Tokyo Diary: 10/20/12 – Daibutsu, Daimushi, Daijoubu

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If you’d told me a year ago I’d be at a party in Tokyo being invited to a rave by a well-dressed man from Belgium, I’d have said you were nuts.  Go figure.

I’ve decided that instead of saying “Hai” when my name is called in class, in honor of Zushi and to instill martial spirit I shall respond with “Osu!”  It gets me a few funny looks but on days like this one I need all the martial spirit I can muster.

It was a full day, starting with a trip to Nokigiriyama, in Chiba Prefecture – someplace I’ve always wanted to go but never did find time for.  It’s a temple complex in the mountains where the largest Buddha statue in Japan resides (38M including his pedestal) as well as a giant Kannon carved into a hillside (yes, that is me next to it) and some some 1500 Arhat Buddha statues on the path leading up to the Daibutsu.  Most of this was done in the 18th Century, though the temple itself (Nihon-ji, a name that should tell you its importance) has been around since the 8th Century.

It’s a pretty remarkable place, as you’ll see (hopefully) from the pictures. It’s not that far as the crow flies, but takes about three hours from Shibuya – two trains to a bus to a ferry to a ropeway to hiking.  It’s funny, because I visited the USS Midway museum in San Diego with my Dad last year, and it was based on Yokosuka for many years – I never thought I’d actually be in Yokosuka, but life’s funny that way.  The Daibutsu is remarkable, but damn – that’s a lot of steps.  I was knackered by the time I was done hiking around all the sub-temples and such.  You may have seen Nokogiriyama if you’re a fan of Top Gear – it was the destination for the episode where James and Hamster raced Jeremy across Japan on public transit while he took a souped-up Nissan.

Two videos I want to share.  The first is of the Japanese Giant Hornet, known as the “Sparrow Bee” here.  I knew about this animal (it kills more people than any other in Japan, though in this relatively safe country that’s just 40 per year).  It’s not especially aggressive but is so massive that it injects a tremendous amount of venom with each sting.  Until I saw one in person, I had no real conception of what a 2-inch hornet meant – you can’t imagine how terrifyingly big that is.  I know this won’t do it justice but I had to try.

The next is of an amazing occurrence that took place on the return trip on the ferry, where three Buddhist monks were feeding the gulls some sort of snack food in a bag.  Maybe this is common but somehow a hawk decided it wanted in, and hovered majestically over the boat, divebombing and catching the food out of mid-air (in a heavy wind, mind you) with its talons.  It was truly one of the coolest and most astonishing things I’ve ever seen.  I have no clue why the gulls weren’t freaked out by a raptor in their midst, but they didn’t seem to care.

And finally, because I realized I hadn’t posted one and I was there on Saturday night, Shibuya Crossing:

As I said, I was exhausted by the time I got back to Tokyo, but there was a Halloween party at the school so I didn’t want to miss that.  Because it’s an international school, half the students are Japanese learning other languages and the other half foreigners (mostly Euros) learning Japanese, and this was a good chance to mingle.  I’ve always said it’s not a great party unless someone leaves in an ambulance, so I guess this was a great party.  This was where the well-dressed Belgian man (who wasn’t a student, I don’t think – I don’t know who he was) invited me to a “legendary underground Halloween rave” that would still be going at breakfast.  Tempting as that was, I wasn’t that sort of person even when I was the age to be one, so I regretfully declined.  The road less traveled…

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A few miscellaneous Japan thoughts:

  • For a country where specificity is a highly-prized virtue, websites are shockingly inaccurate in telling you what buses to take, and from what stop.  Very annoying.
  • One difference between being a resident and a tourist on Tokyo: I’m now basically confined to going to destinations on the weekend, when millions of other Edoites do the same thing.
  • There were quite a few Americans at Nokogiriyama – many relatives of the folks stationed at the Naval base, I’m sure – and it’s striking how much heavier we are than Japanese.  The active-duty guys are obviously ripped, but the families – it’s night and day.  Parents, siblings, even kids – so much bigger around the middle. 
  • A Japanese man slipped on the steps climbing down from the Daibutsu, and I (I was rather proud of myself) immediately asked “Daijoubu?”  To which he replied, “Yes, thank you.”
  • The Japanese have that Snickers commercial where the person turns into a famous hothead when they get hungry too.  This one features Zatoichi the Blind Swordsman.
  • Japanese vending machines are the coolest in the world, easily.  The one that serves brewed coffee for 120 yen at the ferry terminal had a hilarious video looping, featuring gaijins chefs and jazz trumpeters making astonished faces at how good the coffee was (“Wao!”).  When you order a coffee it switches to a countdown, where a robot is seen preparing your coffee and bringing it to you on a serving tray.

More thoughts later – for now, sleep.

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  1. h

    Wao! indeed. Hearing (and seeing!) these adventures of yours is truly awe-inspiring. Such amazing scenery, too.

    Is everything going okay on the "work" front, then, I assume? Only having time to go on adventures during the weekend (like the other Edoites) seems to be a Good Sign.

  2. M

    once question, the coffee any good? 🙂

  3. For coffee out of a machine? Better than you'd think.

  4. a

    I was thumbing through my Tokyo on Foot book and noticed that the map for Takadanobaba had a street indicated (Waseda dori) on which all lamp posts have a manga character by Tezuka, including Astro Boy himself. I thought you might find that neat to visit one day (could be you already knew this too).

    "it’s striking how much heavier we are than Japanese" I'm afraid (and no offense) even when I lived in Central America and travelled back and forth between there and Europe via the US, I was always struck during my 3-4 hours layover how much bigger people suddenly where. (Not just people… muffins three time the size what I was used to.) Must be even more extreme in Japan.

    Japanese vending machines… sound so awesome!

  5. a

    sorry for the typos… been a long day at work, long cycling commute and only 4 hours of sleep…

  6. K

    Your pictures turned out great (curious what camera do you use?)

    And it's nice to get a picture of you..albeit a small one next to that gigantic Kannon.

    I love Japanese vending machines as well…I told my friend to look forward to them. 🙂

  7. D

    Who is that gaijin dude hijacking Enzo's photo of big budda statue in the middle of page here? He's totally blocking a part of wooden fence there, you know? ah ha ha ha. If I didn't know any better, I would "almost" say that he was posing for your photo -or for a camera of a random tourist who happened to be standing right next to ya.

    And I suspect that it's a camera phone (100% sure on youtube videos and positive on photos -although some looks a little too good for an average camera phone).

  8. e

    Yay for cultural sightseeing and lots pics. So grateful you're this kind of trigger-happy.
    2-inches hornets must be scary. I remember freaking out at a 2 inch tarantula roaming my guest house and hovering from the toilet ceiling during a fateful UK student vacation (on the good side, after that I stopped fearing the average spider, ahah ).
    Raptors are a-m-a-z-i-n-g. In my area there are a few falconer groups, as such it's not too rare to observe and even touch eagles, hawks and owls. Without counting the wild ones you can spot on the Alps of course. 'Your' seagulls are probably used to the hawks. If they're any similar to Mediterranean ones they're pretty tough birds anyway and don't back off easily.
    Last but not least, you went quite literal with the 'behind every great man there's a great woman' with that Kanno pic ;p.

    A party with an unknown stranger in an unknown place where who knows what's going to happen? Was he also offering you candy?
    Well, at least at the 'legit' party (no pics of your Suntory time here? )you were not the one in the ambulance. Hopefully those who went to the hospital are not too bad.

  9. Only one went to the hospital and he looked OK when he left…

  10. e

    Is this a spoiler? 😉 . Seriously, good to know.
    Thanks again for the pics.

  11. w

    I think I can see where the author of No 6. got the bee inspiration from….

  12. Ah! I didn't even think of that but yes, that's likely. The thing is, they're almost orange too, which makes them even more surreal to see. Like an H.G. Wells nightmare come to life.

  13. B

    Careful around those hornets Enzo. They don't seem aggressive but I've heard that if you get near their nest they can get quite… upset.

  14. B

    Also, on the subject of large wasps, no need to tell me how big they can be lol. In southern California we have these guys.

    The adult females find a tarantula, sting it to paralyze it, then drag it off to their nest where they lay their egg in it. When the larvae hatches it eats the (still alive) tarantula from the inside out. They are huge and hella scary if you're like me and are freaked out by wasps in general.

  15. Know them well from CA, but tiny compared to the sparrow bees… And pretty much all wasps or bees get testy when you get too close to the nest. Careful is right – but most of the time I think running afoul of them is just bad luck. Stay on the trail and hope for the best.

  16. B

    Not sure what species they have in the bay area but the tarantula wasps here in San Diego can grow quite large. At the very least they are close to the suzumebachi, in the far eastern part of the county I have seen them many times in the 1.5 to 2 inch range.

  17. L

    In the words of the great Karl Pilkington, "Is any place safe?!?"

  18. C

    Next time you go to a vending machine enter a Konami code : up down up down left right left right A B

  19. M

    Remember, if you're ever in the mountains alone: be respectful. They say Tengu have a habit of playing tricks on rude mountaineers.

  20. Especially Kyoto tengu. But I'm always respectful in nature – including around giant hornets.

  21. G

    Omg, those hornets. I'm like terrified of insects in general, even seeing it via video I can just feel myself cringing.
    The pictures are beautiful, I love those Buddhist statues, they look so peaceful and awe-spiring. Thanks for sharing Enzo. I've heard about those vending machines, now why can't we do something creative with ours…….
    Asians are generally smaller framed. In my case, I'm even more petit than regular Asians, so it's very hard for me to find my clothes size here in Canada.

  22. H

    I am really glad you are enjoying your stay in Japan Enzo 🙂

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