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From Nippori to Shinagawa
(Wed., Sep. 5, 2001)

 Wednesday, September 5, 2001 (click to see all posts from this day)
 The Old Tokaido

After taking care of more personal business, I left Nippori around 9:30, hoping to head to Asakusa and say goodbye to the Kannon there. My tape-recorded log sounds something like this:
  • 9:33--left the apartment
  • 9:35--stopped to pick up the things I dropped
  • 9:39--stopped at the mini-mart to get the passport I left in the copy machine earlier
  • 9:42--retied the things I dropped onto the bag
  • 9:45--stopped again to...
You get the picture.

  • 10:15--Passed a "4 km to Nihombashi" sign before reaching Ueno station. All distances for major roads in Japan are measured from Nihombashi, the starting point that I'm heading for. On foot. This system was established by the Tokugawas, who also brought the Tokaido into existence.
  • 10:20--A near 40-minute stop at Kinko's in front of Ueno station to finish up (almost) some business.
  • 10:55--On my way to Nihombashi, stopping at a bank and a post office on the way.
Pretty exciting so far, isn't it? But there's a point to all this. It is simply this: things brightened up considerably once I reached the actual start of the Tokaido.

But I did have one or two bright moments before I got there. One--a busload of boys waving and shouting hello--will be discussed in a different context below.

The other was a quick goodbye prayer at a local temple, since I had decided there was no time to go to Asakusa.


I have lived for 2-1/2 years in Tokyo's Shitamachi, literally "downtown"--but with a very different meaning from that in the West. In Tokyo, the rich lived in the high places--the "Yamanote" or foothills--and the less-rich (as in my home city) lived down in the flats.

One of the distinguishing marks of this area is that--lacking gardens--the people of Shitamachi have a tradition of growing flowers in pots in front of their houses. So the temple where I stopped to say goodbye to the neighborhood has a yearly Asagao Matsuri--morning glory fair.

After praying in front of the temple's main hall, I sat a bit and thought about morning glories, and leaving, and wrote this haiku, the first of my bad poems you'll have to suffer through:
last walk near my home
morning glories in bloom, but
they fade, they fade, they

Nihombashi, Start of the Old Tokaido

About 11:50 I arrived at Nihombashi and took several photos of myself in front of the bridge. Compare this one to Hiroshige's Tokaido below.

Those of you familiar with temple tromping know about the no kyo cho or "temple books" that pilgrims carry. You go to the temple, find a little office, and ask them to stamp the book in red ink and add calligraphy in black. It's beautiful, and makes a great memento.

Well, I had a funny idea. There are 55 stops on the Tokaido (53 plus the start and end). I'll try to find someone to sign my book at each stop. Usually it won't be done at a temple or shrine, unless that's really appropriate (as at Nagoya, which used to be called "Miya" after a major shrine there; of course I'll try to have the book signed there).

[NOTE: This project has since been aborted. Read my Journal for September 10th to see why.]

So who, I wondered, should sign the book at Nihombashi? Some homeless guy, like the one I saw sleeping there on a nighttime visit the week before my trip?

So I dawdled and I thought, and as I was packing up to leave, my first signers approached and stood looking at the bridge holding hands.

They are Takayuki Kikawada and Akiko Hoga. (Takayuki was proud of his family name, telling me that in the three months of my travel, I will probably never see another like it.)

So why are they appropriate representatives of Nihombashi? Easy. This is a big business district, and it was lunch time, and they were on break. And clearly in love.

I introduced myself, showed the letter my friend Naoko translated explaining what I'm doing, and made my request. After they signed, we chatted a bit. He works for Tokyo Electric Power Company, where I taught lessons for nearly a year. Small world.

And he gave me my first official o-settai of the trip (not counting all the gifts given before the trip)--an Orange Card for buying train tickets, imprinted with his company's name!

Hiroshige's Tokaido: Nihombashi, The Beginning of the Old Tokaido

This print from the Hoeido edition of Hiroshige's Tokaido series shows the beginning of a daimyo's procession crossing the bridge, headed toward Kyoto. (Read more about these processions tomorrow.) The fishmongers at the lower left are approximately where I took my photo.

Well, I left the bridge around 12:20, and --like generations of pilgrims before me--stopped at Starbuck's for a Raspberry Frappuccino for the road. The reaction from the staff as I walked in was priceless. Unbridled curiosity, amusement, puzzlement--eight young people staring at me agape. So I gave one of them a brief explanation and my card, asking her to check this homepage. This, I thought, is gonna be fun.

Immediately after I walked out, a girl came around the corner and almost ran into me. Usually people are startled, then smile. She didn't. The look of horror remained on her face as she backed away. I thought she was going to scream!

Soon, I looked to the right and saw Tokyo Station. If the station weren't there I could have seen the Imperial Palace grounds. Well, in the Tokugawa Period the station wasn't there, so people starting out on this trip would have been looking at Edo Castle, the seat of the Tokugawas.

Kyobashi, Ginza, Shimbashi

Next I strolled down Chuo Dori through the Ginza; there's a page of Words-and-Pictures of some of the things I saw. The old and the new can be seen together here. (By the way, today's route was easy to follow--entirely on Route 15.)

Through Kyobashi ("Old Bridge") and nearing Shimbashi ("New Bridge") one of those coincidences so common in my life happened. There was a traffic counter at the corner--a guy with a bank of clickers counting the passing people. I thought, "This is something I won't see out in the country," so I thought I'd chat the guy up and try to get a picture. "Who are you working for?" I asked. "The City? A company?" He was grumpy, and grunted out that he had no idea, this was just a part time job.

Photo opp aborted. But because I missed the signal, I got to the other side of the street just in time to see TOSHIO NAGAI! Who? you may ask. Toshio is a former student and a donor to this project. Because he's getting ready to go to Mauritius for two years to work for JAICA (a kind of Japanese Peace Corps), he couldn't make it to the party Sunday. So I was really happy to see him, and we wished each other well on our respective journeys.

After a bite of lunch, I began thinking about where I would say today's prayers. Zojoji, a major temple, was nearby. The shot you see here is of the Daimon (great gate) with Zojoji behind--and a pretty typical street scene. Old and new, new and old.

Although praying at Zojoji was tempting, I really wanted to go to Sengakuji. On my way there, I passed the "5 km from Nihombashi" sign. But this was south of Nihombashi, so I'd walked over 10k since I started. The time was 2:15.

I have to talk a bit about the effect of my "costume" on the people around me. After over 4-1/2 years of living in Japan, I am used to surreptitious stares, and avoidance of eye contact. Now I am gawked at openly, and people--especially old people--are not only looking me in the eye, but smiling and greeting me. It began today when a busload of boys (mentioned early) began shouting and waving near my house. But it culminated with this man, who stopped to take my picture near Sengakuji. When he was finished, I took his! [See the update on Sept. 8th]


I've written another Words-and-Pictures about Sengakuji: Not enough time or space to tell you everything there is to know about it. You can read the basic story of the Ako Roshi--a truly amazing story--in this Wikipedia article. Basically, a group of samurai avenged their lord, and were condemned to commit suicide as a result. Their graves are here. I have attended the yearly festival celebrating their "heroic deed" in the past, and hope to do so this year again, because the "disciple" at the temple told me this is exactly the 300th anniversary of the event. [By the time the date arrived, I had returned to the U.S.]

Here's a page I had signed in my temple book at Sengakuji.

After I said my prayers and took pictures at Sengakuji, a very energetic--and somewhat pushy--older woman came hurrying past with the day's shopping and asked me in to the temple's living quarters for "teatime"--virtually her only word in English. After hearing my story, she gave me a new face towel, some fruit, and a charm (omamori) for "success." Then she volunteered to go in and ask the chief priest if I could stay (although, she said, they were full-up with disciples). She returned to say that there was no room, but I could take a shower. As I have promised myself an afternoon break--something I didn't do on my Chichibu pilgrimage--I accepted the offer. (Besides, we must accept o-settai, right?) A disciple took me in and showed me the system, and left me to a long, luxurious dowsing--my first of the day.

As I was leaving, the lady wasn't around. I said goodbye to the disciple, and asked about the lady. As I suspected: she was the chief priest's wife! Ministers' wives are the same the world over.

Shinagawa and Gotanda

At last I trudged on toward Shinagawa. I'll write about the barrier there, and show you pictures, tomorrow. But for now I want to talk about lodging:

IT WAS A DEBACLE! Even the expensive rooms near Shinagawa station were booked (not that I really wanted to stay in The Prince!). I walked around for quite awhile--30-kilo bags and all--and finally stopped in a police box to ask for help. This cop got on the phone for over 10 minutes, and finally found me a place. I asked him to sign my book--especially fitting, as he is a sort of "modern guard man" like those that kept the gate at Shinagawa--which, as I said, I'll explain tomorrow.

Now I had a problem, or so I thought. This policeman hung up and told me the hotelier was coming to get me--in his car! Yet I've sworn to walk. What to do? Ask the cop to call the guy back, decline the ride, and ask directions? NO WAY. Accept the ride; some things can't be helped. [This was written when I still expected to stay entirely on foot for the whole trip--a plan soon to be abandoned.]

But when the man from the inn arrived, he was on a bicycle! And we walked to Gotanda, where I'm staying now. Things work out.

That's all for tonight. Thanks for sticking with me to the bottom of the page!

There is no Journal Entry for September 5th. [2019: This was added when I was putting Journal articles within the Logbooks; they are now in separate posts anyway.]

I mean, first, it's too soon to have a lot of deep thoughts.

And second, do you know how long all that stuff in the Logbook took me?

Give me a break!

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Posted September 23, 2019

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