Monday, August 30, 2021

Atago Shrine - a Horse and Hanami Story

In Tokyo proper, ie the one with a mere 13 million people (as opposed to Greater Tokyo with its 30 million), there are precisely 2,782 temples (they're tax exempt so yes, there is a known number) providing the services of your local, friendly, neighborhood monks performing a number of historical duties. And if you visit all the nearly 3,000, remember to take your temple book as evidence of your achievements! One, in the center of the Shitamachi district of Tokyo (literally "Downtown") was, in days gone by, situated, at 26m above sea level, upon the summit of the highest ground around, Atago Hill. That is before the elevator was created.

Atago Jinja boasts multiple shrines to various deity though on the whole with a theme of success and good fortune in various aspects of future life. There is, as well, a pond with some of the meanest looking koi I've ever seen as they climb over each other for the food distributed by the tourists. It is also the location of the 86, near vertical (slightly steeper than El Capitan if you see what I mean), "Steps to Success", a flight of stone stairs that led from the street to the summit. And, to woo the good favor of Shogun Iieyesu, were ridden by a samurai, who gained a blossom branch and fame and fortune. 

The illustrations show the intrepid knight riding directly up the stairs, though physics would suggest it must have been sideways or he would have fallen rather inelegantly back to the foot of the stairs. History records the samurai declared he had achieved his life's desire. Strangely however, it doesn't seem to have made a record of what precisely was going through the horses mind as it precariously tiptoed those 45 minutes all the way down again...

Thursday, July 22, 2021

Tokyo - An Olympic Finishing Line?

In 2012, London hosted what can only really be appreciated as a successful Olympics. Yes, I know that's a little tricky to define but let's take it based on a straw pole of the popular vote, the man on the top of the Clapham omnibus was more positive than negative toward the extravaganza. Not sure that can be said in Tokyo of Mrs Watanabe on the Sangenjaya chin chin densha in the midst of a pandemical lockdown. When Ben Johnson was caught cheating he said to his mother in a hotel in Seoul, "mum, no one died". Let's hope Thomas Bach can say the same, come August 24th...

The rings of steel have been in place for the last week or so, to control crowds around the sporting venues, except there aren't any crowds, just empty stadia with canned laughter and annoyed locals who have the inconvenience of long walks in the summer heat to find a way into their apartment when the roads are blocked and locked. Blue Impulse, the aerobatic display team, have rehearsed writing the insignia in the sky, which may or may not come off depending on the weather (side note, the time for rehearsal was not released so as to avoid crowds, no one seemed to consider that for an aerial display, you just look up). And vaccinations have reached an astonishing 15% or so of the population, 85% below the official declarations just a few months earlier.

Japan was first awarded the Olympics in 1940 only to see this one fizzle out after a small invasion of China. '64 was a coming out party and the infrastructure lasted until recent years so let's say that was also a positive. Macron is here to pick up the baton for Paris but the "Olympic Bubble" has popped, teams are abandoning the "Village" and Brisbane has been awarded 2032 after being the sole candidate to contest the bid. So the question has to be raised, if no one is into it anymore, has the Olympics run its course? I cannot recognize the athlete highly enough, their hard work, dedication and sacrifice is unquestionably of heroic proportions. But as an institution, is it time to weave a cocoon and aim for a butterfly reboot one day in a land far, far away? Mrs Watanabe would probably think so...

Wednesday, April 14, 2021

An Olympic Game of Chicken

100 days to go. In 100 days there will be a subdued opening ceremony, no international fans (no discussion about International corporate attendance I've seen to date). Long term residents isolated overseas will watch as some 11,000 athletes (without counting Para-Olympic competitors), coaches, trainers, support staff and (as yet unconfirmed) families of competitors, are waived through the airports of Tokyo. And they won't be too happy to put it mildly.

The country will also watch these visitors from overseas and we're down to 24% support for the entire event as of today. Although the mask culture has been long established and shaking hands the exception, on the ground it is generally seen as a super-spreader event. The one big difference from last year being vaccinations. Except the government has been caught somewhat, flat-footed. Where as Bhutan has managed to inoculate nearly the entire mountain Kingdom, UK is well into it's own program with millions already having had the jab and America, the stumbling giant, has finally woken up and is now running an impressive rearguard action, Japan remains below 100,000 arms with jab wounds. Total, not daily.

The government is now discussing how commensurately complex the logistics are to inoculate a population of 127m. It isn't like they've had over a year to plan for this. One good step forward, yesterday the laws requiring new drugs to be tested on Japanese subjects prior to release (the Pill took over two decades (funnily enough, Viagra required mere months) for approval) were finally suspended. What's good enough for 200 million and counting, can now be applied here too. But the IOC and JOC are playing a tactical game of chicken. It's difficult to know whom will blink first and call it all off. Or maybe it'll be the competing countries who pull the proverbial plug first. The irony being that that would be following the lead of North Korea which pulled out recently due to COVID concerns.

For now however, "Let the Games Begin!". At least until the fat chicken sings...

Wednesday, February 17, 2021

Welcome back...

So, a little over a year ago I decided to "park" TenguLife after six years of rambling, though with the plan to be revived at a later date. What had been fun (and interesting for me) to write, was becoming more of an obligation than a hobby. And then we had a pandemic. Japan's constitution doesn't provide for an "actual" lockdown, but the government asked, and the people cooperated. Masks are not obligatory, but everyone wears them. You can sit on a bench, but you're going to be lonely. And my hands have had more alcohol than my mouth in the last year.

Anyway, back to the point. I've enjoyed my year off. Six hundred articles seemed a fairly good place to put the wheel clamps on but now, a year (or so) later, it's time to take the dust covers off, change the oil, and check if the engine still turns over. And, of course, take the wheel clamps off, goes without saying...  Let's get vaccinated and have a hanami party where we can sit and be close enough to walk, talk and laugh again. Welcome back. I've missed you. Hello 2021! A little late, but happy to meet you.

Thursday, January 16, 2020

Blindfold - A 'Coming of Age Day' Tale

This one was a little hard to write. There is a beauty to the second Monday of January each year in Japan; it represents the single moment the youth of a nation celebrate their twentieth birthday together; it's the day they Come of Age. From now on (admittedly in theory only) they can drink, sign a contract (and be prosecuted) uninhibited. The women wear beautiful furisode (the ornate, long sleeved kimono worn, traditionally, prior to marrying) and the "guys" opt for a simple black business suit (though, it has to be said, they look a little less comfortable in their new attire than the young woman in theirs). 

Centered around the local community halls across the country, Shibuya Line Cube (which, although recently redeveloped, happens to be the venue for U2's first concert in Japan in 1983 (and you thought you weren't going to learn something this time around)) is a few minutes walk from the main train station, one of the busiest in the world . The day is a wonderful sight to see with the beauty and grace of the young women assembled, for this, their special day; and the young men with their "swagger and poise" laughing with their friends prior to the hall doors opening. This time though, I saw something new to me.

As I stood with crowds, enjoying watching as the new young adults arrived, an unassuming taxi pulled up. A mother stepped from the front passenger seat and walked around to the open rear door, and a grey guide cane emerged from inside. And then a young man, in a light checked suit, the pants an inch short of reaching his white sneakers, and necktie not quite straight, gently emerged. The impression was of someone who had chosen his own outfit and prepared at home for today's ceremony quite deliberately by himself. For me, the most awe-inspiringly beautiful sight of those few moments was the look of slightly understated hidden pride of the young, blind man's parents as he steadily joined his peers amongst the melee and celebrated his "Coming of Age Day".

Friday, December 6, 2019

U2 and a Metamorphosis of Japan

I witnessed something special last night and, for this, it's worth emerging from self-imposed hibernation (though winter is coming (sorry, just had to do that) and as for daylight, there may only be a brief encounter (I am on fire!)). So what happened. Well, it all started around 5.30AM when my friends daughter fell ill (hopefully she'll be up and running in no time) and, as a result, I inherited a ticket to see U2 at Saitama Super Arena, some forty-five minutes from central Tokyo (which is actually less time than it takes to arrive at the Tokyo Dome which is curiously within a healthy walking distance). 

Twenty-five years have elapsed since I last saw U2 in Japan (actually, at said Tokyo Dome) and, having heard from everyone (and his dog) in those days, that they were the best live band in the world (and remembering this was pre-LiveAid when they became global superstars in a single twenty minute set) I was somewhat deflated as the show lasted a little shy of what seemed like and hour and a half and the band walked off during a video of Lou Reed singing "Satellite of Love" never to be seen again. No encore or "good night". Twenty-five years later and some two and a half hours later, the memory of 1994 had been erased by one of the greatest live shows on earth. 

But that isn't the reason I've arisen from my winter slumber. The reason is the audience. In 1994 Bono couldn't connect with the crowd. Each time he'd reach out there would be a distinct turning of heads to the person adjacent and whispering of "nani?" colloquially translated as "what's he talking about?" And then, in part, cometh the internet, Instagram, Social Media, Line and etc. Flash forward to December 2019 and not only were the band on fire, but so was the stadium. And it wasn't just the smartphone lights and the non-stop deafening audible backing track, it was the reaction and response to a great frontman, drummer, sonic engineer (if you haven't yet, watch "It Might Get Loud") and bassist, leading them on. Every single person reacted and responded. And that didn't happen in 1994. Last night I saw how far Japan has changed in the span of twenty-five years. And wow, has it changed.

Tuesday, July 2, 2019

Let's not say goodbye, just bon appetit

Classic words from "Only Fools and Horses". After 600+ articles (of which ~30 remain unpublished as I didn't really feel they were complete), it's time (the Walrus said) to take a break. I hope I've brought some insight and some enjoyment about life in Japan to these pages. And I hope I've peeked (peaked?) your interest.

TenguLife out. For now...