Tokyo’s darker side

Of course Tokyo is not just about Ginza, Shibuya or the manicured gardens of the Imperial Palace. It has its darker side and poorer areas. I am trying to give support from time to time to the Missionaries of Charity Brothers, serving bento lunches to homeless people or day laborers, offering human contact and a temporary shelter. They are installed very near Namidabashi crossing (the bridge of Tears, which was crossing a river now buried underground), the place where families would part with convicts heading to infamous Kozukappara execution ground. The ground itself is now covered by train tracks of the Minami Senju station. A few temples associated by the area remain though, in particular Enmeiji (whose characters mean Long Life Temple!), and its large Jizo statue, probably standing out like a beacon very near the execution ground, in old times. Close to this impure place of death were living the Eta, the Japanese  equivalent to India’s untouchables, dealing with jobs considered impure (leather, slaughtering etc.). The area, called San’ya, is now inhabited by a large community of day laborers (you see many of them waving flags and helping traffic in the streets of the city around a worksite), as well as the poorest fringe of the Japanese society, but not only. While this remains Tokyo, still is incredibly clean, run down buildings and shutters remind one that future (illustrated by the nearby Skytree tower) may look very far there. Nearby were Yoshiwara and Shinyoshiwara as well, the fenced red-light districts of “tea houses”, brothels and entertainment houses often depicted in woodblock prints. Jokanji temple is a witness of the fate of these young girls enslaved from the age of 17, most often dying from illness or sometimes murdered by clients within a few years. Those who survived could eventually leave the place after 10 years, I read. It is estimated that more than 25,000 women were buried at the temple. In particular still stands that monument holding the remains of 500 of them burnt to death in the aftermath of a large earthquake in 1855. Their bodies were thrown into the temple roughly and buried. Jokanji has been since nicknamed Nagekomidera (Nageku means throw). Crowded tombs there tell you about a number of stories which sometimes ended as popular tales and kabuki theatre plays. Everything is not dark though. See the lady with her water bucket, bowing in front of that Shinyoshiwara Soureito, the stone monument erected to comfort the souls of deceased prostitutes? A local resident visiting her father’s grave, she came to me to for an exchange, ended up walking me through the cemetery, telling me some of these stories, and lamenting a bit how the shrine surroundings (ugly mansions aiming at bringing more residents into the area) have broken down the charm of the place. After another surprising exchange with another man outside temple grounds, my heart felt warm again.

Japanthis.com by Marky Star is a great site that will teach you about the history of many places in Tokyo.

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