Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Ueno in the Rain

It started with an Akamon curry in the rain.  Or out of the rain is more honest, sitting at a counter, my back to the brick wall that once served as a support for the eponymous red gate under which tens of thousands of students aspire to walk.  

I had walked past this gate, and the university it led to, a few weeks before, as the Nakasendo led me past Tokyo University in frighteningly similar weather.  The rain this time too is typhoon driven, and I walk through it away from my nearby ryokan, for my aforementioned curry, then further on toward the pond that serves as the heart of the school, with kiai shouts coming from the kyūdō dōjō above.  The steps down are slippery with wet.  

Beyond the campus, I walk around yet another body of water, nearly choked with lotus plants.  I stop at one point at the tall apartment building that stands as a monument to the fact that Donald Richie is no longer there.   

In one corner I stop at the Shitamachi museum that honors the period that Richie knew best.  The exhibits bring life to the post-war years.  On the first floor is a reproduction of an alley lined with houses, opened up like doll houses. Hanging from the windows of one are dried orange peels strung to keep the mozzies away.  Upstairs, a ground of octogenarians merrily play with the toys of their childhood.  And on a screen behind them, Ueno rises from the ashes of war.

The narrow corridors of Ameyoko-cho was one of the first things to rise, and it could be argued that it was the entrepreneurs of this one-time black market that birthed the eventual Economic Miracle and subsequent Bubble Years.  Today it is somewhat tarted up to resemble more a marketplace of any claustrophobic Asian city, complete with touts of a dozen ethnicities.

Passing through Ueno Station, I notice that there's an exhibition of feudal period Kyoto art, but I don't feel the need to go any further back in time.  Instead, I go gaze awhile at Saigo Takamori and his enormous dog.  Nearby, a half dozen homeless men are sitting beneath the overhanging lip of the public toilets, keeping out of the drizzle.  I'm amused to see that they're all reading books.  

In a similar fashion, Binzuru sits under the eves of the great temple here, keeping dry.  His red wooden belly has been rubbed white from the passing hands of those ailing.  A reminder of the high prevalence of stomach cancer here?  Or perhaps just the anxieties of living in our age, which knot my own stomach on occasion, disturbing sleep.   

Despite the light rain, the buskers hold their usual formation along the promenade.  A Peruvian pipe band, Lon Cheney's Phantom on stilts.  The music stays with me until the Toshogu shrine, then fades as I continue down the hill.  

Passing the galleries and bookstores, I find music again within the walls of an old-timey kissaten, and warm myself with a cup.  The shop has a Showa feel, and a French name, Ronault.  As a I sip, as I listen, the typhoon brings with it a premature darkness.

On the turntable:  The Avett Brothers, "Live, Volume 3" 

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