The Tokyo Vibe

The people in Tokyo don’t raise their voices, talk loudly or shout. It’s the buildings that do that!

What a fabulous jumble of sight and sound is this vibrant haven of visual stimulus of lighting and music. Everything talks at you accompanied by wild flashing and pulsing light. The people meanwhile just go about their daily routine, nod and smile, and sweep the dust off whatever that thing is with the dust on it.

I can see where the electricity comes from though and just how it gets there too.

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Creative utilities much! Wires, wires and more wires.

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The taxis! Where did they find all those 1975 Toyota Crown sedans? Do they have a secret stash somewhere? They all seem brand new.

Urban Playlists – At most of the cafes and bars you will be listening to 60s jazz and lounge music. Perry Como, Peggy Lee and the Rat Pack crew abound. While in the stores it seems that 70s Haight/Ashbury and the Summer of Love have never left.

Street fashion is ‘edgy’ and Lolita Girls seem to have vanished into the dark corners of Takeshita Street. It’s all very dark, plain colours with some odd vinyl and mesh cut to rather eclectic and quirky lines. All very low key Zen monk with cybergoth undertones. Unfortunately I didn’t get any photos as it is frowned upon to use a camera without permission and most people were on a mission and somewhat unstoppable. But … here is a photo from my Italian fashion designer friend that shows the general impression of what I was seeing. Thank you Grendel.

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And now some random vibe-worthy photos ….

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Faceted glass from on New building on Meiji Dori at Harajuku.
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Pond at Shinjuku Gyoen Nation Gardens.
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Very tall and thin in Shinjuku-Chome.
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New building in a lane at Meiji-jingumae.
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South east entrance to Yoyogi Park and the Meiji Shrine.
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Harajuku Jingumae

Tokyo is a great city to partake of on foot. The small streets and lanes one or two blocks back from the main roads are a treasure trove of eclectic shopping and wonderful experiences.

Harajuku Jingumae became our ‘hood’ for the two weeks we were there and much exploring was undertaken.
Walking south from our base in Sendagaya, along Meiji-dori, we would be at Takeshita Street in 5 minutes. A short stop at Starbucks for a ham roll and latte then onward to Meiji Jimgumae and a cross road and Metro station. A short stroll east from here and we were into Omote-Sando which is a high-end shopping area, but also the starting point of Cat Street which then runs south to Shibuya and meets up with Meiji-dori again.

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Takeshita Street, home of Kawaii and Lolita Girl fashion on a rainy day.
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Main cross roads at Meiji-jingumae looking north up Meiji-dori
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Cat Street at night

It was such a joy being amongst these happy and vibrant people, but we soon learned that you do not venture out on the roads before 10am. Nothing opens until 11am, including most cafes and local restaurants, so breakfast was Starbucks or whatever we had scored at the 7-11 the night before. But, more than that – one morning after leaving Starbucks we ventured through Takeshita Street, with closed shops, and waited at the road crossing at the end. Across the road was the exit from the Harajuku subway station. As the light indicated “cross now” we were subjected to a stampede of morose and grumpy faces bursting across the road. Obviously the happy workers had rushed out of bed and not had their morning allocation of coffee before hitting the Metro and the day ahead. Luckily we avoided being crushed and trampled and lived to shop on.

The first rule of Tokyo – Don’t talk about the morning!

One of our best ‘finds’ in Harajuku Jingumae was on the last day we were there. After another day of tramping around the back streets in 34C we found …

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And we found it here …

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Only about a three minute walk from the apartment was this … Deus Ex Machina where we had lunch with a motorcycle.

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How could you not love this city with the serenity and calm within the chaos of sound and light that is Tokyo. The sound of crows shouting at the rain as flocks of umbrellas glide above the sidewalks.

Feels like home and a validation of personal values.

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Our Stay in Tokyo

We decided to have a stay in Tokyo for a few weeks and my wife found us a small AirBnB apartment in Sendagaya at the north end of Harajuku. This looked to us like a choice spot only a 5 minute walk from Harajuku Station. Also it’s proximity to Yoyogi Park which is just behind the station and runs through to Shinjuku.

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From Meiji-jingumae looking across Yoyogi Park to Shinjuku

I was familiar with Yoyogi Park having stayed there in the old Olympic village accommodation in September 2000 while attending the 8th International Aikido Congress. Although my days were occupied with training sessions I did manage to get a day off to spend in Shinjuku so I did basically know my way around.

What a blast! There was still a large amount of pleasant surprises as we mooched out way around the back streets of Harajuku Jingumae, the main road and shopping outlets. The Japanese are so polite and accommodating. Even though there is not a lot of English spoken our rudimentary Japanese soon gave way to hand gestures and smiling to seal a sale or find what we wanted. I did remember some of the hand gestures that I had been shown in 2000, but you can just about ad lib and make them up on the spot.

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The two main things that had an impact with us regarding the people were cellphone use and rubbish.
Nobody talks on cellphones in public, in cafes, on trains and on the street. Everything is by text or other chat services. We only heard a phone ring twice the whole time we were there.
There are no rubbish tins or trash cans on the streets and there is also no litter.
We soon figured out that on nearly every second block there is a 7-11 or equivalent and they all have a rack of bins just inside the door. One each for paper, plastic, glass, and food waste. It became almost a ritual to stop off at a 7-11 on the way home to collect some sandwiches, tiramisu, cold drinks and other food items, then drop off the refuse back at the store next morning on the way out.

7-11 have the most awesome club sandwiches and tiramisu. These are absolutely essential when you have been trudging all around the streets in 34C most of the day. By late afternoon the thought of having to get cleaned up and go out again to a restaurant was not a welcome thought. We had many meals of club sandwiches, tiramisu and Asahi Zero beer. The Japanese make egg sandwiches to die for!

Food – Well traditional Japanese fare did not get much of a look in and the Japanese take on Western food is a totally new animal. Awesome much. Everything is much less sweet and thereby much more enjoyable with the real food flavours coming to the fore. We ate a lot of things that we normally wouldn’t at home, like club sammies and tiramisu for example.

Safety – We already knew about this but it was a joy to behold. There is no petty crime or opportunity theft. People walk into a cafe and drop their bag onto the nearest seat then go off to order food or use the toilet with never a worry. If you walk off an leave your wallet on a seat someone will chase you down the road to return it.

Personal safety is always assured. The general culture is one of respect and caring.

 

 

Ownership

Take ownership for all of your actions and that will moderate what you undertake. Only in full truth to yourself will you ever realise the full potential of your own life and experience fulfilment.

No Remote

The way to enlightenment is not necessarily by the direct path. The crooked path can be far more interesting and the point is not to arrive as soon as possible, but to actually arrive.

It’s not where you walk. It’s how you walk! This is what I always told my dojo students.

“See first with your mind, then with your eyes, and finally with your body” – Yagyu Munenori

Some people go through life totally oblivious to the havoc they wreck due to their indifference and lack of consideration for others. Like a bull in a china shop they have no comprehension of the finer points of life nor any inkling that their own lives could even be made richer if they actually opened their eyes and made an effort to understand the true depths of human interaction, expectations and social empathy .

“Teachers open the door, but you must enter by yourself” – Chinese Proverb

A lot of the current social situations in the “civilised” world today seem to be the product of inept thinking and limited understanding. Too many people are happy to be ill informed and gaining real understanding of any situation, process or viewpoint is just too hard.

Similarly, I hear many people grumble and whine about the sorry state of the country, society and their own lot in life, yet when it comes to doing something about it – “It’s not my job!

So, if life is not what you expected get out there and change it — Jump in at the deep end.

When it comes to martial arts, there are those who want to learn and other who want to be taught. No amount of teaching will help those in the later group fully grasp the intricacies of true Budo technique. They expect to be given the secrets to “the hidden arts” but without expending effort to truely understand the underlying ethos that drives the final mastering of the skills.

Instructors can show you the path to the top of the mountain, but you must walk it yourself.

~ Dent

Footnote – Yagyu Munenori (1571 – 1646) was a swordmaster, teacher of sword to the first Shogun and head of the Palace Guard of the Tokugawa Shogunate at Nijo Castle. Also a contemporary of both Miyamoto Musashi and Takuan Soho the zenmaster.

Photo – When it rains, go shopping!

 

 

Making it Matter

Do everything in life with meaningful intent.

If you are not happy with you life then you need to change it. But what if you cannot change it?

There are always tasks in life that we do not want to do, but have to. There are always situations that we find ourselves in that we cannot get out of or away from.

“Do every little thing in the spirit of the ‘thing’ itself” – Samurai maxim.

What this means is to do whatever task is required of you, regardless of how much you may abhor it, with complete attention to every little detail and giving it the best possible effort that you can muster. Totally embrace it and make it your own.

With this philosophy on board you can make any chore into a challenge and obtain enjoyment from the experience of a successful completion.

If you then apply the same principles to all of life then you will find fulfillment. The art of Zen finds immense beauty in the simplest things. There is no need for arduous pursuit of all manner of entertainments, possessions and experienced to obtain a fulfilling life. Fulfillment can be in the completion of the smallest task, or assisting a friend or family member, or even a stranger, just for the sheer enjoyment of a thing accomplished with caring and pride.

Knowledge of the world is only to be acquired in the world and not in a closet.Lord Chesterfield

Do not hide yourself away from life. get out there and do everything that you can imagine, but make it worthwhile.

If you must do it, do it well. If you have to do it for duty’s sake, do it with pride. Take ownership for all of your actions and that will moderate what you undertake. Only in full truth to yourself will you ever realise the full potential of your life and experience fulfillment.

so, don’t be a fool. Be fulfilled!

~ Dent

The Origins of Confusion

“Sometimes, for instance, he would be mesmerised by the sight and sound of rain on the water; the rain on the sea; the rain on a lake; the rain on a stream. He would look up and see the clouds untroubled by the deluge they had let loose and his mind and spirit would be numbed into a trance of understanding. Understanding what, he could not hope to explain. But there was a sense of rightness about the way of the water, a sense which he never drew from Christianity.” ~ From the novel ‘Credo’ by Melvin Bragg.

This passage is relating the thoughts of a Celt warrior of the time of Wilfred, Cuthbert and King Oswald in Northumbria. A Christian convert, but still in touch with his Celtic spiritual side.

This passage has suddenly given me insight into a question that has bugged me for many years.

So many people give lip-service to the Christian faith yet still secretly, somewhere deep down, believe in pagan concepts, not realising that these have become absorbed into traditional Christian methodology and form part of the procedure of the current established church.

Total belief in a single deity has given rise to an attitude of contempt for the spiritual nature of all living things on this earth. It has also given license to ‘fobbing off’ a regard for ‘minor’ elements in life as ‘not being worthy’ of concern or effort, because GOD is looking after that, so why should we worry.

It appears that multi spiritual beliefs achieve a hell of a lot more when it comes to respect for things outside our selves. I have observed much deep understanding and tolerance within the multi-spirit beliefs of the First People and also the Shinto. Their assignment of individual spirits to all things seems a much fairer concept and instils an immediate and intimate relationship between oneself and all elements of nature, each other and also one’s self.

I love the concept of the ‘spirit’ of the horse. Each individual horse has one, then each group of horses has one and then there is one for all horses collectively. This means that each horse is watched over by at least three spirits, But you can keep adding: the spirit of all animals; the spirit of the prairie, the plain, the sierra, sky, mountains, etc., etc.

Horses

It makes me feel great to know that horses are so well looked after.

I look then in horror at the bitter, small minded, hatred mongering coming out of the so-called civilized religions and cringe inside. Does not feel good at all. My heart wants to cry when I see the killing and the injustice that can be acted out in the name of their “God”.

We need to get in touch with ourselves on a better level! Become responsible for who and what we are. Stand up and be seen as caring and sensitive citizens of this planet.

~ Dent

 

Keeping the Faith

I have never lost my belief in God, just changed my terms of reference.

I can remember when I was about 8 or 9 walking home from Sunday school pondering how any grown person could believe in some big dude in a white gown living in the clouds.

I do however subscribe to the belief in a higher, greater power, or  Universal Life Force (Ki in Japanese or Ch’i in Chinese).

Although I was raised in a Christian community and actively involved with church groups during my youth, I have never been able to embrace the ‘God’ concept in that way.

I do also believe in Jesus, the man, a.k.a. Joshua, and all that he stands for, both then and now. I have a high regard for the Church and Christians in general, along with Muslims, Buddhists and other believers who have faith in what they believe.

The reason for this is the questioning undertaken during my teens. When I was 16 I went to church on Sundays and afterward attended Bible Class with other teens. Finding that I couldn’t get the interaction I desired and also finding the discussions very ‘bland’ I started to search elsewhere for the answers I felt were out there, yet hidden.

Since I couldn’t believe in God the same way that others seemed to I wanted to find out why we needed religion at all. Psychology books from my school library lead me on to the work of Karl Jung, Zen and the Asian philosophies.

That is how I came to follow the path, or ‘way’, of Bushido. That is ‘the warrior code’ and is based on the philosophies of Zen and Shinto in general and the teachings of the great Samurai philosophers and warrior monks in particular.

I find it fits with my life very well and have followed this path for the past 40 years. The last 20 years through the practice and teaching of Aikido. Prior to that through the practice of Shotokan Karate and before that, Judo.

The main thing that I discovered from my studies is that we are all different and perceive and accept things differently, moderated and moulded by our unique personalities, upbringing and personal circumstances.

What is truly important is not so much what we believe but how we believe. It is the degree of faith that we exhibit and direct into our belief, whatever it may be, that makes us whole and fulfilled.

I always tell my students “it’s not where you walk, it’s how you walk”.

I also believe and teach respect, tolerance, courage and understanding.

The fear of death diminishes with age and knowledge. Having faced death several times I know that it is the fear of what you leave behind that is the key element. So, be sure to conduct your life in such a way as to leave only good things behind.

This is what will be remembered and this is where, I think, the concepts of Heaven and Hell reside.

~ Dent