Looking for LOHAS in Shimokitazawa

LOHAS, or Lifestyles of Health and Sustainability, is a movement wherein people take a careful look at how they live and the impact their existence has upon the planet. Here in the urban sprawl of Tokyo, it’s alive and growing, with shops catering to consumers with a heightened sense of responsibility for their actions.

When a possible client for my photography asked for LOHAS-related images, I realized it was one area somewhat under-represented in my portfolio, so I set off today by bicycle, (appropriately enough, I suppose,) to explore Shimokitazawa, a Western suburb of Tokyo, looking for LOHAS.

As the day wound down, I found myself at the Nong-min Café and spoke to its owner, Mr. Waki, who graciously allowed me to take some photos.

In the garden behind the café, there was a small herb garden, just a couple of square meters, that supplies the shop with fresh herbs.

Written on the stick is “Italian Parsely”.

I spoke with Mr. Waki, the proprietor. He told me about the shop’s two rice paddies outside the city and gave me a tour of the shop.

The first floor café is cool and casual.

Inside a cabinet, the glass teapots and handmade bowls await customers’ orders.

An organic cotton t-shirt proclaims “No Chemicals”.

The shop’s brand includes t-shirts, as well as workwear.

The second floor has two café rooms and an adjoining workroom, complete with sewing machine.

A wooden Buddha sits overlooking the tables in a peaceful customer area.

A cotton boll, a reminder of the connection between the goods in the shop and their natural origins.

An un-dyed organic cotton t-shirt on display.

Herbs grow in pots alongside chalkboards announcing the day’s specials.


Rokuyō days for iCal (六曜カレンダー)

In Japan, traditionally the days also have religious names and meanings. Some days are considered either good or bad for things like weddings and funerals, while other times and days might be good for things like scheduling a job interview or a school exam. I’ve seen them marked on Japanese printed calendars, but never paid much attention to them. In a way, they’re similar to the Christian customs of not eating meat on Friday or being cautious on Friday the Thirteenth.

I’m just learning about these, so I thought it might be handy to have them as a calendar in my iCal program and on my iPod: 200901061015.jpg

To make this, I started with the calendar found here:


I downloaded it and did a series of search and replaces to add not just the romaji version, but a short description from Wikipedia. If you read Japanese and don’t need the English, you should probably just subscribe to the original

Here’s what Wikipedia says about them:


The rokuyō (六曜) are a series of six days that supposedly predict whether there will be good or bad fortune during that day. The rokuyō are still commonly found on Japanese calendars and are often used to plan weddings and funerals, though most people ignore them in ordinary life. The rokuyō are also known as the rokki (六輝). In order, they are:

Kanji Romanization Meaning

先勝 Senshō Good luck before noon, bad luck after noon. Good day for beginnings (in the morning).

友引 Tomobiki Bad things will happen to your friends. Funerals avoided on this day (tomo = friend, biki = pull, thus a funeral might pull friends toward the deceased). Typically crematoriums are closed this day.

先負 Senbu Bad luck before noon, good luck after noon.

仏滅 Butsumetsu Symbolizes the day Buddha died. Considered the most unlucky day. Weddings are best avoided. Some Shinto shrines close their offices on this day.

大安 Taian The most lucky day. Good day for weddings and events like shop openings.

赤口 Shakkō The hour of the horse (11 am – 1 pm) is lucky. The rest is bad luck.

The rokuyō days are easily calculated from the Japanese Lunisolar calendar. Lunisolar January 1 is always senshō, with the days following in the order given above until the end of the month. Thus, January 2 is tomobiki, January 3 is senbu, and so on. Lunisolar February 1st restarts the sequence at tomobiki. Lunisolar March 1st restarts at senbu, and so on for each month. The last six months repeat the patterns of the first six, so July 1 = senshō, December 1st is shakkō and the moon-viewing day of “August 15th” is always a “butsumetsu.”

This system did not become popular in Japan until the end of the Edo period.

200901061015.jpg Subscribe to iCal 六曜カレンダー

Iron Maiden VS Tokio Hotel

I’m loathe to admit it, but I’m a bit of a regular in the Japan section of Yahoo Answers. It started as a way to pass the time when I was having bad insomnia, but grew into a habit. I’d wake up at three or four in the morning and have a few hours before dawn to kill, so I would answer questions that people asked about moving here or visiting, immigration procedures, customs, food, whatever.

In the Japan group, you get questions from people of all ages, kids wanting some fact for an assignment, people wondering if they will be able to survive here if they’re vegetarians, people who live here and are looking for a place to get some special thing from back home. Most of the questions are pretty basic, the kind of stuff that they could figure out themselves if the had ever heard of Google, but many people want to have a real person answer their question specifically. It’s not a bad way to kill some time, actually.

A few times a day, you get really annoying questions though. People who ask over and over how much a quantity of dollars is worth in yen, or in some cases, they ask about a German pop group called “Tokio Hotel.”

Tokio Hotel is one of those bands that young teenagers listen to, all hair and makeup, led by a pair of german boys called the Kaulitz Twins, who are, according to their fans “the greatest living musical geniuses” and “the best band evarr.”

While I would never deny a young girl her right to have a crush on a boy band, they have absolutely nothing to do with Japan. Their fans, however, often think it best to spurt their enthusiasm in the Japan group, so in one case, I decided to have a bit of fun. The question, (if you could call it that,) came in the form of a very short, very vague few words:

Iron Maiden VS Tokio Hotel?

I decided to delve into it a bit. I’m no Iron Maiden fan, but I’ve certainly heard of them, so I fired up Wikipedia and a few of their fan sites, to see who they were and what might happen if they were pitted against the boys of “Tokio Hotel.” Here’s what I came up with:

Fascinating question!

It comes down to the classic conflict between youth and age. “Tokio Hotel” are young, so that could be an advantage, since the current lineup of Iron Maiden are basically really old. Dave Murray is about 52 and has pretty skinny arms, but I think he could easily take out Bill and Tom Kaulitz, probably with little effort, since they are basically built like a couple of 12 year old girls.

Nicko McBrain is even older, 56, but the guy is a total badass and could make the members of Tokio Hotel cry, just by making a scary face at them. If he actually shouted, they’d pee themselves. The thing is, McBrain became a Christian in 1999 and wouldn’t do such a thing to a group so weak and helpless as T.H.

Bruce Dickinson (now 50) used to be pretty messed up, but he got disgusted with himself after drunkenly eating leftovers from random trays in, get this, a Tokyo hotel (no lie) that he cleaned up his act, became a jet pilot and recently rescued 200 people stranded in Egypt, not to be confused with the time he flew a 747 full of soldiers out of Afghanistan.

Believe me: You Do Not Want To Mess With This Guy.

So, I think it would be no contest. To win any battle, you need to take out the leaders and that’s definitely Tokio Hotel’s weakest point.

The Kaulitz twins wear wigs, makeup and nail polish and exist only to tap into the lucrative demographic of gender-confused young people.

If you eliminated the Kaulitz Twins, there’d be no band. (Nobody cares about the other two guys or even knows their names.)

Iron Maiden, on the other hand, has shown their ability to survive any change. They’ve had at least ten members, including five different lead singers. They had hits that were already oldies when the members of Tokio Hotel were in diapers. You just can’t kill Iron Maiden.

Tokio Hotel, on the other hand are one bad hair day away from falling apart as a band. Even though I just watched a video of theirs on YouTube moments ago, I can’t remember anything about it, except thinking that they must be idiots to leap *up* when jumping from a helicopter.

In five years, nobody will admit to ever having been into Tokio Hotel, while Iron Maiden is still as amazing as ever after 32 years.

So, if it came down to it and they actually did get together to fight, Iron Maiden would crush Tokio Hotel into the worthless little heap of weeping little boys that they are.

By the way, your question has nothing to do with this section of Yahoo! Answers.

I wish I had never heard of this band, but since people keep talking about them here, unfortunately I do.

Tokyo in One Day

Over on Yahoo Answers, someone asked the following question:

“If you had one free day in Tokyo what would you do hour by hour from 5am until midnight?!??”

Here’s my answer, which should be useful to anyone wandering in from Google:

At 5:00, go to Tsukiji fish market, it’s in full swing then. Afterwards, go just outside the market and have a breakfast of sushi and a beer. It’s kind of a tradition.

Next, walk over to Ginza and check that out. Stores might be starting to open, but it doesn’t matter because the clothes won’t fit and you can’t afford the watches. ;-)

Take a short walk to Yurakucho. It’s next to Ginza and sort of interesting.

I’d guess it will be about 9:30 or 10:00 AM at this point. You could head to Akihabara and check that out. It’s all electronics, manga, anime, cosplay maid café, geeks, otaku heaven. Good to go at least once, even if you’re not into that kind of stuff.

From Akihabara, head a couple stops to Ueno and check out Ameyayokocho. It was once the black market after the war, now a big bazaar style market. Ueno park and the zoo are nice if the weather is good, but basically they’re just a park and a zoo.

Hop on the train again and head to Harajuku. If it’s the weekend, wander around the bridge and take pictures of the cosplay freak girls for a little while and then head down to Omotesando. (Just walk down the hill towards the Gap store. Wander, stroll, soak it all in and then head to Fujimama’s for a burger. You’ll want to get a good comfy chair in the front where you can watch the people go by and rest a bit.

Order a second bloody mary and curse yourself for carrying a heavy backpack filled with a GPS, two Lonely Planet guides, an iPhone that doesn’t work here, the power brick for your laptop, all the lenses you own for your heavy DSLR, none of which you’ll use that day, and a bottle of warm water. Better yet, when you head out, carry nothing but a paper map and a pocket digital camera.

After Fujimama’s, cross the big street and wander the back streets of Harajuku until you find Takeshita dori, which means “Jailbait Street” and follow that up to the train station again and head to Shibuya. Have your picture taken in front of Hachiko, the bronze dog statue. Why? no one knows. It’s a good place to chat up cute girls, though, before their boyfriends show up and drag them away, scowling at you. Repeat as necessary. Walk over to the big crossing where they did that scene in the rain from Lost in Translation and walk up the street just to the left of the Starbucks. That’s Centergai. Lots of people.

wander around there.

At this point you’ll be seriously crashing with jet lag. Head back to your hotel and catch a shower, take a nap, marvel at how bad Japanese television is, or, hopefully get to know that girl you met at Hachiko a lot better.

When you’re rested, head out to Shinjuku. Find Kabukicho and wander around, looking for hookers and yakuza. Try not to get too close to either. Don’t go to any of the places that the West Africans will try to drag you in to, but if you must, hide your credit cards and only pay cash. Mostly they’re ripoff places with a few bored Filipina girls in cheap slinky dresses asking you to buy them $20 drinks.

Instead, find “Ramen Jiro” and have the hugest, most amazing bowl of ramen you could ever imagine, or find the little crazy Chinese place called “Shanghai” down the tiny, 1 meter wide alley. You can get dog there, if you ask. (You won’t get it if you don’t.)

Find Goldengai just east of Kabukicho and wander the alleys and little tiny 10-seat bars until you find one that will let you in. “Nana” is good, as is Araku, an Australian bar down the first alley, on the second floor above 10CC. It’s bigger than most, welcoming to foreigners. Don’t go to Champions, the place just at the entrance to Goldengai. Horrible place with drunk Germans singing that stupid Oasis song on Karaoke.

At this point, you should be running back to your hotel.

That about covers everything. You could swap Roppongi for Shinjuku, but not if you care where you wake up. I sort of hate Roppongi anyway—too many foreigners.

Enjoy the trip.

The “Throw-Away Temple”

Not far from Minowa station on the Hibiya line is a nondescript temple called 浄閑寺—Jokanji. From the street, it looks like many other Tokyo temples, but behind the new main building is an old cemetery that has one particular point of interest, a crypt and monument to twenty-five thousand prostitutes interred there. Being so close to Halloween, I was looking for a spooky story when my friend Joe mentioned the place.

I didn’t find a ghost story.

What I found instead was a very sad, shameful story about the women and girls used up by the sex industry of Japan. I’ve tried to make this story about the temple itself, but understanding the temple requires a bit of background on the times and the places involved, mainly that of Yoshiwara. This isn’t trying to be a history of Yoshiwara, as plenty of those exist. This piece is about my research into Jokanji, the Throw-Away Temple. I will add to this and make corrections as I find them. As always, I welcome any comment or criticism. There are a lot of parts I may include in the future, such as the nearby memorial associated with Nagai Kafu, a writer whose stories dealt with the lives of these women

During the Tokugawa era, in present-day Senzoku 4-chome, there was a licensed prostitution area called Yoshiwara. The area had been moved from near Nihonbashi in the late 1650’s after a devastating fire leveled much of the city and the new area was known for a time as Shin-Yoshiwara. (新吉原, New Yoshiwara, though eventually the “New” was dropped and people simply referred to the area as Yoshiwara.) For 300 years, the area was home to thousands of women and girls, many of whom were sold by their families as young girls.

Yoshiwara was a walled-in, tightly-controlled area. Patrons entered and exited the area down a curving street headed by a gate not unlike the tori that stands at the entrance to the temple. Transactions were negotiated outside the walls, at nearby teahouses and even samurai were required to leave surrender their swords before they could enter. The women could not, of course, come and go as they pleased. Most were enslaved by debt they could never completely repay. During their service they could leave only for the death of a parent and once a year to view the cherry blossoms in Ueno. For most of the common prostitutes, the only real way out was through their own death.

On on November 11, 1855 the Ansei Edo Earthquake (安政江戸地震, Ansei Edo Jishin) a 6.9 magnitude earthquake struck Edo (The old name for Tokyo) with intermittent aftershocks over the next two weeks. The last major quake to hit Edo had been in 1703, so few if any of the residents of the area had ever experienced a major quake and hadn’t given any thought to earthquake safety.

Buildings collapsed and fires spread rapidly through the city. Unfortunately for the women enslaved in Yoshiwara as common prostitutes, if they had survived the building collapses, they were far more likely to die in the resultant fires. Yoshiwara, after all, was a walled village with only two exits, both narrow, to control the passage of people in and out. Fear of looting slowed the evacuation as well.

Woodcuts I examined at the Taito-ku Library in Kappabashi showed the fates of some of the different classes of people in Yoshiwara—one showed an elegantly-dressed Oiran or high-level courtesan being rushed from the area by two samurai. One samurai was on horseback and both had their swords, indicating that they had been dispatched to rescue this woman, as swords were not allowed in the quarter, even for samurai who were habitués of the brothels. Another print showed lower-class prostitutes clad in the common plain blue kimono that was mandated for working girls. (This rule was ignored by those whose status was higher.) The prints showed the lower classes, both men and women, panicking in the streets, crushed by heavy roof tiles and buildings, crawling through the streets in despair. One showed the interior of a brothel as it collapsed, women and customers tossed about mid-coitus, while a prominent sign on the wall says “火の用心” or “Be careful of fire.” Another showed looters, some themselves trapped under rubble, greedily swallowing gold and silver coins and later “recovering” them as they passed through their systems.

At the time it was a commonly-held belief that earthquakes were caused by an imbalance of the good and evil forces of Yin and Yang, so a major quake, to some, was a sign that social change was needed. (Often referred to as “correlative cosmology.”) The quake was centered northeast of the city and Yoshiwara, too, was northeast of the palace. In Buddhist tradition, the Northeast is known as “Kimon” or the direction that bad luck follows. In 1855, the Northeast of the city was the hardest hit by fires, with the West of the city largely untouched. Yoshiwara in particular was among the worst hit.

Yoshiwara went into a decline and the brothel owners’ profits fell. To counter this decline, the owners brought in more women and lowered prices. Conditions worsened and disease became the norm.

While there had been about fifteen-hundred women working there in 1700, by the turn of the 20th century, there were some nine thousand women working in the area as prostitutes, all in the same small quarter. Most of them suffered from syphilis or tuberculosis or both. Typhoid broke out occasionally. Rarely did a common prostitute live to see her thirtieth birthday. While some historians may glamorize the era in its heyday, life for most of the women working in the late 19th and early twentieth centuries was a miserable existence at best. There was a very high turnover.

At the time of the Ansei quake in 1855, there was a severe shortage of coffins, so much so that people resorted to using sugar casks and barrels as makeshift caskets for even the more wealthy of the dead, so for someone of such low social status as a common prostitute, there would be no such ceremony. Bodies were simply piled until they could be disposed of.

This certainly must have set a precedent for later. When a woman of Yoshiwara died, she died with little pity or notice. Brothel workers would take her body, wrap it in a cheap rush mat, carry her out and dump her at the gates of the nearby Jokanji temple. In all, an estimated 25,000 women were thusly interred. The practice became so common that the temple became known as “Nage Komi Dera,” (投込寺,) the “Throw-in Temple” with all of the connotations of being a dumping ground for unwanted, forgotten women.

Why Jokanji was chosen isn’t clear. It’s not the nearest temple and getting there while carrying a body would have required a fairly roundabout route, at least using the paths shown on maps of the times. Yoshiwara itself was surrounded by rice fields, fairly impassible most of the year. In November, the rice would have been cut to stalks and the ground itself a thick, sticky muck.

The most direct route would have required the use of the front gate, which I find hard to imagine, as it would have been quite bad business to carry dead prostitutes past incoming customers. More likely, the back entrance was used. A woodcut from the time by Hiroshige shows the area, with its narrow roads between the rice paddies.


View of Mt. Fuji from Yoshiwara, from Hiroshige’s 53 Stations of the Tokaido. This is be a Southwest-facing view, therefore from the rear exit of Yoshiwara. The visible road leads away from Jokanji, which is to the North.

Most likely, they used unmarked service paths between the rice fields which would have offered a direct and discreet route straight to the temple, avoiding the streets.


Another view of Mt. Fuji from Yoshiwara, from Hiroshige’s 53 Stations of the Tokaido. In this view, walkable paths in the fields are visible. These paths do not appear on period maps, but may have afforded a passible, discrete route from Yoshiwara to Jokanji.

Around the turn of the century, as Japan opened up after the Meiji Restoration, international pressure started to force some changes to the area. By Meiji 38, (1905,) the practice of dumping bodies there was largely stopped and a monument to the women was erected at Jokanji, but it’s reputation as a dumping ground and the nickname “Throw-in Temple” (nege-komi-dera) stuck. When I first went looking for the place, I wandered a bit before asking a pair of shopkeepers for directions. “I’m looking for Jokanji. A temple in this area…”

“Jokanji? I don’t know it…” the more senior of the two said.

“It’s the throw-in temple,” the assistant offered. “not far from here.”

“Ah, yes—of course!”

He then directed me a couple of blocks away to the entrance to the place. I parked my bicycle outside the temple, becoming a bit dubious that there would be anything worth seeing, as the building is quite new and modern. As you enter the grounds, there is a long wall to the left, behind which is the temple’s cemetery. It’s like most other neighborhood cemeteries, narrow lanes of plot after plot of family monuments. I hadn’t thought of this at first—I had assumed the place would be devoted to the victims of Yoshiwara, but the bulk of the space was used by normal families, most with no likely connection to the mizu shobai or water trade, the sex industry in old Edo. It was, after all, a cemetery before Yoshiwara and continues as one to this day.

A temple worker saw me wandering among the plots and waved me over to the back. “It’s over there” he explained, knowing that I was most likely looking for the monument, without my asking. Once you turn the corner, the monument is obvious, much larger than any of the family memorials. Further down the lane is a large tree. The temple worker explained that the old entrance to the graveyard was beyond that tree and that’s where the bodies were typically dumped.

Crypt at Jokanji, AKA, Nagekomi Dera-7.jpg

It’s a grim place on a late October day, so close to Halloween, though there are fresh flowers every few days and ritual incense is burned each day. On the left are sotoba, the wooden sticks that typically bear the deceased’s Kamiyo, the name the person is given after death in the Buddhist tradition. (As most of the souls inside were anonymous, I don’t know whose names are upon these sticks.)

Crypt at Jokanji, AKA, Nagekomi Dera-9.jpg

Each day I went there to photograph the place, I’d see a couple of Japanese sight-seers come by with digital cameras to take a few snapshots.

Atop the monument is a seated Buddha holding a staff with six rings affixed to the top. The pillar behind is deeply inscribed “Shin-Yoshiwara-Soureitou,” (新吉原總霊塔) roughly meaning simply “Shin Yoshiwara Memorial.” An older photo of the memorial shows the pillar alone, sitting atop its stone lotus base, indicating that the Buddha figure was added later.

A small shrine sits at the base in the front, with an offering plate (¥7 was in it when I visited) and a place to burn incense, cups of sake and flowers.

Above the standing figure is a red lacquer ‘Hira-Kanzashi’ hair ornament of the type a girl in Yoshiwara might possess, affixed to the wall.

Crypt at Jokanji, AKA, Nagekomi Dera-11.jpg

‘Hira-Kanzashi’ hair ornament

Along one side there are a couple of small, barred windows, through which you can see earthenware pots containing the ashes of some of the people interred there:

Crypt at Jokanji, AKA, Nagekomi Dera-3.jpg

Along the other side is a locked iron door, leading to the interior of the crypt:

Crypt at Jokanji, AKA, Nagekomi Dera-6.jpg

Through the bars, if you let your eyes adjust for a few minutes, you can see that it’s quite large inside. Just inside the door is an iron ladder leading down about three meters to the floor. The walls are lined with shelves on which the pots were stored, but for the most part, empty, as the jars most likely fell and broke in later earthquakes.

Crypt at Jokanji, AKA, Nagekomi Dera-8.jpg

Interior of the crypt

Crouching near the window of the door, trying to get a photo, I could smell the interior of the crypt, a cool, earthy smell. It’s much like the smell of an earthen basement, but not quite. It was a familiar smell though, one I’d smelled before, but couldn’t place. I realized after a bit where I’d smelled it before – it was the scent of the bones I’d smelled in the catacombs below Paris.

Addenda, to be streamlined into this at some point:

Matt Treyvaud, of No-Sword was kind enough to provide a translation of part of the inscription on the Nagai Kafu memorial I mentioned. I don’t know a lot about Nagai, so I felt remiss in neglecting him; I’m happy to have this, as he’s obviously an important chronicler of the place and time.

Young people of this world

Do not ask me about this world’s

Art or arts of any times to come.

Am I not a child of Meiji?

When those ways became history, were buried,

The dreams of my youth vanished too


The last of Edo’s ways are become smoke.

Meiji culture, too, is become ash.

Young people of this world

Do not speak to me of this world’s

Art or arts of any times that may come.

I could clean my clouded glasses

But what could I then see?

Am I not a child of Meiji?

Am I not a child of long-ago and long-gone Meiji?

I had hoped to dig into that a bit more, but haven’t yet had a chance, so I appreciate his help in this.
On another note, Kristen and walked through Minowa, Jokanji and Yoshiwara today and at the end of the day we exited Yoshiwara through what was once it’s back gate and found ourselves at the spot from which Hiroshige had drawn the first image in this post:

That would be the spot.jpg I have no doubt that it’s the same spot as in 1830, there was no other road leading from that side of Yoshiwara. Making that realization together with Kristen and having the reference image on my ipod was a remarkable moment.
Oh, I should also mention that I’ll be at Donald Richie’s book launch party this Sunday (Nov. 2, from 5:00 PM) at “What The Dickens” in Ebisu. The book is called “Botandoro” which is a type of Japanese ghost story. I am helping in the arrangements for the party, arranging for the exotic dancers in particular.