On Xmas day we decided to get back on the old-fashion Toden Arakawa tram (a light-rail-type of tram that we took a few weeks ago) and visit the Zoshigaya cemetery which was suggested as a good stop on the tramline on a couple of websites. We were about 4 stops away and as it turned out, it was just across the street from the station.
It was so quiet there and a crisp winter day. Perfect for strolling around and checking out the gravesites. It was a beautiful cemetery. A lot of the sites looked like tiny Japanese gardens with their Asian-styled shrines and pagodas, moss-covered rocks or with the big, gray stones placed just so. I loved the whole feel of it. I could be happy hanging out here for all eternity—I liked the view. Hopefully, these folks living across the street feel the same way.
Saturday, Dec 26
Saturday we went to a Japanese doctor so that The Professor could load up on his US prescriptions. It’s way too hard to get the prescriptions from the US (currently a shipment is languishing somewhere between here and the US and that is only for three months-worth). One could grow old and die (or just die) waiting for US medicines to arrive so we needed to come up with an alternative.
Since we didn’t sign up for the Japanese healthcare when we arrived (we have US health insurance) we were a bit unsure of what to do. As it turned out, it was quite easy.
The Professor found an American-trained, English-speaking doctor on the US Embassy website, called on Friday, and got an appointment for Saturday. The hardest part was finding his office in the winding streets of the neighborhood (thanks to Google Maps which had us wandering all over the place).
Once we found the office, The Professor filled out the page or so of questions, went in and told the doctor he needed prescriptions for the time we will be here. The doctor said ‘how many months?’ The Professor answered ‘8 months’. The doctor said, ‘no problem’. We went next door with the prescriptions and ordered the entire 8 months’ worth.
Though we would have to return on Monday, we would be able to leave on Monday with the entire trips’ worth of meds in a bag. Between the appointment and the pills, it cost us less than $300. As I’ve said before: What a country! Now THAT’s the way medical care should be!
After our successful doctor appointment, we decided to make a stop at Shinjuku again before going home so we could eat an early dinner at Slappy Cakes (an American-owned business that specializes in pancakes). I’ve been wanting to check it out for awhile now. After an hour of wandering around in Google Maps-caused confusion, we finally found it. It didn’t take long after finding it to find ourselves sitting in front of a mound of buttermilk perfection, heaped with pork goodness and a couple of mimosas. Again, living the good life.
Monday, December 28
Throughout Japan there are always celebrations going on at the shrines--but the end of the year and the beginning of the new one cause this to be the 'party time' of year. And there was an abundance of happenings for this past weekend. We had a hard time deciding on which one to attend. We finally decided on the Fukagawa Fudodo because it had fire. At least that was MY reason for choosing.
The Fukagawa neighborhood is located just over the river in the Koto Ward of Tokyo. In it, the Fukagawa Fudoson is the temple of an esoteric branch of the Shingon sect of Buddhism. This shrine consists of the old wooden temple as well as a modern one built with cubism design elements and is a very rare design in a Buddhist shrine. You can enter one and exit the other. Turns out, it’s a very interesting juxtaposition of old and new. Inside one it’s a beautiful old temple filled with carved Fudo-son gods (see pic below), huge Taiko drums, and other ancient designs, while the modern one features a long dark hallway lined with 10,000 lighted clear cases filled with tiny carved fudo-son gods. It actually looks a bit like a funhouse hallway. These two thumbnails were taken from the JapanVisitor website.
The ritual we had come to see occurs five times a day and it includes a goma purification ritual where for a fee personal belongings are waved over a fire of cedar sticks. We couldn't wait to see it.
We were only a few stops away on the Tozai Line and wandered up to the front plaza area in front of the old temple just a few minutes before the ceremony was slated to start. Right on schedule some men in brown kimonos gestured for everyone to clear the main plaza and move off to the sides. A couple of minutes later we saw and heard a group of men walking towards us wearing bright colored baggy pants and tops of yellow with orange ties, wearing tiny black hats, and blowing on horns that sounded like whales calling to each other. They came out single file in a line and were followed by another group of men walking directly behind them, wearing beautiful kimonos of bright green with blue design, turquoise, and deep purple with red. At the rear of the line came two men wearing more simple black and brown garb and carrying a huge red parasol over the head of the priest who was dressed in gold and purple.
They all followed in a straight line and then fanned out around a table set in front of the temple as the priest and his two parasol-carrying helpers went up and stood at the end of it. The men began to chant.
Here is a short video of the ceremony as they left the modern temple and gathered in the plaza area. The sound of the chanting is so magical to me.
During this time, the priest was busy over the table doing something I could not see. At the end of his duties, the music started up again and they proceeded into the temple where we all followed.
Stopping to remove our shoes and place them in plastic bags everyone quickly found a place to sit as the ceremony began. The ceremony was mesmorizing with lots of chanting, and banging on huge Taiko drums. Then one of the priests read from a pile of sins or prayers (not sure which) submitted by those in attendance, and then one of the other men started a fire in front of the main priest who sat with his back to everyone. After much chanting, another man in a gray kimono came up and gestured to the crowd that it was time, and people gathered round to hand him their bags and other items to be waved through the smoke and returned to them. It only took a few minutes and then it was all done. It was such an exciting ceremony from first chant to the last bang on the drum. Perhaps I was a Buddhist in another lifetime, but I really could sit and listen and watch these ceremonies for hours and never be bored.
After the ceremony we followed the crowd as they filed out of the old temple and down the hall of the modern temple. Because it turned corners a couple of times we did not know where we were headed. At the end of the hall there was a Buddhist priest standing over a donation box. As we exited, we stopped to drop a coin into the box and the priest chanted something over us, slapped each of our shoulders with some kind of palm frond or something similar and we were blessed. That was an unexpected treat. I felt a bit like a poser but as The Professor responded, ‘I don’t think he cared as long as we put in the money.’
Then we left to pick up The Professor’s cache of meds and headed for home with a lovely but slightly throbbing incense-caused headache. But it was awesome.