Friday January 16, 1998

Sometime in the night the snow stopped falling, but by morning very little of Tokyo's normal traffic was moving. What a delightful reason to not have to change hotels and make the trip to Kamakura. Poor Shukuya-san had made so many plans, even sending off one of our suitcases to Narita Airport Hotel to lighten our load. I felt that if it had not been for the reason that the snow prevented us from making the trip, he could not have been so gracious in making all the many changes. He was also faced with the idea that instead of having us off on our own in Kamakura we were still in Tokyo where he felt responsible for our care.

I gleefully assured him that we would be okay alone today, and we would just stay in the hotel. It was amazing how things worked out. When we went back to our room, there was a phone call from Hatsue Kawamura saying she would not be able to get to Kamakura to meet us on Saturday. I called her back and found out that she was coming into the city for her classes she teaches at the University. So she arranged for her husband to come with her to the hotel so we could have dinner together.

By mid-morning the sun was brilliant on the snow and small paths were being scraped down the sidewalks. On the map in the subway we had seen that nearby was a temple named Yushima. So bravely we set out to find it, figuring it could only be a couple blocks away. There, at a major thoroughfare of five streets meeting was a sign "Yushima Convention Center {Special Char 191 in Font "Symbol"}". Unable to decide which of the five streets that crooked arrow was aiming at, we started down the most logical one. Within a block we realized this was not right. Two men were talking together at the curb, so we boldly inquired and pointed to the English words "Yushima Temple". After a consultation in Japanese, the one man dashed into the dry cleaning establishment and came out bearing paper and pen. He proceeded to draw a rather complicated map that indicated about six blocks one way and eight cross-streets in the other. We had no idea we were so far off in following our first map, but we decided to trust him and follow his plan.

It was okay walking on the level street (though the pollution made our heads ache), but when we started up, straight up a tiny street Werner began to lose faith in this plan. I was excited to walk so close to the tiny shops and I was sure that the higher the hill the more important the temple shrine. Several times Werner pleaded that we retrace our steps before we got totally lost, but I reassured him we could always get into a taxi and let the driver find the way home.

When the top of the hill came into view, we needed no more urging forward. Here were huge temple gates similar to the ones of the Kanda Shrine we had found on Tuesday. I couldn't believe that the maps were so wrong in the subway and guide book, but here we were at Yushima Tenjin. According to the sign in English this was a popular temple dedicated to Sugawara no Michizane, a famous poet, scholar and calligrapher who died in exile in the 9th century. After being deified he was seen as the god of passing exams (which is not the same thing at all). During entrance exam times, the students flock to this temple to buy the talismans, write out their needs and goals and hang them on the convenient racks. Dimly, I was aware that this was part of a conspiracy by the gods - we had met the 38th descendent of Sugawara no Michizane last night and today we were led, by our mistakes, to this shrine.

If we thought the Kanda Myojin Shrine was jumping, this one surpassed it by a mile. Here were huge crowds and most of the booths were open and doing business. The talisman racks were laden with plaques and humps of snow. The sun was bright and we acted like true tourists photographing everything in sight. From the bamboo lined vat where people lined up for their prayers, we could see the magnificent shrines and sculptures within. There was an adjoining building where one left one's shoes and (probably paid) to go up over a bridge into the main shrine.

I wanted to get into the shrine if I could, so I went to the window and asked in English. The room was filled with monks and young girls in temple clothes but not one of them understood my English. One of the bigger guys came to the counter and shook his head 'no' in a very dramatic fashion. I was scared off and glad to get outside.

Werner, however, was determined to get in. I had had enough of being misunderstood and was not going to go through that again. We actually got into our first real argument of the trip here on the temple steps. I made it clear that if he wanted to go in, he could, but I was staying here. He went in and returned in a few minutes saying we could go in. Standing at the entrance was a kind-looking girl, who with her tiny English, tried to make us understand that she wanted us to come in. We took off our shoes and left them on the step although I saw other people putting their shoes into the lockers which lined the one wall. I think she realized that using the lockers was just one step too much to pantomime.

Others put on slippers but our feet were too big so we just walked over the carpeted bridge in our stocking feet. At the doorway of the temple porch was a corner of low tables where we saw students purchasing the wooden plaques and filling them out. Werner handed one of the monks a 1000 Yen note, but the priest was so flustered he did absolutely nothing.

So we walked away toward the inner shrine. The same girl, dressed in a white top with huge winged sleeves and wide orange pants, nodded to us, showed us how to bow twice, clap twice, and kneel down. Oops, our old knees did not kneel so we had to sit like cows in the pasture. As she bowed her head her twinkly eyes smiled at us so kindly. Then she stood up and we tried to imitate her next bows and claps. Then she held out her hand and directed us over toward a group of people sitting on some rosy red carpeting. As we stepped on the carpeting I realized it was heated! So we sat there with the rest of the people.

The girl came back to us bringing two wooden plaques and nodding toward them. Finally she whispered the word, "hopes". We were supposed to write our prayers on them. I was so touched it took all my energy just to keep from crying. At that moment she was called away.

A priest bustled into the room and everyone on the magically warmed carpet stood up and followed him into the inner shrine. Knowing we could never kneel properly, we made ourselves comfortable on the other side of the rug leaning against the table where we could watch the ceremony in the inner shrine. The priest began chanting and waving a white paper wand over the people and a wooden stand which he had placed on the altar. His prayers went on and we gazed out the wide doors (we were sitting on a porch-like area around the open shrine). By the bridge a pink plum was blooming. Behind us we could hear the clink of coins in the iron vat and the clapping of people's hands as they prayed.

The girl and her wonderful smile came and sat near us. All at once she rose gracefully and entered the inner shrine. The priest brought her the wooden stand (just like the one we saw in the Noh theater the day before) which she carried out to a low table behind us. With clapping and a ringing of bells the people stood up and filed out of the shrine and came to the young girl. As she picked up each plaque she read out the person's name and gave them a small white sack and their plaques. These they took outside (since they had been properly blessed) and hung them on the overfilled racks.

Now that we understood the process we walked back across the bridge and found our shoes where we had left them only someone had lined them up and turned them around ready to carry us out and on our way.

Somehow psychologically cleansed from the experience, the sunshine seemed brighter and warmer and every snow-covered nook and cranny of the park was vastly interesting to us.

no tourists

in the deep snow

plum blossoms

frozen pond

still in the temple garden

people believe

After one more walk around the shrine we were overtaken by a pleasant tiredness, the kind that comes from breathing snow cooled air in the warmth of sunshine. Outside the temple gate an occasional taxi came by so we started walking downhill until an empty one came. Even with the map in Japanese on the back of the hotel business card, the driver swore and acted as if he had no idea where the Palace Garden Hotel was. I felt how far away we had walked in our excitement.

In the hotel were faxes from Shukuya-san as he tried desperately to reorganize his fine schedules for us. No matter how quickly he worked nothing could be arranged for this evening, so it was perfect that we could meet the Kawamuras at five in the hotel lobby.

They were there within minutes of our arrival. We offered to go to another restaurant of their choice, but they had had enough trouble coping with Tokyo's snow-crippled transit system and opted to eat in the hotel restaurant.

I had only corresponded with Hatsue (because she was editor of The Tanka Journal, the only tanka magazine in Japan that is bilingual) and now we got to meet her husband, Hiro. I knew from their holiday greeting letter that he wrote senryu, but I was surprised at the exquisitely made booklets he gave each of us of his work in English. I was especially touched with his poem:

As I grow older

I tend to shake hands

with greater strength

Yasuhiro Kawamura

An even bigger surprise was that he had also translated and had published Tsuchi (Earth) by the tanka poet Takashi Nagatsuka, who like Hiro, was from Ibaraki, just northeast of Tokyo.

Never having heard of Takashi (1879 - 1915), I am eager to read the book of his life and am so thankful to have this book already translated. I am now half-way through the book and am absolutely enthralled. The man was truly a poet and writes his novel with a poet's eye for detail. Though the story line may have been shocking for Japanese readers a hundred years ago (some authorities think it deals with a farmer's incest with his daughter after his wife dies having an abortion), I saw the main character as having only a poor man's possessiveness. I have only admiration for the sensible and realistic manner in which Takashi tells the story. He certainly gives a poet's ability to utilize exactness the perfect canvas.

As couples we were so busy exchanging books, signing books and discussing books, the restaurant staff became impatient waiting for us to order. We decided that since the Imperial Family was having their official Duck Hunting Party today (they only net, tag and release the birds) we would have the duck dinner. And we did. Our best Western meal in Japan. It was topped off with two pieces of delicious creme cake the size of bullion cubes!

With the four of us chattering in English, a lot got said with great peals of laughter. I asked Hatsue what she thought about publishing a separate book of translations of only the tanka from Tale of Genji (I have never been happy with Seidensticker's versions of what tanka is) but she seemed firmly against it. That was my only disappointment. We agreed on everything and everyone. We parted feeling that we had bonded completely.

Back in our room another fax from Shukuya-san had been slipped under the door. Okimoto-san would meet us at 10:00 in the hotel lobby tomorrow to act as our guide for wherever we wanted to go. I fell asleep with the guide book in my hands.

Proceed to Saturday January 17 , 1998.