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  • Shelley Dark

18. Tokyo Sunday

This message by a vendor on the website of the Nogi Antique market convinced me we must go there. How could you not visit someone who says I love you? Plus it was the only one on this weekend. We were in front of Nogi Shrine when it opened, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed.

We got into conversation with this charming man on the subway. He said he is Japanese, but lives in Italy. I asked him what he does for a living. Opera singer, based in Verona or somewhere near there. He is back in Japan to sing in Tokyo and other cities. I think he said Rigoletto but I'm not sure if that was part of his repertoire of if he's singing it here. Isn't that wonderful? He has been back once before to sing in Japan, and his parents came to see his first performance on Japanese soil. How proud they must be! If I had more time I'd search for him on the internet. Maybe he's famous! After we'd left the train I turned to take his photo.

We went into the shrine first - such a sad story attached. It illustrates the old Japanese ethic of bushido or samurai chivalry. The longer I live, the more I realise that there is no civilisation which at some glorious stage in its history has not placed enormous value on loyalty, chivalry, honour, gallantry, respect and manners. Many human beings are truly noble. Japan is no different, and Maresuke Nogi embodied those traits.

He served in the Meiji Emperor's army from 1871, and always wore his uniform, even in private life. He was sent to Germany for military studies and distinguished himself in the war against China in 1894. When hostilities broke out against Russia in 1904, he led the Japanese forces, including his own two sons, in the successful siege of Port Arthur. Not only 15,000 of his own men died, but also his two sons. Imagine his return to his wife.

General Nogi was welcomed home as a conquering hero by the people, but he felt responsible for the loss of his men. He said to the emperor that the only honourable way for him was to commit suicide. The emperor replied, 'Not until after I have left this world'. I wonder if at that moment, he took the emperor at his word.

He continued as an army general, travelling the country visiting the parents of soldiers who had died. Subsequently he was appointed royal tutor to the children of the Imperial Palace and aristocracy, including the future emperor Hirohito. Hirohito once said that Maresuke was the man he admired most in the world.

When the old emperor died, Maresuke was 63 years old, his wife the countess 53. In the samurai tradition, as the emperor's body was leaving the palace for its final resting place, first Maresuke and then his wife committed hara kiri in their home. They've been venerated ever since.

But back to the flea market! It turned out to be a fairly small affair with only 15 or so stalls.

Ange was able to buy more indigo boro for her shop, and this square as well. We forgot that we would have to carry it all day!

I bought two grey and white plates with Japanese motif, about 70's vintage.

It was a very friendly market, if a little pricey.

We were sorry later that we didn't buy this stuffed animal. Rather cute!

This wooden umbrella or wagasa was very inexpensive. Look at the incredible workmanship in it. They were first introduced from China to the capital Kyoto in about 800. They are handmade individually one by one from all natural elements: washi, wood, bamboo, glue from tapioca, natural pigments (although this one looks naturally coloured), cashew nut juice, lacquer, and linseed oil. Wagasa have 3-70 ribs where ours have 8. Now there are only a few producers left.

Loved this dealers head gear. A hand towel. If we did that we'd look silly!

On the subway again, this time to Yoyogi Park, for the crazy action we've heard happens there on a Sunday with people dressing as their favourite anime characters, dancing, singing, exercising, partying raucously.

Our crowd was fairly sedate. Perhaps they warm up later.

We saw a small band of about 5 people about to play so I readied myself for to take a video of Japanese music. What melodious sound drifted across at us? A wee Scottish tune!

I first thought these were soldiers. They were exercising and chanting loudly at the same time. Snapping to attention at the end of each move. They turned out to be university students.

As we were leaving we ran into the famous rockabilly boys who perform near the front gate, starting at 1pm. They were a cheery lot and happy for a photo.

Yoyogi's tulips are nearly over

The Japanese exercise as frenetically as Australians. I like the see-through sun visor but wonder how sun-safe it is!

The Oriental Bazaar in Omotesando Street is a good place for souvenirs - dolls, pens, fans, cheap yukatas, ceramics, lacquer ware - so we spent a little time there on a gift or two.

The Louis Vuitton shop, bristling with guards, is in a side street.

We felt we had to walk the full length of Takeshita Street just because all the guide books say it's the weirdest teenage street in Tokyo. Someone forgot to tell the teenagers.

All we saw was a street lined with tacky shops, not many Japanese teenagers, and hordes of tourists, rather like being in a moving crowd at the Brisbane Ekka or Royal Easter Show.

Although we did buy a czakuzaku of crunch brown choux pastry with custard in the centre. When I asked a man in the queue if there was ice cream inside the pastry, hoping so, he said, no it's cus-TARD, empasis on the second syllable. It was all we could do not to laugh. Couldn't hold a candle to Asakusa.

This girl at Candyagogo was handing out lollies - the grapefruit jelly ones were simply delicious, so of course we bought a bag, which I'm embarrassed to say are nearly all gone.

The Japanese people seem to hate saying no. It has happened several times that when we have asked someone a question, for example, do you know where we would find sushi near here? He or she will close their eyes in deep thought, open eyes again to show they're thinking, go deep into thought again, then repeat the word slowly as if trying to remember: sushi, sushi hmmmm, sushi, hmmmmm. By this time we are thinking we have chosen the wrong person and desperately want to run. So we try a prompt, 'near here?' That gives them the opportunity to answer with a definite 'no'. After all that prevaricating, it makes you want to laugh out loud.

This extraordinary building is called Tokyo Plaza.

Our tummies were saying it was time for lunch. We thought Luke's Lobster sounded a good option but when we turned the corner, there were at least 40 people in the queue. The gyoza place supposed to be the best in the area was also lines deep waiting to get in . We studied our google maps and each restaurant we chose based on rating was out of the question unless you felt like holding up a post for 3/4 of an hour or so.

We were on our way to Shibuya anyway so we decided to buy lunch at the excellent food hall under Shibuya Station.

We ended up buying sushi. The first one we pointed at turned out to be sea eel. Ange made a gesture of choking herself to the boy behind the counter. He nearly choked laughing himself. Chicken sushi and also pork dumplings, both excellent. Eaten before photo shoot. Then strawberry cake from Foundry, whose motto is Respect and Thanks. It's much easier to find sushi in Brisbane than it is in Tokyo. Isn't that incredible?

While Ange was buying the cake, I went to buy drinks. Ange had noticed pouches of what looked like orange and lemon juice.

I asked for two lemon drinks please. 'It not remon juice, it remon jerry!' Translated that means, it's not lemon juice, it's lemon jelly. Oh gosh it's so hard to keep a straight face.

We ate it outside the train station on public 'seating', next to 4 Indonesian girls who were travelling together. They were very amused to see me try to sit on the two parallel stainless steel pipes at seat-height enclosing the garden beds.

It was fun to watch the characters here - a girl dressed in pink lace with very high heeled glitz studded pink shoes with big bows on the heels. A young boy a in a super-sized black felt hamish hat, all black outfit, with rings up and down all his fingers, texting at the speed of light.

Loved seeing two teenage boys saying hello at their arranged meeting place, bowing to each other in greeting. It looks so respectful!

Right next to us was the statue of Hackiko, the loyal Newfoundland dog who always met his master Professor Eisaburo Ueno at Shibuya Station after work. After his master suffered a cerebral haemorrhage and died, the dog continued to wait at the station to meet the train every afternoon for nine more years. People in the area became very fond of him.

Hachiko’s ashes lie beside his master’s in the Aoyama cemetery. His statue at Shibuya Station is a popular meeting spot outside Shibuya Station. And a very popular photograph.

Two sad stories in one day. Prease don't be sad!

We walked for a couple more hours around Shibuya until our feet were dropping off.

With a couple of million other shoppers. This is NOT the place for a quiet shop. We went to Tokyo Hands, and the department store Siebu, which is spread over 4 different buildings.

There was a demonstration going on at the Shibuya scramble, with the participants all carrying coloured balloons. It looked just wonderful as they criss-crossed from four different directions.

We were weary travellers by the time we arrived home. Ange has been such a darling each night, deleting and editing my photos while I write. I know how fortunate I am. We need her full-time on our travels together, don't we?

And so ends another gorgeous sunny day. A top of 20, cool and crisp in the morning and evening. Only two days left to go. Makes me feel a little frantic! Ange and I have had a meeting and we've decided that we're departing from our planned Monday itinerary. And we're excited about it!

So hang in there buddies! There's 2 more days to come. But it won't be until I arrive home, because our flight is tomorrow. I know. Already. Until then....

shelley dark, writer 

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