Wednesday, April 4, 2007

Carl is back!!

Yesterday, I was walking to school and low and behold, there was Carl, at his same old spot, sitting up and sleeping! This time, he has much less stuff, only a few plastic bags instead of the huge piles of things he had accumulated before. I was so excited, I texted my roommate right away. Where has he been for the past two weeks? What did he do? I now wonder if he left voluntarily or if the people who were building the parking lot only kicked him out for a short period of time. Did they have the right to do that? His return has only brought me more questions about the homeless culture in Tokyo. Does anyone who reads this know anything about it? I am dying of curiosity! But, I am happy to see Carl every morning again and know that he is back home.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Where is Carl?

Everyday, I have a 45 minute walk from my weekly mansion (somewhat seedy hotel, definitely not a real mansion) in Akasaka to TUJ in Azabu Juban. I take the same route everyday and I walk there and back at least once. Every single day, there is a homeless man sitting by a sidewalk I use on my commute. Every time I walk past that spot he is there. Usually he is sleeping but I have seen him listening to a walkman, reading the paper with his glasses, eating and peeing. Sometimes he gestures towards me and makes weird, incomprehensible noises, but most of the time he's doing his own thing. A friend of mine who lives in my building named him Carl, and the name just kind of stuck. Everyone who lives in our dorm knows who Carl is and we often refer to him in passing conversation. In the past three months, Carl has ALWAYS been there. Never once, have I not seen him.
Until last week, that is. One day, I was walking to school and Carl was gone. Not only was he not at his usual spot, none of his stuff was there either. Carl always had a massive amount of junk collected around him. This time, there were remnants of it left: a broken umbrella, an empty lighter, but the vast majority of his stuff was gone. When I say the empty area, I immediately got a dreadful feeling. What could have happened to Carl?
When I walked back home later that day, there was new green grass planted over the empty, dirt patch where Carl used to sit. A week later, there is a bright green parking lot in place of the once empty area of land that bordered Carl's home. I have not seen Carl since.
This experience really got me thinking. What is Tokyo's policy toward homeless people? I have seen very few since I've been here, especially considering Tokyo's size. The ones I have seen, at least the ones by themselves, all look like they might be crazy. I see homeless people en masse in parks sometimes, and in boxes in train stations at night. How is it that they allow them in train stations, if they don't allow anyone else to stay inside and wait for first train? What happens to the mentally ill in Tokyo? I learned in a class once that Japan has one of the highest ratios of people in mental hospitals in the world. But where are all of these hospitals?
These are the hidden parts of a city. These communities and neighborhoods are much more difficult to explore. But I am beginning to get curious, and perhaps my next Neighborhood Narratives project will deal with these issues. At the very least, I hope that Carl is OK. I hope that he is happy and has found a new home. And I hope that in his new home he does not get usurped for a parking lot anytime soon.

Friday, March 2, 2007

Final Project Hajimemasho!

I had my first interview today for my final project and it was awesome! The whole experience was so interesting it got me so excited to work on this.
I went to a local temple in Azabu Juban to interview the monk there and try to begin to understand how the temple acts in the community.
When I first got there, the outside grounds were filled with small children and their mothers. Tables were set up with food and goodies and everyone was enjoying playing, running around and eating. I was immediately welcomed inside and served a huge plate of delicious food. The picnic was in celebration of Girl's Day, which is officially tomorrow. Little onigiri dressed up in an egg "coat" were made to look like ohinasama, the little girl god prayed to for girls' health and happiness on this day.
I met the whole family of the temple. This celebration was a family affair with each member making one or two of the many dishes that were served. Everyone was so nice and welcoming and I immediately felt the close knit community that exists there.
I met the head monk and watched as he played games with children, running around with them in a sweatshirt and a track suit. There were little kids everywhere, riding on tricycles and playing jump rope, their attentive parents close by. For the monk, parent involvement is very important. One of the first things he said to me was that this program is different than a regular day care because the parents are not simply paying someone to take care of their kids, but doing activities with their children. He believes that this strengthens the bond between parents and children, and these bonds will last with the children through adolecense and into adulthood.
After taking some pictures of incredibly cute Japanse kids, we started the interview. All in all, it went well. He answered my questions honestly and thouroughly. The only unfortunate part was the camera battery, which died halfway through the last (and argueably most interesting) question.
I will go back to the temple later this month to interview some danka, or temple patrons, and watch a ceremony for a traditional holiday.
The monk was so excited that i was working on this project and he will come to Harajuku to see the exhibition. I am getting really excited to work on this project, and hopefully I will do a good job representing these amazing people.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

International Project

My group has chosen parks as the topic for our international project.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Final Project Proposal

For my final project, I would like to examine the role of the Zen Buddhist temple in modern Japanese society. How are temples related to the neighborhoods in which they exist and what functions do they perform for their society? How does the social role temples relate to its religious objectives? How is this different from Western conceptions of Japanese Zen Buddhism?
I would like to focus on one or possibly two temples around Tokyo. I would like to interview officials at the temple such as monks, clerical workers, etc. and people who frequent the temple. From the interviews, I would like to have an oral history of the temple as well as a discussion of what the temple and Zen Buddhism in general means to people. I would like to understand how people's religious beliefs are reflected in their daily activities. The final project form will be a documentary.

Tuesday, February 6, 2007

Study Question #2-Labyrinths


an intricate combination of paths or passages in which it is difficult to find one's way or to reach the exit.
a maze of paths bordered by high hedges, as in a park or garden, for the amusement of those who search for a way out.
a complicated or tortuous arrangement, as of streets or buildings.
any confusingly intricate state of things or events; a bewildering complex.
(initial capital letter) Classical Mythology. a vast maze built in Crete by Daedalus, at the command of King Minos, to house the Minotaur.
the internal ear, consisting of a bony portion (bony labyrinth) and a membranous portion (membranous labyrinth).
the aggregate of air chambers in the ethmoid bone, between the eye and the upper part of the nose.
a mazelike pattern inlaid in the pavement of a church.
a loudspeaker enclosure with air chambers at the rear for absorbing sound waves radiating in one direction so as to prevent their interference with waves radiated in another direction. Unabridged (v 1.1)Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2006

Whoa...that's a lot of definitions for one word. However, for my purposes I think definitions 1, 3, & 4 are mainly what I'm thinking about.

Tokyo certainly can be described as a labyrinth. I constantly find myself getting lost in this city, and I'm scared to wander in fear that I'll go into some weird sub-neighborhood and never find my way out onto the main street again. The buildings here are so tall that you can never see very far ahead where you're going. The labyrinth of Tokyo is incredibly intricate. While less attention was paid to the overarching layout of the city, each neighborhood or district was built to be shaped in its own unique way. While this clearly makes things more confusing for the traveller or non-Tokyoite, people who live here must know their own neighborhoods in a very intimate way. In order to get around easily, one must understand where every side street and back alley in their neighborhood leads and how to get from every potential point A and every potential point B in the most expedient way.

Technology is changing this relationship of people to their areas, especially in Tokyo. Rather than having to know everything by rote memory, we have sophisticated GPS systems to tell us where we're going. If we get lost on our way to a friend's house, all we need to do is use our cell phone to call them and figure out where we're going. Maps of areas are posted on the internet and widely available to anyone that needs one. Tokyo's labyrinth is becoming demystified by technology. This is great for someone like me who has a terrible sense of direction to begin with and only gets more confused in a place where I have trouble reading a lot of the street signs, if there even is a street sign to read.

But I think technology is also beginning to enable people too much. It's so frusterating to be in a car where the GPS is babbling at you to turn around when you know you're going the right direction. And I hate it when cab drivers get lost because navigation can't find the location I'm going to. Because its so easy for me to have people give me directions, I never bother to orient myself and I need the same directions in reverse in order to get home. As the technology gets better, I think this problem is only going to get worse. It will be so easy to get somewhere but people will think less about how they got there. While better technology will certanily allow more people to travel further, it will make people less aware of the world around them. People will be better connected to each other but will not understand how they are connected.

Crazy Shrine Men

Last weekend I went to Sapporo for the annual Yuki Matsuri (snow festival). I got there on Saturday, which also happens to be Sentsubun Hi. Setsubun Hi is a traditional Japanese holiday where people (mostly children I think) dress up like monsters while people throw roasted beans on them. This is done to ward off the evil spirits and welcome the good ones for the new year.
I really wanted the chance to throw beans at cute Japanese children dressed up like demons so my first destination in Sapporo was the Hokkaido Shrine. Sadly, I got there at 1:30 which I discovered is half an hour after the celebration ended. The shrine was still crowded, though, so I walked around it and looked around for a while. I'm discovering that all shrines are layed out pretty similarly.
The weird thing about my visit was that once again a man approached me and started to talk to me in English. This one was much more visibly strange than the last. He was wearing all bright red and had about 6 cameras around his neck. He asked us where we were from and when someone in my group said Pennsylvania and another said California he immediately replied by referencing the two ships that the Japanese bombed at Pearl Harbor. What a way to start a conversation, I thought. He went on to talk to us in broken English (even though I kept trying to get him to speak Japanese in the hopes of understanding him better) about how he was a soldier and about Japan in WWII. First of all, this guy definitely wasn't old enough to be a soldier when Japan had a standing army, and second of all, he was being rather tactless in his discussion of WWII around a group of Americans. He started talking about Iwo Jima and when my friend mentioned that his great uncle died at Iwo Jima his demeanor towards my friend changed completely. He insisted on taking a picture with the kid because "he was a soldier". When I didn't know who the director of the new movie about Iwo Jima is the man called me stupid. I was quite confused why he was being so abrasive while being so jovial. We kept trying to leave but the man wouldn't stop talking. Eventually, we hurried him along and went on our way.
Strange that the past two times I've visited Shinto shrines I've been confronted by men who want to talk about WWII and Japanese power with me. I am definitely beginning to think its true that they feel that they can get away with this talk around me because I am a foreigner. I also am starting to think that these men long for the days of State Shinto, when Shinto was institutionalized and the emperor was God. I haven't seen these men at Buddhist temples, only at shrines. Both times they have approached me because I was a foreigner-our conversations always begin in English and the first question they ask me is where I am from. Once I say America, the rant begins and I am left to silently stand there and listen. While I always find our chats interesting, I'm starting to get a little weirded out by them. If I ever get approached again, I think I will lie and say I am from South Africa...I am curious to see how our conversation would develop from there.