Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Spaces of light in Tokyo

A traditional Japanese breakfast looks like lunch. There was rice, a small iron pot of broth and tofu set atop a flame, whole salt cured fish the size of the palm of my hand, pickled plums, square egg omelets and miso soup. And a terrific cup of green tea, very hot.


Well fortified, we headed out to see the Tokyo Church of Christ, which is near the Harajuku neighborhood. The church was designed by Fumihiko Maki, within constraints imposed by the neighbors, including that it could not cast a shadow over the smaller houses nearby. It's a fascinating space, wide - almost squat, when seen from the pulpit. From the congregational side it soars up like wings.

Getting to Harajuku was an adventure in itself. We got on the train at the station near our hotel, switching to a second line at Mita (at last, kanji I could read, I could recognize the sign for "three" and learned the sign for "fields", see the photo of the tiles set into the station floor -- these may not be here yet, I'm posting photos by mail!). We reached a station, and stopped, and waited, and waited. The announcements were all in Japanese, but I didn't need a translation to know that there was trouble on the tracks. They all had the same tone as a SEPTA "there's been a delay." The only difference is that Japanese rail apologizes profusely for the trouble.

The delay grew, so we bailed on the train and took the subway. An hour, three subway lines (including a stop in the station where the sarin attack took place) and a taxi ride later we were at the church, the only thing lost in all the shuffling was my hat. Our patience was intact.


From the church we walked through the Harajuku neighborhood, down Takshita Street, which is a funky collections of shops targeting teens. Think a cross between the mall and the Wildwood boardwalk. Higher end shops and trinkets all jumbled together. We replaced my hat at Muji - the famously brand less Japanese brand. My kids will find it suitably appalling, but it meets my requirements: packable and will keep the sun from crisping my nose and neck.

Lunch was at an omurisu place, thin egg omelets wrapped around rice with various fillings. Ice tea with gum syrup (simple syrup?) in little containers of the same ilk as the cream containers at home.

We looked at the Russian Orthodox Holy Resurrection cathedral as well, a pre-war building (rare in Tokyo after the fire bombings of WW II) It's a small space, not much larger than Our Mother of Good Counsel inside, but elaborately decorated. Yesterday, we got incense to burn at the temple, today we each got a candle to place in front of one of the icons. You couldn't go into the sanctuary, and we didn't know that they celebrated the liturgy of the hours at 7:30 and 5 each day, to which we certainly would have gone. (Though apparently it is in Japanese.)

And I have met and, if not quite conquered, at least coped contemplatively/competently with, the Japanese squat toilet. We walked back to the train station through Yoyogi park, where Meiji shrine is located. There we stopped to use the facilities. Things to remember: be sure to have your own toilet tissue where you can find it quickly in your purse, and a towel to dry your hands with - neither are supplied. Try not to laugh. Though I will admit that when I finally emerged to meet my two (male) colleagues outside, I totally cracked up.

And as long as we are on the topic of toilets, the one at the hotel this afternoon greeted me, (at least I presume it was a cheerful greeting - given the state of my Japanese there is no way to be sure), then started playing the sounds of a babbling brook. Again, try not to laugh.

Now we are on the shinkasen - the bullet train, headed from Tokyo to Kyoto. We could catch glimpses of Mt. Fuji - enormous and its top shrouded in clouds. When the bullet train stops at Tokyo, an army of pink uniformed ladies swarms the train. They switch the seats to face the direction of travel, dust the seats, replace the head cloths. As we came up the stairs to the tracks, I was startled to see a tiny door (1/2 the usual size) open up in the wall on the stairway and out pour these pink-clad women.

And why are there blue roofs?

3 comments:

  1. "Yesterday, we got incense to burn at the temple, today we each got a candle to place in front of one of the icons. You couldn't go into the sanctuary, and we didn't know that they celebrated the liturgy of the hours at 7:30 and 5 each day, to which we certainly would have gone. (Though apparently it is in Japanese.) "
    (!)

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  2. Muji!! Shades of Pattern Recognition!

    Thanks for these reflections for us folks back home.

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  3. I am really enjoying your posts, I feel transported.

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