Thursday, November 29, 2007


Among flowers, the cherry blossom;
among men, the samurai.

-Japanese proverb

On Monday, I visited the Sengakuji Temple. The temple in Sengakuji belongs to the Soto Zen school. This has two main temples in Eiheiji, on the northwest coast and Sojiji near Tokyo. Zen Master Dogen introduced the
Soto lineage to Japan and founded Eiheiji.

The temple is famous for its association with the story of the '47 Ronin'. A ronin is a masterless samurai.

In 1701, Lord Asano Takuminokami, Fuedal Lord of Ako, was appointed by the shogungate to entertain imperial envoys visiting Edo from Kyoto. However, his official advisor Kira Kozukenosuke treated him with disrespect and disgraced his honour as a samurai.

In response to this, Asano drew his sword on Kira and cut him on the shoulder and forehead. Although Kira was not killed, the shogun, hearing of this, ordered Asano to commit seppuku(hari-kiri), the traditional form of suicide, which he did.

The seppuku took place in the garden of another Lord's residence on the very same day without proper investigation. Seppuku outside was for a criminal and inappropiate for someone of Asono's standing. His estate was confiscated and his family line was dethroned from the lordship.

Two years after the incident, 47 samurais of Ako were brought together by the former chief samurai, Oishi Kuranosuke to avenge their lord's death. On December 14th 1702 they attacked and killed Kira at his residence and then marched to Sengakuji to present Kira's head to Asano's grave. The shogun then ordered the deaths of all the ronin and on February 4, 1703 they all commited seppuku.

Walking into the temple you first pass through the Middle Gate and on your right is a bronze statue of
Oishi Kuranosuke, which was built in 1921. He is holding a roll listing the names of the ronin.

After this, you pass through
Main Gate, which was rebuilt in 1832. On the upper floor, there are 16 statues of Arakan(Arahats) or Buddhist saints.

After you have passed through the main Gate, you come to the
Hondao(main hall of the temple). The original building was detroyed in WWII and was rebuilt eight years later. Next to this is a statue of Sawaki Kodo Roshi, who was one of the most influential Zen masters of the 20th century. He dedicated his life to the revitalization of Zazen as an authentic and fundamental Buddhist practice.

To the left of the statue is the
Bonsho(bell). This was constructed in 1913 under the 41st abbott. During morning Zazen the bell is rung and also when the gate is closed.

Going out of the main temple area and heading towards the grave,s you come across a
plum tree and stone, which is believed to have been stained by Asano Takuminokami's blood when he committed seppuku. Next to this there is a well. After the retainers had avenged their master by killing Kira, they washed his decapitated head(kubi) in the well and then laid it at the front of their lord's grave and announced their success.

The samurai were buried on February 4th, 1703. As people enter the graveyard they are given incense, which they place by the gravestones. The pictures of some of the graves can be seen

The story, dealing with the themes of sacrifice and loyalty, has been made into various plays and is commonly called 'Chu-shin-gura'(The Story Of The Loyal Retainers').

You can see all of the photos

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

It's cold. I've bought a scarf.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Yesterday, I went to a classical music concert in Shin Koejini to watch the wife of one of my students, who plays violin in an orchestra.

The music played included works by Handel and Mozart.

I've always enjoyed classical music, but I've never seen it live before, until now.

The concert was excellent and I was really impressed with the quality of the music, which at times was very moving. You can check out the photographs

A big thank you to Katsuhiro and his wife for a wonderful day(the sake was very nice as well!).

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Godzilla Vs. Steve

Monday, November 19, 2007

Design Festa

On Sunday, I went to the Design Festa, which is an art festival on the island of Odaiba in Tokyo. You can check out the official website here.

The show was held at the Tokyo International Exhibition Centre ,which is also known as the Tokyo Big Site. It's very large and as you enter you pass through
four huge upside down pyramids. In front of these there is a giant saw sticking out of the ground.

The Design Festa allows artists, musicians and fashion designers to showcase their talent. Much of what I saw was extremely interesting to say the least.

Some of interesting things I saw included:

A guy advertising his clothes range dressed as a.......well.....a giant
S&M panda.

Someone in a
big red trolley thing, who spent the whole day just trolleying about the place.Pornographic ornaments.

robot with a T.V. on it.

Two people selling cuddly somethings, looking like
freaky oversized liqourice allsorts.A man wearing what appeared to be a giant condom, showing a video of himself squatting in various popular tourist locations in Tokyo.Blue people looking as if they belonged in a 70s episode of Doctor Who.

I also got to see a couple of bands. There were a lot of talented people there(and maybe some not so talented) and I had a great day out.

You can check out all of the photos

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Hoorah! The void in my life that was missing has been filled. I now have a television and video.

This has opened up an entirely new cultural perspective on Japan.

I can now watch the news(which is bi-lingual) and imported TV shows, which is great. I can also watch the many interesting (and crazy)Japanese programmes. If I see anything of note, you can be sure that I'll be writing about it.

I've also joined the local videoclub called Softland, which has a very good range of films. It also has the largest adult section I have ever seen in my life(think warehouse).

Friday, November 16, 2007

On Saturday night, I went to see Electric Six at the Liquid Room. Their music is very tongue in cheek and they their musical style sort of fits in between Spinal Tap and The Ramones.

They played their most famous songs 'Danger! High Voltage' and 'Gay Bar' along with a lot of songs off their last album, plus a couple of new ones. They even did 'Radio Gaga' by Queen, so they obviously don't take themselves too seriously.

There was a really good atmosphere and the Japanese crowd got really into it. There was lots of jumping around and dancing. Definitely worth seeing live and based on the performance I imagine I'll be investing in the album quite soon.

You can check out their website

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Meiji-jingu Shrine

On Sunday, I went to Harajuku with Shiggy and Yui to visit the Meiji-Jingu Shrine. The Meiji-Jingu Shrine is a Shinto shrine and was built in honour of the Emporer Meiji and Empress Shoken and was completed in 1920. During WWII, it was completely destroyed and then rebuilt with all of the original features using Japanese cypress wood.

Before you enter the temple itself you go through three huge gates(torii). Just before you enter the temple you have the chance to wash your hands, which purifies you soul. I did this but I'm not sure if it had much effect. Maybe I'll use a bucket next time.

Around this time of year, parents take their children of three(girls), five(boys) and seven(girls) to shrines and they wear wear traditional mini-komono in order to celebrate their growth, in a festival called Shici-go-san-no-hi. Parents give thanks for their well-being and pray for continued freedom from accidents and illness. Children are also given long sweets called Chitoseame (thousand-year candy).

Upon entering the temple I saw some traditional dancing and I was also fortunate enough to witness a traditional wedding ceremony, which I have been told is very rare nowadays. For good luck you can also throw coins into a wooden grate. After this you clap three times and then you pray.

You can check out all the pictures

Sunday, November 11, 2007


On Saturday night, I went out with some Japanese friends that I met in England called Shiggy and Yui. We went out in Shinjuku and I had a really good time. First of all we went to an izaka-ya, which is like a pub that serves food. When I got there I thought I would have to sit on the floor, as the table was very low to the ground. Fortunately though there was a hole in the ground(hori gotatzu) for me to put my legs in.

Going to the toilet was a bit of a gamble, as the name was written on the door in Kanji. Unfortunately I gambled wrongly, as I later found out that the ladies is often further away(as the don't want to see men). There was a very nice rockery in the toilet though, which made the whole experience far more pleasurable than usual.

When I went later, a very kind waitress made sure I didn't make the same mistake again.

Afterwards we went out to karaoke. This was my second fix of karaoke in a week and I'm beginning to get addicted. I managed to increase my current repertoire by singing 'Bohemian Rhapsody' by Queen, 'Close to You' by the Carpenters and 'Y.M.C.A.' by the Village People.

So all in all, a great night. You can check out the photos

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Tokyo Tower

Last Sunday, I went to see the Tokyo Tower. Getting there took me about an hour and half, as I decided to cycle along the river, which is definitely the best way to see Tokyo.

The Tokyo Tower was opened in 1958 and is the world's tallest supporting steel tower at 333 metres. It's very similar to the Eiffel Tower in Paris, but is 13 metres taller.

Here are some more Tokyo Tower facts:

The Tokyo Tower weighs about 4000 tons.

28,000 litres of paint were used to paint the tower. It's painted red and white because of aviation safety regulations.

Fourteen broadcasting signals for nine TV stations and five FM radio stations are transmitted from the Tower.

There are 164 floodlights installed in various parts of the Tower. The Tower is illuminated with an orange light in winter and white incandescent light in summer.

From the Tokyo Tower you can see the whole of Tokyo, which is pretty amazing and on a clear day you can see as far as Mount Fuji. Unfortunately, although it was a clear day, it was very hazy, making it impossible to see too far.

There are lots of different things to do there, for example there is an aquarium, a wax museum and a mysterious walking zone where you can experience a 'marvellous three dimensional world created by hologram technology.'

It looks very pretty at night as well.

While I was taking photographs, the police decided to question me. Why? I don't know. I mean, I was taking photographs and I had my mamachari(a bike with basket and bell). Did they think I was a terrorist or drug dealer doing a bit of sightseeing on a push bike?

I didn't argue as they had guns.

They asked me for identification, so I happily obliged with my geijan card. Then they started asking questions about my name,age, and where I lived. At this point the worry of having a cavity search crossed my mind. After they realised I wasn't a member of a terrorist organisation, they apologised profusely, which was combined with bowing (far politer than British police). This is the first time someone in the police has ever apologised to me for anything.

Afterwards, I went to the Zojo-ji temple which is right next to the Tokyo Tower and is the family temple of the Tokugawa clan. It dates from 1393 and was moved to this sight in 1598 by Tokugawa Ieyasu, who was the first Tokugawa shogun.

The gate to the temple is the oldest wooden structure in Tokyo and dates from 1612. It is called the Sangadetsu-mon and is 21 metres high. The name translates as 'Three Deliverences Gate', as Buddhism is supposed to save believers from the evils of anger, greed and stupidity.

You can see the photographs

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Last night we had a student and staff social do. This time it was karaoke.

Highlights included me singing:

'Train, Train' by the Bluehearts(Japanese band).

'Copacabana' by Barry Manilow.

'I Will Survive' by Gloria Gaynor.

And 'You're The One That I Want' by John Travolta and Olivia Newton John in a duet with Miranda.

So all in all a very camp evening, but I'm sure it's what the audience wanted.

Monday, November 05, 2007

On Monday, I went to get my first haircut in Japan, at a place near to where I work called Phoebus. Now I was initially very apprehensive about this as I was worried what they would do and whether they would understand what I wanted. Well everything was OK. There were no problems in communication ,as fortunately, the hairdresser spoke English and I came out with a haircut that was pretty similar to how I usually have it.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Toilets in Japan are a lot like the bridge of the Starship Enterprise. Lots of buttons and control panels and I have no idea what they do. Sometimes I spend longer trying to work out how to operate thing than I actually spend using it.

Some of them have heated seats as well. Although the theory behind this idea is a sound one (especially in winter), I find it a bit uncomfortable as it feels like someone has just been sitting on it.

Many toilets I have come across are unisex, which is very Ally McBeal. Apparently some of them play music as well, which I'm sure makes the experience far more pleasurable.

If I'm being honest, I don't like the idea of all those electrics near water, especially when I'm drunk.

And whilst I'm on the subject of things making me feel uncomfortable, I also don't enjoy bowling, as you have to wear someone else's shoes.