Journey in Japan Part 42: There Will Be Flood


Another typhoon is making its miserable way toward Tokyo and should arrive this evening. I can’t wait. Today it is already raining, and looking at the state of the pavement outside, it looks like it has been raining all night. To avoid a soaking, I walk one minute to the nearest station and take the somewhat aptly named but badly spelt Tsukuba Express Line (pronounced ‘scuba’), before changing to the Yamanote Line at Akihabara Station.

My destination today is Meiji Shrine. The train takes thirty-one minutes to reach Harajuku Station. On the train, the telescreen has taken a break from showing the usual droll adverts and instead is displaying the current position of the bleak typhoon.

I leave the station and head through the pouring rain to the shrine grounds.

There is a weird festival going on, all about setting fire to broken old toys. The festival is known as Ningyo Kanshasai. It is a festival to thank dolls and is hosted annually at Meiji Shrine. It first began in 1989, and this year marks its 26th anniversary. In Japan, there is a belief that a part of your soul dwells within your possessions. Giving used gifts isn’t very popular here, as a part of your person is passed on along with the second-hand object.

Today, this Shinto exorcism ceremony is a way to cleanse the doll, and free the part of your soul which is encompassed by the inanimate object; a free spirit for a healthy mind. For the low price of ¥3000, you can add your dolls to the massive collection of others; you too can have your soul finally freed. The spirit of the doll is raised by the Haraikiyome (purification) priest, and a cleansing ritual known as Oharai is performed on the dolls.

Last year, 44,000 dolls were donated for purification by over 7,000 people. The range of dolls vary hugely; Japanese dolls, Western dolls, and stuffed animals all seem popular this year. The rain has put a slight damper on the turnout this year, but there are still plenty of dolls here. In the main hall, a beautiful ritual performed by two women in costumes is taking place. The official website tells me that, “This solemn festival is a must-see.”

I leave just before the ‘sacred saké’ is handed out. The shelter from the many trees inside Meiji Shrine not enough to protect me from the storm, and I leave soaking wet. As I get to the exit, the sounds of drums fill the air. Thanks, dolls.

I always like visiting Meiji Shrine at the weekend, its location is very close to Yoyogi Park. There is always an opportunity to see two events in one zone.

This weekend the event is ‘The Road of Hokkai-Food’, an event celebrating the food of Hokkaido. Much like the other festival, this event is also in its 26th year; although the two appear to be very much unrelated. Here there are almost ninety stalls selling various different snacks, cheap meals, trinkets, cheeses, and beer. The small stalls clustered together, the heavy rain, and the aroma of food filling the air is reminiscent of a music festival.

Some of the foods on offer include Ishikari-nabe (salmon, stewed vegetables, and tofu in a miso broth), Yakitori (grilled chicken on a stick), various types of seafood, and plenty of Sapporo beer. The only thing missing is the people; it would be fair to say the event is a complete washout. There is a woman dressed in a smart white suit giving a talk on the stage for an event advertised as, ‘Sapporo Presents …’

I leave the festival and walk over to Shibuya. Today is the last day of an art exhibition I’ve been planning to visit, so whilst I am in the area I decide to swing by Bunkamura; a concert, theatre hall, and museum. ‘Visual Deception II: Into the Future’ is a trick art exhibition focusing on shadows, silhouettes, mirror images, optical illusions, and anamorphosis. It costs ¥1500 and is a nice break from the weather. The exhibition of weird artwork can only be described as insane. Typically, no photography is allowed.

After the exhibition, I decide to head home before all the trains get cancelled. My hostel already took preventative measures to combat flooding; staff members cleaned out the drains and placed a row or bricks in front of the steps where flooding occurred last month.

Back at the hostel, I do some writing, before heading out for a few drinks at a nearby bar. The rain continues. When I eventually leave the bar, the pavement outside is flooded by pools of rushing water. The hostel is also flooded, good job, bricks.

Read the next part of my Journey in Japan, where I visit Robot Week, and explore the great joys of the future in technology, including dancing robots, mechanoids that can serve a damn fine cup of coffee, and rescue robots by clicking here.

Or alternatively, click here to begin the journey from part one.


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