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February 02 Issue

Helen Ruggiere
The old Japan, the old ways, will disappear. This generation wants change.

The Meiji period (1868 – 1912) is a time of great transition in Japan. Foreigners, previously banned were welcomed and a whole series of changes followed which left no part of Japanese society unchanged. Sometimes you feel like that. You think you know your place, your work, appropriate cultural lessons. Suddenly you find yourself confused and lost. What you know can’t be relied upon. You guess, intuit, scramble. You fill in the blanks, the unknown, with analogies from other times, other places. I sympathize with the Emperor Meiji, referred to in the literature as the "founder" of modern Japan. He reigned, the 122nd emperor of Japan, over the most prosperous period of Japan’s growth as a nation. He instituted a European style government and among other changes mandated compulsory education (for boys and girls) in 1872 and noted that educating females would benefit the nation. The Empress dedicated herself to promoting the education of women as referred to as the "Mother of the Nation."

His shrine, dedicated to the divine souls of the Emperor and his consort, the Empress Shoken, is over 175 acres of parkland in Yoyogi, Shibuya-Ku, in the middle of Tokyo. The garden is planted with 120,000 trees of 365 different species, donated by people from all parts of Japan when the shrine was constructed. The bodies of the Emperor and Empress are interred at a graveyard in Fushimi Momoyama Ryo in Kyoto. Only the souls are here.

In mid-June before the rainy season begins, an iris garden built by the Emperor as a gift for the Empress is in bloom. The curving bed has more than a thousand varieties of iris from white through the deepest violet. In mid June the garden is a great swath of blooms. All along the path which circles the garden are photographers and painters and viewers enjoying the Emperor’s gift. There are so many artists at work here, you can barely walk without obstructing someone’s view, ending up inadvertently in some photographic record of the day.

Couples dressed "appropriately" as required walk sedately around the paths, stopping at the lotus crowded ponds to watch the carp and gold fish, who accustomed to being fed by the looming shadows above, swarm to the edge, climbing over each others backs, their mouths working in welcome, blowing kisses.

The shrine building is in the middle of the grounds surrounded by trees. The main gate or sacred arch which guards the entrance is the largest in Japan – 12 meters high and 9 meters wide. The shrine itself is built in the traditional architecture called nagarezukuri of Japanese cypress wood from Kiso.

As you stroll along the graveled paths you reach the torii gate. To your left is temizusha, a fountain of sacred water where you rinse your hands and mouth using water from the stone basin, dipped with a bamboo dipper. Thus purified you may approach the shrine. At the main shrine building there is an box where you may deposit your offering. There are kiosks selling wooden prayers which are hung from a rack nearer the shrine building. In front of the shrine, one should bow twice, then clap twice. When you have said your piece, you bow and depart. This is the appropriate way to behave at a shrine.

As many emperors and empresses before them, the Meiji’s composed poetry favoring the waka or tanka, 31 syllables of five lines divided 5, 7, 5, 7. 7. The emperor was said of have composed an astonishing 100,000 wakas during his life time. The writing of poetry is called the way of shikishima (a poetic name for Japan). Poetry here is revered and grows out of the reverence for the now, the daily life.
I trust the translation captures the essence of the Emperor’s waka:
In a stormy world
there should be no wavering
of our hearts
Be as the ancient pine tree
with roots sunk deep into stone
The empress too wrote waka, 30,000 compared to her husband’s amazing output.
Every morning we
gaze into our unblemished
mirrors – if only
our souls could reach such pristine
existence, such clarity

Know that I translate from existing clunky, awkward English versions which I hope I’ve improved.
A trail to the left takes you to the Kiyomasa Well, the source of the sacred spring where you may touch the water before it spills into the ponds where the pink and white lotus float. The sign says please do not drink. The water is cool and clear. We rinse our hands. There is something about the appellation "sacred." No matter whose gods or whose mythology – we want it.
At Mieji Jingu
Drinking from Temizusha
I expect too much

In the distance tyco drums are pounding out a rhythmic background for a ceremony taking place. Shinto, someone says. I read the brochure in English as we walk through the many varieties of trees to the intense cawing of crows. At the bottom in the small print there is a brief message "The building was completed in 1920, but was lost by fire during the last war. " No hard feelings though. "Please refrain from entering areas that are prohibited."
Better left unsaid
that which cannot be changed
mourning blue iris

  We exit the Meijijingu on a gravel path and re-enter the city. Stepping on to the platform/bridge at Harajuku Station is like exiting the 19th century and finding yourself in the 21st. On the bridge hundreds of teenagers gather. The girls are dressed to the nines (whatever the nines are) in costumes which though bizarre are dazzlingly appropriate. I spot two nurses, French maids, a little Dutch girl, two brides wearing long white western bridal dresses complete with veils and bouquets. Others aren’t dressed as "something" but inhabit a purely personal costume. They wear three or four inch high platform shoes. Their eyes are shadowed in silver or pale blue and tossed with sparkles. Their hair is dyed red or gold and shimmers in the sun.

I am dazzled by the activity, the costumes, the noise. I step back in time. This is a be-in, a happening. Wow. A girl is shaking an amplifier and the electronic whine accompanies the echo of the Tyco drums from inside the shrine gardens. I don’t know what to photograph first – I’m looking at it all through the lens of a camera. A girl dressed in bright red stands at attention when she spots me. She is tall in her red 5 inch platform boots. Her outfit is red, even her hair is bright red. She assumes a pose and flashes me the peace sign just as I snap. I return the sign. My good old days. Her new days. Peace.

I want to stay, but my companions hustle me through the crowd to the other side. What’s wrong with me? I love this. They seem to be embarrassed by it. This is the new Japan. The din hurts my ears. A boy is whanging an electric guitar in front of a crowd of girls. He is so into it he doesn’t even see them. They shake various body parts to a rhythm I can’t distinguish. He humps his guitar. They raise their hands over their heads and sway.

The contrast between the old and the new is like a slap in the face. It gets your complete attention. I don’t know where to look. My head swivels back and forth as we dart through the crowd. My ears are under attack. There is no melody. The old drums keep the beat.

Japanese youth dye their hair red and yellow, spike it with goo, pierce their ears, pierce their noses. They wear platforms and/or baggy ghetto style pants, bell bottoms, tight tees with odd sayings: Unlimited possibilities (over and over), Today will never ocme againe (sic). . . . Their cell phones ring – moshi moshi. Every teen in the country is electronically in touch at every moment.

Here at Karajuku Station the sixties are beginning. This is Tokyo’s Haight Asbury. This is the generation that will change everything. The old Japan, the old ways, will disappear. This generation wants change. Not for these women the shuffle and bow, not for them the alikeness which tinges the whole island. Do you think that guitar player will become a salaryman singing karaoke on a night out? Do you think the word appropriate will jump them into pumps and stockings? Stand like a pine tree in these stormy times. Show your style in an unblemished mirror. There are many sacred ways.
A Found Poem on a Jeans Store Sign:
Young spirits who love nature and city
Open 24 hours
Walt Whitman in anthology Animals

© Helen Ruggiere
March 2002


FootHills Publishing is proud to announce the publication of Helen Ruggieri's new book, Character For Woman Character For Woman is a collection of haibun (prose and haiku) and poetry inspired by her recent stay in Japan. Helen says of the work: "I think you have to be born Japanese to write a true haibun, but I don't see any problem with stealing ideas from other cultures and bending them to my American way of thinking. I kept a journal during a recent visit to Japan and the entries were a way of thinking for me. I wanted to describe what I saw and experienced so that I could understand and remember. The haiku seemed to stick themselves in as capsulizations. The haibun is an interesting form and as one who has long been interested in poetry and journal keeping, it seemed a natural extension as well as a way to blend east and west. Apologies to Basho, but I was looking at the moon and not his finger." Helen Ruggieri spent a semester as a visiting professor at Yokohama College of Commerce. She lives in Olean, NY and teaches at the University of Pittsburgh, Bradford, PA. She received a Sasakawa fellowship from the Nippon Foundation for the study of Japanese culture. Her poetry book, Glimmer Girls, is available from Mayapple Press. Character For Woman is a 60 page, hand-stitched perfect-bound book. This is Helen's first FootHills Publishing release. To order by mail send $10.00 per book plus $1.25 shipping and handling per address sent to. (New York State Residents please add 80 cents sales tax per book) FootHills Publishing P.O. Box 68 Kanona, New York 14856 To order on-line using our secure server CCNOW, go to:

Helen Ruggieri
As with all things Japanese there is an art to using umbrellas and during the long rainy season you have time to learn it.

Shibuya No Techno

Brian R Wood in Tokyo

If I try to understand everything about Shibuy
a, then I wouldn't be really experiencing something that, by nature, defies understanding.

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