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From Tokyo Tower to Yasakuni via Temples

by Joel R. Voss aka. Javantea
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April 15, 2006

This one took a while to make it into my blog (yes, I'm self-censoring), so here it is. I spent the day with my good friend. He's my father's age. We went to a bunch of places. First stops were Tokyo Tower, a Buddhist temple next door, the graveyard behind the temple, and a few notable temples. The Buddhist temple was extremely interesting. They were praying for a person who had passed away a few years ago. The Buddhist priests prayed in a song that was very moving. My friend is a Buddhist and prays everyday.
Sculpture Protector of the Temple

Stairway of Success
We went to the highest ground point in Tokyo which is a comical 26 meters. It's kinda funny geographical spot because it has a 26 meter tall stairway and is only large enough for a big temple and nothing else. He educated me on various things including Shinto ancestor-worship, the meaning of things, who owns what, how, and why every building in Tokyo is tall: municipal code requirement. He showed me how to pray at various temples although I couldn't do it correctly because I was too self-conscious. We went to a bunch of awesome koi ponds, certainly the best public koi ponds in Tokyo. I noticed a trio of high school boys throwing rocks at the koi proving once and for all that neither Japanese nor American boys are saints.
Koi Pond

Pine Trees at Entrance to Imperial Garden
We went to the Emperial Palace and saw the place where the 47 samurai committed harikari. It is an actual spot and I stood there for a moment (wow). I also sat where the palace used to be during the Tokugawa era (wow).

My friend showed me his favorite soba/udon shop as well as his alma mater Hosei Univ. He's actually in the process of getting his 4th Master's degree as he nears age 55. What a brilliant guy.
View from Hosei University

Koi Pond near Yasakuni
Koi Pond with Waterfall and steps
We went up a hill to the "contraversial" shrine. It is called Yasakuni Shrine (Yasukuni means "peaceful country") and it is a shrine for those who died in WW2. The controversy goes like this: 1) Most of Japan simply forgets that they were in WW2. 2) Many Americans still blame current day Japanese for WW2. 3) Nationalists in Japan still blame current day America for WW2.
Zero Fighter at Yasakuni Museum

1 is not far from the truth since people dad's age and younger were not born before the war was over. A person has to be nearing 80 years old to have been possibly involved in WW2. Emperor Hirohito died 16 years ago. So who cares about WW2? People in categories 2 and 3. Many people in America act as if Japan bombed Pearl Harbor 20 years ago. A similar sentiment is felt by nationalists in Japan, who are mainly isolationists. While that was true 40 years ago, it is no longer true.

A pamphet reads in English:
When time shall have softened passion and prejudice,
when Reason shall have stripped the mask from misrepresentation,
then Justice, hosting evenly her scales, will require
much of past censure and praise to change places.
Radha binod Pal

Zero Fighter at Yasakuni Museum
The first floor of the museum contains: a Zero-sen fighter airplane, two cannons which show evidence of a gunfight during their capture in Okinawa, a train that carried weapons for Japan, and a gift shop that was the mirror image of an American WW2 memorial gift shop (I cannot express how weird it was). Penny Arcade has noted comically that the idea of Japanese kids playing a WW2 game as Americans was a little more than creepy: "Oh you mean by Japanese kids roleplaying to kill their own grandfathers. Yeah.."

What I took away from the visit: Respect the dead, pray for peace, or your grandchildren will respect you and pray for peace instead. It's a lesson that I think America is way too fucking slow at learning.

Btw, my friend isn't a nationalist, he's on the other end of the scale: neutral. He told told me that each festival that Yasakuni has brings with it a gob of protesters and a equally unruly gob of nationalist anti-protesters.

My friend is a pretty cool guy. It's cool talking with him about tourism and philosophy. Also it seems his enjoyable task to invite me to hang out in Japan with him one day each week that I'm here.

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