Accidentally Buddhist?

On Monday I’ve been booked for a seminar/course on Japanese culture, it was only me and some Indian guy there and the two teachers. Honestly I couldn’t tell you the Indian guys name since I could hardly understand a word he said. Anyways, the seminar was a bit of a letdown despite really good teachers since Ericsson has apparently wanted us to mostly learn about how to act in meetings. And since it is very unlikely I’ll be having any formal meetings with Japanese this was a bit of a waste…I learned that it’s big problem not to have a business card in Japan, everyone has business cards and there are careful rituals involved in the exchange of them. You are under no circumstances to write on a business card for instance, that is like taking a pen to their face! There is also a lot of uninteresting stuff on who is supposed to sit where and so on. One interesting fact though is that if you’ve made a meeting to discuss the terms of a deal, the actual meeting will not be a discussion at all. The discussion will already have taken place before and when it comes to the actual meeting everything is already decided.

Tuesday evening I decide to go to the New York Bar, if you’ve seen the excellent “Lost in Translation” that might ring a bell for you. It’s the hotel bar featured in the movie and it’s at the top of the really swanky Park Hyatt hotel. It’s a bit challenging to find your way up there so I don’t arrive until after eight o’clock which is when they start charging a 2200 jpy cover charge for just sitting down (I’ve since learned that this applies even if you arrive earlier but stay past eight, so if you want to avoid it you need to leave before then). Oh well, fuck it, I’ve made it so far so I grudgingly pay up and start eying the menu and end up ordering a cocktail for the low low price of 1900 jpy. To be fair it’s the best drink I’ve had in this country so far.

Since this place is a bit fancy I decided to suit up and in the coat pocket I find the Cuban cigar I got as a present from my brother in-law Henrik. What an excellent occasion to light it up! So I sit there puffing away and feeling rather metropolitan with the jazz band playing some lounge music.

Friday comes with an all hands staff meeting for our floor which is mainly a waste of time. They have a ceremony at the end where they hand out prices for valuable employees who are lauded as “putting the company before themselves!” Not a very healthy goal if you ask me, but then again, this is Japan after all.

Nozawa-san has been planning a party/after work/english lesson for this evening as well and a bunch of us head over to a cozy restaurant in Yokohama where we proceed to order almost everything on the menu. Not as crazy as it seems, these places serve really small portions and since we’re a whole bunch of people there is no problem downing all the weird dishes they keep bringing in. Eventually we move on to a saké place, it’s actually a bit odd as you go into a tiny elevator directly off the street and when you exit you’re in the middle of the saké place. Just remove your shoes and be shown to your table! Saké actually isn’t that strong, it’s usually somewhere between 15 and 20%, but it takes its toll on the Japanese rather quickly. We break up at about half past eleven (trains in Japan usually stop at around midnight) to catch the last train home.

This weekend I’ve decided to go to Asakusa – the temple district. As I emerge from the metro I’m greeted by the golden Asahi building (one of the premier beer brands here) and Tokyo Sky Tree, the new, much higher tower of Tokyo. I decide to go explore along the river, it’s a really cozy area with small houses huddled close together with small, well maintained, streets in between. As I get closer to the Asahi building I see a sign outside some store that says “Inventor”. Awesome! I have to check this out! The store is inhabited by three aging gentlemen getting ready to play some sort of board game. The English is sparse but I’m invited to play one of them in what looks like a miniature variation of Shogi, which is more or less what it is. I manage to win the first bout, but get beaten in the rematch. The old timers seem really excited that someone is taking interest in their little store and games and I’m having a really good time as well. I really need to go back and visit them again! I buy the game we played and head on over to the Asahi building, crowned by, as it seems, a giant golden turd. In spite of the turd, it’s a really pretty building with fun architecture and I hang around a while and take some pictures.

Then I’m off to wander aimlessly in the general direction of the Sky Tree. On the way I find a nice little café where I can sit down and do some cross stitches. The ladies opposite me are very impressed and I end up showing it off to the entire staff, I guess it isn’t common to see guys sowing in Japan. Some wandering later I end up at Sky Tree, which seems to have just opened with a huge line of people outside. I skip investigating it, leaving it for another day and head off in another random direction. The road takes me past a temple where a girl asks me if I want to come inside and see. I agree and find myself in a rather large room with tatami mats all over the floor and not much else in the way of furniture. Except for the altar that is, the altar is populated with all manners of gaudy gong-gongs, stools and plaques.

In very broken English the girl explains that this is a Buddhist temple and asks a lot of questions about Sweden and if I have any religion. A monk joins us with equally broken English and I start to get bored. They ask several times if I want to be part of some sort of ceremony and when I ask what kind of ceremony it is they talk about good karma. Okay, seems harmless enough so in the end I agree and is handed a booklet, a rosary and some sort of cloth to place the former in. Then we’re supposed to read a really long mantra from the book, something which goes on for almost 10 minutes before the monk motions me to come up on the altar. He then proceeds to touch some sort of rolled up scroll on top of my head a few times and then we’re done. I get a vague feeling that I’ve been had, a feeling that grows with the enthusiasm of the girl when she starts talking about all the different ceremonies I should attend later this month. As politely as I can manage I bid my farewell of the girl and go back to roaming the streets.

It turns out that the “real” Asakusa – the one where all the tourists are supposed to go is on the other side of the river. That’s where the really old temple and all the tourist shops are and as tourist shops go, they are pretty good! Most of the stuff they’re selling isn’t actually crap and if you want the typical touristy stuff like chopsticks and lacquered bowls you could definitely do worse. The temple itself is sort of meh, I guess ever since the Forbidden city in Beijing I’m pretty much saturated of this kind of temple. There is however a really cool street band with a man dressed like he’d just stepped out of Tintin – Blue Lotus singing some classical Japanese songs. Walking around the neighborhood is pretty nice as well, there are a lot of small houses and temples to look at, Asakusa is definitely worth a visit if you’re in Tokyo.

Sunday I return to Harajuku and right in front of Yoyogi park there is a whole bunch of people. A few of the seem to be New Age weirdos humming, chanting and dancing in a circle. The others turn out to be an organization of volunteer guides that offer to take me on a tour of Meiji shrine. I take them up on the offer and get to learn that one of the portals in there is the largest of its kind in the world, how to clean before visiting the shrine and how to pray properly once there. Not super interesting but I also get at tip about a café that seems really nice, some sort of tree house that I resolve to visit later.

Takeshita and Harajuku street is super fun as always, I will never tire of that place! The café is at the end of Harajuku street and takes some searching before I find it, but it’s certainly worth it! It’s super cozy and there is actually a tree coming up right out of the floor! They serve lunch and I spend a few hours there just chilling, this is a definite favorite so far. When I finally leave I decide to walk to Shibuya, once there I find a music store and decide to peruse the Japanese music scene. There’s actually a lot of good stuff, too bad 95% of it isn’t found on Spotify or even Youtube. It’s like going back to the 20th century!

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