Sub-cultures and shrines

Although it’s strange being back in the routine of school life once again, I feel like Golden week has inspired me to take advantage of every single moment of opportunity while I am here. And while I’m also careful not to wear myself out, every morning or afternoon that I have had free this week, I have been using to continue my explorations of the city. And for some reason, this week has yielded a collection of  pretty bizarre sights, as I got to see several of the subcultures which help make Tokyo the diverse city it is.

Sunday afternoon I headed over to Yoyogi park, where there was a LGBTQ Pride Festival, a Cambodia festival as well as a Salsa festival (although I was never able to find it).

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The Pride festival certainly seemed to be the biggest attraction of the area, basically engulfing the small Cambodia festival nearby, which really only consisted of several stalls and a stage.

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I was absolutely in love with the Pride festival though, and I don’t think there was a moment I wasn’t smiling from all the hilarious outfits and posters.

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Just past the Cambodia festival was an area for people participating in the parade to line up and organize themselves. I spent some time sitting nearby, watching the many event organizers and police members try to assemble the parade and get it heading on its way. The funniest part was the fact that this was all occurring at an intersection. The main street had been closed down for the parade, but in order for the people to make it there, they had to cross a street that was still allowing traffic through. This meant that instead of having one large group of people all line up and go, they had to make smaller groups of people so that they could allow one group to go while the next waited for the traffic lights.

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To me this is just such a hilariously typical Japanese situation – by attempting to keep things running smoothly, it creates even more chaos and takes even more time.

There was also a wonderful concert being held in the large stadium nearby, which was put on by (I’m assuming) local community band members and performers.

From what it seemed like, they were playing mostly traditional Japanese songs and marches while a very talented group of flag-wavers (for lack of a better term) performed in front.

And of course, what would a festival be without it’s food stalls? I found this collection of vendors particularly entertaining, as many of the signs offered some of the best/worst English translations I’ve seen yet.

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Although a little showing at times, I would certainly have to say that the Rainbow Pride festival has been one of my favourite festivals so far, simply for the overall feeling of happiness and acceptance that every single person there was sharing. As many flags and banners proudly advertised: there’s “no hate under that rainbow”.

In an interestering change of pace, on Wednesday I visited Akihabara (the “electronic district”) for the first time with some friends. Akihabara is one of the more famous areas in Tokyo, also know as “Gamer’s Mecca” due to its known for its huge electronic stores, manga shops, maid cafes, and most hilarious of all, a 6-story sex shop.

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Akihabara seems kind of like an amalgamation of all the stereotypical Tokyo things. The huge, brightly coloured skyscrapers, and bizarre architecture;

The huge amounts of manga, anime and cosplay stores;

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Not to mention the massive multi-story arcade centres and game stores.

I’ll admit, I even broke down and played a few rounds of a robot-fighting game…

Although the area does cater to a relatively specific crowd, it was still really interesting to get a glimpse of how seriously so many people take their manga.

To add just a little bit of more historic culture to my week, yesterday I decided to head over to Meiji Jingu – a huge and famous shrine located near Yoyogi park. It was an absolutely gorgeous day, and the area was filled with tourists.

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To my surprise however, the area, with its dense forests blocked out almost all the sound from the nearby highway, creating a calm and quiet atmosphere.

 

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I originally decided to come to this temple in search of a “goshuin-cho” – a book for collecting stamps from each shrine and temple. I learned about this from Ruth, the woman who took me out for birthday dinner last month. Apparently collecting shrine stamps, (“goshuin”), is activity which is very common among locals (although usually for more religious reasons), but which several tourists do as a special souvenir. I was absolutely thrilled by the idea, but it took me a while to work up the courage to try and attempt it myself.

As I approached the shrine entrance I began looking for an area which might have what I was looking for.

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I went over to a stall where some temple workers were selling an array of amulets and prayer scrolls, and used the line I had rehearsed: “Sumimasen, goshuin-cho wa arimaska?” (Excuse me, do you have shrine books?)* and the lady pointed me to the building opposite. I went in and found right away several women painting the calligraphy of the Meiji Jingu stamp into several other people’s books. There was a small pile of new books for sale so I carefully picked one up, and said: “kore okudasai” (I would like this please)*.

*please note that this is extremely basic Japanese, and probably not the most polite or correct way of speaking (especially not at a shrine), but it got my message across and they seemed to appreciate the fact that I was trying.

Although she said a few things I didn’t quite understand, when I clearly didn’t know what else to say, other then offer her my money, she took the book and gave me my first ever goshuin!

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I’m actually so excited to have this as a souvenir! I feel like it will encourage me all the more to go out and find as many shrines as I can. Not only that, but the feeling of accomplishing the task I set out to do, and being able to use my newly developing language skills to do it honestly made me feel on top of the world! This right here is what it’s all about!

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