Day 3 – Tokyo
On day three of our Japan itinerary, we woke up early, and after breakfast at a local restaurant, we climbed the hill to visit the Hai Shrine, one of the larger Shinto shrines in Tokyo. The climb up through the Tori gates was spectacular.
The shrine itself was interesting more for the ritual practiced by the Japanese, who drop some coins in a box before the shrine, then clap or ring a bell to wake up the gods, and then silently or quietly pray to the gods. Shinto is closer to American Indian religions, with the emphasis on the spirit of everything, living or in nature, than it is to religions like Christianity, Judaism or Muslim.
After the Hai shrine, we made our way back to our hotel, and met my friend Tommy Dabbs and his wife, Ms Junko. Tommy and I met in college. He grew up in a little crossroads of a town in central South Carolina called Dabbs corner. Tommy was one of the most Southern, rooted people I met in my college years, so it has been a little surprising to hear his history after college.
He and I both majored in English literature. I went off to grad school right after graduation, and eventually dropped out about a year later without finishing my degree. Tommy did some other things for a few years, then went to graduate school at the University of South Carolina, and finished his Ph.D in English literature. After a few unsatisfying, non-tenure track jobs at a couple of Southern colleges, he heard about an opportunity in Hiroshima Japan. It paid nearly three times what he was making in the States and offered more opportunities for long term employment, and so he packed up his family (wife, one kid and another on the way) and moved over to Japan.
Except for a couple years in which he moved back to the United States, he’s been living in Japan for over 16 years. Mostly he teaches Shakespeare, but he also teaches a course in the Bible for Japanese students. He’s written a wonderful book about teaching the Bible in Japanese culture, and what he learned about himself and his real lack of understanding of the text of the Bible, called Genesis in Japan: The Bible Beyond Christianity. I highly recommend it. It is both insightful and vintage Tommy: irreverent, honest and hilarious.
After catching up (we hadn’t seen each other in nearly 40 years), Tommy’s wife took us out to a very authentic Japanese Sushi restaurant called Umai-sushi-kan. She ordered for all of us, and we had some amazing food. Great salmon, tuna, eel. We had a wonderful time.
After lunch, we made our way over to Asakusa, which is a fairly crazy shopping district. Great for people watching, but very crowded. Here are some of my photos from that afternoon.
After Asakusa, we made our way over to General Nogi’s house and stables. General Nogi was a general in the Imperial army of Japan, and one of the main commanders in the Russo-Japanese War of 1904. He’s considered a hero for his loyalty to the Emporer, taking his loyalty so far as to commit suicide (Hari-Kari) on the day of the Emporer’s funeral.
Our final stop was a cemetary in Rapongi called Aoyama Cemetery. It was Japan’s first public cemetery, and many foreigners are buried there. We saw a number of Englishmen, Dutch, Italians and Germans who were born in Europe and died in Tokyo.
By that time, we were quite hungry, so we grabbed a taxi to a Yakatori place called Toritake. The food was wonderful, although I must admit that I’m not flexible enough to sit on tatami mats for a couple of hours without discomfort and the need to stretch out once in a while.