Monday, March 22, 2010

Day 3 - Ueno Koen (Ueno)

2nd February, 2003 - We decided to embark fairly early for a walk around Ueno-koen (Ueno Park). It's a strange place - not what I'd call immediately picturesque, but especially with the dried brown stalks covering the lake. A strange mix of architecture too - with the modern (or is that modernly stupid) juxtaposed with the ancient. Actually, Ueno-koen is one of the most popular places for both visitors and Tokyo-ites alike. There's lots to do here including museums, shrines, zoos, Cherry blossom viewing (when in season).

Within the lake lies Benten-do Temple Hall, a worshipping place for Benzaiten... the Japanese name for the Buddhist god Saraswati. She is also sometimes referred to as Benten (huh?... how many names does one god need?). The goddess of all things that flow (most notably water). A very good reason to have her worship hall all the way out in the middle of the lake (Shinobazo pond).

Actually, Benten-do was the first real experience that told me that I was in Japan. Approaching the temple I was excited - this was going to be my very first REAL JAPANESE TEMPLE in Tokyo. I was excited to see inside. Only to be brought up short by an irate priest who, distressed at the typical foreigners (gaijin - or gaigoku-jin to be precise) bad manners. I had forgotten to remove my shoes, and my then-girlfriend had been too slow to warn me.

Here's a lesson - when approaching any threshold where there is a change of environment (inside or outside), look carefully if you are moving into a raised area. Often this is the signal that you are entering an "inner place" (my words) where shoes should be removed. Especially in a temple, this was bad karma! Gomen nasai! (sorry!)

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