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  • Writer's pictureNigel W. Ruddock

An 18thc. garden, a grating accent and sharp swords

Japanese Spring 2019 Thursday (木曜日) 28th March

Today is cloudy (Kumori 曇). I decide spend it in Tokyo. There is one garden I would like to visit – the Rikugien Gardens, which are a bit to the north of the centre of town, depending on what you call the centre. Maybe it wasn’t the best weather for doing this but I was hoping for an improvement later in the day. Usual breakfast of matcha tea, yoghurt, banana and toast to get me going.Notebook at the ready to gather new words!

My host seems to be very busy with loads of washing (Sentaku 洗濯) so I waste no time in walking down the hill to the station. Swiping my Suica card over the barrier I join the stream of commuters to the platform. Lots of office workers, but nobody gabbling on their phones, because, as I have mentioned before, talking on phones is tabu on the trains. Thank goodness for that say I.

(upon returning to Germany and sitting in the SBahn I was really irritated by all the phone conversations happening around me – a sort of reverse culture shock). Now the Rikugien Gardens are on the wrong side of Tokyo if you are coming from Yokohama, so it took be the best part of an hour to get there. And when I did eventually arrive….oh no !….everyone else had had the same idea. The queue stretching around the outside wall reminded me of either the line at St. John’s Wood waiting to get into Lord’s Cricket Ground in London, or the snaking trail leading from the Albert Hall down past the Royal College of Music during the Prom season. I headed straight for a cafe and ordered some yummy bun and a coffee and had a pause. OK, now I’m ready. I walk over to the queue….oh no!, a man in a white uniform and loud hailer is directing everybody to another entrance. This is a good 10 min walk, but arrive I do, and eventually get in.

Now this garden is pretty old. It was constructed in 1702 by the Lord of the Kawagoe domain, and is meant to reflect the tastes and spirit of the world of Waka poetry.

The garden reflects scenes from Japanese classical literature – the Manyoshu and Kokin Wakashu. I’m afraid this was all rather lost on me. The crowds were churning up the dust, and the garden was not at its best. Not much was blooming, but this did not deter the visitors

I asked a few young people if they would take a photo for me, which they did with great enthusiasm, delighted that I could utter some Japanese and asking me where I came from.

In general I discovered that the younger generation were much easier to deal with, and were not so shy about meeting foreigners as older people.

Some more scenes of the garden.....

Tokyo itself is pretty cosmopolitan, but I spent days in Yokohama not seeing a single European. Indeed, if I did, we would glance at each other for a moment…wondering…

Cutting my losses short I headed to an interesting part of town nearby, the Yanaka Cemetery. This old resting place had cherry blossoms in abundance and was a lot quieter.

Some strange sites though. I saw an elderly couple picnicking on top of the family grave, thermos flasks and sandwiches all well prepared. I saw trees bearing oranges

It was peaceful. I sat down and ate my onigiri (rice cakes) and drank green tea. Heaven. But what was this? A grating accent was cutting through the peace. I located the source of it. A woman had her mobile phone propped up in front of her and was very publicly making a video call to her friends, telling them all about the cost of her flight, her cat, the mortgage….It was ghastly. How can you be so insensitive? I moved on, wishing I could melt into the background. But you can’t. You are a European.

A brief walk brings me to Ueno Park, home to some of the grandest museums in Tokyo. The Japanese do museums well. They are aesthetically calming, spacious refuges of culture.

I entered the National Museum feeling rather small. I was soon immersed in a world of Samurai swords,

silk screen paintings,

and Ukiyo-e prints.

It was wondrous and very moving. You could spend days here. However days I did not have!I had to get back to Yokohama, where my wonderful hosts, Misako-san and Toshie-san had invited me to eat with all the visitors and their friends – a real get together.

liquid refreshment : shochu- which my keyboard will not type properly. A sort of schnapps.

A late night stroll through Yokohama......floodlight blossoms.....

and always some harbour activity....

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