Sayonara, A Bow, An Expression…

Now seated comfortably on the bus toward Narita Airport, I thought about that first night in April when I arrived not knowing what to expect but completely open to new adventures.  As I waited on that chilly night for transportation to take me to Tokyo, I saw a porter bow deeply at a departing bus.  I was struck by the grace of the salutation, the expression, and the ultimate acknowledgement of respect. Throughout my stay, I was bowed to, my students bowed to each other, and I too began to bow: apologetically for not knowing the language well enough to communicate freely, but most of all as way to express my appreciation and gratitude.

One late afternoon in June I was walking toward the Gotanda Station and passed the same spot on the bridge that is in the image of the first posting of this dairy: trees sprinkling their fading blossoms along the river one rainy day back in April.    The sun was now setting on this very same scene, casting a dreamy golden light on the buildings and water. The trees were now a fresh green.  I stopped for a moment to take a picture.  Later when I compared the images, I was struck by the differences—spring to summer—which not only indicated the passing of time, but renewal and transformation.

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Svadhyaya:” Commentary on a Yoga Teacher’s Sabbitical

After leaving the restaurant that rainy evening, I quietly walked up Nishi-Gotanda towards my apartment.   Worn to a frazzle from all of the weekend’s festivities–I still had to pack, meticulously clean the apartment, and be prepared to leave by 1:00 p.m. the next day, July 2.  Although I had been organizing off-and-on throughout in the week, I found that I still needed to make room in my three suitcases for new things, which meant getting rid of the old.   As I quickly got busy tearing into this herculean task, I began to think about a concept that had periodically crossed my mind – that this entire experience was somewhat like a “sabbatical.” I realized how lucky I was to have the opportunity to really immerse myself and concentrate on teaching, learning and practicing yoga.    Moreover, the circumstances of this situation allowed me to cultivate, in-depth, many facets of teaching.  At the beginning of each week, I would glance at the teacher-training manual, highlighting topics that I needed to spend more time on–nothing was left out, and then decisively prepare for upcoming sessions.  Luckily I had the foresight to bring a small library of yoga books (costing me more at the airport), which provided invaluable research support.   Instead of circumventing topics that I found intimidating I boldly approached, yoga philosophy, the Yoga Sutras, subtle body, anatomy–and lectured for hours on them.  I once e-mailed one of my friends to say that I suddenly felt like a “yoga scholar.”   For the first time I began to grasp the essence of subjects that had perplexed me for years and now saw the potential for deeper understanding through continued study, future trainings or use through other applications.  Furthermore, the five classes I taught during the week pushed my professional boundaries: Level 1, Level ½, Level 2/3, Yoga Therapeutics, & “Vinyasa Flow and Meditation” and four workshops, offered variety, a chance to create interesting sequences, and develop workshop content. The workshops were new for me and I was able to develop an inspiring project to move forward —“Living a Better Life Through Yoga” will continue on. 

In conjunction with this intense yoga immersion, I was able to focus on myself–although the photographs of the Tokyo training show me interacting socially, in reality I spent a lot of time alone—with my thoughts, positive and negative.  A sort of  “vipassana”–with deep-rooted samskaras persistently rising to the surface, forcing me to process and face my obstacles (klésas).   “Svadhyaya” one of the niyamas outlined in the eight-limbs of Pantanjali’s Yoga Sutras, describes the concept of  “self-study” where we examine not only spiritual texts, but also ourselves–even our physical practice can be a form of personal discovery.  Coincidentally my life in L.A. before venturing abroad was full of conflict and I was at a crossroads–weary, suffering from chronic back & joint pain, stressed financially, I asked myself,  “Can I continue on this path as a yoga teacher?”   Constant mental chatter –chitta vrittis– clouded my thoughts, limiting my ability to be focused and organized.  Although my colleagues reassured me, I didn’t feel competent or ready to lead training, “Why me?” I asked.  Yet, I felt I had nothing to lose by coming to Tokyo.  My brother, Alaric Phillips said that maybe I would find the answers and solutions while I was away. He had also given me the Japanese version of the Rosetta Stone as a “bon voyage gift” adding another stimulating component of learning. 

Busy sorting clothes, dishes & cookware in the early morning hours, the packing and cleaning was now in full swing. This simple, modest room was like a sanctuary–a home away from home, with its intimate space equipped with a tiny kitchen, bathroom and even a washing machine.  The television offered invaluable insight into Japanese traditions and popular culture and cooking.  Setting a weekly schedule of self-practice, I placed my mat on a sliver of floor space, and for up to two hours or more, worked on poses that were challenging to me, honestly addressing the parts of my body that offered the most resistance–something I couldn’t manage to do in Los Angeles.  Slowly my back pain started to go away, stress subsided and I lost weight ( 10 lbs!).  The impossibly hard bed actually became comfortable and the claustrophobic cramped space actually became cozy.  “Overcoming obstacles that come your way.” 

As I taught Pantajali’s Yoga Sutras to my students, a number of the aphorisms applied to my personal circumstances.  “Atha Yoganusasasnam”(1.1) as we all started out on this journey together, I began to learn and appreciate yoga again through new eyes and filtered through a new environment and language. “Yogas Citta Vritti Nirodaha” (1.2) as I worked on confronting my personal obstacles (klésas), the” ripples in the lake” became clearer and I was able to see my true self “Tada Drastuh Svarupe Vasthanam” (1.3)

Slowly I began to see what was wrong with life in L.A., with teaching yoga, and I started thinking of solutions.  Since I was able to experience three months of “bliss” where absolutely nothing went wrong, I realized that there was nothing wrong with me—I just needed to make better choices in my personal and professional life:  Slow down the chatter, get organized, stop dreaming, and face reality.  I thought to myself, “I hope that when I get back, that I can continue to connect the dots…

The next day, after thoroughly completing the tasks, I turned to look at the sparking clean apartment and neatly packed suitcases.   Arisa came to take me to the Prince Hotel in Shinagawa to catch the bus to Narita Airport.

 

 

Closing Ceremon(ies)

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 The last weekend of June was a compression of intense, ceremonious events involving the conclusion of the teacher training exams, the “Final Practice Teach,” “Closing Circle” and two dinner parties.  After completing the suspenseful ” In-Class Exam”  and turning in the “Take-Home Exam” on Saturday morning, I taught my last class based on Padmasana—I marveled at the progress that so many of the students had made in the program mastering a series of complex poses.  Our session was followed by a full afternoon of lectures and preparation for the “Final Practice Teach”–the grand finale of the Yogaworks program when the students conduct a class of assigned poses.  Although many of the students had grown confident in their teaching overall, there could still be improvement in some areas.   I gathered everyone around at the end of the day and made a few critical comments based on my observations. I really had to be firm and they seemed disappointed that I wasn’t completely satisfied with them.

On Sunday, I woke up realizing that I would be leaving for Los Angeles on Monday and as I walked toward the Gotanda teacher training studio for the last time, I wondered how things would go on this long, sentimental day of “closings.”

The “Final Practice Teach” started with Ahn Eunsun who gave a soul-stirring opening that highlighted our journey as a group together over the past months–the first tears of the day began to flow as sniffles were heard throughout the room.  Next, Kenichi Nemoto got up to teach Bidalasana, then Mikiko Goto, followed by Sayaka Iso… the class flowed seamlessly throughout the morning from one newly minted teacher to the next–all twenty-eight of them.   This wonderful class was punctuated with evaluations and comments–my voice cracked occasionally as intermittent tears swelled up in my eyes.  To my surprise everyone rose the to the occasion.  Many of the students who had overcome personal obstacles to make this challenging mental and physical expedition, flourished and held their space.  I had done my job–what seemed impossible on the very first day of training in April had come to a miraculous termination.  I also couldn’t believe I had spent nearly three months living in Tokyo!  Shortly before the “Closing Circle”— a couple of students wanted me to autograph their mats, then slowly one-by-one they all lined up for me to sign or write out a special note –jubilation filling the room as the training comes to an end!

Finally the sacred “Closing Circle.”  I’ve assisted at least three trainings and the profound “Closing Circle” is an intensely emotional experience for a teacher to get through–it’s a revelation of powerfully sensitive comments as people reflect on a journey.  Each persons’ story is earnestly regarded as they make a bold step to share their deepest feelings.  We chose to do a candle exchange and Tomoko quietly and patiently whispered every remark in my ear as each person in the circle spoke after receiving a candle.  I listened and was surprisingly composed as I took it all in.

Charlotte Tanaka and Natsumi Ishikawa had formed a committee to organize our sensational closing party which would be at a nearby Indian restaurant. Curry is popular in Tokyo and there are a surprising number of Indian restaurants throughout the city and our group commandeered a small place for the evening. We enjoyed a delicious, festive pre-fix meal of assorted curry dishes washed down with mango lasses.  I got up to walk to the other tables and was then given a book made by the students: a fuchsia colored photo album of pictures taken by me, them, along with personalized hand written notes.   Although numerous  wonderful gifts were given to me throughout the day and into the dinner, this one in particular tugged at my heart–the idea of this intimate and devout gift was such a surprise!  At that moment, they wanted me to get up and give a speech.  I stood up and began to thank them for being great students, their thoughtful gifts and the dinner party, as continued I suddenly  began sobbing and couldn’t say another word.   Then Lotte said, “We have to clear the room!”   Kenichi instructed me how to chant “YYYYOOO”! and then told me that I should clap once afterwards.  I laughed hysterically and then after a moment we all shouted “YYYYYOOOOO!!!” and clapped once loudly in unison.  This ritual is called  “Ippon Sime,” a Japanese custom that is carried out to clear a space, to close a ceremony or event and also expresses appreciation for the visitor–a remarkable and glorious end to our training and time together.

As I walked outside into the rain, I turned say farewell to my students before heading out with Tomoko and Arisa to a going away party for me hosted by the YogaPlus teachers…

A congregation of teachers were seated on floor cushions at a long table covered with numerous dishes of tofu, fish, tempura and assorted drinks.  I had associated with them over the months through workshops and the classes they took with me during the week. Three of the teachers were also my translators for these classes.  My work activities with them were just as significant as my time with the students in the teacher training, compounding my responsibilities as a teacher and mentor.  Stuffed from the dinner, I couldn’t eat another bite.  However, it was always fun to socialize with the YogaPlus teachers–they were a lively enthusiastic bunch and before I realized it was around 9:00 p.m and I still needed to pack!   I thought, “I will be up all night,” but they didn’t want me to leave and I had a hard time tearing myself away.  At one point, Mikoto said “Romy you must stay in Japan!”  I laughed “believe me” I said, “I would love to!” but it was time for me to go.   We got up to take a few photos and then shared a joyous hug circle”–never had I felt so accepted and embraced by people and it was sincerely touchingPeriodically, I would overhear  Yuri and Tomoko mention the concept of “Sangha”  which traditionally is a collective term identifying all Buddhist “Bhikkhu.”  Furthermore, in Sanskrit “Samga” means association, assembly,  and “gana” flock, troop, tribe.” The interpretation of these terms  appropriately applied to this yoga “sangha”  of talented teachers and students.  As I left with my bags of gifts, I turned to see the group standing and waving good-bye. “Sayonaora!” I said….in my mind, I can still see the image of them standing there smiling warmly.

The Subway

That Friday evening after returning  to Gotanda from Kamakura,  I realized that this would be the last time I would be on  the subway before leaving Tokyo. As I rode the escalator exiting the station, I saw the billboard for “Tipness Fitness” which had been running an advertisement campaign throughout the spring.  Although there were many other engaging and dynamic advertisements,  I always liked seeing this particular ad because it seemed to capture the frantic energy of the subway and the exuberant youthful spirit I felt embodied many people I had met in Tokyo.

I recounted how I overcame my fear of  Tokyo’s challenging, sprawling subway over the weeks and marveled at my ability to get around with more confidence.  I never had a problem with New York City’s “grid-like” mass transit system where I lived for 18 years.  However, in contrast Tokyo’s web of meandering train lines was much more intimidating.  First of all, the signage is written in Japanese  with English translations listed underneath or flashed across screens.  Secondly, although English subway maps are available, you really need to study it before you head out because many stops on local routes aren’t indicated and you need to know the final destination of that specific train line.  For example, Sangenjaya is an unmarked stop on the Den-en-toshi Line with Chuo-rinkan being the final stop. At first, I was only traveling from Gotanda to Shibuya and then transferring to Sangenjaya—I would only venture further out on the train when I was taken on outings.  Nevertheless, Soufflar gave me some advice that would prove invaluable in helping me navigate around the subway–stick to the JR Line which forms a loop around the city and then take connecting routes from that line.  In addition, the city’s major subway stops—Ueno, Ikebukuro, Shinjuku, Shibuya, Shimbashi & Tokyo are strategically positioned on this circle. This advice worked out perfectly for me. I should also note that the trains are punctual and the courteous nature of the Japanese extends to the subway where people line up single file to enter the train, even during rush hour. Yes you do get packed in by subway attendants if its busy, but you have to line up first.

Ueno Station

Ueno StationShibuya Station

10:00 p.m. Shibuya Station

A Trip to Kamakura with Tomoko Kawahara

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Friday of that week, June 29, Tomoko Kawahara took me to Kamakura–we had been working so hard during the training that we never had time to spend any social time together. Many people had mentioned that I would like Kamakura, a seaside community that features nearly forty shrines and temples, notably the Great Buddha of Kamakura. We took a number of trains there and  finally ended up approximately an hour outside of Tokyo. Once there we paid for a trolley to take us to the local spots. Our first stop was an organic restaurant on Yuigahama Beach for a lunch of tempeh with tomato sauce, and assorted vegetarian dishes.

After walking on the beach we strolled up to the view the Great Buddha at the Kotoku-in Temple.  As usual, before entering the grounds you cleanse at a purification fountain and then proceed. There seemed to be hundreds of people on the Temple grounds on this hot, sunny day. The Great Buddha of Kamakura (Daibutsu) is massive (13.35 meters/43.8ft tall  and weighs approx. 93 tonnes/270,000 lbs).  It is one of the most famous icons of Japan as well as its tallest bronze Buddha and I was very impressed that this icon has existed on this site unharmed since the 1252.  The original Buddha was made out of wood in 1243 and later destroyed and the various halls that housed the Buddha over the centuries succumbed to various natural disasters.   The current bronze statue was cast to replace it and may have been gilded which would have a magnificent sight to see. The statue is hollow and Tomoko said that it is believed that “going inside the Buddha will let you start a new.”  At first I wasn’t sure–I couldn’t imagine walking through the Buddha in the heat with dozens of school children.  However,  I said, “I am returning to L.A.  and could use a new start, let’s go inside.”

From there we strolled along a cheerful, quaint street through  town, passing a small temple, Shū Genji, which was built to commemorate Shijokingo a faithful believer of the religion Nichiren who was persecuted in 1271.  This temple, a former residence made of wood was modest in size surrounded by a brushy garden.

After a quick snack of  matcha  gelato we took the trolley to another stop nearby to see the hilltop Jojuin Temple (c. 1219),  surrounded by 262  pale blue, lavender, pink & white hydrangea bushes on a slope overlooking the ocean.  Jojuin is also referred to as the “Hydrangea Temple” and we were fortunate to be there for peak blooming season.  “262” is the number of Chinese characters used in Hannya-shingyo Sutra. 108 steps lead up to the temple–“108” is the number of tolling bells on New Years eve. The temple grounds had various statues commemorating prominent Buddhist priests associated with this compound.

As we walked toward the train station, we stopped by the Gokurakuji Temple which was built-in Fukazawa in 1259 by the Buddhist priest Ryokanbo Ninsho and then moved to Kamakura around 1262. After and  crouching down to enter the wooden gate we walked down a shaded path toward a very interesting complex  of ornately carved wooden structures.

From there we took the trolley back to the train station and transferred to a bus that would weave its way through Kamakura to the amazing Hokokuji Temple.  Founded by Tengan Eko (Buddhist name Butsujo-Zenji) who was a representative of the Zen literary movement known as Gozan Bungak, this sanctuary flourished as the family temple of both the Ashikaga and Uesugi clans.  A magical and vast  garden of 2,000 Mōsō Bamboo trees dominates the property which is the reason why this complex is commonly referred to as the “Bamboo Temple.”    We decided to rest for a while at the tea house (Kyūkōan) and had fresh matcha tea under a canopy of bamboo overlooking a small waterfall.  A leisurely tour of the temple grounds revealed surprising highlights:  carved stone reliquaries, statues decorated with red hats, deep blue tinged hydrangea, a cave of tombs (Yagura), and a thatched roof bell tower.

Once back at the train station, I saw  trees decorated with colorful ribbons of paper and origami. I can’t remember the specific story associated with the decorated trees that Tomoko told me, but they were delightful and whimsical, so I took a picture.

In all, we saw five temples that day and it would take several trips to see them all.  I asked Tomoko what the difference was between a “temple” and “shrine” and with a little more investigation I found that one is “Buddhist “and the other “Shinto.” “Shinto” (Kami Nomchi—“the way of the Gods”) is a religion indigenous to Japan that worships nature. Originally people prayed to the great natural phenomena such as mountains, wind,rain, trees, rivers, fertility and powerful deities that inhabit heaven and earth.  Distinguishing characteristics of “Shinto Shrines”–are a Tori Gate, such as the grand ones featured at the Meiiji Shrine. In addition, there is a purification fountain near the entrance to cleanse your mouth and hands before prayer.

“Buddhism”  (Bukkyō) made its way into Japan in the 6th century via China and Korea. Predominant details of “Budhhist Temples” are:  the presence of the color red as evident with the Senso-ji Temple ( or a red gate (Yukuimon) and other items); an image of Buddha; and a large incense burner placed in front of the temple. Smoke created by the burning of incense is said to have healing properties. In addition, a pagoda is on the premises.

My trip to Kamakura was the perfect final sightseeing adventure to summarize my experiences in Japan and I ‘m no expert on the subject, but I could see first hand that influences of Shinto are pervasive in almost every aspect of Japanese life and culture–the naturalness of the structures, food and even clothing; respect for people, animals and towards all living things; traditions and celebrations.  Furthermore, there is relatively little crime in Japan and people are generally good spirited and very kind. Nevertheless,  these two religions—Shinto and Buddhism–coexist and complement each other which creates a harmonious balanced life.

 

Sightseeing: The Meiji Shrine

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Although I’ve been back in Los Angeles since July 2,  I have a few more stories to tell that conclude my experience in Tokyo. The last week of my stay there was a flurry of activities which made it difficult for me to keep up with the blog–last-minute sightseeing, final obligations to complete the teacher training, packing and traveling.  One of the sightseeing excursions was a visit to the Meiji Shrine which turned out to be a completely different experience than the Senso-ji Temple.  Serene and cool, the impressive Meiji Shrine complex is situated on 175  tree covered acres with adjoining gardens  that make up a surprisingly restful oasis located in the midst of Yoyogi Park.  You first enter a towering Tori gate which dwarfs any human being and then follow a shaded path through a lush forest of pines.   Along this tranquil walk on the path towards the shrine you pass a colorful wall of sake barrels  (nihonshu) which are donated for ceremonies and festivals.  Traditionally in Japan, sake has always been a way to bring gods and people together. Weddings and other services are often held at the Meiji Shrine and I have been told that if you can visit on Sundays, you may be able to see some of the ceremonies with participants wearing traditional kimonos.

After passing through another Tori,  you can view murals depicting the history of  the creation of the Shrine which is dedicated to the Emperor Meiji and his wife Empress Shoken.  The site was chosen because they used to visit an iris garden there and the original shrine built-in 1915-1921 was destroyed in WWII and rebuilt in 1958.  In addition, 120,000 trees representing 365 species were donated and planted on the grounds.

Before entering the grounds you must stop by the purification fountain (Temizusha) and cleanse your mouth and hands before prayer (left hand first, then right and mouth). Once you finally reach the inner precinct (Naeien, the outer precinct is called Gaein) you walk through the vast plaza to the Main Shrine building.  Customarily, you throw coins into the “Offering” box and then “bow twice, clap your hands twice and bow once again.” I then wrote out a prayer and sealed in an envelope which would later be presented at an altar.

There was a certain elegant austerity to the design of the shrine compound built of copper and cypress in the traditional “nagare-zukuri” style which lent itself to the hushed devotional silence of the surroundings. After roaming the grounds I went to the graceful Iris Garden which also had a koi pond surrounded by dense green trees.  It was hard to believe I was in the middle of bustling Tokyo.  As I started to leave I felt remarkably refreshed, I’m really glad I made it there…

The Teacher Training: Tadasana / タダーサナ

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Migi–right, Hidari–left, Sute–Inhale, Haitte–Exhale”…    As the training winds down to its final weekend, I thought I would describe the elaborate system we devised for processing the homework.  In addition, to communicating through a live translator, we had to take things a step further.  A big component of the Yogaworks Teacher Training is the homework–written essays, sequences and reading assignments.  I was told that there wouldn’t be anyone to translate the homework and many of the other teachers had the students do this as a class assignment.  However, I remember how much I gained from receiving personal feedback on these assignments and felt that I had to figure out a way to give these students the same. One teacher who previously taught one of these trainings, Eka Ekong, said that she pasted the assignments into Google Translator—it took a lot of time but at least she could tell what the students where doing.  The translation is awkward and fragmented and sometimes not an accurate description of what someone is saying, but at least you know get an understanding  of what is said and if the student is getting the assignments. The first time I did this it was a humongous undertaking, twenty-eight teaching scripts written in Japanese flooded my inbox and I tediously cut and past each one into Google Translator and sent them back.  Finally, I had them  translate their assignments through Google translator paste it into the document under their Japanese version, and send it to me.  I would then read and type responses in red in the document and then send  it back to them.  This takes a long time and I spent most of my  free time during the week keeping up with this project.  However, the pay off was beneficial, I was able to offer advice and most of all, it really helped me to remember their names.

Sample of teaching script:

これからTrikonasanaのポーズに入ります。ブロックの2個使います。

両手と両足を広げ、足首が手首の下にあることを確認してください。ブロックはかかとの後ろに1つずつ置きます。

右足を90度外側に、左足は45度内側に向けます。左足の土ふまずが右足のかかとと一直線上にあることを確認します。足の四隅で地面をしっかり踏み、太ももに力を入れて立ちましょう。両手を広げ肩をリラックスさせます。息を吸いながら上半身の両側を伸ばし、息を吐きながら上体を右側に倒します。右手はブロックの上に、左手はまっすぐ天井に向けます。

(Google Translator)

Now goes into Trikonasana pose. Use two of the block.

Hands and feet spread out, please make sure that the bottom of the wrist and ankles. Place one block behind the heel.

90 degrees outside right foot, left foot 45 degrees toward the inside. Make sure that it is on the line with the heel of the right foot first Sat of the left foot Fu. Stepping firmly on the ground in the four corners of the foot, let’s start focusing on the thighs. The shoulder is relaxed with open arms. Both sides of the upper body while stretching breath, and pivot to the right the upper body while exhaling. Right hand on top of the block, left hand is straight up towards the ceiling.

Segment of Sequencing Assignment:

シークエンス(後屈、ツイスト)

シャバーサナ(ブロックを頭、胸椎の下に置く)

セツバンダ(呼吸と連動させて、手も上げ下げする)(ブロックを腿に挟む)

エカ・パダ・アパナーサナ

テーブルトップ

CAT/COW

エクステンドチャイルド

ダウンドッグ→プランク→ダウンドッグ

(足を手元へステップ)ウッタナーサナ→タダーサナ

太陽礼拝C(プランク、ダウンドッグ)×2

太陽礼拝A×3

English translation…

Savasana (Block under the head and thoracic)

Setu Bandhasana (in conjunction with breathing / Sandwich the block in thighs)

Eka Pada Apanasana

Table Top Pose

Cat/Cow

Extended Child Pose

AMS→Plank→AMS

(Step Forward) Uttanasana→Tadasana

Surya NamasukarC (Plank/AMS)×2

Surya NamasukarA×3

Everyone took their final exam today and a couple had the option of looking at an english version. I marvel at the ability we all had to communicate such complex topics, learn a common language–Sanskirt, and flourish over the past 11 weeks.

I’ve also included additional images of  students who weren’t included the photo essay from “The Teacher Training: Weeks 5 & 6.”

“Yokocho” Tokyo Alleys & Side Streets

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Space is a premium in Tokyo, alleys and side streets are prime real estate and I’ve discovered that they are hidden communities where locals convene to go to the market.  Yokocho means “alleys to the side of the main street.” One of my favorite side streets is Togoshiginza in Gotanda. I usually take a stroll there to relieve tension after the teacher training on Saturday or Sunday evenings; or to get my favorite fish sandwich for lunch at the bakery; shop for vegetables; or stop at the 100Y shop.  There are other neighborhoods interesting “side streets” as well, Sangenjaya is a maze of rustic and colorful venues; bargains can be found in Kichijojoi; and the narrow streets in Shimokitzawa make up a lively bohemian village.  Next to Ueno Park is the popular “Ameyayokocho,”  an exotic, sprawling mix of food stalls, shops and even a  gorgeous shrine. If you ever visit Tokyo, remember to be adventurous and look around the corner, you never know what you may find.

Gotanda

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In contrast to Shibuya is the neighborhood in which I am staying, Gotanda,  and in my opinion reflects a real Japanese community.  Over these three months here, I’ve come to realize that Tokyo is not Shibuya but more like Gotanda, a balanced mix of residential and business and a small city within a city. I’ve now explored the quiet streets, walked along the river and eaten in many of the petite restaurants and cafes.  It’s relatively quiet for an urban environment and when I walk home from the station or class, I feel grateful that I’m staying here and not in Shibuya.  One day, in search of a park, I walked all the way to Meguro and back.  It took me all day, but it was one of the best days I’ve spent here. The photos depict the contrast of the imagined Tokyo and the real.

Shibuya

I always had this image of Tokyo before I came here and it was much like Shibuya. Twice a week, I change trains at the bustling Shibuya station on my way to teach in Sangenjaya.  Yes, the busiest cross walk in the world is there–and its a sight to see.  In fact,  I remember the first time I had to leave the station to change trains when I heard a fervent hum in the air–a cacophony of sound emanating from the thousands of people, electricity and trains that literally pierces through the body.    Shibuya is energetic, dense and teaming with tourists.  Many locals and natives avoid it. When I once told Yuri that I was going to Shibuya, she said “Why go there?”  I will admit that I’ve come to like other parts of Tokyo for shopping or walking around and actually there are more neighborhoods that reflect the “real” Tokyo.  However, I’m not through with Shibuya yet and curiosity makes me leave the station on my way to Sangenjaya to walk around and take in the zany spectacle of it all.