5/22/19

&: Diary (6)

(May 19th, 2019) This weekend, this side of town has been caught up in the Sanja Matsuri 三社祭 (and the Shitaya Shrine's festival was last weekend or maybe the weekend before). This is my shaky overview of the festival: the Asakusa Shrine 浅草神社 honors three men who were enshrined as kami after they founded Senso-ji 浅草寺 (look at that: the names of both places are written with the same kanji, 浅草, but are read different ways, asa kusa, the Japanese reading, and sen so, the Chinese reading, which is not unlike the Mandarin reading of qiancao) with a statue of Kannon that they found in the Miyato River 宮戸側川.

The founders of a Buddhist temple being enshrined as Shinto kami makes more sense, considering the formerly close relationship between Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines, which ended with shinbutsu bunri 神仏分離, the official separation of Buddhism and Shinto, part of a nationalistic drive to wipe out the influence of Buddhism, and the sanctioning of violence against Buddhist temples and clergy after 1868 and a new wave of haibutsu kishaku 廃仏毀釈 ("destroy the Buddha wipe out Shakyamuni," ).

So, three portable shrines, mikoshi 神輿, bearing the three kami 神 head out for a trip around the neighborhood. On the same weekend, mikoshi from other Taito Ward districts (or Asakusa Ward districts, before, and I guess I live in what would have been Sakamoto 坂本, but is now Shitaya 1-chome 下谷一丁目) get set up and then head out to meet up at Asakusa Shrine.

I would never approach Asakusa's central districts during Sanja Matsuri 三社祭, but I can appreciate it from a distance, stopping by at the neighborhood committee kiosk at the end of the block, give my donation and get my scarf, have my name put up on the board. The revelry is centered on the Asakusa Shrine, and the local celebrations are smaller affairs, mostly old folks greeting neighbors, a few young men with slicked back hair, hanging around in happi 法被 crushing tallboys (some of them, according to gossip in the building, volunteers from Saitama, due to the lack of local boys to carry the mikoshi), and you can catch mikoshi from other neighborhoods getting set up to make the trip to the central shrine—or a Tengu 天狗, escorted by Shinto priests and police, coming down the street at the head of a procession, reducing children to tears. Even sitting up in my fifth floor apartment, I can hear the sound of flutes and drums played over PAs at two neighborhood association kiosks, drumming from a mikoshi procession, a wartime anthem coming from a right-wing sound truck.

I thought it was interesting, the way that the neighborhood committee kiosk was staffed, mostly by elderly people living in this danchi, and missing completely were the thousands of other residents of this city district. Apart from the danchi building, most of the mansion マンション buildings would have gone up in the past decade or so, and even the smaller homes around the former Sakamoto Elementary School are fairly recent, too, so perhaps most people in the district have no roots in the neighborhood or the city. I don't know. I noticed, hanging around for a while outside of the neighborhood committee kiosk, people coming down from the tall, fancy apartment building beside it (the space for the kiosk is carved out of the building's property, a mostly empty triangle of space that has a few planters). They seemed to take no interest in what was going on. I can understand that. I heard that the kids mikoshi procession had thirty kids in it, though.

There is lots of evidence wandering around Tokyo of Edo and older structures, under the surface—like, the crook in the road in Nihonzutsumi where the main drag of Yoshiwara used to be, so you couldn't see straight down it, or the remains of the canals over in the same area, one of which has been turned into Sanyabori Park 山谷掘公園, or the way the blocks in Okachimachi 御徒町 are laid out in a certain way because they used to have sort of military barracks for low-ranking samurai, things like that—but Sanja Matsuri is a time when you can see in more abstract ways how the city was organized before, on a community level... You can see groups that no longer have much meaning, the firefighters' guild, organized crime groups, neighborhood ujiko 氏子 organizations. "Shinto matsuri traditionally provided a 'divine' opportunity for local residents to consolidate their community ties and thereby prevent the intervention of the authorities in their internal affairs" (Prayer and Play in Late Tokugawa Japan: Asakusa Sensoji and Edo Society, by Nam-lin Hur, Harvard University Asia Center, 2000, which goes on to make the case that Sanja Matsuri was slightly different, but I hope my point still stands, talking about a neighborhood like this, way out on the periphery of the city and the ward).

The residents of the danchi are old enough to remember a former way of doing things, not talking only about shrines and organized crime but also merchants' organizations, community-led machizukuriまちづくりplanning, later, and they have the leisure time to engage with neighborhood groups and their own danchi committees, but you have to, if you're under the age of, say, forty? and live in Tokyo, have the sense that more powerful forces are at work that make those kinds of things nothing but a diversion. You only moved to the neighborhood because Tokyo is the only place with jobs, and this is one of the few neighborhoods with affordable real estate and rent but also not way out in Kita Ward or built on high earthquake risk land in Sumida Ward—but if the day comes and Mori Building Company decides a residential-hotel-retail complex near Ueno Station makes sense, you'll take their check and hopefully pick up an even nicer apartment Setagaya or Shinjuku. Like, real estate, LCCs, tax-free shopping, and tour groups will wreck the neighborhood long before you'll ever need to rely on your neighbors for help.



(May 20th, 2019) Irohakai いろは会, one of those places where time stood still from roughly 1990 to 2015, down the shopping arcade, time went very slightly faster, the business hotels were replaced with hostels and Airbnbs, the men that used to sleep rough waiting for jobs to come were finally driven out, the older men moved over to Tamahime Park... The arcade was there, most shops shuttered, shelter for the men that drift over from Tamahime, I guess, a few cheap bars, a soba place, Chinese restaurant. The lots are bought up around it, then finally a few lots directly on the arcade are bought, demolished, replaced. The developers push to open up the road, bring traffic down, take the roof off so that the old men of Tamahime can't sit there when it rains and pass a bottle, I guess, and it comes down. What a strange place to walk through now! Unless you knew it was there, unless you noticed the few Ashita no Joe tie-in banners here and there, you'd never know it was a thing, right? It's one of those places, too, disconnected from the neighborhood in a way, since the men that patronized it in the good days were out-of-towners, day laborers, etc. rather than arcade neighbors. I mean, unlike the arcade at Minowa or Senzoku Dori, running down to Asakusa. There was a different character. Nobody ever settled in. It was always on the edge of town. The area was always populated by marginal people, way out on the periphery of the city, beyond Yoshiwara and beyond Asakusa. I'll tell you this, I walked through, but mostly out of a sense of obligation. I never bought a thing on Irohakai. And especially today, with, I think, every single shop closed, definitely no reason to stop, on my way to Senzoku Dori to buy zhacai at the Chinese grocery store over there.



(May 21st, 2019) When am I ever up early enough to see the garbage set out in the neighborhood? Never. I was up all night, dozed off around seven in the morning, got up before the pickup, around ten, when everyone had already gone to work or school and the streets were empty and still wet from a dawn rain.