Category Archives: Tokyo

Just another day in Tokyo

2 windchimes

May 4th is みどりの日, or Greenery Day. A national holiday, and part of the string of holidays known as Golden Week. We have been having some wonderful weather recently, the kind of warm, sunny days that in the UK in August would make a lovely summer. I spent most of today at home, with all my windows open. I did some laundry, I did a bit of spring cleaning, I just enjoyed being at home.

My neighbours were also at home. Now, I have lived here for almost seventeen years. I have never had a conversation with any of the people who live next door, but I am aware of their activities daily. Their house is quite large, and an elderly woman lives on the first floor. The second floor is home to a couple in their fifties, I assume either the son or daughter of the elderly resident downstairs, and their spouse. They are sometimes visited by their son, a man in his late twenties, and his toddler daughter. I am wary of these people, because they can be inconsiderate to the point of being quite antisocial. I have seen the visiting son try to start a fight with a delivery man. Last year they arranged to have their house encased in scaffolding during Golden Week, with no notice given to neighbours. Someone regularly plays the piano after 11pm and uses a hairdryer at 2am.

One of the things that makes the second floor residents happy is wind chimes. The photo at the top of this blogpost is their balcony, and you can see that they are well into the swing of summery behaviour already; plenty of greenery, a mosquito-repelling implement and wind chimes. Wind chimes plural. Because if one wind chime can enhance a summer’s day with a pleasant, occasional tinkly sound, then surely more wind chimes will enhance the day even more. Last week the first wind chime was up. Today I opened my windows and noticed that there was clearly more than one. I went outside to conduct surveillance and confirmed that we had moved into plural wind chime territory. Today was not really wind chime-friendly weather, since it was quite a blustery day, and so the soundtrack of my day was the frantic jangling of these wind chimes. Their record is five, we clearly have a way to go yet.

Tokyo Tower May 4th

I went out to church this evening; Monday evening means Evening Prayer and our newly-founded Rosary Group. A calm after the wind chime storm. Tokyo Tower was lit up on Greenery Day in every colour except green, and as usual there were a lot of people taking photos. Because it was a national holiday there seemed to be more tourists than usual and the area was quite busy.

As I was closing the church doors I noticed a couple sitting on the steps in front of the building, and someone approached them and asked if she could take a photo of their dog. Wondering what was so special about this dog that made it photo-worthy I looked closer and realised it wasn’t a dog at all. It was a goat. Even better, it was a goat wearing a wedding dress. I went back into church to tell my friend. ‘Come outside, there’s a goat wearing a wedding dress.’

I, too, asked if I could take a photo. I also asked if I could pet the goat and was told it was safe to stroke her back, but to not try to touch her head (which was adorned with a rather fetching floral arrangement perched between her horns). I learnt that the goat’s name was Mero. So I patted Mero’s bum, and took a photo:

Mero the goat

Neighbours with an over-fondness for wind chimes, Tokyo Tower lit up in a rainbow of colours, and a goat called Mero, wearing a wedding dress. Thank you, Tokyo. Especially for the goat.

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年末年始

ginkgo

I love living in Tokyo, and after the heat of the summer I always look forward to the chill in the air as autumn arrives, to crisp days of blue skies and bright sunshine, to the vivid yellow ginkgo leaves and the flaming red maples.

autumn colours kamiyacho

But there is also something heavy in my heart, I suppose it’s the end of the year and I’m running on empty, but there’s still lots to do. It’s the season of 年末年始 or ‘nen matsu nen shi’, the end of one year and the beginning of the next.

It’s time to buy New Year cards and the special stamps to stick on them, to check with the people you usually send cards whether they have been bereaved this year, in which case, no card for them. It would be inappropriate to send them a ‘Happy New year’ greeting. If you have been bereaved in the past year, the onus is actually on you to send out a different kind of card to pre-empt the sending of New Year cards, reminding or informing people that you are in mourning and therefore not sending or receiving cards this year. I have found that people often just mention it in passing instead of sending the cards, but if you do send the cards then there are special postage stamps for them, too. I have bought my New Year cards, I have bought the special stamps (2014 being the year of the horse, so the stamps have little cartoon horses on them), and I have asked around to see who should not receive a card, so I’m all ready, I just have to write them all now.

new year stamps 2014

It’s also the bonenkai season (忘年会), time for a year-end party at work or with friends. Sometimes in English these social occasions get called Christmas party or dinner, but it’s dinner and/or drinks with friends, it’s the end of the year, it’s a bonenkai. Of course, this also means that there will be more passengers on the evening trains who have been drinking, and so there is a poster in Metro stations:

drunk on platform poster‘Ah! Dangerous! Take care on days when you have drunk too much alcohol,’ the poster warns. While it also mentions that walking and texting is dangerous, it helpfully informs us that 63.5% of people who fall off the platform have been drinking. This goofy poster is apparently part of a drive to have no ‘platform incidents’.

tokyo tower

Christmas is all over Tokyo. Well, Christmas trees, various assorted Santas and reindeer, and adverts for large buckets of chicken followed by strawberry shortcake, the perfect Christmas dinner, brought to you by KFC and 7-eleven. Really. This photo was taken at Tokyo Tower, you can just see the bottom of one of the legs. Think Eiffel Tower, painted red and white. There is an enormous Christmas tree under the tower, and a kind of winding maze of plastic illuminated reindeer, and when I walked past a couple of weeks ago there were a lot of high school girls wandering amongst the reindeer. An instant bucolic idyll, 21st-century Tokyo-style.  Just across the road was this display, angels heralding an office building.

shiba decorations

There are Christmas carols everywhere; my local shopping street has been playing them over the loudspeaker system for a while now. It’s rather odd, and always reminds me of The Prisoner, I feel I am being forced into Christmas early, and all the cutesy, jingly versions of songs and carols are quite surreal. Equally surreal will be the speed with which it all vanishes by December 26th to be replaced by New Year decorations.

So boo, it’s almost the end of the year, and there is still so much to do. Time to finish up the term at school, get all the paperwork finished. Time to do Christmas shopping and write cards (and then New Year cards). Time to pack a suitcase and head back to the UK for a fortnight. So much to do before that. It’s enough to make you feel so exhausted you might fall asleep on someone on the train . . . but that would be inconsiderate, so the latest manner poster addresses it:

manner poster sleepingI do love living in Tokyo. In late autumn and winter the days are usually bright and sunny. I can see Mount Fuji from the train and I’m surrounded by the vibrant colours of Mother Nature’s last hurrah before she hunkers down to wait for spring. It’s good to spend time with friends celebrating the end of another year, it’s good to look forward to travelling. I just wish I had maybe a week or two more and a bit more energy.

Walking through Shibuya station yesterday evening I saw a Buddhist monk standing in the midst of all the commuters. People were rushing about, and in the middle of it all he stood praying and waiting for alms. Just standing there while rush hour carried on around him. Part of Shibuya station is pretty much a construction site at the moment, so there’s the added chaos that brings. He was just standing there, doing his thing, and I thought again, I do love Tokyo.

monk in shibuya

Mr. T

train

Mr. T is homeless. I first met him about six months ago, and since I usually see him about once a week I have got to know him a little. Thinking about American people all over the world getting ready to celebrate Thanksgiving, I thought I would introduce Mr. T to you and tell you a little about how he lives. Getting to know him and talking to him has made me thankful for the comforts and security I have.

I don’t know how long he’s been homeless, but it’s over ten years. I’d say he was in his fifties, but I’ve never asked his age. He often spends the day sitting in church (where I met him), listening to a small radio with earphones. Recently he’s been listening to the sumo tournament.

Several years ago I used to help out at another church in the diocese one Saturday a month, when there was a group who made food for homeless people in Shibuya. We used to spend several hours making pork soup and rice balls, or curry rice, and later in the evening another group took the meals to Shibuya Ward Office where a lot of homeless people slept. Several things have stayed with me since then; the care that was taken to cook a nutritious meal; the way we changed the menu according to the requests that were fed back to us, and the loving way everything was done. One of the group members told me that if a homeless person came to the church during the week, someone would cook a bowl of noodles and sit with him or her while they ate, to share some time together.

It was that last point that came back to me when I first met Mr. T, and his friend Mr. M. They were both in church, sitting quietly. We talked for a while, and it was then that I heard that Mr. T is from Hokkaido, and has no living relatives. Mr. M was from Chiba, and had a family, but never went back there. They told me that they’d been sticking together for over ten years, and that they slept in the entrance to a bank. In the winter they have sleeping bags to protect them from the elements, and in summer they have trouble with ants.

Mr. T seems to know all the places around Tokyo where he can get food, but to get to any of these places he has to walk. Depending on the day of the week there is food available at different locations, and Mr. T told me this evening that on Sundays there is a church which provides a meal. (It is common practice for Japanese Anglican churches to cook a meal after the service and for everyone to eat together, and it is this meal that Mr. T shares.) He also knows where he can go to be warm, so in addition to our church he often goes to a library, which has some kind of seating area downstairs where he can stay until it closes in the evening.

Last week I saw Mr. T for the first time in several weeks. He hadn’t been around and I was wondering where he and Mr. M were. In some distress he told me that he hadn’t seen Mr. M for over a month. They had often gone their separate ways during the day, but one evening Mr. M didn’t return to the bank entrance. Over the course of the month since then, Mr. T had gone in search of his friend; to the hospital which cares for homeless people; to the places where they had been together to receive food; to the park where Mr. M’s friend lives in a blue tarpaulin tent. Mr. M had spent a week over there once, helping his friend collect aluminium cans, crushing them and taking them somewhere to get money for the scrap metal. He tracked down the friend but no one had seen Mr. M.

Mr. T is desperately worried for his friend. He was worried that he had been involved in some kind of traffic accident, or that someone had beaten him up, but as time has gone on he has changed his mind. I had noticed that Mr. M had trouble walking, and Mr. T told me that he had a lot of sores on his legs, and he’s worried that his friend got some kind of infection. He used to put band-aids on his legs when he could, but if he couldn’t get any he used to use sticky tape. Mr. T is still waiting for his friend to come back, and that is how he reports the situation when he sees me: ‘He hasn’t come back yet.’

It is upsetting to listen to his distress, to his loneliness, and his feelings of despair that he has been unable to find and help his friend. Mr. M never seems far from his thoughts, and he often mentions him. A decade-plus friendship is a long one at any time, in any place, but on the street they have been each other’s support for so long, and now Mr. M is not there.

Life often whizzes by, there is so much we don’t see or don’t want to see every day. Getting to know Mr. T, to call him my friend, I have heard about how people live on the streets. It’s not easy to live with the information, and it makes me wonder at the resilience of the human body and spirit. So this Thanksgiving, although I’m not American, I shall appropriate it for my own. I am so very thankful to have a roof over my head, enough food to eat, enough money in the bank, for all the security that brings. Thankful too for all my friends, but I send up extra prayers for Mr. T and Mr. M, that Mr. M will find his way back and they can support each other again as they have done for years.