Dream

This dream was erotic, sub-narcotic
I slid beyond and into another world,
a dream within a dream
so fresh and so wired, I didn’t want to wake,
I remember her changing appearance vividly
the dark clouds and fields of injustice,
a world forgotten, a world unknown
this realm had changed her,
we entered down a long pole
and vacated through a lift,
dreaming within a dream
a pathway unlocked.

B. L. Crisp

At Night

At night he rests beside her
the anxiety is more than obvious,
he, waiting for her to touch him
he waits…
like a helpless man would
after missing the last train home,

he keeps hoping she will turn over…
but she never does,
his frustration slips and begins to build
body temperature rising and itching,

she turns over and counts in her mind
an eternal void opening with each second,
somewhere between five-six hundred…
they both fall asleep.

B. L. Crisp

The Underclass – Poverty Awareness

poverty-awarenessChildhood should be a happy time spent with friends and playing with toys, but many children in the developing world spend most of their childhood struggling to survive without much hope for a secure and productive life. Even nearly 50 years after the international War on Poverty began, much of the public conversation and official response remains disconnected from the real lives of poor families.

For example, of the 57 million people worldwide who died in 2007, 10.5 million of them were children less than five years old. 98 percent of these children were from developing nations. Treatable illnesses, such as pneumonia, malaria, diarrhoea and malnutrition become life threatening when combined with poverty, war, poor sanitation, inadequate health care and insufficient preventive measures. But poverty is not only associated with developing countries – and we must first begin to look closer to home.

In the UK there are at least 13 million people living in poverty, around 3.4 million are children. Children go without two or more items that are necessities, such as adequate clothing, toys, or three meals a day. People in poverty in the UK are living in a parallel financial universe often budgeting on a weekly cash basis with no bank account, and constantly juggling bills and debts.

Being poor isn’t just about a lack of money or possessions – the effects run much deeper. There are many studies to show that the education, health, life expectancy and employment prospects of the children of families with low incomes are much worse than they are for children born to wealthy parents. Poverty also means being powerless – having no say in the decisions that affect your life and even being robbed of the chance to take a range of subjects at school. And it can also mean being treated as a second-class citizen by the rest of society. This is the same for most poor people whether they live in a housing estate in within a city or a village in China. Poverty strips you of your dignity and affects your self-esteem and your confidence.

It is a well-known global fact that poverty is killing our future generations and restricting talented individuals across the globe from developing skills in their desired career path. And believe me, such a realisation of not being able to follow your dreams is crushing and could leave a permanent scar for life. You may think poverty is a problem for developing countries, but think again! Those delicious fruits you just bought for the kitchen table – were they bought through fair trade?

The chances are you can’t go out and help the poor and maybe you don’t want to donate to large corporate organisations, but you can buy fair trade goods, support individuals, buy the homeless person something to eat or drink, and get involved in poverty prevention and awareness campaigns. These are just some ideas.

Poverty is not born out of choice – it is due to the structures of our society and modern day world. The government in the UK give income support to those who need it, but it is only barely enough to survive on and not enough to improve one’s life. It is also a fact that people from poorer backgrounds are most likely to smoke and eat junk food, which leads to lack of exercise, which then leads to chronic disease. Junk food is not marketed to those well-educated people from wealthier backgrounds. And what about how the UK imports its oil, food and other services and products? A lot of it through modern day slave labour – and if you don’t know about these things, then you should question what you have been reading and doing up until now.

In the UK we can grasp some idea of what it means to be poor as the gap between the rich and poor is forever getting wider. However, in Japan, which is a wealthy country, such a wide gap doesn’t visually exist – thus there is a lack of understanding and knowledge as to the affects of what poverty can have on an individual, family, society and the nation. I asked the average Japanese citizen if they know of any Japan based organisations in the aid of poverty awareness and/or prevention. The answer? ‘NO!’ This is not to say that there isn’t any. This is not an awareness issue limited to only Japan. I only use Japan as an example, as I have lived there previously.

Unfair terms in international trade, debt repayment, the tying of aid disbursements and the privatisation of essential public services is causing chaos. Wealthy countries are free to strike individual treaties with their weaker trading partners and that is not mentioning that if developing countries increased their share of world exports by a further five per cent they would earn an extra £300 billion a year, three times more than they will be given in 2015 [as suggested by the G8 and the world’s leading countries in their attempts to Make Poverty History]).

And why is that the less wealthy are the most likely ones to donate money? Those in a position to help those who aren’t should do. And no – I’m not saying feel guilty – for you shouldn’t, since you are where you are today probably because of your environmental and social conditioning, as well as your decisions and choices – but while you eat your food and leave a half eaten plate, please bear a thought for those that do not have such a luxury. It’s time to change our thoughts towards those that live in poverty. What ever you do doesn’t have to be on a big scale, it can be very small. Even small actions and thoughts create ripples. But don’t be motionless and indifferent, do something.

In Search For Rum Cake at Ridley Road Market

ridley-road-market

It was my grandmother (now back in Jamaica) who told me of the Tortuga rum cake sold at a small Caribbean bakery in the heart of Dalston’s Ridley Road Market. She added at the time while straightening her violet hair extensions that the beef patties were also something not to be missed. Six months later, and the words ‘Tortuga rum cake’ still danced through the electric pathways in my mind. I wanted to taste this delicious cake, which put a cheeky smile on my grandmother’s face.

Made from an aged oak barrel Tortuga five-year-old rum, this special Tortuga Gold blend of rum is not bottled and not available to the public. The recipe is over one hundred years old and has been passed down from mother to daughter throughout the years. It sounded like a secret product that only frequent customers could try. What made it even more intriguing is that the Caribbean bakery does not even have a name. It just exists, and people know it exists, just like the many stalls that inhabit the market six days a week.

I had decided that on my next break from work that I would take a day out and travel to Ridley Road Market, not only in search of the nameless Caribbean bakery and the Tortuga rum cake, but also to find out more about the history that surrounds the culturally diverse and vibrant market.

I left my house on a bright and early Saturday afternoon. The sun was beaming effortlessly, lighting up the pavements. I boarded the bus 149 from the bottom of Stamford Hill, one of London’s Hasidic Jewish enclaves. This is at the beginning of Stoke Newington High Street, which bisects a straight line through the outer edges of Stoke Newington. This road then morphs into Kingsland Road and continues its Roman-like route through to Dalston and on towards Shoreditch.

Before 1965, what is now known as the London Borough of Hackney was in fact three separate metropolitan boroughs – Shoreditch, Stoke Newington and Hackney, each with histories stretching back to the middle ages. Hackney was first recorded in 1198, Shoreditch in 1148, and Stoke Newington in 1274. For 400 years after these dates all three were farming communities in the Middlesex countryside. Each was a parish, centred on a parish church. These survive today as Old St Mary’s, Stoke Newington; St Leonard’s, Shoreditch (rebuilt in 1740); and St Augustine’s Tower in Mare Street, which is the only remains of Hackney’s medieval church.

I sat next to a young Chinese man dressed in a striped, smartly pressed, dark suit. He shifted his body and moved closer to the window as a gesture that welcomed me to the empty seat next to him.

“Thank you,” I said smiling.

“You’re welcome!” He replied in broken English. Moments later we began talking about the glorious British weather and how we both yearned to be residing in another country. It was Korea for him and Japan for me. We soon found ourselves talking about the essence of what it means to be British. I stated that I see myself as not being British, but being a world citizen. To which he replied with the most hilarious statement.

“Being British is about meeting your friends all of which are mixed nationals, going to a Salsa night club, followed by an Indian curry, taking a cab with a migrant driver, returning home to drink a Dutch beer, relaxing on your furniture from Ikea, and watching boring American programmes on a Japanese TV.” He scratched his rough jet-black hair and smiled.

I disembarked the bus 149 at Kingsland High Street, and slipped into a mass of people all with a set agenda for that Saturday, for I was told by grandmother that the rum cake is only made on Saturdays. I had decided not to ask people for directions to the Caribbean bakery shop. I wanted to find it – I wanted it to appear in front of me magically. It was as if I was hunting for buried treasure like the city slickers without a map. I was excited.

I turned left onto Ridley Road Market and stood still for just a moment to breathe in the air of history.  I analysed while walking slowly – the market was smelly, it was noisy, from time to time people were bumping into each other, it looked like a tiresome place to be. Yet it was completely fascinating, it was alive. There was a fine mixture of races rubbing shoulders with each other: Indian, Chinese, Jamaican, pre-yuppy Londoners, Turkish, African – a colourful mix of languages and dialects sailing through the fish-tinted air.

The different stalls at the market gave it an element of cosmopolitanism, a microcosm of a city in one singular market place. The sounds of people bargaining for a cheaper deal, the different languages and accents heard made me question where the people at this market came from, as well as different, well recognised reggae music emanating from the back streets of the market, muffling all other sounds just from outside.

At first I see a Turkish vendor, selling olives and different cheeses, typical of Mediterranean cuisine.  His produce stored in big clay pots, and his prices prominently displayed in front of them.  The sound of him calling out to customers, telling them they can try anything they want for free, shouting out his prices, winking and suggestively calling out to a group of young ladies walking by defines the characteristics I had in mind of a market stall vendor.  His thick Turkish accent and a flag of Turkey proudly displayed at the corner of his stall immediately confirming that he was indeed of Turkish origin.

“Hey Mr, try these olives, come come I let you try them for free,” he said to me as I walk past.

I tried a big, green olive stuffed with feta cheese, and I was absolutely amazed at the taste of garlic and olive oil infused with the taste of feta cheese.

“Where are you from?” he asked.

“Just down the road, I live in Stamford Hill.”

“Nah, I mean, where are you from originally?”

“Oh, my mum’s Jamaican, my dad’s English.”

“Good for you.  Which olives do you prefer? The small container £3.50, the large £6.”

“I’ll have a small container, but I want half and half. Half green olives with the feta cheese, half green olives with the almond.”

I paid him his money, collected my olives and wandered off to the next stall.  Ahead of me was a series of stalls selling more food produce, vegetables and fruits from all over the world.  An Indian stall on my right; alphonso mangoes, okra, aubergines, brown coconuts, some brown fruit called chikoo, and different herbs which I guessed are used as different garnish all displayed, and once again all the prices written out in front of it, either in weight or in quantity.

“Where are you from?” I asked the Indian guy in the stall next to me.

He responded with a look of surprise, probably a question not frequently asked by potential customers.  At first he stammers, then replies, “I’m from India, but I’ve been in this country since the 60s.  Where are you from, young man?”

“I’m from London, Stamford Hill to be exact.”

“No, no, where are you from originally.”

I started to see the pattern here, so I tell him exactly where I’m from, my ethnic origins, where I live and the conversation steers to what it is I do.  I explained that I’m a freelance consultant, my intentions of coming to Ridley Road Market. I talked about wanting to learn a bit about the past and the present and especially the future of market places in London, what with globalisation, gentrification, and big supermarkets popping up wherever there’s any space.  I thought that this vendor would be the ideal person to learn about the market’s past. So I started a series of questions which led to a lot more answers than I’d first expected.

He told me of the past of Ridley Road Market, and of how before the First World War there was a predominantly Jewish community who lived around the area; therefore they ran the market for their own community.  The remnants of which there is a bagel bakery, which is open 24 hours a day, all days of the week except for Friday evening and Saturday daytime, for which they keep the Sabbath Day holy.

After World War Two, there was a sudden influx of people from different parts of the world coming into London to settle here.  There were a number of Caribbean and Indian settlers at the beginning, who fought for the British Regiment during the two wars.

The Afro-Caribbean community developed fully from the 1950s, but there has been a Black presence in Hackney since at least 1630. Similarly, people from the Indian subcontinent came to Hackney in numbers only after the Second World War, but Asian nurses of British children, visiting Britain with their employers had been staying in Hackney from 1900.

The Indian man had brown skin, a moustache, thick greying hair, kind eyes and a pleasant smile. From time to time he waved his hands in circling gestures to empathise his points. He was happy – he was happy that someone was listening to his story. He clearly knew his history about this area, and before our conversation came to an end, he made it his icing on the cake to tell me that this was an area of high crime rates in the 19th Century. Wealthy philanthropists saw it as an opportunity to go to these parts of London and do their moral good by helping the poor or just to observe.  They thought that by morally enriching them they would better them.

“Thank you for your time.” I said.

“No no, no problem! Come again, and write about my stall eh!” He replied, smiling brightly.

As the sun climbed farther in the sky I began to grow tired. The constant dodging of people was beginning to tell on me. The market was bright like a multicoloured blanket covering each corner. Your every need is met. You can buy batteries, clothes, shoes, DVD’s, pets, food, hair products, bed linen, curtains and much more. The only thing that you have to worry about as a consumer is going to the market stall and leaving with the best price – but that comes with frequency and knowledge.

It was after dodging into the side-paths to escape the thick crowd that I found what I was looking for. A small Caribbean bakery with a blank white board running across the top sat nestled between two off-licenses. For a moment, I wondered how the bakery could have survived all this time without a name. I felt like that by walking into the bakery I would somehow be transported into another world.

I stood for a while watching several people coming out smiling and laughing with those inside. A beautiful harmony surfaced around this bakery. It was for the most part, magical.

I stepped inside. The smell of fresh bun and chicken glided in the air leaving a sweet and warm fragrance all around. There was an old man with a brown hat sitting in the corner, and two slender ladies standing behind the counter. A flag of Jamaica was pinned in the corner above a drinks fridge, which sold nourishment, ginger beer, Caribbean fizzy drinks, and super malt. The walls were painted yellow and behind the glass all the products were neatly displayed; patties, Caribbean bread, cakes, curry goat chicken, dumplings, and a few other products I had not recognised. However, I did not see the rum cake I had gone in search for. One of the ladies smiled at me with clean white teeth as the other called into the kitchen asking for more rice.

Taking up much of the space on the main wall behind the two ladies was a large board with all the prices. I analysed it vigorously looking for the price of the rum cake, but failed to see it.

“Is this a family owned business?” I asked.

“Yes! It has been passed down from generation to generation.” Replied the second of the ladies in a Jamaican accent. “What would you like dear?”

I always found that when a lady speaks with a Jamaican accent in a soft tone, it is wonderfully warm and inviting. I smiled and stepped closer to the counter.

“I would like two slices of your Tortuga rum cake please.”

“A new one today!” said the voice of the old man from behind me.

“Who sent you?” Asked both the ladies in unison.

I thought for a moment and without hesitation I replied.

“Grandma sent me.”

Everybody smiled and chuckled. One of the ladies went into the kitchen and arrived back moments later with a big round glass tray. There it was! The Tortuga rum cake sat graciously. I could smell the sweet rum oozing into the air like steam from a boiling kettle.

“Actually, give me three slices please! I would like to try one now.”

“Anything else?”

“A ginger beer and a vegetable patty.”

“You want it hot?”

“Yes, please!”

While one of the ladies warmed up the patty and put the ginger beer into a bag, the other put two slices of the rum cake into the same bag and then handed me one slice together with a piece of tissue. I held it for a moment and looked at its brown fluffy texture. I took a bite!

Suddenly all the sound around me leveled out and disappeared in sync. I could taste the raisins, the soft sweet sponge, and the enchanting Tortuga rum crumbling and coming to rest in my mouth. The taste was even greater than my expectations — it was magical! I took a deep breath and smiled at the staff for I finally understood what gave my grandmother that cheeky smile. For I too now smiled cheekily as I stepped back out into the bustle of Dalton’s Ridley Road Market. As I walked devouring the remainder of my rum cake and glancing at the many happy faces surrounding me, I realised the true finding of my journey. The true journey had taken place inside of me, I had resurrected the interest in my Jamaican heritage — I had resurrected a part of me that was secretly fading away.

Ridley Road Market

Ridley Road, Dalston, London, E8

Train: Dalston Kingsland

Bus: 149, 242, 243, 67, 38, 76

Open: Mon-Wed 09:00-15:00, Thu 09:00-12:00, Fri-Sat 09:00-17:00

A Shinto Wedding at Hie Jinja Shrine, Tokyo

Japanese Shinto Wedding, Barry CrispAs I exit the station leading out to downtown Akasaka, Tokyo, I am greeted by the warm spring sun and the hustle and bustle of a mid-morning main street – a perfect day for commitment and expressions of love. I reach a crossing and up on a hill partially isolated by trees sits Hie Jinja (shrine) enveloped from its urban surroundings. I am entering via one of the side entrances; long stone steps and believe it or not, an escalator. I am later to find out that the best spot for a picture is through the back, where innumerable small red torii’s (gates) arch over a long stairway leading out onto the street.

The outskirts of the Shinto shrine (Shinto is characterized by polytheism and animism, and involves the worship of kami [gods], or spirits.) is protected by monkey statues with two smaller monkey statues (a married pair) flanking the entrance to the prayer area. The monkeys’ are a dominant feature in many shrines as they are considered to be the messenger of Gods. Hie Jinja celebrates marital harmony and fertility and sports the usual shrine accouterments – lots of torii, a large courtyard, a hand washing area, a bell to tug if you feel the need to offer up a prayer, and quite a few connecting buildings including a charm shop where you can buy small souvenirs, as well as living quarters for the caretakers.

The “Mountain King Festival” (San’o-matsuri), held every year in mid-June, is one of the three great Edo Festivals held in and around the shrine.

I climb the steps, take a look around and before making my way to reception I visit the Temizuya (place for washing one’s hands) and perform my hairei (formal worship) in the large courtyard area, which is occupied with a few tourists and local workers having a quick break under the foliage. The hairei process is very simple, but enriched with history and importance. Allow me to explain it step-by-step.

Temizu (water on the palms/washing water)
1. Go to Temizuya before worshiping at a shrine.
2. Take the ladle in the right hand, scoop water and pour over the left hand.
3. Transfer the ladle to the left hand and cleanse the right.
4. Transfer the ladle once more to the right hand, and pour water into the
cupped left hand: Use this water to rinse the mouth.
5. Wash the left hand once more.
6. Return the ladle to its original position.

Hairei (formal worship)
1. Wash hands and rinse mouth before worship (temizu).
2. Proceed toward the altar.
3. Make the bell ring by shaking the rope.
4. Offer some coins in the offering box.
5. Bow twice deeply.
6. Clap your hands twice.
7. Then bow once deeply.

After giving a prayer I take a slow-paced stroll appreciating the shrine’s beautiful architecture and the artistic placement of Japanese pine trees and the many woody perennial bamboo plants. I love bamboos, and it is hard not to – its strength, speed in growth and relaxing green tone are breathtaking. It seems to me that nothing in Japan is laid out by accident, everything is done to create the most striking picture of beauty and peace of mind. Serene, tranquil and ethereal do not do the majority of places in Japan justice. If you subtract the cars, escalator, modern shops, skyscrapers and electric cables, then it is easy to picture what the atmosphere would have been like in ancient times.

Japanese Shinto Wedding, Barry CrispJapanese Shinto Wedding, Barry Crisp

The Hie Jinja shrine was founded by Ota Dokan (a Japanese samurai warrior-poet, military tactician and Buddhist monk). Dokan is best known as the architect and builder of Edo Castle (now the Imperial Palace) in what is today modern Tokyo, in 1478 and is dedicated to the God Oyamakui-no-kami (God of Mount Hie in Shiga prefecture). The shrine is one of many branches from the Hiyoshi Taisha shrine (also known as Sanno Gongen) located in Sakamoto, Otsu City, in Shiga prefecture.

Unfortunately, the original structure was burnt down in the bombing of Tokyo during the Second World War. The Hie Jinja possesses one National Treasure, a sword. It also holds 14 Important Cultural Assets, 13 other swords and one naginata (a pole-like weapon that was traditionally used in Japan by members of the samurai class).

I enter the reception area in search of my friend and aspiring social entrepreneur Megumi, and her husband-to-be Masaomi. I was excited for them, but also for the fact that this was going to be my first experience of a Shinto-styled wedding ceremony, a relatively rare experience for gaijin (foreigners) in Japan.

I was warmly greeted by an assistant for the day who directed me to a waiting room congested with family members. I said ‘hello’ to a lady standing next to the door whilst still listening to the assistant’s instructions, to which she finished off by introducing me to the lady at the door as being the bride’s mother. Needless to say, my initial casual ‘hello’ was quickly followed by a slight bow and a “nice to meet you”. It was the first time to meet family members, so I had not the faintest idea who-was-who. I opted for a brief escape at a side door hidden behind the bamboo plants looking out over the courtyard, which is where I spotted family friend and main photographer for the day Takaaki.

He is carefully selecting the best angles and spots to get photos of the bride and groom. Takaaki is a pleasant guy, smart, professional and with an honest smile and warm heart. If he were not the budding photographer that he is, then he could easily be working in the shrine itself as a priest, and I mean that as a compliment.

I re-enter the building to ready my camera. Megumi walks in behind me dressed in her traditional white wedding kimono called a shiromuku, which is painted with subtle gold patterns. Her hair is pinned up with a beautiful and intricate snow-white hair bouquet. Light make-up adds the finishing touch to a pure and elegant bride. She looks dazzling. She sits down in the corner next to her mother listening to the order of ceremony from the elderly female assistant. She gazes in my direction from time-to-time with an angelic innocent smile as my camera clicks away. Her engagement ring sparkles and rests on her long slender fingers, soon to be accompanied with a life-long companion. Her mother, a woman with grace and pride listens tentatively.

It is time to take photos she announces, I exit outside onto the courtyard with the bride and her assistant to meet with Takaaki and the groom, wearing his traditional black montsuki haori hakama wedding outfit. The sunlight radiates off Megumi’s kimono fiercely, meaning the location has to be perfect so as to not cause an imbalance in the contrast between bride and groom. Of course this does not naturally pose a problem with the new generation of photographers who equip themselves with either Photoshop or Aperture software programmes, but to keep things pure and as natural as the moment should be, it is best to get the right snap-shot using the natural light.

Japanese Shinto Wedding, Barry CrispJapanese Shinto Wedding, Barry Crisp

Takaaki talks with the assistant to let her know his selected spots, and then we begin our photo session. Takaaki was more than ready for the photo-shoot, with several generations of Nikon cameras dangling off and around his shoulders, they all served a purpose and neither were neglected. I gazed through my lens as the couple struck prominent poses, very formal and reserved in expression. A smile here and there followed by laughter when the cameras took a brief rest. This is the Japanese way, very traditional, very simplistic.

After all the photos were taken, the bride and groom were led back inside the shrine quarters to return moments later for the official beginning of the wedding ceremony. Leading the line and with the assistant holding her kimono from touching the ground, Megumi, walks gracefully side-by-side with her husband-to-be ahead of family members out through the courtyard. On cue, a suited cameraman begins recording and assistants all over the courtyard keep things rolling smoothly.

The assistant lets us know that time is ticking on and so we proceed to a long narrow room. Megumi insists that I should come in so that I could take photos from the back. I felt a bit reluctant because this part of the whole ceremony is strictly for family members only. I felt like a VIP guest. I stand at the back not daring to take a photo during the official introductions. Any shutter sound now would surely amplify throughout the whole room. I stand and watch with a smile.

During the small gathering the fathers of the bridegroom and of the bride introduce their respective family members one-by-one. Megumi’s father had passed away several years prior, so it was her mother introducing the bride’s side of the family. I am sure he was smiling down on Megumi and her mother right at that moment and sending a warm prayer from above. After the introductions were complete, the bride and groom were taken outside to follow a red-carpeted route led slowly by two Miko maidens and a Shinto priest. A whisper of love and serenity filled the courtyard. Nothing is rushed, and nothing needs to be.

It was at the request of the bridegroom and bride that a few select friends were to be allowed to attend the wedding ceremony within the inner sanctuary of the shrine. I was ushered to enter at the opposite side and told that photos were not permitted. A long black wall-high veil was then drawn across so that visitors to the shrine were unable to see inside during the ceremony.

The air is cool and everyone including myself looked on with gleaming eyes. The first thing I noticed is that there were seemingly no bridesmaids or best-men, which is customary in Western weddings. Knowing that the couple had met many years back, I was also sure there was not a nakoudo (matchmaker) in attendance. I take my seat at the very back so as to breathe in the whole atmosphere and investigate my surroundings. As one would expect from an old and carefully constructed shrine, the concreted floor lays contrast to the beautiful interior design and wooden joinery. The ceiling is decorated with a rainbow of flowers for every season of the year. As with life, they blossom and die in a beautiful cycle of tranquility and permanence.

Japanese Shinto Wedding, Barry CrispJapanese Shinto Wedding, Barry Crisp

Family members are seated up on a stage facing the couple, who sit centred and apart with their backs towards the other attending guests. The Miko maidens stand on either side and from a small side-room an older Shinto priest comes out to conduct the ceremony. It is a perfect hub for anybody seeking a moment of satori (awakening). My thoughts digress to an old Zen Buddhist story, but which is relevant to a newly wedded couple.

Two Zen monks were walking along a river when they came upon a beautiful young woman. The bridge was out, she tearfully explained, and she needed to cross the river right away. “Don’t worry,” said one of the monks,” just climb on my back and I’ll carry you across.” The girl climbed on the monk’s back and he took her across.

The monks then continued on their journey, but the second monk was very upset. Finally, and a few hours later he couldn’t stand it anymore and asked, “How could you, a virtuous monk, allow a woman to ride upon your back?”

The first monk said, “Are you still carrying that lady? I put her down when we crossed the river hours ago.”

This short tale gives people an insightful lesson to life of releasing yourself from the unnecessary baggage that resides in our egos (minds). One must keep their inner temple clean and free.

The ceremony begins and everything and everyone falls silent except for the birds chirping, the breeze whistling, the coins clattering, hands clasping, and people chit-chattering all from behind the black veil. Live traditional music slowly ebbs and drifts over us from behind the concealed background. The sound and atmosphere merge with those that are coming from outside to create a harmonious setting for things to proceed.

The Miko maidens begin the San-san-kudo, a ceremony of three-times-three exchanges of nuptial cups, which both the bridegroom and bride perform with delicate attention. Inside the cups, however, is not water but sake (Japanese rice wine). The bridegroom only is obliged to say his piece facing towards the Shinto priest. The ceremony proceeds in utter peacefulness, and to the untrained eye, almost emotionless.

To add a Western twist to the ceremony the exchange of wedding rings takes place. The glitters of white teeth begin to flicker around the shrine, but as to be expected no kissing follows. Everything remains pure and sacred. As the ceremony comes to a close the Miko maidens perform a short, slow traditional dance in which twigs of ‘Sakaki’ (Cleyera Japonica) from the sacred evergreen tree are given to the bride and groom and then exchanged amongst each other in worship to the Gods. The Miko maidens move effortlessly across the ground, tiptoeing, legs bending back, arching, and wrists twisting. To finish the ceremony, the newlywed’s respective families drink a cup of sake to symbolize the bonding of the couple as well as of the two families.

The newlyweds and their families are led out through a narrow corridor into another gathering room, which they will remain for several hours taking photos, talking, drinking and eating. This is not a wedding party, but merely a formal gathering. Back in the reception area I begin to form new friendships with those who attended. We talk about how lovely the ceremony was and the dashing groom and the beautiful bride. As we descend the shrines stairs on the way to lunch, I glanced back over my shoulder to catch a glimpse of the sun’s rays majestically slithering its way through a thousand green fingers. “Omedetou gozaimasu”, congratulations, and may your new life be filled with peace, love and harmony.

 

This piece was written many years ago and shared on my previous project websites, UK-JAPAN.net/Guruguru Japan (no longer online), as well as on Japan Travel Centre’s Japan Guide. It’s beyond me why it so long for me to share it here…

Tsukiji Fish Market

tsukiji-shijo-fish-market

If witnessing the delicate slaughter of fresh fish is your cup of tea, then it’s worth waking up in the early hours of the morning for such an unforgettable experience. Tsukiji Fish Market (築地市場 Tsukiji Shijō)is packed with old and young men (mostly) whizzing around on their car-like trams expertly missing the back of your heels with superb maneuvering techniques. The smell of fish hangs deliciously in the air as you take your journey through the jungle of market stalls. Around a thousand or more to be precise.

It’s important to note that at least 80% of the fish eaten in Tokyo passes through Tsukiji before being brought into shops and restaurants in any-one day. Bearing this in mind, you will find it rather amusing to watch the business men checking out the stacks of fishes whilst rambling away on their mobile phones during a tuna auction.

Be warned though, this is the biggest wholesale fish and seafood market in the world. Tsukiji is not a playground, serious money is transferred during this lively event, as the Japanese are serious about fresh fish (in particular for sushi and maki-zushi) and the way it is handled. The tuna auctions begin at five-thirty in the morning, and try not to blink as you will miss major sales being bought. And if you do go, don’t forget to check out the women in the background typing away on their laptops, checking bank accounts, stocks and transfers – it makes for quite a sight.

If you have a weak stomach, then it’s best you don’t eat before heading out to the market. The sight of tradesmen slapping fishes with a cold, dirty knife is enough to make anybody throw-up, and if that’s not bad enough, then look out for the fishermen who kill their fish in true samurai style, slowly prodding and sliding their knife ever so delicately into their fish.

All the walking and smell of fresh fish is bound to make you tired and hungry, so it’s definitely worth popping into one of the nearby sushi restaurants/stalls to grab yourself a fresh Tekka/Maguro Don (tuna on top of with rice in a bowl).

Key Information:
+ Closest stations: Tsukiji, Tsukijishijo
+ Days: Mon-Sat 5am – 3pm  (closed sunday, market and national holidays)
+ Plenty of delicious noodle stalls, sushi bars and restaurants
+ Peak selling period 5 – 7:30am
+ Tuna auctions 5:30 – 6:30am (maximum limit of 120 visitors per day on a first-come, first-serve basis)
+ It’s free!!!

Find out more: http://www.tsukiji-market.or.jp/tukiji_e.htm