Work hard; play hard

So another week has come and gone, and the days are passing by faster and faster! It might have something to do with the fact that I just recently started working not one, but two part-time jobs here in Tokyo. I admit that originally I had been quite set against the idea of getting any sort of part-time job, let alone two. But I eventually had to face the fact that Japan is a bit beyond my economic lifestyle as an unemployed student, especially one trying to sustain a vegetarian diet.

Anyways, needless to say I’ve been quite busy, although it’s actually been kind of nice working (and having some extra spending money)!

One of the jobs is as a teacher’s assistant, helping kids learn English. The other job is at an international bar in Roppongi – a spot known for being more of a tourist/party destination within Tokyo. So understandably, the place I found is an international bar (although they like to advertise themselves, somewhat misleadingly,  as “Australian-themed”) with a mainly english-speaking staff. Unfortunately this job does interfere quite a bit with my weekends, but I think I’ll still manage to fit in a few excursions every few days.

So, this being said, I realized that I had to take full advantage of my remaining days of freedom before work and school began to take precedence.

The rest of the week passed by without much incident, however, in light of my dwindling days of freedom, I started this weekend off a little early. Prompted by an invitation from a friends here, I decided to skip my single Friday class in order to take advantage of the beautiful weather and go climb a nearby mountain.

Mount Takao is a spot just under an hour away from Tokyo, and is a very popular destination for locals and tourists alike. My friend Nate had been there once already, so we were able to get there without too much trouble. As there are 6 different routes up the mountain, we decided that we would both prefer to take “the one less traveled” (sorry, I had to), and it resulted in a lovely secluded hike.

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The trail we took is known to be one of the more difficult routes (although, since the mountain itself only has about a 600 meter elevation, that’s not saying much), and passes by a shrine on the way up.

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Apparently, this specific shrine is well-known as a location where believers come to meditate under the waterfall. This Shinto practice of ritual purification is known as Takigyo (滝行) or waterfall Misogi (禊), and is common at most large waterfalls around Japan.

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Unfortunately, during our visit we did not get to see any such activity taking place, although it was nice being able to explore the peaceful shrine.

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As we made our way up, the path started becoming a little more… Interesting…

And prompted by “educational” signs along the way, we kept our eyes peeled for the variety of wildlife that supposedly abounded…

And even though we were promised crabs and flying squirrels, the most exotic thing we found were dragonflies and pigeons.

Despite this small disappointment, we certainly found what we were looking for once we reached the top, and were treated by an almost 360º view of the surrounding area.

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Knowing that any sort of food or drink would be ridiculously over-priced at the top of the mountain, Nate and I had preemptively bought beer from the convenience store at the town at the base of the mountain so that we could celebrate our accomplishment.

We found a perfect little spot to sit, where we could  take in the view and enjoy our surroundings without being bothered by the other tourists.

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On the way down, we decided to take the path most travelled, which lead through a large temple complex.

Although it seemed like the temple itself  was closed for some reason, there was still plenty to look at and enjoy.

By the time we arrived home, it was almost dark, and we were both tired but happy with the day’s adventure. However, my weekend was nowhere near to being over!

Saturday was my first time working as the teacher’s assistant. I had responded to an advertisement on Craigslist, and arranged to meet the woman who ran the lessons at the train station. I’ll admit I was a little wary at first, travelling on my own to meet a stranger on the far side of Tokyo, but my worries were quickly assuaged. The woman was lovely, working with the children was a truly a wonderful experience! I got to have a lot of fun teaching and playing games with a variety of kids, and even learned a thing to two from them!

I won’t gush too much, but needless to say I will definitely be continuing with that job until I leave, although it’s only about once every two weeks.

Then on Sunday I decided to dedicate myself to visiting a variety of shrine festivals that, for some reason, were all taking place on the same weekend.

I started out by going to Tsukiji – the place with the famous fish market that I had first visited way back in April.

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I was on the lookout for a “lion dance” parade supposedly travelling around the area surrounding the Namiyoke Inari Shrine (conveniently located right next to the fish market complex.

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I quickly reached the shrine, only taking a minor detour to stop and browse at some pottery stalls… The shrine itself was small, but nonetheless quite pleasant. Apparently it is the unofficial guardian shrine for the marketplace and the vendors, and its name literally means “protection from waves” (Tsukiji is located right on the waterfront of Tokyo).

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On the side, there was a large lion head figure, which gave me a sign that I was definitely on the right track to finding the parade.

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In fact, just as I was leaving the shrine, I heard the telltale sound of mikoshi parade chanting. Following my ears, and the crowds of people, I quickly came across the large lion head, and its many eager convoy members.

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Not to mention the traditional display of man-butt that accompanies such events…

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Since I was not on any real schedule, I decided to spend some time simply following the parade as weaved in and out of the small streets, collecting onlookers as it went. Eventually I decided I was ready to move on to my next destination: Hie Shrine which was holding the “Sanno Matsuri” – one of the three biggest shrine festivals in Tokyo.

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Unfortunately, I think I missed the day that the festivities had supposedly been at their peak, (including a large parade and lots of vendors), but I nonetheless received a special commemorative goshuin (shrine stamp) specifically given during the festival. Typically it is common curtesy to say a prayer at the main shrine building before receiving a goshuin, however it was clear that it would be quite the wait, so I opted to forgo the prayer just the one time.

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Apparently Hie Shrine is the resting place of the guardian deity of Tokyo, which explains the unusually extensive lineups.

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It seemed that the visitors filling the main courtyard were mostly only interested in paying their respects, and purchasing spiritual/commemorative keepsakes. This meant that I got to experience the best of both worlds when it comes to shrine festivals. On one hand, the main grounds were filled with a collection of people, making it a wonderful place for people-watching.

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(how adorable is this little guy??)

And on the other hand, the rest of the shrine grounds were almost completely empty, giving me plenty of peaceful photo opportunities.

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After this, I decided to make my way home and grab some dinner. However, my plans for the day were not yet over. I had one more shrine festival in mind to attend, which I knew had a famous annual parade held during the evening when the Torigoe jinga shrine is illuminated by lanterns.

Apparently this festival is especially well-known for having the heaviest mikoshi (weighing four tonnes) in Tokyo, which typically results in fights bearing out over who gets to carry it through the streets of Kuramae.

Although I was unfortunately too late to see the actual parade (missed it by only about 15 minutes), there were lots of pictures advertising the event.

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However, I did get to catch the closing ceremony, which was crowded and difficult to hear, but nonetheless presented some pretty good photo opportunities…

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Luckily, I had brought my friend Nate along who is 6’4″, so he was able to see above most of the other onlookers, and get some good photos on my behalf. IMG_6610

Finally, we headed back towards home, stopping in Shinjuku for some food and drinks at an izakaya in Shinjuku.

We stayed out until it was time to catch the last train home, and I went to bed still smiling from the day’s adventures.

 

 

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