29 October 2017
My last day in Japan today, and it’s still raining. Erol made us breakfast, and determined not to let the rain ruin my last, we set off for a self guided walk using a brilliant app called Detour. Once Erol and I had downloaded the app, we could sync our phones so that we hear the guided walk simultaneously. The tour we did walked us round Ueno Park, a large public park in central Tokyo. The park grounds were originally part of Kaneiji Temple, which used to be one of the city’s largest and wealthiest temples, the family temple of the ruling Tokugawa clan. During the Boshin Civil War, 1868, Kaneiji suffered nearly complete destruction, after the battle, the temple grounds were converted into one of Japan’s first Western style parks and opened to the public in 1873.
Out first stop was at the statue of Saigo Takamori, one of the generals in the Battle of Ueno, a man whose memory is still held in great affection by many Japanese people for his virtues of courage, loyalty and self-sacrifice. The Shogi-Tai Soldiers tomb was erected in 1868, to honour the soldiers killed in the Ueno War.
From the balcony of Kiyomizu Kannondo, there is a view through a circle made from pine tree, this circle is called the pine tree of the moon.
Bentendo is an octagonal temple hall on an island in Shinobazu Pond at the southern end of the park. The temple is dedicated to Benten, the goddess of good fortune, wealth, music and knowledge. The fish in the pond were rather large and huddled together, it looked like they were waiting for something, I think they were hoping to be fed.
All that is left of a huge Buddha, Ueno Daibutsu, is this face. The complete original statue dates from 1631, it survived earthquakes, in 1640, 1855 and 1923, and a fire in 1841. Only to be melted down and used for weapons during the Pacific War. In 1972 the face was restored and sited in the park.
Ueno Toshogu Shrine was founded in 1627, the main structure of the shrine was rebuilt in 1651. Despite major earthquakes and wars, the structure has remained intact, and has been designated as an important cultural property of Japan, due to its representative nature of the Edo period.
You may recall seeing a photo of folds of paper tied to tree, (last day in Kyoto), we have seen these at many of the shrines we have visited, and today these folds of paper are tied to a sort of mini washing line, just seen in the photo below.
They are Omikuji, a written divination about a person’s near future, they give general advice about things like travel, business, love and illness, it’s what we would call fortune telling. At this shrine the omikuji also had a English version of the text and we couldn’t resist, we each dropped our 200 yen, in coins, in the money box and pulled out a small packet. I did mine first and it was a good or positive omikuji, there is also a little charm in the packet, mine was a frog, a safety frog, Erol’s was also positive. If the omikuji is good or positive it should be carried with you, and if the omikuji is bad or negative, then the paper is folded into a strip, tied up at the shrine and left, leaving the bad fortune there too. I’m not sure if it’s possible to take another omikuji if the first one is negative, or how many times one can try to get a positive one, we thought it was fun.
After the walk and getting completely soaked we had a late lunch, and I changed into dry clothes before heading to the airport for my next destination on this trip.
I almost forgot to mention the toilets. The first time I used one I didn’t have my reading glasses with me, so I couldn’t see which of the buttons on the ‘menu’ was flush. I was faced with a variety of options, all in Japanese, something I have never experienced in a toilet before. Toilets seats in Japan are heated. I think there wasn’t one instance of using a toilet, and I’m including public toilets too, even in places like parks and stations, where the seat wasn’t heated. I now know the menu options can include, washing, drying, playing music, deodorising, playing the sound of running water and temperature control, and this is just the basic ones. The more advance versions can automatically raise and lower the toilet lid, turn room lights on and off, and check blood pressure. All this from a nation that was still using ‘hole in the ground’ toilets only sixty years ago.
Efficient, polite, extrovert, gadget obsessed, reserved, quiet, colourful, innovative, punctual, neon loving, organised, crowded, hi-tech, traditional, noisy, respectful, clean, kind, hard-working and above all, Japan is, unique.