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Wednesday, July 19, 2006

New Age Buddha Tokyo


Cement architecture, Koto ward, Tokyo.
This Monday was Sea Day (Umi no Hi), a national holiday, and I decided to investigate a little more the area around the Museum of Contemporary Art (that I visited and wrote the July 2 blog about).

The area is the western edge of Koto ward, in the east of Tokyo; the subway stations are Kiyosumi-shirakawa on the Oedo and Hanzomon lines, and Monzennaka-cho on the Oedo and Tozai lines.

I was really there to write a guide to the area for the Tokyo sightseeing page, as it is the perfect place to stroll around for half a day if you want to take in something of Tokyo that isn’t necessarily connected with department stores, boutiques and bars.

The area has a slightly downtown air to it: relaxed, ever-so-slightly worn down (as opposed to run down), and is remarkable for the number of old buildings made of cement (see photo above) - a very rare sight in Japan.

I visited Kiyosumi Teien Gardens and for forty minutes was transported by the manicured beauty. I was on my way to probably the most famous temple in the area, Fukukawa Fudo.

Enmado, Koto ward, Tokyo.
 I kept a look out for other likely temples, but although the area has a lot of quite grand, important-looking ones, they are generally rather staid and institutional.

I happened to look in at Fukagawa Enmado about halfway between the above two stations.

Again, it was cast pretty much in the routine neighborhood temple mold, but something otherworldly caught my eye: something aquous and apart.

Buddha, Enmado, Koto ward, Tokyo.I went through the gates, crossed the lurid Astroturf, and carefully opened the sliding doors to the room below the building directly across from the main entrance. No one was around and I felt a bit like an intruder. However, as soon as I was inside I forgot all that.

I suddenly found myself floating in a lava-lamp dream of Buddhist fantasy: dim spot lighting, an omnipresent, evanescent pale gelid glow, mirrored ceilings, great cubes of empty space and shiny white paneling, and - in the center of it all - a huge, serene Buddha basking in the mystique and a maze of reflections.

Right next door to this arctic aesthetic, separated by a short wall, was the reddish golden glow of an adjacent altar lined with shelves containing tall brass vials.

It was all completely devoid of sound, movement and any other human presence. After five minutes of tiptoeing around thinking ‘Wow, like … WOW!’, I left – somewhat enlightened.

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