44

Ginza

 G intro

 

With just a few days left in Tokyo (sniff) I realised I’d been so distracted by traditional Japan that I’d completely ignored the hyper-sophisticated, ultra-modern side of the city. In a panic I leapt off to the one place I thought I’d find it by the bucketload – Ginza.

Ginza? Possibly Tokyo’s most famous district? Yeah, I know, and let me tell you, after last week’s flirtation with a famous area I really wasn’t keen on exploring another one. But I had no time to faff about or do a recce anywhere else, and anyway, this was Tokyo – surely there would be more?

A few facts before we amble. Ginza was originally the site of a silver coin mint – hence the name Ginza, meaning silver mint. Became Tokyo’s most famous upmarket shopping, dining and entertainment district after the 1923 earthquake. Nothing about Ginza is cheap – apparently you can buy a coffee here for $10. Hate that.

Okay, let’s move.

 

Part 1: And then

After snapping a few off the wall buildings, I was struggling. Ginza had turned out to be just glitzy shops and nothing much else after all. I mean, impressive architecture for sure, but beyond that, hmm…

 

 

a jewel of a building - Mikimoto pearls

a jewel of a building – Mikimoto pearls

 

 

 

 

liquid - De Beers daimonds

liquid – De Beers diamonds

 

 

 

 

Japanese for beer

Japanese for beer

 

 

 

 

 

place of fancy threads

place of fancy threads

 

 

 

 

Despite my time challenges, I decided Ginza wasn’t for me.

But just as we were approaching the subway to leave, I spied a monk type figure under a large hat, chanting. A metre away from him three Japanese men were busy discussing golf scores or business deals. Women rushed past, arms full of crisp new shopping bags. Twentysomethings wandered around, texting madly. But there the monk stood, a figure from another time, nothing moving but his lips.

O-kay. Not modern, no, but kind of interesting. Subo-san from Kyoto had told us about these monks who stand frozen for hours at a time, moving only when someone approached them for a blessing. He said it looked easy but in fact was very hard.

As it would be getting dark any minute I took just a few shots and then we left. But I was curious. Would the monk be there the next day? Was this his life?

 

 

Ginza gents and a monk

Ginza gents and a monk

 

 

 

 

the blessing bowl

the blessing bowl

 

 

 

 

frozen in time

frozen in time

 

 

 

 

Part 2: Cats and hats

Curiosity piqued and with time running out before we’d have to fasten our seat belts, we went back to Ginza the next day to see if the monk was still standing still.

On the way we passed another surprise – a man placing his three cats on a small ledge, for those passing by to enjoy.

Tokyo is seriously cat crazy so within seconds, no kidding, a crowd of Japanese had gathered to snap the cats. The furry stars sat there without looking the slightest bit distressed but they were kind of snotty and sneezy and really, when you think about it, did they really need it? As Coco said, “It’s cute and dreadful at the same time”. But at least it was surprising.

 

 

Ginza cats

Ginza cats

 

 

 

 

cat and camera crazy

cat and camera crazy

 

 

 

 

We then made a beeline to the subway to see if the monk was there. Yep, still there, looking like he’d never left.

 

 

Ginza girls and the monk

Ginza girls and the monk

 

 

 

 

heads down - the texter and the monk

heads down – the texter and the monk

 

 

 

 

In the 15 minutes that we watched him, maybe three people stopped to drop a few coins in his bowl in exchange for a blessing. After Coco had one, I got a little closer to see what his face looked like under his hat.

 

 

under his hat

under his hat

 

 

 

 

He was fully focused, eyes shut, chanting softly – all this despite the fact that a political rally was underway right behind him, with loud speakers blaring a few metres from his ears and people all over the place. Including this man, who was handing out pamphlets – a Japanese Dick Tracy for sure.

 

 

Dick Tracy, moonlighting as a political campaigner

Dick Tracy, moonlighting as a political campaigner

 

 

 

 

Part 3: Hair dos

We left the monk and Dick Tracy to go and eat lunch. When we came back in the late afternoon, the monk was still there, doing his thing, but the political rally had been replaced by another sort of gathering – one of traditional Japanese hair hobbyists. They were standing not on the street but outside Wako department store, housed in something you hardly ever see in Tokyo – a building over 70 years old. The 1932 neo-Renaissance building was one of the few buildings left standing in the area after WWII.

 

 

hair hobbyists :: 1

hair hobbyists :: 1

 

 

 

 

hair hobbyists :: 2

hair hobbyists :: 2

 

 

 

 

hair hobbyists :: 3

hair hobbyists :: 3

 

 

 

 

hair hobbyists :: 4

hair hobbyists :: 4

 

 

 

 

hair hobbyists :: 5

hair hobbyists :: 5

 

 

 

 

After snapping the women I turned around to see two of them approaching the monk. He’d already taken his hat off and was apparently finally ready to leave but he smiled at one of the women as he started the blessings. “I know him”, she said, “I come here all the time”.

 

 

blessing her hair?:: 1

blessing her hair?:: 1

 

 

 

 

blessing her hair? :: 2

blessing her hair? :: 2

 

 

 

 

Once he’d finished the blessings, Coco and I went up to him. After watching him for so long it was lovely to see him smile and talk and laugh. And he spoke perfect English. Because Hideo Mochizuki, it turned out, was a monk who’d lived in the East Village in New York City for 15 years once upon a time. Back then he was a cook and a carpenter. Then he’d met a monk on his return to Japan 12 years ago and found what he was looking for. “Everyone has a seed of goodness in their hearts. When they ask for a prayer, that seed grows.”

Well, he said something like that anyway. Hideo explained that he stood for four hours at a time, three to four days a week, and that he’d done that for 450 days in his Ginza spot – once he reaches 1,000 days he’ll move on. And what does he chant about for all those thousands of hours? He’s praying for people and for world peace.

Coco and he beamed at each other for the final time and then it was time to fly…

 

 

her latest friend - Coco and Hideo

her latest friend – Coco and Hideo

 

 

 

 

and then it was time to fly :: 1

and then it was time to fly :: 1

 

 

 

 

and then it was time to fly :: 2

and then it was time to fly :: 2

 

 

 

 

The Wrap

Given more time and less panic, I may not have chosen Ginza to be part of this project. Too famous and too fancy.

And in the end, despite my desire to focus on modern Tokyo, I found myself drawn once more to the old.

But I can’t think of any other famous, fancy shopping district in any other city that I’ve been to that was more enjoyable and surprising to explore than Ginza. Admittedly I’d almost bailed but Hideo the monk had saved me. All those hours he spends saying prayers for people really do work.

 

 

 

from one sprawling, earthquake prone city to another - Tokyo back to LA - to fly on to ….

from one sprawling, earthquake prone city to another – Tokyo back to LA – to fly on to ….

 

 

 

 

On the ‘home front’

That was our last week in Tokyo – we left on Sunday, to fly back to LA, to catch our next flight to… Let me surprise you in the next post okay?

I hope you enjoyed our six weeks in Tokyo as much as we have.

Many thanks to those who sent neighbourhood suggestions as well as those who gently insisted Tokyo be included in the project. And to Laura M. and Jacqueline J. for all your advice on everything from best subway routes to surviving Tokyo as a gluten-free eater (it’s not easy).

There’s so much I’ll miss about Tokyo – from their absolutely beautiful sense of design to the people themselves. I’m sure there’s a darker side to Japanese society and yes, there are a few areas that aren’t so rosy (whales, the government’s lack of transparency, earthquakes etc) but it’s probably the city I felt most at home in. By the end I was almost falling asleep on the subway too.

 —

This suburb has been brought to you by Tony Murphy

See you next week.

 

43

Higashiyama

k intro

 

Seeing as it was my birthday this week I thought why not live dangerously and do what every tourist who comes to Japan does – visit Kyoto and make a beeline for its famous pretty bits.

Crazy right? If you’ve been following for a while, you’ll know this project is all about the ‘unfamous’ and having to search for beauty (well, okay, the Marais in Paris wasn’t exactly a challenge, nor Trastevere in Rome, but otherwise…).

It started well with a fun trip on the shinkansen, AKA bullet train, but I had a minor wobble as soon as we arrived when I spied the crowds of tourists and, yes, queues. I am not good at queues.

But it turned out that 99% of the tourists were Japanese. And call me something or other but I don’t mind hanging out with other tourists if they’re from their own country. Then it’s more like observing locals at play.

Oh, whatever. It was weird doing the ‘famous’ but it felt even more odd not to see it and not to show you.

The only real hiccup was that having decided to play tourist, I didn’t actually act like one – I was hopelessly under-researched and had no Top Ten list in my back pocket. Instead, we did what we normally do – chose one area to explore and no more. As a result, this is very much, here’s one part of Kyoto with a few shots of Japan’s most famous temple from another part thrown in.

I hope you enjoy our two-and-a-half-days-in-Kyoto-but-it-looks-like-one tour…

 

Part 1: Day two – the morning

First there was the train. Well, more like a plane really. Travelling at 300km an hour, the Nozomi shinkansen 700 series delivered us from edgy Tokyo to ancient Kyoto in just under 2.5 hours.

 

 

this is your captain speaking - the shinkansen

this is your captain speaking – the Nozomi shinkansen

 

 

 

 

just landed - arriving at Kyoto Station

just landed – arriving at Kyoto

 

 

 

 

travel back in time at 300 miles an hour

travel back in time at 300 km an hour

 

 

 

 

from Tokyo's man-made mountains to Kyoto's high-rise

from Tokyo’s man-made mountains to Kyoto’s high-rise

 

 

 

 

2. Day one – the afternoon

All year we’ve rented apartments. Most fine, a couple great, one woeful (when the cockroaches started walking across my computer it was time to go).

But we were only going to be staying in Kyoto for two nights and, you know, it was my birthday. So I managed to wrangle a swish hotel room for the two nights at ‘media rates’.

The hotel, the Hyatt Regency, was beautiful and really, who doesn’t love having their bed and breakfast made for them. But what made it extra special was that they organised for us to hang out with Tsubo-san. Job description – driver. But as I said, we didn’t do much dashing around. Instead Tsubo-san walked around with us for the afternoon, playing games with Coco at the same time as enlightening me about all things Japanese.

We spent most of the afternoon visiting Kiyomizudera Temple in Higashiyama, the old part of Kyoto. Just us and a zillion Japanese, keen to see the autumn leaves before they took to the ground.

 

 

crowded Kyoto - last chance to see the autumn leaves :: 1

crowded Kyoto – last chance to see the autumn leaves :: 1

 

 

 

 

crowded Kyoto - last chance to see the autumn leaves :: 2

crowded Kyoto – last chance to see the autumn leaves :: 2

 

 

 

 

crowded Kyoto - last chance to see the autumn leaves :: 3

crowded Kyoto – last chance to see the autumn leaves :: 3

 

 

 

 

Subo-san and Coco

Tsubo-san and Coco

 

 

 

 

After Kiyomizudera Temple we headed north to Kinkaku, the Golden Pavillion, also known as Rokuon-ji Temple. But with night falling as well as rain – and Coco tired and cold – we only stayed for a second. Just long enough to wonder how much the pure gold foil that covers the top two stories must be worth.

 

 

Kinkaku-ji in the rain

Kinkaku in the rain

 

 

 

 

Kyōko-chi  - mirror pond

Kyōko-chi – mirror pond

 

 

 

 

Part 3: Day two – Gion

Aside from being peak Momiji-gari (autumn leaf viewing time), it also seemed to be peak wedding shots time in Gion, the famous geiko (geisha) district that’s part of Higashiyama.

Tsubo-san had told us about the white wedding hat women traditionally wear the day before. So when we pitched up in Gion and spied 26 year old Asami in her wataboshi, we knew why she was wearing a large white envelope-type covering over her head. Because she had horns – all women do – and she needed to hide them.

 

 

pre-wedding photography session in Gion

pre-wedding photography session in Gion

 

 

 

 

a little to the left please

a little to the left please

 

 

 

 

Asami

Asami

 

 

 

 

an iconic shape - the fan

an iconic shape – the fan

 

 

 

 

Being kimono mad, I loved the wedding version. But I really love the head gear. When the photographer’s assistant helped Asami take it off, I spied the mechanics – the white material is held up by a simple wire structure that fits around the head like a halo.

Thanking the couple and the photographer – who was patient enough to have me shoot around him for a few minutes – we wandered off. Then around half an hour later, to their horror I’m sure, we ran into them again – there’d been a ‘costume change’…

 

 

umbrellas

umbrellas

 

 

 

 

like dolls

like dolls

 

 

 

 

After leaving them for the final time we met several other wedding couples, all dressed in their finery. Kyoto was clearly the city of lurve.

 

 

city of love

city of love

 

 

 

 

Part 4: Day two – Geisha dress-up

There’s one street in Higashiyama where people hang around in the hope of seeing a real geisha (called geiko in Kyoto, or maiko if they’ve got their L plates on) fly into a taxi or nip into a restaurant.

But knowing it was hit and miss and with so little time, I didn’t even try. And really, I was almost just as happy snapping the ‘geisha tourists’ – Japanese women who generally were spending just a day in Kyoto, paying up to 10,000 yen (around AUD$120) to be made up and dressed in geisha style.

Like the woman below, whose name I couldn’t get because I had precisely two seconds to shoot her before she was dragged off by her small team – I assume they get a lot of people mistaking them for the real thing and they’re over being bothered.

 

 

tourist geisha

tourist geisha

 

 

 

 

With Yuika and her friend, Hitomi, I had a few minutes more before their two assistants ushered them off.

 

 

visiting from Tokyo to play dress up - Yuika

visiting from Tokyo to play dress up – Yuika

 

 

 

 

last light

last light

 

 

 

 

setting sun

setting sun

 

 

 

 

On our last morning we met the sweetest geisha tourists, Emi and Kazumi, who’d left their home town in the early hours of the morning and had travelled five hours in a bus to get to Kyoto just for the day. Why? “It feels very good to wear traditional Japanese dress.”

Unlike the others, they didn’t have any assertive assistants hanging around them. They were quite happy wandering around by themselves, taking their own snaps.

 

 

"We left our home town at 3am and travelled 5 hours in a bus to get here" - Emi and Kazumi

“It feels good” – Emi and Kazumi

 

 

 

 

patchwork

patchwork

 

 

 

 

The Wrap

Short and sweet though it was, I loved our few days in the ancient capital. I know there are those who criticise the Japanese government for not keeping more of old Kyoto – aside from a few other famous bits, Higashiyama is really it – but at least they kept what they did. It was enough to provide a break from full-tilt Tokyo.

Many thanks to the Hyatt Regency too, not only for providing a lovely room in a very stylish hotel, but for introducing us to Tsubo-san, a lovely man with a great sense of mischief and a mind full of fascinating facts.

But it was quick. So much so that when we got back, Coco told me she thought Kyoto seemed like a dream.

 

 

'mum, Kyoto seems like a dream'

‘mum, Kyoto seems like a dream’

 

 

 

 

I’m not so sure though – even if we’d stayed much longer, it might still seem like a dream. Especially during Momiji-gari.

 

 

mesmerised, again - Coco in the hotel room

mesmerised, again – Coco in the hotel room

 

 

 

 

On the home front

Dream or not, it was a lovely way to celebrate a birthday – although my actual birthday was spent back in Tokyo, wandering around Shimokitazawa again and eating cheap but excellent Indian at Spicia.

Now, the next post is going to be an even shorter one and it’s going to be very soon! Like tomorrow or so. Just that I have nine more neighbourhoods/suburbs to do and not that many weeks before I’ve got to get Coco back home and into school.

And yes, there’s that small thing called a budget too. It’s getting smaller by the minute.

This suburb has been brought to you by Anna Capron

See you very soon.

 

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