Posts Tagged ‘Japan’

Shinto ShrineNot only do the two major religions — Buddhism and Shinto — coexist peacefully in Japan but they also overlap in a practical sort of way that is uniquely Japanese. While the other world religions are literally and metaphorically battling it out for supremacy, “My god is bigger than your god,”  the Japanese make no such distinctions.  God and deities exist only to help people overcome hardships here on earth, or ease their way into heaven.

Often these religions share the same space. So it’s not unusual to find a Shinto Shrine within the courtyard of a Buddhist temple. And since I began my visit in a temple, the difference between the two religions was explained it to me in typical Zen fashion – very simply.  The two religions divide themselves neatly along two lines: Life and Death.

Shinto, an animist religion, deals with life: the celebration of the New Year, marriage, special prayers for children at the ages of three, five and seven, a coming-of-age ceremony at twenty, special prayers for family issues, and prayers for success in business or studies. Deities are found mostly in nature, and sometimes as past emperors or empresses. Buddhism assists the dead as they move into the next life and comforts the living.

The standard practice when visiting a temple or shrine is to purify one’s self prior to petitioning the Buddha or the deities residing there.  Ritual purification occurs in two ways depending on where you are. When visiting shrines, usually the act of passing under three torrii (gates) and walking along the gravel path to the haiden (hall of worship) is enough to purify one’s self before arriving at the honden (main hall) where the kami (gods) reside.

There is also purification through water (chözuya) at both temples and shrines.  The traditional way is to take a ladle and fill it with water from a tap.  Pour the water over the left hand, and then transfer the ladle to pour the water over the right hand.  Next, pour water into a cupped hand, purify your mouth and spit it out. The last step is to let water run down the ladle handle to purify it.  In all cases, make sure the water is spilled on the ground next to, and not back into the basin, so as not to contaminate it.

The act of praying is just as simple.  In the temple, you toss a coin into a box in front of the altar, put your hands together, offer your prayer and then back away. Prayers in a shrine are offered in a similar fashion.  You toss a coin in the box, clap twice to let the deity know you’re there, put your hands together, offer a prayer and then bow once.

Photo: © iStockphoto.com/Jimbo_Cymru

Temples and shrines sell omikuji, fortunes written on slips of paper.  Fortunes are dispensed in a random fashion via a special box containing numbered sticks.  Since I was there, I thought I would try my luck and so I shook the box and not one but two sticks popped out.  Great, now I’d have to choose.  Was I choosing the right one?

I closed my eyes drew one stick and gave it to the attendant.  She gave me a slip of paper with my fortune on it. So far so good, I thought.  There are four kinds of fortunes dai-kichi (big luck), kichi (luck) sho-kichi (small luck) and kyo (bad luck). In essence, the best is kichi. It means that things are not only good but they are going to get better.

Sho-kichi, the fortune I pulled, made the young attendant wince. “Oh, mmm,” was all she said.  Such a grave expression on such a young face made me nervous.   And then seeing my anxious expression, she gave me a small smile.  “It’s okay,” she explained. “Bad luck now but good luck later.”   She explained that things were bound to get better soon if I acted in a disciplined manner and was conscious of my actions.  “Better soon,” she said. .

Hmmm.  This fortune could only refer to my love life of course and it corroborated what Shelly the Seer saw in New Orleans when I pulled the Nine of Cups.  There was something big in the offing; I just had to be patient and pay attention.  https://cafegirlchronicles.wordpress.com/2009/11/27/date-with-destiny/

The little attendant instructed me to fold the paper and tie it to a nearby tree thereby letting the wind disperse the bad luck.  My little paper slip joined hundreds of others who would share similar fates or worse: kyo (bad luck).  Good fortunes are meant to be tucked into a wallet for safekeeping.  I wasn’t sure how I felt about this latest stroke of fortune – and then I thought about Shelly.  “You play the hand you’re dealt” or, in this case, the stick you draw.  So be it, I thought….fonce as my French friends would say. (Push ahead!)

As I was contemplating the little tree, I didn’t feel the small hand tapping my shoulder until it became much more insistent. I was surprised to find the little attendant standing behind me smiling.  She pointed in the direction of a small pavilion – there was a wedding – “For you.  Very lucky.”  I felt a weight lift from my shoulders. Its significance was not lost on me: perhaps this was a new beginning for me too.

Photo: © iStockphoto.com/anzeletti

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The Japanese transit system is quite an experience. The trip to and from any destination can be quite short – even a long distance trip seems to pass quickly – because of the efficiency of the trains and metro systems themselves.  It’s point A to point B travel at its best.

Photo: © iStockphoto.com/Dansin

The only challenging and time consuming part of any trip is exiting a station through the right door.  In some of the larger stations, a labyrinth of passageways on a number of levels makes it necessary to stop and ask for directions every several meters or so. One ascends or descends to the various levels depending on where you want to go. It’s rather Dante-esque with several levels of shops to tempt you – a shopper’s paradise if you’re up for it and hell if you’re tired or in a hurry.

Moving crowds in the Tokyo transit system are like a human undertow and if you’re not careful you can end up someplace else other than your intended destination. This trip, I was with my friend Masako, so I let her do all of the navigating while I did all of the looking. More than once I felt a polite tug on my elbow as she changed directions trying to find the closest exit to my hotel.  She stopped often and glanced anxiously in my direction, worried that I’d get swept away in a crowd never to be seen or heard from again. She was my own personal life preserver, keeping me afloat in a roiling sea of people.

After a long day of sightseeing we had promised ourselves a couple of beers back at my hotel, and happy hour was upon us. I could see that Masako had a one track mind – the hotel bar or bust. The only sight she wanted to see was the bottom of a frosted mug and a bottle of Kirin.  And I was right there with her. We were both parched and a little hungry.

Despite her best efforts, we had missed the exit and decided to go above ground to get our bearings. We used the neon-lit buildings to vector our way back to my hotel.  Her vector points were Nakau, Uniqlo, and Takashimaya, while mine were McDonalds, KFC and a Pepsi logo atop one of the many business towers in the area. They may have been different names but the end result was the same.

We made it back to the hotel before it started to rain.  It was the perfect end to a perfect day spent in one of the most amazing cities in the world. That I was able to spend it in the company of a friend was a bonus. Masako and I ended on a high note back in the bar – that note of course being Kampai!  or Cheers!   Different words but…



Photo: © iStockphoto.com/skodonnell

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Thanks to all of you tangueros and tangueras who were kind enough to provide contacts to instructors and milongas in Tokyo.  If any of my other fellow dancers have suggestions on milongas or salsa clubs – I’ll happily take them as I don’t leave until Thursday.

In the meantime, I am going to treat myself to an all-Tokyo film fest this weekend, which will include:

Lost in Translation – As I will soon be Lost in Tokyo.

Blade Runner (The Director’s cut) – I’m told Ridley Scott’s futuristic film noir evokes the sights and sounds of present day Tokyo and the Shinjuku area where I will be staying.

Shall We Dance?  The original Japanese version of this film really hits home for many of us.  If it says anything about human nature, it’s that it’s never too late to rediscover who you are – especially if you happen to find yourself in Tokyo.


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Tokyo Time

I booked this trip on a whim. The seat sale was so good I couldn’t pass it up.  Of course it is the off, off season but I live in Canada so how cold can it be?

As I don’t normally get on a plane unless I’m paid to (or there’s a dance lesson involved) my friends are intrigued and a bit worried by my new found “wings”.  As for me, there’s really no logical explanation. When I tell them I had a yen for sushi, they all groan in unison.  And now they’re really worried.

So I have decided I am just going to show up and see what happens.


Photo: © iStockphoto.com/penfold

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Laissez le bon temps rouler!Coming soon posts from New Orleans to Tokyo and a few places in between.

PS if any one knows of any good places to dance  Salsa or Tango in either of these cities, I would love to hear from you!

Photo: © iStockphoto.com/kiskamedia

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