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Yasuda and Jikoin

Ryogoku is, by many standards, like so many other countless towns in Tokyo. It has tall buildings and is crowded, with its own claims of interest (i.e. the Kokugikan arena and Fukagawa Edo Museum).

The East Tokyo town has another quality that likens it to, not only Tokyo, but towns throughout this main Japanese island of Honshu (I need a line over the ‘u’, thanks): beautiful gardens and Buddhist Temples.

These are calmer, but just as recognized with Japanese culture as anything, so they remain must-dos for any extended stay in the country. It is thus that I followed a street map and came upon the former Yasuda Garden and the nearby Jikoin Temple.

Japanese gardens are, it might be fair to say, widely recognized as a part of the culture and often imitated in the West. I came to Yasuda at the intersection of two busy Japanese roads, with a truck gurgling up a highway overpass not far overhead. An odd, yet typical, home for a Tokyo garden; zoning that is found in any of the city’s districts.

Indeed, there is nothing of particular note about the small, tidy Yasuda garden. Instead it is worthwhile more as a splendid example of typical Japanese. I walked inside, or, rather, that is how it feels when the simple green canopy swallows you in down its neat sidewalk. The individual arms of branches and shrubs and trees are lost in an indistinguishable collection of walled comfort.

These gardens are built for calming reflection, and if it wasn’t for my own silly mood at the time, I would have seen how well venue and use cooperate in Yasuda. I strolled the strolling garden, passing the large stone sculptures that can act religiously, aesthetically and otherwise. They are simple mounds of hard generic geometry that serve as fitting contrasts to their soft surroundings.

I walked over a bridge, painted in a bright New York Mets orange. I fingered the lacquered cement and abandoned my effort to try to understand its place in Yasuda, while the answer written neatly in Kanji on a nearby sign was lost on me.

I reentered the zoom of Tokyo and found the nearly adjacent Jikoin Temple. Like Yasuda, Jikoin was a valuable sight for its role as the ordinary, or as ordinary as Buddhist temples can be for a Westerner.

Virtually every Japanese town has one of these temples, places of worship for Japanese Buddhism, while larger cultural centers, like the imperial capital of Kyoto, can have thousands. Today, most are used to display sacred Buddhist objects, while others still function as monasteries.

Despite being common, these temples are unquestioningly noteworthy. As per the asceticism of Buddhists, the structure, one that most Americans have some visual representation of in their minds, is long-sloping and plain. But, as an architecture student will tell you, a collection of the simple can create a unit of the divine.

Like many temples, Jikoin features a tiered mount, called a pagoda, which is generally used to store remains of the Buddha, like a tooth in the form of a representation. There are few Tokyo citizens that would marvel at it, with its replication found millions of times over in Japan. It is simply different from the American structures of which I know.

A flourished green roof from age, sturdy rock walls of age and well-manicured grounds fighting age: there isn’t much to label as the defining characteristic of its magnetism for cameras, other than it being unusual to my eyes. I circled the building and found a jungle-gym with children playing in the shadow of the Jikoin. What is normal to you, is foreign to me, foreign to you is normal to me.


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