Wednesday, 30 March 2016

Blog update

Hi everyone!  Just a quick update.  alifelessnormal is spreading its wings!  I have created a Facebook page where I will update with posts as I upload new ones.  I will also post random photos and thoughts on a more regular basis than I do upload blog posts.  Next time you log in to facebook, head over to the page here, like it and automatically receive updates when I upload a new blog post or a random thought or photo.

I have also created a twitter account for the same purpose.  You can find it here.  Please follow the channel and get regular updates also.

Once again, the Facebook page is https://www.facebook.com/alifelessnormalco-1156331054407273/

and the twitter channel is https://twitter.com/alifelesnormal

I look forward to seeing you there as well as here!

Take care.

Monday, 21 March 2016

Sengakuji Temple and the 47 Ronin

The story of the 47 Ronin (a ronin is a leaderless samurai) was one that I was aware of but did not know very much about.  Thankfully, I had not watched the Hollywood movie of the same name as it floats around the real story and includes quite a bit of fantasy and creative licence!  I decided to take the opportunity recently to read more about the story.  What I found was a story that has since become legend in Japanese culture.  Some people see it as the ultimate example of bushido, the samurai code of honour.  What it is is a story full of tragedy, a story of greed and power, a story of patience and revenge, of loyalty and respect, a story that many Japanese believe serves as the ultimate example of how to persevere life's troubles and pitfalls.  For those who do not know the story I will give a brief rundown on it. 

In 1701 a Daimyo (Feudal Lord), Asano was sentenced to commit seppuku, or ritual suicide for attacking a representative of the Emperor, whose name was Kira.  He did so as he felt he had been insulted by Kira and his honour as a samurai had been disgraced, however, any form of violence within the walls of Edo castle (where the attack took place) was considered a serious offence punishable by death.  47 of Asano's samurai, the 47 ronin banded together and vowed revenge.  They knew that Kira would be on guard for just such an attack so they laid low, getting regular jobs and living normal lives so as to avoid arousing suspicion.  Two years later, when Kira had finally let down his guard, the 47 Ronin lead by Ooishi struck.  They attacked Kira's mansion in Edo (now Tokyo), overwhelmed his security and tracked him down.  They finally found him hiding in a small building in a secret courtyard.  They told him why they were her and demanded that he take his own life as a true samurai should.  Kira refused so Oishi got some of the other Ronin to pin Kira down as he beheaded the man to finally exact their revenge on Kira for what had been down to their master 2 years before.  The Ronin fully realised that they too would be sentenced to die for their actions.  Sending 1 of the 47 away to Asano's hometown to report what had happened, the other 46 marched across Edo carrying the head of Kira to the grave of Asano where they lay down the head and the dagger used in the killing.  They then turned themselves in.  The Shogun was initially uncertain as to what to do with the 47, after-all, they had followed the principles of Bushido by exacting revenge on behalf of their dead master, but they had broken the law.  So instead of sentencing the 47 to death, the Shogun demanded that they commit seppuku, thereby maintaining their honour.  The 47th Ronin eventually returned to Edo but was pardoned by the Shogun.  When he finally passed away at the age of 87, he too was buried alongside the other 46 Ronin.

The above is a shortened version of the story of the 47 which can be found on Wikipedia here.  What a story!  As I read the story, I discovered that, hidden away unassumingly in a quiet little neighburhood in the Minato ward of Tokyo , was Sengakuji Temple, the final resting place of the 47 Ronin and their master Asano.  I quickly decided that a visit was in order!

Sengakuji Temple was built in 1612 by Ieyasu Tokugawa, the Shogun at the time.  It was considered one of the 3 principle Buddhist Temples in Edo and was, and still is a place where young Monks come to study and train.

The Temple is located only a couple of hundred metres away from the Subway station of the same name on the Asakusa line.





Just inside the Temple gate were a few souvenir shops that looked like they were having a quiet day.  It was, after-all a Monday.



I walked up to the main Temple gate



and inside the complex where the main Temple building was.



Walking around, I was struck by how spacious the inner courtyard was.  



It was a peaceful place indeed.  But I was here to see the Ronin so I continued walking around in search of them.  I found a couple of places that were off-limits to the public so i kept searching, guessing that they did not lay in rest there.  Moving along, I felt that I was getting closer.



Finally, I found them.





I stepped inside and was flooded with emotion.  Here lay the 47 Ronin.






The place was so peaceful and silent.  The only noise to be heard was the footsteps of those who shuffled quietly around, hands clasped together whispering prayers for the souls of the 47.  A tear or 2 rolled just as silently down my cheeks.

Incredible.

Feeling quite solemn I made my way back out to the courtyard where I found some incense.



I lit them and stood them up in the incense burner to pay my respects.




I turned around and walked out.  I had not expected to be so overwhelmed by the experience.  What a day!

But the day was not yet over......

Stepping back on the train, I made my way over to Kanda.  I had recently seen a video about a spicy ramen place called Kikanbo that I wanted to check out.  This was not the first time I had heard about Kikanbo, it had been recommended to me by a friend, Saeko, but I had never gone to try it.  Walking out of the station I followed my (usually) trusty Google maps and soon found it.  First, I saw it



next, I heard it, the beating of taiko (Japanese drums) coming from inside the restaurant.  Finally I smelled it, the pungent aroma of tonkotsu ramen soup!  Kikanbo's ramen is a spicy concoction made using a tonkotsu base, with miso and fiery hot spices used to flavour it.

The ticket machine had no pictures



but there was an English guide above which made selecting my ramen very easy.



After a good 5 - 10 minute wait my bowl arrived.  A lot of the ingredients are prepared and cooked fresh which explains the wait.  One guy burned his thumb in front of me as he stir fried my beansprouts and baby corn in miso paste just in front of me!



I had ordered the spicy ramen with coriander.  When you order you can specify what spice levels you want.  None, less, regular, more and devil spice!  This being the first time here, I ordered the regular spice levels.  As I was soon to find out, the spice consists of chili mixed in with the ramen soup and also some ominous looking black oil.  This is serious stuff as it is numbing spice oil, similar to the numbing peppercorns used in Sichuan Chinese cooking.

With the sounds of the taiko drums beating in the air, I took my first mouthful.  Mmmm, very warming indeed.  After 3 or 4 mouthfuls, the numbing spice kicked into gear and I felt my tastebuds stand up and start dancing away to the beat of the demonic drums.  Haflway through and I was feeling the heat, literally, not figuratively.



With the frenzied beating of the taiko drums increasing in ferocity I pushed on.  I was sweating profusely now, a small wet spot appearing on the front of my t-shirt where my soaking chest had come into contact with it.  One of the guys working glanced over at me with a knowing grin on his face.  Forging on, I finally made it to the bottom of my bowl.



Now, I love spicy food, and even though I sweat buckets eating it, I just can't stop!  I was now experiencing a euphoric high as the chili and spices raced around my body, setting everything alight!



Time to cool off, and what better way than with an ice cold beer!



Yep, that did the trick.  All that was left in my body now were glowing embers, and I could deal with them.  That was nice!!  Next time I'm going with the next level up!  Should I take photos of that too?

Well, that's it for another post.  Thanks again for reading.  I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did going to Sengakuji Temple and finishing the day with a bowl of ramen.  I thoroughly recommend a trip to the Temple if you are a fan of the story, and even if you don't know much about it, I recommend a visit too, so you can learn about this legendary story.  Please leave a comment below, and until next time, bye.

Sunday, 13 March 2016

300 years of Japan in one place! - Tokyo Edo Open Air Museum part 2

This is part 2 of a series about the Tokyo Edo Open Air Museum.  You can find part 1 here.

Moving on from the beautiful old farmhouses, I came across what is the oldest structure in the museum, an old mausoleum built in 1652.




Walking up a little closer, you could see the colours really standing out and the incredible detail of the woodwork.



A little further on was a tiny koban (police box).  



These are dotted in every city all across the country and act as little neighbourhood police stations.  The police officers who man them are very friendly and always willing to help a lost tourist (if they are confident enough in their English!)

Moving on, I came to a couple of food stalls and decided it was time for a snack.  You just can't beat bacon!



I sat down to enjoy my bacon and was greeted with a beautiful sight.  A full replica of an old style shotengai (shopping street).



Quickly devouring my bacon, I started off down the shopping street.  The first building was an old kitchenware shop.



Next up was an old residential house with an old grocery store alongside it



complete with groceries!



Turning around, there was a stationery shop (on the left) and a flower shop (on the right).



Back on the other side was a soy sauce shop with a building alongside for storage of the soy sauce while it was fermenting.





Back on the other side again was a lovely old hotel from the mid 19th century.



Finally, right at the end of the street there was an old sento (public bath house).



Stepping inside, I moved into the changing area.  Here is where you would strip down before heading in to the bathing area.



Once inside the bathing area you would grab one of the little stools and one of the buckets,




then you would sit yourself in front of one of these little taps and wash away.



I was told by some of my students that images of Mount Fuji are a common image on walls in these bath houses.  I was also told that the middle wall that you can see there (which separates the male bathing area from the female bathing area) now goes all the way up to the roof.  This allows the women complete privacy to complain to the other women about their husbands and for the husbands to do the same about their wives on the other side!

Once fully cleaned and rinsed off, it would then be the time that everyone looked forward to, sitting yourself in one of these deep relaxing baths!



It was starting to get cool at this stage so I decided to head back to the office, grab my things and start back towards the station again.  As I made my way back I took a few more photos along the way.







Regrettably leaving the museum behind I left the park and mad my way back toward the station via a scenic route.  Suddenly I noticed that I was walking past an unusually high number of ramen shops.




One after another, they kept coming.




This was crazy!  It was really testing my resolve!




"Don't do it Jason" I told myself.  A salad will be much better for you.  But they just didn't stop!




My will was beginning to break......


One more, and I was going to give in to the temptation......

Thankfully, miraculously, a sushi shop appeared.



However, a little further on......



Damn it.........



Finishing up my wonderfully good bowl of ramen, I walked back to the station and made my way back home.

The museum had been everything that I hoped it would be and more.  If you are into traditional Japanese architecture, I fully recommend a visit.

And stay tuned for another post further in the future about another similar museum that a friend has since told me about (thanks Jason!).

Well, thanks again for reading.  Please leave a comment below and sign up on the tab on the right side of the page to get notified when I put up another post.  

Until next time, bye.