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[107] Sword and Blossom – Peter Pagnamenta & Momoko Williams

sword.jpgTears well up in my eyes and trickle down my face as I was about 30 pages to the end of this memoir.

If Author and Masa have to blame fate for tricking them, they might as well thank fate for allowing them to meet at the first place. Spanning over half a century, the memoir follows their enduring attempts to make a life together and chronicles inevitable social prejudices and snobbery they have encountered.

It began when a smoldering quarrel between Japan and Russia over their competing interests in the territory of their weaker neighbors, China and Korea, has flared up around the turn of the century in 1900 and might soon turn to war. That the Japanese appreciate the aesthetics of gardening lends a chance for the British officer to meet the young Masa Suzuki at the Tokyo Officer’s Club for peach blossom viewing. He is smitten immediately and continues to seek her out. That Masa has carried the stigma of divorce (from a pre-arranged marriage that favors the family’s fortune), and that Arthur has spent years stationing in isolated posts in India and South Africa help expedite their relationship. By the time they settle down in Shinjuku, in 1907, he is emotionally engaged with Masa and Japan. Overcoming periods of separation help their relationship move to new stage. For her part, Maza is being regarded as a person in her own right, for the first time in her life, by a man who wants to know her views and respect her opinion. She acts with Arthur in a way that Japanese men and women might find shockingly forward.

After the saddest and tensest parting in 1911, Arthur leaves for Europe to enlist into a battalion that escalates into what becomes of the Great War.  When frequent military movements put Authur out of touch with Masa, she for first time, despite her patience, begins to worry about how she will manage with a Western looking child as she stands out in the streets of Tokyo where conformity to the traditional values matter.

More than a love story, Sword and Blossom, which is made possible by the 800 some letters of correspondence between Aurthur and Masa, delineates one of the most political unstable and belligerent era of the 20th century. As both individuals strive to maintain contact and sustain the hope of reuniting with one another, their petty but intimate exchanges also reveal details of daily life during the 1918 flu pandemic, World War I, and the destructive earthquake that leveled half of Tokyo in 1923. Registered in between their words are poignant scenes of starvation, deaths, pestilence, and prospect of yet another war, as the Japanese launches a full attack on China on the eve of World War II. This book provides a very touching and private view of two individuals from completely different background and culture and their relationship against the backdrop of historic events.

Thank You | MV 東京百貨

Thank you everyone for responding the previous post on my little relationship drama. I’m actually doing fine, just needing to vent. In addition to all your kind comments, my mailbox is flooded with e-mails concerning the post.

At dinner with my college buddy T, he asked what I’m looking for in a person. I said I’m not looking for anybody at the moment. Emotionally unavailable. He chortled. I reassured him with a smiley nod. I need an emotional break from all the unrequited love I have given.

I’m stilling holding on. Sunshine and shadow in my thoughts.

* * * * *

I’ve got a big stack of undergrad homework to mark so I’ll post the review of The Woman Who Waited by Andrei Makine tomorrow.


鄭融 – 東京百貨

This MV reminds me of my trip to Tokyo. Someone who is out of a relationship travels alone in the busy streets of Shibuya. Sounds like me! Picture below.

tokyo.jpg

What Do You Make of These Pictures?

tokyo01.jpg

tokyo02.jpg

I’ll tell ya tomorrow…Happy Tuesday. I gotta hit the bookstore. 🙂

Reminiscing Tokyo Part 8: Wrapping Up

That’s it folks with Japan. I don’t want certain readers of the blog to think I have given up on book reviews and literary content. Book reviews will be up. If you miss any part of my Japan travelogue, go to the right hand side and click on the appropriate links. Hope you all enjoy these pictures from Japan as much as I took them.

Japan Airlines flight 736 anchored at gate 43 at Hong Kong International Airport. The aged Boeing 747-300 with an extended upper deck had defintely seen better days despite it was painted with a new livery. The seat was okay although it was deprived of personal entertainment. After all, the flight was pleasant and service was attentive.
The signage was my very first intro to Japan’s web-like railway system. This train will take me straight to Shinjuku from Narita Airport in 90 minutes.
The Tokyo Metro is complicated, but manageable if you follow the map indicator that locates above the train doors. Each station is designated by a alphanumeric code so tourists like me will not get lost.
An European couple were kind enough to take a picture of me when I was walking around Asakusa after visiting the Sensoji Temple.
Many vendors along the street leading to the Sensoji Temple sell charms–all kinds of them, for health, for fortune, for good luck, for a favorable marriage–but you’ll have to look around and find the best bargains before zeroing on it.
The Buddha at Sensoji Temple in Asakusa. I’ve always thought the way different cultures, or different countries portray the Buddha vary. The Japanese Buddha, to me, is somewhat chubbier than that in Cambodia.
Wafting aroma from this pastry stall captured my stomach’s attention. I walked over there and bought a couple pieces of lightly fried pastry with red bean paste filling.
These are bead bracelets made of different kinds of wood like mohagany and cherry wood. Unlike those tasseled charms that are usually hung in houses and inside the cars, mead bracelets are more personal. I got several of these bracelets, prayed over them at the temple, and give them to friends as gifts.
Japanese animal crackers?
A sober me after paying respect at the Meiji Jingu Shrine, where you bow twice in front of the shrine, then clap your hands, pray, and bow once more to show respect. Notice a mother behind me is taking her little kimono-donned daughter to pay respect for blessing.
Think I can pass as a train conductor!?! Trains are usually painted in colors that are identical to the respective routes on the map.
A quick, insouciant, spontaneous shot of Shinjuku after dark. This is obviously not a busy intersection with only a few commuters. I like the backdrop–the buildings so neatly lined the street, stippled with neon lights and signs–against which people, most of them glued to their cell phones, walked with such fast pace. They probably had to hurry and finish their conversations as cell phone conversation is NOT allowed in all subway trains.
Most of the noodle shops in Tokyo are staffed with one, at least two servers who usually don’t take your orders. You buy a ticket from the vendor machine and hand the tickets to the servers when you walk in the restaurant. No tipping is needed. A bowl of yummy ramen with a side of gyoza is around 800 Yen.
I found these polyester-spandex boxers at a 100Yen (99 cents) store near the noodle shop on the way back to the hotel. They are so comfy that I went back to the store and bought all the remaining ones!
Bronze statue at Sensoji Temple. A group of Indians who were there before me took turn to touch the staute all over and prayed to him.
The shopping alley at Ueno split into two here. Just a quick ride on the subway from Asakusa, Ueno has lots of grocery shops where you can get cheap candies and nori (rice cracker with seaweed). I also found an army thrift store where you can find army apparel from countries all over the world.
Local people were paying respect at Sensoji Temple.
Restaurants usually maintain a beautiful, exquisite display of some of their featured items on the menu. These samples are made of colored wax. Who won’t be drooling all over looking at these samples?
The street of Asakusa. I like those hanging cubic lanterns.
Fresh fruit stall at Ueno.
Muji was holding its annual customer reward. This bag is called the Happy Bag–which contains a wool jacket, a plaid shirt, two pairs of boxers, two t-shirts, two pairs of socks, and a leather belt–all in medium sizes, for 3150 Yen (US$27). You have to buy the entire bag and the content of which cannot be substituted.
Fare map showing all stations within the Tokyo metropolitan area. I don’t know how the people can do it without even looking at the map.
Offerings made to the Meiji Jingu Shrine are neatly arranged under the same roof with the appropriate name tags and quantities.
Chrysanthemum show at the Meiji Jingu Shrine
People lined up and waited patiently to get in the department store for the sale event.
I guess in all things there is always exception. In a city that is so neat, orderly, and clean as Tokyo, at a subway exit during rush hour, I spotted some abandoned soda cans.
Floral display at a department store.
I did some last-minute souvenir shopping at Shibuya. All these are fragrance bags for women, who traditionally tug these cute little pouches inside the lapels of their kimonos.
Diving once again into the sea of crowd at Shinjuku Station, hurling behind me two big luggage, where is my train? These electric display boards might be helpful especially if you’re trying to locate where your train departs at a major station like Shinjuku with more than 20 platforms.
Signage on the platform floor indicates where to board the appropriate car.
Homeward bound. Signage inside the Narita express train indicates the train is bound for the airport. I was in car #4.

Reminiscing Tokyo Part 7: Meiji Jingu Shrine & Harajuku (11/2/06)

Got up early again to the cold and gloomy morning. It was indeed the coldest day since I came to Japan, but I could still manage with SS polo shirt. As usual, I took a walk around Shinjuku on the way to the train station, where I for the first time hopped on the JR Yamanote Line. This line, other than the Metro Ginza Line, is probably the busiest, the most crowded and the most prominent line in the entire Tokyo metro area. Also known as the green circle line, the Yamanote trains circulate around Tokyo area and pass through major business and entertainment areas like Shibuya, Shinagawa, Tokyo City, Uneo, and Asakusa.
A short ride on Shinagawa-bound train dropped me off at Harujuku. A short walk upon the exit on the right side led me to Meiji Jingu Shrine, a site that is, to my surprise, not packed by tourists. The Meiji Jingu Shrine was built in 1920. It honors the life of Emperor Meiji. Prior to the Meiji Era (1868 – 1912) Japan was a closed nation, but as ruler between 1869 and 1912 Emperor Meiji rekindled lost friendships, fostered overseas relations and in so doing, laid the foundations of modern day Japan.
The gate to the shrine, which captured my immediate attention, is made of cypress wood and is one of the largest in the country. Walk under it and up the long gravel path and the city shrinks a mile away–the surrounding woodland covers 175 acres and is said to contain at least one example of every single tree found in Japan. At the end of the serene path I came to the front of the main shrine buildings. The originals were destroyed in the air raids in 1945 so these reproductions date from only 1958.



The stalls selling religious artifacts also sell leaflets which explain, in English, the procedure for paying respects at a shrine. I made note of the worshippers purifying their hands and mouths with water from the stone basin, and the wooden plaques upon which special intentions and wishes are written. Thousands of visitors have left behind thier prayers on racks. During summer, Meiji Jingu also hosts Shinto wedding ceremonies. A Japanese woman told me that the Meiji Shrine, which carries an air of stolidity and prestige, is a popular, but also very expensive venue.


I approached an old Japanese old who was paying worship and asked him about the proper manner with which to pay respects to the shrine. I could barely follow his words which now I summarize:
How to Pay Respects at Shinto Shrines
1.In appropriate dress (mine were only jeans and polo shirt), I am to proceed along the path through the Torii Gate. At Temizusha (the font for ablutions), I rinse my hands and mouth using water from the stone basin. Take care I should not touch the dipper with your lips directly.
2.Then I proceed to the Main Shrine building. He said if I wish, I can throw some coins into the Offering Box.
3.In front of the Main Shrine, I bow twice.
4.Then I clap my hands twice.
5.Finally, I bow once again.



I stumbled upon little boys and girls wearing splendid kimonos around the shrine. Their parents have brought them, along with generous gifts and sacrifices, in order to receive blessing.These kids probably had no clue why they were there, but their parents, often dressed in traditional kimono and fine suits, made sure they abided by the proper etiquette to pay respect to the shrine in order to receive a blessing, which, entails good health and high marks in school. The ceremonies to solicit blessing take place at the age of 3, 5, and 7.





Not too far from the shrine where the Meji Emperor and Empress are deified do I find this condom store Condomania. It stocks all kinds of condoms here from the most generic durex and trojan to things that are out of one’s imagination. Small boxes and cartons of condoms–chocolate flavor, fresh fruit flavor, condoms for women, super ultra thin condoms–lined the store that, if you look from a distance, you would mistake it as a cigarette shop. Condoms are exquisitely packaged into decoys of candy bars, moth balls, napkins… The most amazing kind I find is Penis Pasta.

Harajuku first burst onto the scene in 1964 – the Olympic year. With the Olympic gymnasium and village located nearby, the prospect of meeting somebody famous in the street drew people from far and wide. Today, the area includes Takshita Street, Meiji Dori Avenue and Omotesando Dori Avenue.
I found the second-hand store (in Japanese called medieval wear) not necessarily cheaper than the ones selling new apparels. A paperboy’s hat at this particular was 2900 Yen, compared to the new one I acquired at Muji for 2000 Yen. So you would have to look around, compare prices, and not to be too rash in buying things.
Takeshita Dori Street is opposite the Takeshita Dori Exit of Harajuku Station. Here, shops sell a most extraordinary blend of goods reflecting the Japanese notions of “cute”, “cool and American” and “rebellious and British”. In other words a strange mixture of Hello Kitty, hip-hop and the infamous British punk. As for the shoppers? Well, any form of fancy dress goes.
Being the focal point of Harajuku’s teenage culture, Takeshita Dori (Takeshita Street) and its side streets, which are lined by many trendy shops, fashion boutiques, used clothes stores, crepe stands and fast food outlets geared towards the fashion and trend conscious teens.

In order to experience the teenage culture at its most extreme, visit Harajuku on a Sunday, when many young people gather around Harajuku Station and engage in cosplay (“costume play”), dressed up in crazy costumes to resemble anime characters, punk musicians, etc.
I didn’t have sightings of people wearing strange costumes or anime characters. But I did have a lot of fun shopping. Many shops offered bargain for hood sweater, t-shirts, and accessories. The Japanese sizes are just perfect fit for me, since in the US there is no equivalent to a Japanese Small. In fact, the Japanese (or Hong Kong) Large would be a Medium in the US. Anyway, here most of the sales people don’t speak English so I had to find the sizes and the styles myself and ask for help in Japanese.
Design T-Shirts Store granlph is a hidden jewel in Harajuku. Unlike the overpriced Beams T, which is just several doors up, this place sells limited editions of simple-design t-shirts by up-and-coming local artists. All SS t-shirts are marked for 2625 Yen each and 2 for 4200 Yen. Long-sleeves are 2900 Yen each. The store was crammed with so many people that even I managed to elbow my way in, at first I had a hard time navigating through and looking at the stuffs. When I was ready to check out, the salesperson was punctilious enough to noticed i had picked t-shirts of various sizes. He politely asked if they were gifts and I said hai, sore wa puresendo o tomodachi desu. Then he carefully wrapped the t-shirts for me and ribboned them very gorgeously. Bidding goodbye to him, he gave me a few postcards and asked me to come visit whenever I’m back in Tokyo.

It was always dark by the time the Yamanote train took me back to Shinjuku. I decided to have katsu don for dinner so I walked over to the west side of Shinjuku station and looked for a restaurant. I took the elevator up to 5th floor, purchased a ticket for the katsu don, found a seat by the window that overlooked the neoned streets and scribbled on my journal. The waiter arrived with a pitcher of water (yes, a pitcher for each patron), miso soup, and edamame.

Reminiscing Tokyo Part 6: Imperial Palace & Shibuya (11/1/06)

I woke up extra early in the morning, skipped breakfast at the hotel, and walked to JR Shinjuku Station to purchase Narita Express ticket to Narita Airport on Nov 3. Lonely Planet and other travel resources have advised advance purchase for fear of soldout. One of Japan’s hidden jewels that travelers often overlook is the underground aracde–home of many souvenir shops, bookstores, restaurants and bargains. On this particular morning, after I’ve secured my airport express ticket, I slowed down a bit and spotted a woman donned in kimono and clad in wooden slipper in one of the gift shops. She kindly gave me permission to take a photo of her.

I stopped by a tiny restaurant in the underground aracde beneath the train station for an asagohon (breakfast), which contained steamed rice, miso soup, grilled fish, rolled omelet, pickles, and dry seaweed for 650 Yen (US$5.70). Over asagohon I scribbled a few postcards (a travel ritual of mine) and took them with me to the Main Post Office, which was conveniently located at the proximity of the historic Tokyo Station. As you can see in the picture, I looked a bit lost as I was riffling through the guidebook for a map.

No sooner had I walked into the post office did my heart skip a beat, at 8:30 am a long line was forming at the door. Once I found my bearing inside the office I learned that the long line was for parcel pickup and social security payable–no wonder it was packed with retirees. The clerk at international post was very friendly and efficient–he even stamped the postcards, peeled the stickers that said “air mail” and put them on for me and assured that they would be sent out immediately. For only 490 Yen not only did I receive quick and efficient service, I also experienced a s[ecial courtesy that was deeply rooted in the Japanese culture.
The current Imperial Palace (Kokyo) is located on the former site of Edo Castle, a large park area surrounded by moats and massive stone walls in the center of Tokyo, a short walk from Tokyo station. It is the residence of Japan’s Imperial Family. Edo Castle used to be the seat of the Tokugawa shogun who ruled Japan from 1603 until 1867. In 1868, the shogunate was overthrown, and the country’s capital and Imperial Residence were moved from Kyoto to Tokyo. In 1888 construction of a new Imperial Palace was completed. The palace was once destroyed during World War Two, and rebuilt in the same style, afterwards.

From Kokyo Gaien, the large plaza in front of the Imperial Palace, visitors can view the Nijubashi, two bridges that form an entrance to the inner palace grounds. The stone bridge in front is called Meganebashi (Eyeglass Bridge) for its looks. The bridge in the back was formerly a wooden bridge with two levels, from which the name Nijubashi (Double Bridge) is derived.
Meganebashi (Eyeglass) Bridge is a popular picture spot thronged with tourists. I beat the tour group by a couple of minutes.
I walked all the way to where Meganebashi Bridge is cordoned off and reached the observatory point. From this perspective you can see the imperial buildings are separated by an inner moat.
The palace buildings and inner gardens are not open to the public. Only on January 2 (New Year’s Greeting) and December 23 (Emperor’s Birthday), visitors are able to enter the inner palace grounds and see the members of the Imperial Family, who make several public appearances on a balcony.
The Imperial Palace East Gardens are open to the public throughout the year except on Mondays, Fridays and special occasions. Please visit the East Gardens information page for more information.


The East Gardens are the former site of Edo Castle’s innermost circles of defense, the honmaru (“main circle”) and ninomaru (“secondary circle”). None of the main buildings remain today, but the moats, walls, entrance gates and several guardhouses still exist. Edo Castle was the residence of the Tokugawa shogun who ruled Japan from 1603 to 1867. Emperor Meiji also resided there from 1868 to 1888 before moving to the newly constructed Imperial Palace.
In place of the former buildings in the secondary circle of defense (ninomaru) at the foot of the hill, a nice Japanese style garden has been created.


After the Imperial PalaceI hopped back on the metro to Shibuya, a popular shopping and entertainment area around Shibuya Station. This is probably the most-pictured scene of Tokyo. The opening scene of the movie Lost in Translation was filmed here.

Shibuya is one of Tokyo’s most colorful and busy districts and birthplace to many of Japan’s fashion and entertainment trends, including my favorite–Beams. Most of the area’s large department and fashion stores belong to either Tokyu or Seibu, two competing corporations.

Shibuya has achieved great popularity among young people in the last thirty years. There are several famous fashion department stores in Shibuya. Shibuya 109—called “Ichi-Maru-kyū”, which translates as 1-0-9 in Japanese, is actually a pun on the name of the corporation that owns it—Tokyu—which translates as 10-9 in Japanese—is a major shopping center near Shibuya Station, particularly famous as the origin of the kogal subculture. The contemporary fashion scene in Shibuya extends northward from Shibuya Station to Harajuku, where youth culture reigns; Omotesandō, the zelkova tree and fashion brand lined street; and Sendagaya, Tokyo’s apparel design district.

A prominent landmark of Shibuya is the large intersection in front of the station (Hachiko Exit), which is heavily decorated by neon advertisements and giant video screens and gets crossed by amazingly large crowds of pedestrians each time the traffic light turns green.


Shibuya has everything from 100 Yen noodles, condoms (lots of them in Condomania!!!), pubs, souvenirs, kimonos, fashion T-shirts (some T-shirts by up-and-coming local designers can cost as much as 17,000 Yen!), hats, to top notch gourmet food. No wonder it has been said that Shibuya has threatened Shinjuku’s place as the main entertainment and shopping center.
Center Gai is the narrow street leading away from the station to the left of the giant video screen, it’s famous as the birthplace of many of Japan’s youth fashion trends. Center Gai is jam-packed with clothing stores, music stores, and video game arcades. I was oblivious to time’s passing as I strolled insouciantly and felt the Shibuya vibe.

Reminiscing Tokyo Part 5: Gay Life (10/31-11/1/06)


Someone came to me today and said all the pictures from Japan I have posted are too modest, too upright–that I’m too flourishing and cheery. Okay, I’ve been on vacation, how can I be *not* flourishing? Did he say I was “flowery” too? Let just say I have my share of naughty adventures but had opened my eyes to kinky gay scenes in Tokyo, which center around Shinjuku-2-Chome, an easy 10-minute walk from my hotel.

After my shopping binge at the flagship Muji store–which advertises for “no brand, good product,” I hopped on the next train back to Shinjuku for a night of clubbing and dancing. But I need to say a few words about Muji. It was developed in the early 1980s as a private brand of the giant Seiyu discount department store, offering an antidote to the rampant brand mania in the Japanese economic “bubble” period. A common sense approach defines the store aesthetics and sets the stage for a lesson in pared down retail design based on things like bulk packaging in plain, uniform containers. Under simple track lights, products are stored in unpainted wicker bins, on plain plywood shelving and unvarnished wood tables. In a tsunami of beige, the Muji message of unadorned simplicity makes itself explicit. I for sure left my mark at Muji and paid my due!

No sooner had I walked out of Shinjuku Station did I spot two Japanese men holding hands making their way into 2-Chome (translates into 2nd lane). I thought they looked so sweet that they were completely oblivious to the worldly eyes of reproach to have publicly claimed their love. In Japan, gay men are so much more suppressed to publicly show affection for one another. Disguised under their suit and tie during the day, you won’t run into many gay men even though at least 10% of the population is gay. When flashing blinking neon signs replace the petering sunlight at dusk, activities and hangouts of gay men limit only to a few chome (lanes) in Shinjuku, Ginza, and Shibuya.

However meager or minisculed the gay scene might be, it doesn’t necessarily cool down the heat of a gay dancing club. In fact, some of them might have got so kinky that many American guys find them a bit overwhelmed. Recently a superstar in the music industry dressed up in tight leather SM outfit for his round-the-country tour. His image became a new icon for gay men–who dressed up in tight harness and leather vest with boots and hit the dance floor of many clubs in Shinjuku.

On the way to Arty Farty (my favorite bar) after the leather bar I ran into these guys who were campaigning for the gay magazine Badi, a monthly Japanese magazine for gay men. The title comes from the Japanese pronunciation of “buddy.” Badi frequently has approximately 500-1000 pages (easily like a white page), including several pages of glossy colour and some black and white photographs and drawings of young, fit men in their teens and early twenties. Despite the pornographic pictures and stories, however, Badi is not a pornographic magazine. Badi appeals to a young market (and to admirers of younger men). It features fashion, health and relationship articles and community news and event listings. The guy on the right asked me if I was interested in a session of candid shots. Oh well…

At Arty Farty, things were still slow because it was early. A few people were sitting at tables against wall engaging in low conversation against the droning of jazz music. The dance floor was empty and the bar-tender, a 20ish cub type with a paperboy hat, was busy wiping martini glasses for the night. I took a seat at the bar and chatted with him with my broken, choppy Japanese which I have long forgotten since I left the classroom in college.
Anyway, Arty Farty is in Ni-Chome (2nd lane), right around the corner from Advocates Cafe, where I posted an entry from my mobile about a little earlier. Advocates closes around midnight on Sunday, so Arty Farty is always a convenient place to retreat to when they shut the doors at Advocate. I prefer Arty Farty over other bars is the all-you-can drink wine thing (like the beer blast at Advocates, except, well, with wine).

This bar for boys and the guys who love them has been the gateway to Tokyo’s gay neighbourhood, Ni-chome, for many a man for many a moon. Women are allowed only on weekends, and usually only with gay friends, and yes, apparently, they mean it. As the music picked up and people began to converge at the dance floor, spirits heightened around the bar. I met a few Caucasian men who were living and working in Tokyo. They usually came a couple nights just to chat over glasses of wine and checked out younger Japanese boys. They were somewhat taken aback and surprised when I started speaking to them in English fluently.

I talked with them for hours and was oblivious of time’s passing. It was 20 after midnight when I looked at my watch for the first time. I jotted down their contacts and e-mails on a crumpled piece of paper that was earlier a receipt from Muji and bid them goodbye.

On the walk back to the hotel I spotted yet another curious sight–Hotel Nuts! Japan seems to never stop fascinating me! Hotel Nuts right in Shinjuku Ni-Chome along with all the gay bars and clubs. How appropriate eh?!

Reminiscing Tokyo Part 4: Ginza Day & Night (10/31/06)

I took pictures of Ginza day and night just so you can see the hustle-and-bustle of this main artery of Tokyo. All sides of the intersection, no matter at any time of the day, are packed with pedestrians waiting to cross, running errands, going to meet someone to seal a business deal, heading home, going to work, gluing to the cellphone.
After dark, Ginza turns into a party heaven, with clubs and karaoke galore, you’ll see members of the hip generation donning outfits purchased from Harajuku plunging into the night life.


Spared from jetlag, I’m getting back to the swing of routine here. My mind is still daydreaming, though, savoring all the good time I had in Asia, especially in Japan. I’ll continue the fun with happenings in Ginza. As you might have realized, I have to separate my travelogue into two sections. On the morning of Halloween (a very peaceful one for me sans party and costumes), I visited Sensoki Temple in Asakusa to ensure making my wish to the goddess with a pure, peaceful and sound of mind. In the afternoon, I hopped on the subway, the Hibiya Line of the Tokyo Metro, to the heart of Tokyo, Ginza.

Everyone who has been to Japan must know Ginza. It was named after the silver-coin mint established there in 1612 during the Edo period. Modern Ginza began in 1872 when, after a devastating fire, the English architect Thomas Waters designed these 2- and 3-story Gregorian brick buildings when rebuilding was in full swing. The heart of Ginza is the intersection of Chuo-dori and Harumi-dori, dominated by the glass cylinder of the San-ai Building. With its huge neon sign, it’s been the image of Ginza on postcards and travel books for decades now. The other corners are occupied by Wako and Mitsukoshi, two of the most prestigious department stores (the former being a cut above), and the Nissan Gallery, which shows off new and classic automobiles.

I sat down and had an aftertoon-tea set (a piece of chocolate mouusse cake and a beverage for 1575 Yen) at the Hills inside Mitsukoshi. The cafe, which locates on the second floor, is a great people-watching spot that affords an unobstructed view of the busiest intersection (might as well be the most expensive strip of land) in Tokyo. Being unaware of time’s passing I whiled away the afternoon as the blue sky petered out and became different hues of gray–neon lights dressing up Ginza at dusk.

Reminiscing Tokyo Part 3: More Pictures of Asakusa, Sensoji Temple (10/31/06)

Click here for Part 1 of my Tokyo travelogue, and here for Part 2 if you have missed them. I’ll be continuously updating coverage for of the entire Japan trip.

More pictures of Sensoji Temple in Asakusa.
For 300 Yen you can make a wish and write it on a small wooden card and hang it on one of the racks around the temple.
Local people allow incense waft over them to purify them.
The interior of the Sensoji Temple. A middle-aged Japanese couple were hanging the strip of paper rendered by the fortune stick onto the rack.
Now it’s my turning to tie my fortune paper on the rack. I was making a wish…
Many tourists misunderstood the etiquette of purification. You’re supposed to make an offering to the temple, whose clerks will in exchange give you an incense. Light up he incense and place it onto the sand bath in the furnce and let the incense waft over the body to achieve purification. I hope the goddess will grant my wish.
A favorite picture of mine. This one offers a complete view of Sensoji Temple and its peripheral monuments–makes a good postcard eh?
After Sensoji Temple, I had a bowl of Hokaido-style noodle soup with gyoza (Japanese potstickers).

Reminiscing Tokyo Part 2: Asakusa (10/31/06)

Click here for Part 1 of Reminiscing Tokyo.

Got up at the crack of dawn. After a quick bite of breakfast, I arrived at Shinjuku Metro station early in the morning, at around 7, to evade the notorious morning rush hour commute which usually packed all the trains with people like sardines. The ride to Asakusa, the inaugural destination of my Tokyo adventure, required a transfer at Ginza.

Asakusa is the home of Sensoji Temple, one of the most worshipped after and revere in not only Tokyo but also in Japan. Both locals and tourists pay tribute to this temple which can be reached via subway. The splendid Kaminarimon Gate, which is one of the three main entrances of the temple, greeted me shortly after I sauntered off the subway exit. I stood in awe of the red-painted portal from which hung a gigantic lantern with the kanji (Chinese characters) lei moon (door of thunder) printed on it. The original gate was destroyed in the air raids of 1945, so this is a reconstruction built in 1960. On the right of the gate stands God of the Wind and on the left, the God of Thunder. The gate is a prime spot for a kodak moment so I waited patiently until the crowd thinned out a bit.

Once through the gate I was in Nakamise Shopping Arcade. The street is lined with colorful, lively stalls selling traditional knick-knacks, festival foods and rice crackers. Wafting aroma of made-to-order pastries filled the busy roofed promenade. Hanzomon Gate marks the end of the street. Reconstructed in 1964, the treasures of Sensoji are stored inside. Aligned on both sides along the area in front of the Hazomon Gate are giant billboards of white lanterns that record dedications to the temple.

As I walked nearer the temple I noted some large incense burners. Incense is wafted over the body as an act of purification so many guests and worshippers gather around these burners to begin their visit. After conducting the formality, I found what I came for–the large wooden fortune telling stand. To use it, first shuffle the metal cylindrical tin until a wooden stick is sped out of the contain. Then I located a slip of paper from a chest of drawers that deciphered the message of the stick. For those who can’t read kanji, give the stick to the temple official who, in return, will issue you with a slip of paper. If the paper says you have bad luck, by then tying it to the branch of a tree or the special rack provided, it will apparently blow away.

I got stick #55, which is a stick of regular fortune. The slip of paper says what I have lost will be found. Sickness might be healed. As for love, I have to be patient as the person whom I am waiting (or looking for) will come late. That’s not too bad eh? At least I know he is out there, somewhere, maybe it’s not time yet; or maybe he is someone I know with whom I have yet to cultivate a deeper relationship. After Sensoji Temple, I was scouring the stalls for souvenirs and gifts but only to realize that they might be over-priced so I decided to wait.

Although I didn’t spend any money at the shopping arcade, I spotted a Japanese woman donning a traditional kimono, whom I tried to follow and of whom I took pictures. Then I lingered in front of the cookie shop and watched raptly at the making of puffs. After saying goodbye to Asakusa, I hopped back into the subway for Ueno for some bargain on rice crackers and fruit.