a peaceful spot in the midst of noise and bustle.
I noted it from the top of the Tokyo Metropolitan Office
building’s south tower. A
large patch of green a little to the south.
Patches of green are needed in Tokyo.
The view from the 45th floor of the south tower is
spectacular, particularly on a clear day when you can see the hills
and Mt Fuji to the west of the city.
But between the tower and the hills, and more or less as far
the eye can see in all directions, you see buildings.
Skyscrapers, factories, offices, homes and shops in a
hodgepodge pattern that makes home and work for some 30 million people
in the greater Tokyo area, and means that roads, buses, trains and the
famous metro are all extremely busy.
in the midst of all that busyness there is a need for peace.
A place to pause and mediate.
A place for reflection. And
it’s right here, in the heart of Tokyo, at the Meiji Jingu shrine.
I have to give it to the priests of the Shinto faith, they knew
what they were doing. From
the train station you take a leisurely 10 minute stroll through cool
and pleasant woodland – though with the always present sound of the
cicadas. Then you turn a
corner and the shrine is in front of you.
Ceremonial washing on your left.
Racks with hand written prayer requests on your right, and the
shrine rebuild in 1958 following it’s destruction during the second
world war, right in front – a large structure of natural wood with
areas for prayer and meditation, and on special occasions, religious
you may well be asking why I, as a Christian, am extolling the virtues
of a Shinto shrine. It’s
not that I’m changing my faith or world view, but it is very much
the fact that in a world of hustle and bustle, stress and pressure,
Shinto shrines are places across Japan where people can pull back for
a short period of quietness and refreshing.
And that’s something we all need.
is fun in Japan. The
streets are safe. Crime
is very low. Public
transport is excellent, if a little crowded.
The food is . . . interesting! And you never know what is
around the corner. In
this case as we left Meiji Jingu it was a surprise.
The area around Harajuku station outside the park is where
young people like to hang-out at the weekend.
No ordinary young people these.
They are out to be noticed.
Dressed mainly in black with dashes of red, and with faces and
sometimes bodies painted in various black designs, these are youth
making a statement, wanting to be noticed, and happy to pose for the
tourist cameras. It may
be the excesses of adolescence, but if I were a parent of one of those
girls, I think I would be worried.
be excited though by the next group of young people I met.
In the station entrance they were putting on a high energy
performance. A somewhat
contemporary re-mixing of traditional yosakoi dance.
High tempo. High
energy. Legs kicking high
into the air. Robes
swirling. Lots of shouts
and jumping. It was
fascinating. The skill
was impressive, and the boys and girls involved in it were obviously
enjoying themselves. Something
I personally think is important in sport and exercise.
brings me around nicely, I guess, to the Olympics.
I’m sure there’s a lot of enjoyment going on their in
Athens at the moment – and a lot of national spirit – most of it
well intentioned. I’m
reading the English Edition of the Japan
Times with the main headline “Japanese athletes pile up more
medals in Athens”. Well
done to my Japanese hosts this week.
I checked the web for England’s results and they’re a
little further down the table. Maybe they’ll do better in Beijing in four years time where
an article on page 12 tells me that “Beijing will be flushed with
Olympic pride” when
it’s turn comes around as they are already on a drive to upgrade the
cities public toilets into 21st century works of art with
all the latest facilities. Even if your country doesn’t win gold, you’ll be able to
freshen up nicely in the “rest-rooms”.
We need it. The
Japan Times, along with all major papers, is full of stories of Iraq,
Al-Qaeda in Pakistan, troubles in Sudan – and, of course, local
crisis. Much like our
lives. And in these
troubles we need peace. A
breathing space. We need
a temple. A shrine in the
midst of our lives. A
place of peace.
found that, not in a physical building or a park – though those may
contribute to it – but in a period of time.
A twenty-four hour period that God set up right at the
beginning of this earth’s creation – and called it good.
The word “Sabbath” actually means rest.
A time to stand aside and breathe more slowly.
calls the day a delight. A time when you can find joy in the Lord (Isa 58:13-14)
All I can say is, why not give it a try!