Monday, September 13, 2010

Chapter 5: Yoyogi Koen (Park): The Daily Jog/Flog

Most days i have tried to run for exercise, and i am very lucky to be living less than a kilometer from Yoyogi Koen (Park) which is where the '64 Summer Olympics were held in Tokyo.  You can do speed work on the Olympic oval track, but there is a nicer stretch of park, larger, just to the north, and west of Meiji Shrine, a blog for another day and time.

The record-setting heatwave has made the move here challenging.  Most days require 2 or 3 showers and shirt changes. You just need to stand and walk a few steps, and the sweat pours out of you.  There is nothing good to write about it, and it seems that this heat and humidity will continue to just sit on top of Japan until i leave. Only one day has it been below 30C, when it rained as a weakening typhoon crossed over Honshu (the main island of Japan). Meanwhile, i glance at Vermont where the high temps are a good 18 degrees F or 10 degrees C cooler, and the leaves are already changing color in the mountains. Here, summer continues unabated. 

Here are pictures from my daily run with a few surprises for you blog followers of my J-life:
This is a typically narrow Japanese street that i run along. It is barely wide enough for a single car, but it is bidirectional believe it or not. This is the standard road in our neighborhood. Then the treasure below appears:
Just before i leave the street in the first photo, i run by this gem.  Occasionally, sporadically, you see signs of the old Tokyo. The style of houses that once were, and you just stop to pause and to admire.  Maybe the houses are not practical (no central heat or air) but the aesthetic is so beautiful, and it is increasingly harder to fine such homes.  You have on either side of this place the typical low-rise apartment building, non-descript, rather bland facade, and it just further accents how precious and tenuous this home is, the last of its kind in this neighborhood, the last witness to what used to be, and just sadness then as you imagine how many similar treasures have been paved over with concrete.

next i have to cross over a really busy super wide road, that intersects another super wide road, Yamate Dori, and i have run across a bizarre X-shaped overpass.  it is crowded. no one is happy to see the lanky white guy, soaked with sweat, stinky with sweat, lumbering past...people move to avoid me...
then after this, i run to another large intersection and veer left to Yoyogi. 

and after i pass this small wood or hiyashi within yoyogi, i get to may favorite part of the run, a long segment that borders meiji shrine, a religious monument, hence the fence. it is soft to the feet, wet dirt and leaves, smells of compost, but it is deeply shaded.  i need to watch my head as lots of bamboo spiders here.  i call them that but i should really google them to find out their real name.  the park ranger told me that they hurt if you are bitten but they are not poisonous. Reassuring!

Confession aside in my blog monologue: and, yes, i did play the part of the retarded American, and i knew better, but i decided to do it anyway: i tried to run in Meiji shrine area (it has the most beautiful paths, you could run under these awesome wooden gates, next to shrines, all shady, soak up Shinto and Buddhist spirituality), but i was immediately stopped by this guard who was so stressed out by me. i thought that he might arrest, as in cardiac arrest. he is half my height, in green uniform, red in the face, stammering, sweating, running towards me, making the sign of an "X" with both of his arms, which means Batsu or forbidden, and he was so nervous and he tried in his best japlish to contain me "No ru ni gu" (no running), so, as i feared potential gunfire (maybe Japanese allows for killing those who desecrate the Meiji shrine), i stopped, and i did much apologizing, added a wakarimashita, bowed a fair bit, you know, as i was far too aware of what i was doing.
this little stretch of runner's paradise. always under the watchful eyes of my bamboo spider friends (there are many bamboo hiyashi or groves of bamboo trees here).
not sure why this is so dark. but this spider is brightly yellow/green colored, lots of black bits, very long black legs, rather disorderly web, not so pretty but large, about the size of a thumb, its body, so you take notice.

next is another wooded area i love near the famous public park bathroom designed by famous Finnish architect, Saarinen, i think, but i should double check this.
and now for the bathroom:
above the bathrooms is this balcony area with chaise lounges always occupied by folks.

next, i get to my one of my favorite hilly side trails, mostly soft dirt, gravel, and leaves, with the cacophonous serenade of cicada and crows. why crows? this is the part of the park that is most deeply wooded and shaded, and there are a shocking number of homeless people living in makeshift encampments.  it is a case of "out of sight, out of mind" as most Japanese would be shocked to see this large number of homeless people camping out, unless you frequent the park, you would have no idea. it is not in the news or media.  from a missionary person i met, i learned a few things. these homeless people are really tidy, use the public restrooms, get water for bathing needs from the fountains, and many work. they just cannot afford housing in Tokyo.  there is, as in all japan, an orderly hierarchy even among the homeless campers.  there is a leader or shogunate kind of guy, his immediate underlings who keep order, then the others allowed to have a piece of turf in their park, and where there are that many people with food, there are crows. dozens of crows, raucous noisy birds, and Tokyo crows scare me. they are huge, well-fed, and on steroids, i think. i avoid eye contact less they view me as a protein source. they are clever, these crows, and they will be here when we are gone.  now, all throughout yoyogi, sadly, you will see homeless people camping out, but the outliers are not part of the "group" in the desirable part of the park to be homeless, and worse are those just sleeping on benches and wherever they find shade. 

here is the first incline toward the homeless encampment in Yoyogi.

not a great view as i run by. but, these homeless are neat, tidy, recycling, and they are not the nyc-style alcoholic/addict or schizophrenic that you meet. many are engaged with joggers or cyclists having discussions, and they are working with the park rangers to keep it clean and crow-safe.
there are at least thirty or so of these blue-plastic tents, and as i get to the top of the incline, you pass the homeless domicile of what i think must be the shogunate. this is not your typical homeless encampment.
this is really quite beautiful.  it so zen and balanced. there are hanging bamboo with plants growing in them, a walkway lined with perfectly placed pine cones or matsubokuri, and a wooden door, and immaculate. there is calligraphy. this person has talent. why is this person here? is it choice? it is hard for me to think that the guy living here could not be more successful in life or i wonder why did he end up here.

and with that, i do a few loops, head back over the highway, and head to home.  pounds lighter, dangerously dehydrated.  maybe i go to shibuya swim club where i hear you can swim for next to nothing...

Coming next: Chapter Six: Whales' Tale or If you are Japanese, skip this blog.

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