the islands of Crete and Cyprus. Lampedusa is a fair match in terms of Latitude. As for New Zealand, this would be roughly the equivalent of Oponoi in Northland, where I beheld the Hokianga Heads (see Book I ~ Chapter 30 ~ Navigating Northland) during my final journey in that country.


The temperatures for these last few days meanwhile should take a pleasant upturn at first. However, near the end a cold rain front should arrive and pull them down again.


However, overall the weather during this my last week here in Japan should be fine, which means I should be able to take care of all the things that are yet to be done and finally leave Japan with…

No Regrets


The place I'm staying at this time is a cosy little Airbnb, where I have a private room in a guest house of sorts. One interesting particularity about this place is that the key is shared and has to be kept in the keybox outside at all times.


Also, as with the last place, my host here should take the phantom approach to hosting, and I would only see him a single time during my entire stay. Oh well.

But be that as it may be, it's still a nice location to spend my last week, so let me go straight ahead and tell you more about…

The Place


As usual, let us start off with a tour of this little place.



Up until now, I was not sure what the "Stylish Space" feedback option on Airbnb meant, but for this place I should definitely select it, for there's just all sorts of curiosities to be found all over the place, with dragons and Totoro. Little things only, but they help make the place come to life.


Maybe most notably, there is even a small house Shrine in this place, the name of which is Inage Jinja (稲毛神社 "Rice Fur Shrine").


However, it does also have the good old problem with the laptop-friendly workspace again.


Aforementioned little house Shrine, by the way, is only a small version of the original Inage Jinja, which can be found only a short ways away.


This big Shrine features a number of Side Shrines, some of which are vulpine in nature…


…as well as a fully-fledged little Zodiac Shrine arranged around a scaffolded tree. I bet it looks amazing when it has leaves.


There's also a bike racing stadium nearby, and the local mascot character Keirin the cool cat can be encountered all over the place.


And to round off the religious balance, there is also a Temple by the name of Myouonji (妙遠寺 "Exquisite Far Temple") in the immediate neighbourhood.


Also, for one last time should I behold lovingly designed manhole covers at every street corner. Looking back now I remember that I first noticed this lovely little detail on the roads of Japan in Ishinomaki (see Book II ~ Chapter 5 ~ A Trip Together) and have paid attention to it ever since. I am going to miss this on the streets of other countries.


As for my shopping needs, I should take care of this in the nearby miracle-depri-cure supermarket which thanks me for coming to life every time I visit. Interestingly, this is the same chain that I did most of my shopping at when I was living near Akihabara at the end of my first stay in Tokyo (see Book II ~ Chapter 4 ~ Action at Akihabara), reinforcing my "Local Chains"-hypothesis.


I shouldn't have much time to explore my surrounding right away, however, for already on the evening of the very day of my arrival in Kawasaki, it is time for me to…

Interlude ~ Pass on the Torch

30-Jan-2019

You may remember that I originally paid an organization to bring me to Japan, throw me more or less directly into the ice-cold water, and fail to find a job for me before I started taking things into my own hands, and learnt a number of things the hard way. Intent on not letting that happen again to at least a few newcomers, I have offered to hold a short panel about my experiences in Japan and tips for travelling around, and the only day they could arrange it for was today. So there I go, making my way back to Kawasaki-eki and then taking the trains and underground walkways all the way through Tokyo back to the place of beginnings, the Ooizumi Mansion…


…where I give an approximately one-hour long Japan 101 talk with a subsequent Q&A Session about things that are really useful to know for travelling around Japan.


I mostly focus on things that I personally found confusing and would have really liked if someone had explained them to me in the beginning, such as the whole system with trains and IC cards. In fact, just in case some of you intend to travel around Japan yourself one day, I'll quickly recap what I said there so you may profit from this really useful knowledge as well.

For starters, the train network in Japan is very tight and reliable, and thanks to tunnels and bridges you can get to pretty much everywhere on the four main islands by train, with the exception of some very remote areas.


Trains in Japan come in all sorts of very colourful names. Fortunately, they can be broken down into three broad categories: "Shinkansen", "Tokkyuu", and "Others":

Category Shinkansen Tokkyuu Other
Japanese Name 新幹線 特急 普通列車, 急行, 快速, ライナ, ワンマン, 準急, 快速
English Name Shinkansen Limited Express Regular Train, Local Service, Rapid, Liner, Wanman Express, Semi-Express, Limited Express(!)
Speed Fast Moderate Slow
Cost High Moderate Low
German Equivalent ICE IC, EC RB, RE, IR
Track Separate modern network; mostly bridges and tunnels Traditional network with scenic routes and many great views

Not here how two different Japanese writings are translated into English as "Limited Express", and unfortunately, they are both in different price categories – a fact that should cause me much worry in the beginning until I learnt that only the Tokkyuu (特急) Limited Express trains cost extra, and not the Keisoku (快速) Limited Express trains. The only advice I can give for telling them apart, unfortunately, is learning to recognize the Kanji for Tokkyuu.

As for how to pay, the most convenient way is by IC card: You can purchase those at ticket Jidouhanbaiki – all of which have an "English" option – and then use them in all IC-Card areas. You can even use them to travel from one IC card area to another one, but will have to check out manually at the Madoguchi (窓口 "Ticket Window"). Also, inside an area – no matter which – you can use IC cards from all over the country without a problem, so you can for example travel around Kyushu with a Kitaca from Sapporo and it will work just fine. The only exceptions here are Okinawa and parts of Shikoku, (such as the area around Matsuyama) which have its own separate card systems. However, especially along the main tourist route in Honshu, most of Kyushu and the area around Sapporo, you can use IC cards from all over the country without a problem.


However, one thing you absolutely have to make sure of when using an IC card for long distance travel is that your destination station also allows you to check out with IC, lest your card gets locked for a long, long time as happened to me and my friend in a small rural station near Ishinomaki. Unfortunately, that's easier said than done, for while the IC card areas are clearly printed on all local area network maps in a shade of light blue, getting the area map for an area that you are not currently in can be pretty tricky. So when in doubt, it's usually best to just buy a good old-fashioned paper-ticket.


Which brings us to the next point: Paper tickets! Unlike in other countries where you just get one ticket for the entire journey, Japan has a multiple-ticket system where you get one ticket to cover the base fare (which equals the price for travelling the whole distance by local train), and if you use Shinkansen or Tokkyuu along the way, you get one "Seat Reservation" ticket as a surcharge for your journey with that particular train. The naming of "Seat Reservation" ticket can be bit confusing, especially considering that in Tokkyuu you can also get "Seat Reservation" tickets for "Unreserved Seats", whereas in Shinkansen, the lowest price category is "Reserved Seat". From highest to lowest, the price categories are:

  • Premium Seat (Shinkansen and special trains only)
  • Green Seat (Also available in "Other" trains)
  • Reserved Seat
  • Unreserved Seat (Tokkyuu only)

In case you wonder whether you should pay extra for a Reserved Seat… my personal suggestion is: Don't, unless you travel in peak season. Of all the train journeys I had with a Tokkyuu, I always purchased an Unreserved Seat Ticket, and there were always so many free seats in the Unreserved Seat cars that not even the conductors complained about me taking up an extra seat for my luggage.


As for how to purchase tickets… The most convenient way are the Ticket Jidouhanbaiki, since you can change their language to English. Also, when purchasing tickets for Tokkyuu or Shinkansen remember that you need both the fare ticket and a seat reservation for each train. Fortunately, the Jidouhanbaiki by default offers you to purchase them both (but it also offers options to purchase just one or the other, which may be confusing if you don't know about the system). However, sometimes, especially when travelling a great distance, the Jidouhanbaiki won't have the ticket available, and then your best bet is the Madoguchi, where you will have to use whatever little Japanese you have access to since you can bet your tail that the people there won't speak English. Fortunately, the name of the station you want to travel to (and ideally a map since odds are they're not going to understand how you pronounce the name) will usually be enough.


However, if you're like me and end yourself up at one of those really rural local stations that only have one Jidouhanbaiki with limited options and no Madoguchi whatsoever, you have to consult the network map that is present at every station and determine the price of the ticket you need, then select it from the Jidouhanbaiki. The prices are written in big letters under each station, and are relative to your current station. English names for the stations are sometimes available, but not always, so especially in more rural areas, it helps to have a note of how your destination is written in Kanji.


Also, sometimes the local Jidouhanbaiki simply won't have the ticket you need available, so what do you do then?


Fortunately, there is a System in place for exactly that sort of situation. It is called Seisan (精算 "Fare Adjustment"), and allows you to change your ticket "on the go". Basically, what you do in such a situation is just purchase any ticket (I usually take the most expensive one), and then at either your final station or a major crossover station where you have sufficient time, you go looking for the Madoguchi that says "Fare Adjustment", and tell the person there (in Japanese) where you want to go. No extra charge applies, and you only have to pay the exact price difference, so you don't lose any money. However, you will have to pay attention to the travel plan the station attendant presents you with, for they will usually assume you want to go to your destination as fast as possible, and book you on an expensive Tokkyuu or Shinkansen. If you don't want that, make sure to mention "Futsuressha de" ("By Local Train") and look for irregularities in your expected price.


Apart from train, you can also travel around Japan by bus, ship or plane. For plane journeys, you can usually rely on whatever you favourite travel website is, as they most likely will also allow you to book all intra-Japanese flights without any hassle in your preferred language.

As for going by ship, this site feature a ferry good overview over domestic ship routes. One word of warning, however: Sometimes ferry routes cease being profitable and you might find yourself contributing to this website by becoming the one person who tries to use a ferry only to find out it stopped operating a few months ago, and subsequently writing a mail to the webmaster to inform him that one of the routes no longer exists, as was the case with me when I tried to take the ferry from Saiki to Sukumo (see Book II ~ Chapter 17 ~ Blue Destination), which as a result is now no longer listed on this page. So when planning to go by ferry, especially along a more remote line, make sure to check the company website and tourist information to avoid unnecessary trouble.

Also, for long distance ferries, there are several different price categories. The cheapest one and the only one I tried out was the 2nd class Tatami mat room (2等和室 Nitou Washitsu), which has you sleeping side by side on Tatami mats with other travellers. It's pretty much hit or miss depending on how full the ferry ends up being. On one occasion I had the entire room to myself, but the other time was pretty crowded.


And above that, there are a number of higher price categories, such as 2nd class dormitory, 1st class, and even premium rooms for those who can afford it. I certainly can't. In fact, the ferry to Okinawa was so expensive, that it was actually both faster and cheaper to take the plane back (booking early probably helped too).


Finally, there are the buses. To book a bus, you either have to pull off the impressive feat of navigating a Japanese website with no English translation, or you can do it like I did and just go to the station, and tell the attendants there that you wish to where and when you want to buy the bus ticket. Since places in buses are limited, you should ideally buy those several days in advance. Price-wise, they are about the same category as a regular train ticket. There is also overnight buses available which are very popular among the Japanese, but I personally never used one of those since I like looking at the landscape as we pass by.

Also, here's a number of apps that really helped me in my travels, and which you might find useful yourself.

  • Hyperdia is a route planning map that, among other things, allows you to choose which types of vehicles you want to use and even allows you to specify cities you want your route to go through. One notable shortcoming is that it sometimes tries to reload the results when you don't have a connection and ends up losing them, so make sure to take a screenshot once you picked your favoured route. Hyperdia also exists as a browser-based version.
  • MAPS.ME allows you to download offline maps for the entire world, including Japan, which is especially helpful since Google Maps does not allow offline maps to be downloaded for Japan for whatever reason.
  • Akebi features the most reliable offline Kanji recognizer I've ever used. However, it helps if you can write at least a few Kanji and are thus familiar with the peculiarities of how Kanji are generally written. The most important part is getting the amount of strokes right, so if you're not sure just try writing the Kanji with the minimal amount of strokes, and then keep adding strokes on top until the Kanji pops up in the result list.
  • Google Translate has an optical Kanji recognizer where you can scan text with the camera and get a real time translation in AR. It does not always work and the results are sometimes eclectic, but when it does work, it's a real time saver. Just make sure to enable offline functionality in advance.

And finally, for those among you who wish to go all the way into the working holiday business, here's the web sites that I can recommend for finding hosts all over the country, in order from best to worst:

  1. HelpX: Cheap, many hosts, and made great experiences
  2. WorkAway: Found only a single host over this site
  3. WWOOF: Expensive, did not use at all in Japan since I had some bad experiences with it in New Zealand

With that, it's time for me to conclude about this topic. I could probably keep on going for some while, but I think this covers the essentials. Any questions? …oh, right, I'm not doing the live-Version anymore right now.

Moving on, I walk back to Kiba-Eki one last time, and as I pass by the Ito Yokado I notice that it has put up quite a nice display of lights this year that I must have missed the last time I was around many months ago. Or maybe they just take down the lights at the end of January.


With trains and walks, it takes me almost two hours to get back home to Kawasaki, which is why I'm all the happier that I can look forward to preparing myself a tasty, home-cooked dinner tonight, which brings us directly to…

The Food


Now, normally I would not stock up on bread-breakfast supplies for a stay of only a week, but since this is my last chance to eat yummy, yummy Natto on toast, I naturally take that opportunity, even if it means I'll have some leftover supplies.


Since I'm staying for a week and Natto comes in packs of three, I consequently get to try out two new brands of Natto (the Life home brand Kotsubu Nattou (小粒納豆 "small-grained Natto") and the FamilyMart home brand Chuutsubu Nattou (中粒納豆 "medium-grained Natto"))…


…and on the seventh day should finish up my stay in Japan with some Inari-Sushi and Maki.


Likewise, for lunch I take my last servings of Yakisoba and Yakiudon with tasty, tasty self-made Inari-age…


…even if my final attempt to get the Inari-age recipe right should end with "Yep, definitely too much sugar", causing the first meal of Yakisoba I would prepare in the liquid of the Inari-age so sweet that it would send a hummingbird into a diabetic coma. To explain this: I have been experimenting with the sugar-amount in the recipe for the Inari-age, steadily increasing the amount and eventually getting close to the desired result, carrying with me a bag of sugar for this purpose. Now on this last stop, however, instead of using just a bit more sugar, I laugh maniacally and put in the entire rest… with consequences. I should not be able to finish that bowl. In Eiyuu Densetsu, this dish would probably be called "Syrupy Soba" and give either 3 turns of Speed Up, or cause 500 sugar damage.


As for dinner, I should make one more serving of Gamm Ligeral with Soba during my stay here to take my leave from the interesting and savoury Japanese types of mushrooms. Conveniently, the supermarket has a combo-pack available which ideally suits my needs.


However, the more interesting dinner I should prepare is yet another thing that I had to check off my "To do while still in Japan"-list, and that is to prepare a meal with some of the wickedly expensive marbled meat available in a separate section of the meat counter (1076¥ for 200g, and that isn't even the most expensive they have).


Naturally, I should not just use any old recipe for such an exquisite meal. Instead I decide to go for a hearty mustard-and-oil marinade with coarse-ground black pepper, tarragon and thyme, combining it with a hearty tomato-cream sauce with just the slightest hint of Dashi, put a few fried Shimeji mushrooms on top and serve together with Udon noodles and Spam.


I should come to call this daring combination "Heaven and Hell", and surprisingly, the one ingredient that I should end up being disappointed by should not be the Spam. The Spam should turn out to be lovely and wonderful, just like touted by ancient Viking song, at least considering its low price. Instead, it is the marbled meat that disappoints, and is nowhere near as savoury as I would expect for something this fiendishly expensive.


I should also eat out in two restaurants, such as a lunch of Gyuudon Kimochi Teishoku eaten at a chain of restaurants similar to Nakau, Sukiya and Matsuya by the name of Yoshinoya (𠮷野家 "Lucky Field House"), which seems to be endemic to the Radiant Metropolis. Or at the very least I did not notice these anywhere else in Japan.


And for my final dinner in Japan, I should naturally go and find a Udon-ya to have one last bowl of yummy, yummy Kitsune-Udon. I should have to walk about 10 STEPs to get to the closest one, which goes by the name of Seto Udon (瀬戸うどん "Channel Udon"), but in addition to Kitsune Udon this store also offers an attractive selection of Tenpura, which I naturally do not refuse. As an insider tip, by the way, I can personally recommend the big "chunks" of onion Tenpura: They are great for soaking up the remainder of the soup after you've eaten all the Udon.


Also, I should dare one last pack of typical Japanese snacks. These should be baked goods in genuine Japanese flavours, such as soy, sweet or with sea weed. They would not become my favourites such as the Kaki-no Tane or the Umeboshi-flavoured chips, but are definitely not bad either.


And finally… finally finally… finally finally finally… on my last evening in Japan, after returning home from Seto Udon and making one last stop at the 7-Eleven right near my home, I should finally finally finally finally FINALLY find the Melon Soda for which I've been questing for over half a year now. Normally, I would stretch this sweet delicacy out over several days, but as it is I only have a single evening remaining to guzzle the entire bottle.


And with these things ticked off my culinary checklist, let us now move on to receive…

Interlude ~ Divinity's Blessing

31-Jan-2019
Distance: 9.4km
Ascents: 86m
Duration: 3h
21 (15🦊); 11

Despite having been in Japan almost a full year, the number of Shinto ceremonies I've been an active part in remains one (see Book II ~ Chapter 3 ~ Living, Learning and Working...). Apart from that I've only been able to catch glimpses, such as when a man got his new car sanctified at Okayama Jinja (see Book II ~ Chapter 19 ~ The Onomichi Overdrive), and despite e having visited a whopping total of 1,905 Shinto Shrines thus far, I still know preciously little about active Shinto Worship. Fortunately, I know someone who can help. Do you remember Asa whom I met in Appi-Kogen? She is living in Tokyo, and I have been keeping in touch with her and we have been planning to meet up prior to my departure.


It is her who tells me that in Shinto practice, it is normal to request a priest to perform a ceremony to receive special blessing, and the price for it depends on what kind of ceremony that is. Hearing as much, I promptly inquire whether it would be possible to get a ceremony to bless my long-year project – The Chronicles of Ceal – at an Inari Shrine, and Asa replies that it shouldn't be a problem, and kindly inquires at an Inari place that comes to her mind. Imagine my surprise when I find out that it should be Toyokawa Inari Tokyo Betsuin (豊川稲荷東京別院 "Bountiful River Inari Tokyo Branch Temple"), the Tokyo Branch of Toyokawa Inari in Toyokawa, which I visited only two weeks ago (see Book II ~ Chapter 21 ~ The Twofold Toyo Thuggery).


Naturally, knowing as much, I have reasonable doubt about this resulting in me getting a Shinto ceremony since I already knew that Toyokawa Inari was special, and a mix of Shinto and Buddhist faith. However, I certainly don't want to let Asa's efforts go to waste, and also I'm curious to see how this plays out. As such, I keep my doubts to myself and agree to meet with Asa in front of Toyokawa Inari Tokyo Betsuin. Naturally I get there way to early, leaving me with plenty of time to explore the interior, and quickly find that it's easily vulpine enough to become the seventh and final Golden Fox Shrine/Temple/Whatever I should find in Japan.


Also, guess whom I should meet again here? It's Inarin from Toyokawa in a life-sized statue! Doesn't the big guy just make you want to give him a hug?


Apart from many, many foxes, the Shichifukujin on their ship also make appearances here, and it becomes sort of a treasure hunt for me to find all of them since they are hidden all around the grounds of Toyokawa Inari Tokyo Betsuin. Interestingly, another Buddhist Goddess representing light and going by the name of Marishiten (摩利支天 "Polished Advantage Supporting Sky") – who sometimes replaces one of the other Shichifukujin in depictions and collections – is also present along the seven traditional ones, bringing their number to a total of eight at this place and this place alone.


No sooner am I done exploring Toyokawa Inari Tokyo Betsuin that Asa arrives, and her help proves absolutely invaluable in communicating with the monks and explaining my request. Fortunately, with this being a big temple in an urban area, there is a well-streamlined process for this. At a price of 5,000¥, I can participate in a communal prayer ceremony with a small group of people in the inner sanctuary, at which time the monks will bring forth the collected requests of everyone to the Goddess. In order to do so, all participants must fill out a registration form where they can select up to three wishes from a list of generic wishes (such as "success in business", "household harmony" or "safe travels"), as well as propose a special request, such as me with the Chronicles of Ceal. Ceremonies are held in hourly intervals during the day, and as such I happily pay the price and fill out the registration form in order to participate in this very special event. Incidentally, I have brought one copy of the Book of Lore with me, and it is at this point that I hand it over to the priests, who explain to me (through Asa) that they will sanctify it.


Afterwards, we look around the grounds for a little bit longer, before eventually sitting down inside the waiting room, where we are served Matcha and Okashi.


A short time later, my name is called along with that of the other supplicants, and we are led into the inner sanctuary. A mixture of excitement, curiosity and nervousness grips my heart, and as such I am quite grateful that Asa is allowed to accompany me for the ceremony. Now, regrettably photos and video are not permitted during the ceremony, so I will not be able to show you visual footage of the breathtaking and spectacular ceremony that is to follow within.


Instead, I shall attempt to use the magic of my words to paint a picture of this amazing event, for immediately after returning from the ceremony I should sit down and write an account of the performance right while my memories of it were still at its freshest. So open up your mind and let the amazing ceremony of Toyokawa Inari Tokyo Betsuin take shape in front of your inner eye. For reference, here is the layout of the inner sanctuary as I recall it, as well as the path we should take through it:


We are admitted into the central prayer hall through a sliding door to the right. This hall is about 8m wide and 24m long, subdivided into four parts of about equal length by low fences that serve more as a symbolic separation than actual barriers. The outermost part is publicly accessible from the front of the Temple, and the second part is where we are admitted to. A pair of black foxes, one to the left and one to the right, watch over the barrier to the third part, where six bald monks and a head monk wearing a pointed cowl sit kneeling, facing the altar in the fourth and innermost part, arranged in a forward-facing 4-2-1 formation. The monk to the left back is facing a great drum, while the one to the right back has one large and one small metal bowl-shaped gong placed in front of him and is wielding a traditional bell-on-a-stick-shaped implement to ring the gongs.

The area we are entering is completely devoid of anything but a red carpet, so we hesitate for a moment, before I sit down kneeling in front of the left of the two foxes at the front of the segment, and the other supplicants follow suit, spreading around the floor and finding comfortable positions to sit in. As soon as we are all seated, the monk to the right rings the big gong, and as its clear note dissipates, the head monk begins chanting the prayer, and the other monks soon join in. Now, when I say "chant prayer", what probably comes to your mind is a slow and solemn chant, but this one is quite different. Instead, it is a fast-paced and determined chant, more akin to an invocation, which I suppose is exactly what this ceremony is about. It starts getting more intense as the monk to the left begins hitting the drum with fervent passion, producing intense and loud beats that pierce marrow and bone, reverberating all the way into the soul. And then, in an amazing display, the monks begin to flare up their Sutras, throwing the volumes of paper from left to right and back again, exposing the entirety of their texts for the briefest of moments, faster than any eye could follow.

A Sutra, that is a collection of teachings and writings unique to each particular sect and temple. Here in Japan, it traditionally takes the form of a "book" in which the pages are folded in a continuous zig-zag pattern and capped off with a cover page on either end. With sufficient skill – such as the monks clearly demonstrate – it is possible to throw all the pages from one side to the other in a continuous fluid motion, which Asa should later explain to me counts as a full reading of the entire Sutra.


Following the fervent invocation which lasts for at least 15 minutes (though keeping track of time in this state of spiritual ecstasy is sort of difficult), the head monk takes the lead and recites the sutra in a festive and intense parlando, and once he has finished, he proceeds without pause to address the wishes and request from us the supplicants. Imploring the goddess Inari, he introduces each of us by name and residence, followed by the wishes we submitted earlier on. Interestingly, my entry seems to come as a bit of a surprise for him, for there is a slight but definitely noticeable pause before he proceeds to make the humble request on behalf of a little fox by the name of Kira Resari from Myunhen, Doitsu (ミュンヘン, ドイツ "Munich, Germany").

After all the wishes have been put forth, the monks resume their fervent chant while we the supplicants are asked by an attendant to follow him out of the main hall to the left side, only to be led along a corridor past the third part of the main hall and into the fourth part – the innermost sanctuary – located in front of the monks, where the innermost Shrines and altars are located. Here, we silently put forth our prayers again at each of the Shrines and altars, and since I've yet again run out of loose change at the Shrines outside, Asa is kind enough to provide me with a few coins that I can put forth to the gods as a sign of respect. In fact, she should do so without my asking after noticing that I had stopped producing coins from my wallet, which I suppose just goes to show what an integral part of the prayer ceremony the monetary offering is.

Photo of Innermost Sanctuary © Toyokawa Inari Tokyo Betsuin

Finally, we leave the innermost sanctuary through the right-hand door, which marks the end of the ceremony, and return to the administrative part of the building in which the waiting hall was located. It is here that I am further delighted by running into that one fateful poster again, that I saw at Kagoshima-Eki, and my photograph of which turned out to be to blurry for me to figure out the name of the depicted highly vulpine place afterwards (see Book II ~ Chapter 17 ~ Blue Destination). And now guess what? It turns out that this one highly vulpine place that I had assumed to be somewhere in Kyushu was Toyokawa Inari all along, and that the guiding hand of the Goddess brought me there unwittingly two weeks ago even with me not understanding as much up until now. What are the odds?


Now all that's left is picking up my now consecrated copy of the Book of Lore, along with a Kifuda (木札 "Tree Plaque", a wooden prayer plaque representing the Kami of a Shrine) on my name, something that I assume to be an Okashi (though I should resolve to wait until my eventual return to Germany to finally open it), as well as a mystery gift that should turn out to be… a cooking ladle! What are the odds? I mean, it's the perfect gift for me who likes to cook so much, but without divine guidance or superior intelligence, there's simply no way for the monks to have known as much in advance since I did not mention anything about cooking in my request. Also, since home-cooking currently is an all-time low in Japan, it seems like a far shot to just randomly give them out to some worshipers, which leaves the hand of the Goddess Inari as the only feasible explanation. I know this event certainly goes on my "Reasons to Believe"-list.


Notably, it is only after the ceremony that Asa realizes that it turned out to be a Buddhist ceremony instead of a Shinto one, having taken this place to be a Shrine. But I tell her it's okay. After all, I had not attended a Buddhist ceremony at all thus far, and a Buddhist ceremony dedicated to the Shinto Goddess Inari of all things is something so incredibly special that I have absolutely no regrets about coming here, especially considering just how absolutely epic the ceremony was. I guess this also demonstrates how tightly interwoven Buddhism and Shintoism are in Japan if not even the locals can tell them apart at times, and deities are worshipped across both religions.

Afterwards, Asa and I go for a stroll around the area, walking a complete circuit around Akasaka Goyouchi (赤坂御用地 "Red Slope Honourable Site"), which is the residence of the imperial prince and soon-to-be Emperor Naruhito (徳仁 "Benevolent Virtue"), who is set to succeed his father Akihito (明仁 "Bright Virtue") upon the latter's publicly announced abdication on 30-Apr-2019. This stray should incidentally be near the Aoyama area where I had the interview for that short-lived kitchen job many months ago, and would connect with one of my previous strays at the corner of Aoyama Icchome-Eki, from where I took the subway back to the JAF office to get the Japanese translation of my driver's licence, which I have since put to good use.


Also part of the block on which Akasaka Goyouchi is located is the Geihinkan (迎賓館 "Welcome Guest Palace"), which is Japan's official state guest house. I wonder if Angela Merkel, the current chancellor of Germany, ever visited this place.


Along our stray, we also come across two more Shrines, one is a very unusual Inari-Shrine by the name of Mikiwakashi Inaka (美喜井稲荷 "Beautiful Rejoice Town Inari") that is guarded by soul-eating cats instead of foxes…


…and the other being Hie Jinja (日枝神社 "Day Branch Shrine"), which Asa tells me is very popular for weddings. I wonder if that is in any way related to the modern escalators flanking the more conventional stone step approach. Also take note of the unusual Torii, which features a roof-like structure on top the likes of which I have not seen anywhere else in all of Japan.


We also walk past the Honda Giken Kougyou Honsha (本田技研工業本社 "Honda Technical Research Industry Main Office") at aforementioned corner at Aoyama Icchome-Eki, and since we still have some time at that point decide to venture inside. Asa tells me that one of the main attractions here is their robot show (which come to think of it might explain the robot on the Toyokawa Inari poster), but unfortunately today's demonstrations are already over. Instead, however, we get to look at some cars, motors, as well as what appears to be a robotic ice cream stand.


As we finish looping around Akasaka Goyouchi, it gradually starts getting late, which is why Asa and I meet up with one of her friends by the name of Chinatsu, and together we decide to dine in a nearby restaurant…


…where I am served my last traditional Japanese mixed multi-course dinner. Unlike all previous instances, this time the courses are not served all at once, but rather one at a time, allowing us to focus on one of the traditional dishes at a time, which include exotic combinations of tofu, rice, sea food, pudding, miso soup, traditional Japanese vegetables, and finally a very Japanese cute dessert.


Before we part ways afterwards, Chinatsu gives Asa and me some baked goods from a local traditional German bakery, which I should thankfully accept and during one of the next days. And let me tell you, despite being made far, far from home, this little triangular cake-piece should turn out to be incredibly delicious. Thank you very much, Chinatsu! =^,^=


Afterwards, it's finally time to say another goodbye, and make my way back to Kawasaki, first through the good old underground walkways of the Tokyo Metro…


…and later through the streets of Kawasaki, which are presently getting doused in rain. However, after this wonderful and epic day, nothing can dampen my spirits, and so I cheerfully make my way home through the deluge, not begrudging the gods for this wet homecoming, but rather thanking them that the majority of the day was devoid of any downpours.


With that, my recount of this fantastic day of divine blessings comes to an end. Next, let us proceed with…

The Flair


First of all, there's one little thing that I still have to do during these last few days, and that is closing my Japanese bank account and withdrawing all the remaining money from it (that is, my initial deposit plus my payment for the few days of Kitchen Work that I did). To do so, I have to go to the nearest branch office of the Japanese Post Bank, where I subsequently have to fill out a form with the help of a friendly employee, before waiting through two rounds at the counter. Speaking of which, that's not a waiting number…


THAT is a waiting number.


After that formality is taken care of, I survey my surroundings for a bit and find a place where local bikes like to hang out…


…as well as a place where someone apparently parked his or her submarine in quick-drying cement.


On a pedestrian bridge-crossing directly south of Inage Jinja, there presently is a very laudable campaign of children's pictures against littering and for recycling…


…and then there's this sign explicitly prohibiting peeing against the wall. Interestingly, the sign is located on a metal fence however, leaving some room for interpretation.


I also like the passive smoking awareness campaign they have going here.


Moving on into the city via train, I find the following digital displays very helpful, since they show which stations a train is going to stop at. That makes the whole system of mixed local and express (and semi-express, and rapid) trains a whole bit less confusing.


And at another station, the displays feature a dynamic display that shows how far away the next trains are in relation to the current station.


Also, do you remember the mascots for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, Miraitowa and Someity? Here in the Radiant Metropolis, you can encounter the two all over the place! There's even an official Olympic shop already!


And finally, it is at a Koban near Asakusa that I find an interesting statistic about traffic accidents during the last day. It reads: 0 deaths, 111 injured, covering incidents in the entirety of Tokyo.


So much for the flair, and now the time has come for…

Interlude ~ A Farewell to Kemono

1-Feb-2019

I've been to the weekly Kemono hangout at Hatch a few times and visited the Kemoket (see Book II ~ Chapter 4 ~ Action at Akihabara), and have also been to the JMoF 2019 (see Book II ~ Chapter 21 ~ The Twofold Toyo Thuggery), so I feel that I should pay one last visit to aforementioned weekly hangout at Hatch before I depart, if only to say goodbye. As such, I set out from my home in Kawasaki on my last Friday in Japan after having finished my remote code wizardry work for the day, and make my way through the streets to Keikyu-Kawasaki-Eki (京急川崎駅 "Capital Express River Cape Station") – which is located just a short distance from the JR Kawasaki-Eki – and take a convenient direct connection train straight to Asakusa with the Keikyu Line.


It's still a bit of a walk from Asakusa-Eki, but eventually I arrive one last time at Hatch…


…where I eat my final serving of Tonkatsu in the form of a bento bought from a FamilyMart along the way.


Despite my improved Japanese skills, I still find it hard to connect with the Kemona here, but at the very least I can make some conversation with them by talking about my journey all over Japan during the last nine months.


However, this time around I actively notice an Ofuda (お札 "Paper Charm") from Asakusa Jinja, which a view on my photos from earlier visits affirms was already there the last times I visited, but apparently I simply failed to perceive it back then. I suppose my journey since then has raised my awareness for this sort of detail.


However, it is not until a bunch of other Furries from abroad – such as Nightie and Wirefur – make their appearance that I really have someone to talk to.


So in the end, it would seem that I could not find a connection to Kemono after all. It's different from the Furry Fandom in Germany, and different – oh so very different – from the highly welcoming, open and cuddly Furries of New Zealand which I am missing to this day, and probably will keep on missing forever. As such, I do not stay too long, and eventually bid my farewell to the gathered Kemona, eliciting a wave of goodbyes in return as I say that I'll be leaving the country afterwards, and then I return to the Keikyu Line and am on my way back to Kawasaki.


For once, I should not be particularly sad to leave this part of Japan behind. However, somehow I am sad about the fact that I'm not sad. With all the colourful over-the-topness of Japan I had somehow expected the Kemono culture to be equally colourful, carefree and welcoming. Instead, it was very reserved, closed and merchandise-oriented, which are all aspects that I can't really identify it. Oh well, at least some of the Kyarakuta were really cute. But one way or another, this is another farewell taken care of, which makes it about time for…

The Retrospective


This final place should be… okay. I had a single room, but no proper workspace, and the futon should be pretty hot sweaty, with no options for thinner covers, resulting in me having to dry myself off several times a night. It was nice and quiet however, and the facilities were only lacking in the advertised dryer. Location wise, it's a bit far from the station, and proper shopping is just within borderline acceptable distance. The WiFi worked nicely, however, and I am always happy to have a kitchen available. However, once again using the shower should be a pretty cold experience due to the washroom not being heated. Altogether, I don't think it deserves the 3,020¥ I paid here per night. Maybe 1,900¥ would have been a more adequate price.


Nonetheless, I should still leave behind a little thank-you drawing in the guest book prior to my departure.


However, before it's time to leave, there is still one more thing to do, for you see, Fox is practically begging me:

Interlude ~ Please One Last Stray

2-Feb-2019
Distance: 31km
Ascents: 117m
Duration: 9h
26 (14🦊); 14; 1/13🎁︎

Maybe it’s because this is my last chance, or maybe it’s because of my total disregard for daylight, but this should end up becoming my longest stray during my entire stay in Japan… and quite possibly ever. In the end, I would just walk and walk, and keep on walking, through Kawasaki, across Tamagawa into Tokyo, visiting and revisiting a number of Inari Shrines along the way (the above numbers only include new Shrines and Temples), and eventually returning back to Kawasaki downstream by means of the last possible pedestrian’s bridge. But it shouldn’t even end there, for I would yet cut another corner out of Kawasaki before finally returning home.


Realizing that this might be a long one, I once again set out early, and start making my way through the streets of the Radiant Metropolis.


Soon I come across a Koban, which interestingly is not occupied right now. Even more interestingly, the notice is even posted in English. That is a measure of luxurious convenience I have not been able to enjoy in ages now (though by now I am also able to read the Japanese part of the notice).


Moving on, the first temple I come across – which goes by the name of Iooji (医王寺 "Doctor King Temple") – is already quite notable…


…for it features a pond surrounded by the Shichifukujin. That is once again a creative idea that I have not seen anywhere else on my entire journey through Japan.


Also, not far from there, I also locate one of these mysterious "May Peace Prevail On Earth"-pillars by the side of a major thoroughfare. One year here, and I still have not been able to find out what they are about.


Making my way westwards through Kawasaki, I come across a few more Shrines…


…the most notable of which is probably Izumo Jinja (出雲神社 "Leaving Cloud Shrine"), which is built atop the Lazona Kawasaki Plaza shopping mall. However, since this is not the first Shrine built atop a shopping mall that I've visited (see Book II ~ Chapter 3 ~ Living, Learning and Working), finding it should not take too long.


Eventually, I reach Tamagawa Oohashi (多摩川大橋 "Many Scrapes River Grand Bridge") and using it cross over into Tokyo's Oota-Ku, which I have not visited for quite some time now.


I remember this ward of Tokyo to be brimming with Inari Shrines, and true enough, I should not be disappointed, for almost half the Shrines here sport at least some sort of vulpine presence.


Also, there seems to be some sort of Shichifukujin treasure hunt going on, because although I'm just randomly hitting the Shrines along my route, I nonetheless run into a total of four of the seven without even trying, and eventually even find a map to the whereabouts of the other three. However, I realize I still have a long ways to go today, so maybe I'll save this for the next time I visit Japan.


A little bit later, I also spot the obligatory ferris wheel atop Kamata-Eki (蒲田駅 "Cattail Field Station")…


…and soon come across a very lovingly drawn and detailed map of the Haneda area (which is a subdivision of Oota-Ku). Now guess where my primary goal for today is located.


But before I get there, it is now finally time to check yet another restaurant off the list of places I've wanted to eat at in Japan. In fact, you might well say that I've planned this entire stray around getting here today.


There, I order a bacon and egg cheese burger with fries, all of which turn out to be quite yummy, and to go with it I take a glass of savoury Melon Soda, and while it's not the best burger meal I've ever eaten, it is still very satisfying, and provides me with more than enough energy to proceed on my lengthy stray.


Moving on, I find out that the next Shrine along my way is currently closed for renovations, oh well…


Also, I come across the manhole cover designs of Tokyo, which I now consciously realize for the first time, curtsy of them not being all that special in comparison to what I've seen in other parts of Japan. I think the first manhole covers that were special enough for me to actively notice them were in Ishinomaki (see Book II ~ Chapter 5 ~ A Trip Together).


And then, I come across the legendary Shichitsuji (七辻"Sevenfold Intersection") of Haneda, which must be the nightmare of everyone who is taking a driver's licence exam. To boot, some of the streets are one-way as well, and the crossroads is busy enough that I can't simply stand in the middle and take a panorama shot of it, so instead I try my best to capture the sight of this place from the sidelines without getting too much in the way. Interestingly, there is even a plaque here relating the history of this place, unfortunately utilizing a level of Japanese that is as of yet exceeding my skills.


After that, more Temples and Shrines await…


…and unexpectedly, I run straight into a little ceremony in progress at Santoku Inari Jinja (三徳稲荷神社 "Three Virtues Inari Shrine")…


…where the caretakers of the Shrine are apparently so impressed by my attendance that I somehow end up with a bag of goodies usually given to kids before I can quite understand what is happening.


However, I soon have to excuse myself, for I yet have to make it to my primary destination, that being Anamori Inari Jinja, the very first Golden Fox Shrine I found during my journey many months ago (see Book II ~ Chapter 4 ~ Action at Akihabara). I can still remember the fox-gasm I got when I first visited this Shrine on 1-Apr-2018, and figure that it would only by right to visit it one last time, thus officially closing the circle.


Albeit, I soon have to learn that quite a lot has changed since I last came here.


Apparently, the time has come for the traditional rebuilding of this Shrine, and the renovations are already well underway. All the Torii have been neatly put away to one side…


…or messily thrown into a pile…


…a fate which they share with approximately 2.317 little fox guardians. I wonder if anyone would mind or notice if I took a few of them?


In the end, however, I instead simply decide to purchase a number of both paper and wooden Ofuda to serve as the basis for my very own Inari Shrine which I plan to erect once back home. In fact, I did hasten a bit to get here, fearing that the Shrine shop would close on me, and as a matter of fact, I made it just in time.


Also, on the way back, I should drop by Anamori Inari Eki and purchase something that I did regret not purchasing the last time I was around: The Lucky Fox Happy Haneda Pudding, which I should eat for dessert that evening. The pudding itself should turn out not to be all that special, but nonetheless I find the idea super-cute, and the design absolutely adorable.


Subsequently, the way leads me back across Tamagawa, and in the distance I can already see the planes of Haneda airport, from where I am scheduled to depart in only four days' time from now.


Anyway, by now I am once again confronted by my old enemy…


…but for now, I still have a bit of daylight left to walk through the streets, which appear to be either preparing for or recovering from a Matsuri.


Most notably, there is a stall by the name of Kyrakutaa Kastera (キャラクターカステラ "Character Castela") featuring all the great Japanese popular mascots, such as Anpanman, Pikachu, as well as the newest addition: The two-tailed red-and-white cat Jibanyan from Yo-Kai Watch, who has risen to local fame relatively recently over the course of the last 6 years.


Apart from visiting Shrines and restaurants, one goal of today's stray was also to look for Geocaches. However, I am quickly reminded of the lesson from the very beginning (see Book II ~ Chapter 2 ~ Touchdown in Tokyo), namely that Geocaches here in the Radiant Metropolis are significantly harder to find than elsewhere in the world, or even Japan. However, the search still lead me to some interesting places – such as the legendary Shichitsuji – and now, after a streak of 12 DNFs and 2 caches I had to pass on for reasons such as "too many people" or "I can't fly", I finally find the one and only Geocache I should discover today, and also the final Geocache I should attempt and find in Japan, hidden behind a firefighters' box in a roofed square in front of a store that has already closed for the day.


And then, as night relentlessly proceeds to fall, I come across two more Inari Shrines, realizing fully well that they might be the last ones I would visit during my journey. I spend a long time saying my goodbyes to the Lady Inari and with it this land on the second Shrine.


Afterwards, I proceed wandering through the by now dark streets of Kawasaki…


…until I reach my final destination for this stray: The last place I've wanted to try at least once while in Japan.


Back in Kyoto, I was forced to walk past the Pizza Hut at which I wanted to eat dinner after I finding out they only do deliveries and takeaways. Knowing this much, I have now chosen a Pizza Hut within extended walking distance of my home here (still about 15 STEPs, but oh well), and actually manage to return while the pizza is still warm. The verdict: Unlike Domino's Pizza which was a bit of a disappointment, this one is actually quite tasty and was definitely worth the slight detour towards the end.


And with this, my last stray in Japan comes to an end, and I am finally able to relax for these last few days, noting with satisfaction that during my year in Japan, I have visited a total of 2,498 Shrines and Temples…

Wait, 2,498?!?!?!?

Bonus Stray ~ For Achieve!

3-Feb-2019
Distance: 28km
Ascents: 13
Duration: 0.75h
4 (1🦊); 1

Okay, so naturally there's no way I can quit just two Shrines and Temples short of the psychologically important 2,500 mark. Fortunately, there is still a few more Shrines and Temples nearby which I did not specifically target earlier on occaunt of them not being either designated Inari Shrines or conveniently located along the way. But now they're just perfect, and so I set out on another short stray the next day in order to fulfil the achievement.


And thus, I find myself on the streets of Kawasaki one more time…


…walk past one private Shrine in a garden…


And finally arrive at a Hachiman Shrine (with Side Shrines), and thus reach the milestone I've been going after.


Incidentally, one of said Side Shrines should turn out to be an Inari Shrine not only with a respectable vulpine presence, but also with carvings in the shape of Baku and Komainu. As such, this little Side Shrine – which goes by the name of Ooshima Inari Ookami (大島稲荷大神 "Great Island Inari Great Goddess") should end up being the final Inari Shrine I should visit on my pilgrimage around Japan, exactly 358 days after my first ever visit to an Inari Shrine. Once again I say my goodbyes, this time even more certain that there would not be another Inari Shrine after this one.


There should, however, still be one last Buddhist Temple…


…but after that, the end of my pilgrimage has arrived. With those last Shrines and Temples, I have now visited a grand total of 2,503 Temples and Shrines, which is over six per day, and thus a very satisfying number. I'm going to miss having Shrines and Temples to visit at every corner, but sadly, there's not much to be done about it. The last few days pass by with work and travel preparations, and much too soon, all that's left again is…

The Road Ahead

6-Feb-2019

For the last time in Japan, I leave behind an empty room…


…as well as some kitchen supplies that I could not quite finish in this short week.


All my bags are packed, and all my belongings distributed with respect to the flight regulations, and the new destination tags which I prepared all the way back in Germany prior to my initial departure are attached. It's quite a lot of baggage to carry all at once, but fortunately it all still fits.


Also, do you remember the SD-Card I bought back in Numazu? Just to be sure I have taken the liberty of making a Final Ultimate Backup of all the irreplaceable memories I've shot, hiding it away in a spy-like manner so that even if I were to lose all of my bags and my trusty fox satchel at the same time, I would still have this emergency backup of everything.


With that, I'm now as ready as I'm ever going to be. I am sad to go, and so are the heavens, which mourn my departure with a shower of tears…


…through which I make my way – one last time – to Keikyu Kawasaki Eki, from whence direct trains to both Haneda and Narita airport depart. One nifty feature here are the displays on which the stations where the next train is going to stop are lit up.


My first journey today is a short one, going from Keikyu Kawasaki Eki to Haneda Kuukou (羽田空港 "Feather Field Air Port"). One interesting thing along that journey is the multi-level Keikyu Kanata Eki, where the train not only changes directions, but also levels by means of a roughly 500m-long ramp. Incidentally, this route should also lead me right past Anamori Inari Jinja – albeit on one of the underground segments of the route.


So, this is it then, my final journey through Japan, lasting only 15 minutes, and taking me across Tamagawa and the roofs of the Radiant Metropolis, before finally appearing beneath the earth just after Anamori Inari Eki. Realizing as much brings tears to my eyes as I say my goodbyes to the land that I have come to love so much during this last year.


Once I arrive at the airport, I make my way through the final ticket gate using by now my NiMoCa (Nice Money Card) from Kyushu…


…and although the elevator is fast and convenient (also: great job on using all four directional arrows on a single sign!)…


…I still decide to use the escalator, part of which interestingly terminates a floor early. Fortunately it turns out I boarded the correct escalator on my first try.


And then, I arrive at the main hall of the International terminal of Tokyo Haneda Kuukoo.


This is where my time in Japan ends. It is the conclusion of one journey, and the beginning of one another. As such, I shall draw a line at this point, and end this chapter here. However, the tales of my adventures around the world are not quite over yet, and shall soon be told, in the upcoming Third Book of the Travelling Fox Blog. Until then, stay tuned, and be of great cheer!

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