I hope you had a good Christmas. Ours was really fun, a good mix of seeing friends and family, and down time. And finally I have had the chance to put together a couple more posts,too, which is even better!
It's been fun looking at our very first photos.( The one above is a Russian Christmas doll in a Shinjuku store.) When I was taking them, there wasn't much chance to think because we were running around and seeing things. But now they bring back how charming yet bewildering Japan seemed. Bewildering of course partly because neither of us can speak or read the language, so I had the usual type of problems- like buying a pot of jam under the impression it was a tub of yogurt, and so on.
We were so grateful to our Japanese friends for helping us out and so some things that were initially puzzling became clear. These small figures standing beneath a large statue, dressed in their red woolly hats, I think represent babies and small children who have either been restored to health from illnesses, or are there to represent children who have died, so that Jizo, the bodhisattva who protects travellers and children, can protect them.
I learned that these figures in the hallway of a house I visited were not cute ornaments, but kami, representing spirits, essences of life or forces-of-nature connected with the Shinto religion. They can bring good luck if treated right, although they not exactly gods.
Objects to do with religion are always full of symbolism, and very fascinating to learn about, but the following photos are some of the things we saw when we arrived in Tokyo, that still baffle me. Not all of them are to do with old traditions. Some are quite modern. Others.... well, probably they are just the way that things are done.
First, I loved these grand looking white rabbits which were dressed up beautifully. But they don't just look like toys. It is as if they are wearing traditional fabric designs, and perhaps even traditional garments, and so I'm guessing they are something to do with Japanese folklore. But what?
I saw these arrays of artificial flowers lined up in an alleyway. They are not window boxes.
Opposite them were these circular objects. I think they have cranes on them, which is a symbol of happiness and youth? Or are those winged things some kind of insect? I just don't know what they are or why they were kept in this side alley.
Now for a modern puzzle. This machine explains clearly how you put your umbrella in, and then get the umbrella out again encased in plastic. My question is, why? There is no need to encase a dry and rolled umbrella in plastic. And if the umbrella is wet, you should leave it to drain so it will be dry. If it's been kept wet inside plastic, surely it'll cover you with water when put it up again?
Mind you, I did not have an umbrella, so I didn't try it out. Perhaps if I had, I'd have understood!
And talking of umbrellas, I wondered why people in Tokyo cycled along with umbrellas in wet weather instead of wearing wet weather gear? It is not as if umbrellas protect you all that much from the rain when cycling, and what is more, it's very difficult to see the traffic properly if you're holding an umbrella. It's also pretty hard to steer the bike safely with only one hand. I suspect that is just the custom, perhaps one that began when traffic was lighter.
The famous Japanese toilets can cause some confusion with foreigners. This was a simple one, but some had many more buttons than this and one or two had no obvious means of flushing. I was never quite defeated because I found that if you pressed all the buttons, then finally one would do what I wanted.
It is wonderful to be in a place that is so clean. If you do spot a piece of litter lying ahead of you in the sparkling streets, it is likely that someone will pick it up and put it in a bin before you reach it yourself. I have never seen quite that degree of cleanliness and care anywhere else. I didn't once notice a dirty vehicle. But even so, this concrete mixer caught my eye ...
It was making its way along the narrow street at the end of the day. I had watched the workmen on the site as I passed to and fro, and I thought I'd seen them using this very mixer earlier on. But look at how clean it is. Could the workmen possibly have cleaned it up after a day's work? To clean heavy machinery only for it to get dirty again the next day - well, that would be real dedication to cleanliness!
As I said, though, I never saw a dirty vehicle.
Every now and then they would stop, take out trumpets, stand in a line and play their trumpets in unison, mostly 17th and 18th century European classical music. They were extremely good - I would probably pay to hear them. But what were they doing? Why had they dressed up like this and brought their music to the city?
They were followed by girls in tutus, who attracted the attention of the Marlboro Dog.
I thought it might be an advertising parade, but nobody was giving out leaflets, and when I showed my pictures afterwards to Japanese friends, they didn't know what it was all about either.So this will remain a mystery, probably. Anyway the parade went down very well among the many people enjoying snacks in the little open-sided cafes along the way.
We realised very quickly that we were going to like Tokyo - clean, safe, and with so much to see and so much to interest us and make us think.