Sunday, July 22, 2012

"Listening to the Wind" and "Hibiya Park" (1999)

"Listening to the Wind"

(990212) I worked in a strange frame of mind today, mulling over a number of issues that have recently come up.  Getting off work, I put my backpack on, took the elevator down to the first floor, and walked through the expensive stone lobby, with its music and atmosphere putting one in a certain frame of mind... (interesting how quickly nice things feel so natural, and are so easy to get used to)...  Pausing near the revolving door that automatically starts revolving as you approach, I looked over at the golden colored escalators going down to the basement restaurants, feeling the guard's eyes watching my paused form... I continued on through the revolving door, and stepped out into the cold and windy evening.

Outside, I let the wind carry me, as it were, and found myself walking down a (comparatively) dark side street... as I paused to see if a Prelude parked on the left had a manual or an automatic transmission (automatic unfortunately), I started walking again just as a guard with a flashlight checking out the bushes around one of the buildings seemed about to come over.  (Ever since the poison gas attack on the Tokyo subways a few years back, security people and guards all over the city go on regular patrols to check if there are any suspicious objects left lying about.  The caution is good, but the feeling in the air is not.)

I walked to the end of the street, and saw that I was heading in the direction of the Imperial Palace.  At the main road that runs between the palace grounds and the business district, I turned left, walked past the old Palace Hotel (I wonder how they picked that name...) and suddenly found myself in a new park (on the left) constructed on part of what was once one of the outer moats of Edo Castle (now the Imperial Palace).  The park consists of a sort of open stone plaza with artificial streams running across it, pools with fountains (turned off when I was there) and little blue lights everywhere shining up out of the stone.  On the other side of the plaza is a restaurant (closed last night - only open during the day?), and a remnant of the moat on the other side of a tree topped high stone wall from the castle days.  After walking around the plaza a little (empty except for a few couples braving the cold), I stopped by the old wall, looking up at the large trees growing up on top... rather like a natural hill... and... I'm not too sure you're really supposed to do this, but I climbed up a flight of steep stone steps built into part of the old barrier, and found myself on top of the three or four meter thick wall, standing on dried leaves, small sticks, and dirt, under the large old trees.  The feeling there was quite interesting... something like a cross between standing on a busy street in a huge city, and standing among the trees on a deserted mountain somewhere!!  In the clear air, I looked over the ancient moat and the road running along it at the business district on the other side....

I must really be used to living in Tokyo, as there didn't seem to be anything incompatible about standing on an outer wall of a feudal castle and looking at cars whizzing back and forth on a busy road with high rise electric office buildings beyond......  Hmmm.  I walked around awhile on the wall, looking down the almost vertical slope of it to the waters of the moat down below... and then to the city on the other side... to the past... to the future....  The winter winds in Tokyo make it very cold, but they also blow the internal combustion engine exhaust away someplace, and so that feeling of being up on a mountain as I listened to the wind in the leaves overhead (some of the trees were a type that doesn't shed its leaves in the cold) could only happen in the winter I think.

I walked over to the other end of the wall, and looked up the wide road (the center section blocked to traffic, and only opened for the Emperor I hear) to Tokyo Station.  Tokyo Station... for the first time, I understood why it's not considered worthy of saving by some.  Personally, I think it is, but as I stood there on the moat wall, it didn't seem important.  In the clear, cold, windy air, standing under the trees, there seemed to be a connection between the blue lights in the new stone, the artificial streams, the old trees growing on the outer moat wall, the moat, the new bridge built across the moat in the old style, and the electric office buildings.  But try as I might, I couldn't get either the cars, or Tokyo Station to fit neatly into that connected picture.

What does it mean?  I don't know... that's just the way it seemed!

It was a timeless time up there... I never once thought of looking at my watch to see the time, so I can't say how long I was up there really, but somewhere between fifteen minutes and an hour.

I climbed back down the steep stone steps, and looking back up to the top of the wall from the ground, it was really quite amazing how low the wall looked - how could it seem so high from the top, and so low from the ground.....

I walked around the plaza a bit, and looking across the street to the area close enough to the Imperial Palace that guards are always on duty, with powerful floodlights lighting the entrance roads, I turned left and walked over to an area of the "Imperial Palace Outer Garden" with trees and walk lanes (wide enough for a car) winding through them.  I walked down one of the roads, past the empty park benches neatly lining both sides, and as I looked at the trees, I wondered:

"..... the trees look healthy - what is it exactly that is unsettling about this area...."

And then suddenly it hit me...  No bushes!  There are lots of trees, but the grass is clipped very short, and there are no bushes or anything at all that it would be possible to hide behind.  Being near the Imperial Palace, that might well be by design, but it gives the wooded area a strange barren feel to it, which made neighboring Hibiya Park (my next stop) seem positively like a jungle.

"Hibiya Park"

I've been through Hibiya Park many times before, but always from one of the other three corners, so it felt like being somewhere I had never been as I walked in from the entrance closest to the palace.

I walked up a small hill, and then down the other side, where I was surprised to discover a replica of the (American) "Liberty Bell".  There was a stone plaque in Japanese on the front, and a smaller brass one in English on the back, saying (taken from the English plaque):

"Dedicated to you, a free citizen in a free land.
     This reproduction of the famous Liberty Bell in Independence Hall, Philadelphia, was presented to the people of Japan by a group of American companies at the suggestion of General Douglas MacArthur.  This presentation was arranged by the honorable John W. Snyder, Secretary of the United States Treasury.
     The dimensions and tone are identical with that of the original Liberty Bell when it rang out the Independence of America in 1776.  Becoming thereby a symbol of freedom to not only Americans, but all mankind.
     In standing before this symbol, you have the opportunity to dedicate yourself, as did the founding fathers of the United States, to the principles of freedom which you share with free citizens everywhere."

And while the text was the same, the Japanese side carried the additional information that it was put there in 1952, and that the "Nihon Shinbun" (Nihon Newspaper) was involved as well.

It's interesting to stumble onto something like that.....  I wonder how people here feel about that monument in Hibiya Park.  I think I'll try asking people I know, and see what they say.  Personally, I thought of Fukuzawa Yukichi (1835-1901), a really fascinating man - (his autobiography is one of the most interesting ones I've read).  Properly explaining his life would take too long, but here's an excerpt from "Japan - An Illustrated Encyclopedia" (Kodansha):

".............. that he came to realize his mission in life.  This was nothing less than to educate his countrymen to an entirely new way of thinking based on the principles of Western civilization.  Japan was weak and backward, he decided, because its culture lacked two things possessed by Western nations: science and the spirit of independence.  Inculcate these things into the Japanese nation and it would soon grow in power and wealth so as to rival Great Britain and be secure from any threat of Western attack and exploitation.
     To the task of enlightening (keimo) the Japanese people in this manner Fukuzawa devoted the rest of his life.  In his teaching at Keio Gijuku (already one of the largest schools in the country), through the policy of his newspaper, in his personal life, and above all in his voluminous and lucid writings, he constantly strove to show that traditional Japanese ideas and values were wrong and to replace them with others derived from Western positivism and liberalism.  To this end, he defined a new concept of jitsugaku, or practical knowledge, and propounded new views of history, ethics, politics, and international relations.  He proposed a new scheme of family relationships, championing particularly the cause of women.
     Fukuzawa never accepted any government post, remaining a private citizen all his life.  By the time of his death he was a national figure, with former pupils in all walks of life, and revered as one of the founders of the new Japan.  ............."

In his autobiography, the thing that I like best about the guy is his opposition to the class system... and the saying of his that he seems best known for in Japan (judging by the response from the people I've asked) is:


(Which is in Latin in an arch at Keio University as:

This means (I'm going from the Japanese here BTW, not the Latin) - basically - "Position yourself not above, nor below others."  (There are different ways to translate this, but it's the same concept as "All men are created equal".)

I spent an hour or so wandering around Hibiya Park, stumbling into a set of five tennis courts that I must have noticed at some point several years ago, but didn't remember.  The night seemed dark and clear... people few and far between... and the past and future seemed to hang in the air.  I stopped in front of a very old looking sign on the corner of a snack stand that said "Public Phone" in Japanese, and imagined the era that it was put up in... an era when not everyone necessarily had their own phone, and no one had a cell phone.  I think I can imagine that era fairly well, as my own past includes a cell phone-less era, a time when you would walk around searching for a public phone somewhere when you needed to make a call, and wish someone to be off the thing when finding it in use.  Public phones are all over, but I've hardly used one in the past two years, and the old habit of mentally noting where they were has died, so if they were all gone tomorrow, I might not even notice.

By the time I walked out of the park onto a busy street near the Imperial Hotel, I felt as though I had been hiking in the mountains or something, and had to mentally reassure myself that I was presentable looking in my suit and overcoat.

I walked past the Imperial Hotel and turned left at the elevated tracks on the narrow street that runs by the drinking place under the tracks in the tunnel.  The street is lined with restaurants and drinking places, and looked lively and clean in the windy clear air.

And then... suddenly, I became cold.  It was strange, after all that time in the parks, as I stood in one place or another, I didn't feel really cold until I was walking around on the busy streets.  There is something about being away from plants that is fatiguing I think... or is it walking on concrete?

I went underground, walked through passageways this way and that, and eventually came to my train, which turned out to be a mostly nice ride.

There are times in the winter, when you come out of the cold, and sit down on a warm train... and the people around you seem to be in a good mood - sometimes a quiet good mood, and sometimes a conversationally noisy one.  It was a conversationally noisy, but happy train car that I was lucky enough to find a seat in, and as I began to warm up, I fell asleep... until towards the end of the ride, when someone who didn't like the warmth, opened a window on the other side, and then I was cold and awake, with the constant thought "I want to be warm - I want to be warm...".

My own apartment never gets very warm in the winter, but the hot bath I took when I got home saved the day.

Copyright 1999 and 2012 by Lyle H Saxon

Lyle (Hiroshi) Saxon

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