Sunday, August 9th, 1998
The convention is called the "Comic Market" and it's held at a place called the "Big Sight", some sort of convention center. I need to translate the kanji on the map that's in the convention guidebook and see if I can locate it on my Tokyo maps; then I'll worry about finding a hotel near it. In the meantime though, I want to explore the Ikebukuro area more and see if I can find a cheaper hotel; I'd like to stay in this area until around the 13th, so I can really get my legs under me, so to speak. It's hard switching to all Japanese after eight years or so of just studying it; my first response to everything is still to say something in English, then back up and try to approximate it with my limited Japanese. I'm challenged enough right now trying to meet my daily needs... I'll put off exploring a new place until later, eh?
Today I walked in a direction I hadn't been yet... to the side of Ikebukuro across the four lane road leading away from the JR station. As it turns out, I had chosen the correct side of the road to explore initially; this other side is mostly residential with just a few convenience stores, so I wouldn't have found a place to stay had I gone searching in this direction. What is over in this part of Ikebukuro, though, is a public park with some nice greenery and a couple of homeless people, next to which is a large graveyard. Being me, I was attracted to the graveyard rather than the park, but it took a little while and a little walk to find the entrance to it.
The entrance was a gate that opened onto a nice courtyard and a small Buddhist temple which is probably only open for funerals. Next to it, but not as prominant, was what I assumed to be the caretaker's home. I walked around the building to the vast field of monuments, each representing one family, and each displaying the tall wooden tablets with the names of the recently deceased. Japanese graveyards have a different feel than American graveyards, mainly because of how packed together everything is. Instead of individual graves with lots of room for grass to grow, whole families take up just a four foot by four foot area that is rubbing shoulders with other monuments... the only empty areas are plots not yet containing a monument, and the paths you walk on between rows.
Japanese Buddhism is very different from classic Buddhism; one of the big differences is that Buddhist rituals are largely associated with death and funerary practices in Japan.
Other than the wood tablets, each monument also has a small well for flowers to be placed in; there are several water faucets with buckets and ladels here for the use of visitors to fill these basins. During the summer, these basins often become the breeding ground for mosquitoes, who love a good pool of stagnant water, but the rains late in summer wash the basin out often enough that I'm not mosquito food right now.
As I walked quietly to the back of the graveyard, the graves got older... and at the very back was an extremely large monument, with stairs up it to a small raised area about ten by eight feet. Three small statues sat on this platform; one was Buddha, but I don't know the other two. This structure was only a few feet from the stone wall on the other side of which was the park; to the right, overgrown with grasses, was a pile of broken monuments taller than me. I guess this is what happens to them when they are retired or replaced.
I walked over and examined the mish-mash of tombstones and small statues parts. On the side I couldn't see from the raised monument was an oven, presumably where the wooden planks are cremated after they have been on display for a designated period of time. Also in this area was an empty section of the graveyard, waiting for the number of monuments to expand to fill it. Has it been cleared of old monuments, or has it simply never been used? I don't know, but would like to learn. I circled this empty area to get to the back of the temple, where there were more large monuments, some with small pathways and benches all their own. "Someone rich and/or prominant" was the first thought through my mind.
Having satisfied my curiosity, it was time to go... I said a quiet "thank you for letting me visit" in front of the temple, and then headed back to the other side of the four-lane road to explore more of the area I had settled in. There's a lot of hotels in this area, even ignoring the fact that some are capsule hotels and love hotels. I walked around the area, exploring farther and farther out from my hotel while checking the prices at each new hotel I met. I also made mental notes on the locations of various stores -- especially convenience stores -- so I can find food and other resources as I need them.
A good walk away from where I'm currently situated -- meaning a longer walk than most people will endure -- I found a hotel that looks equally good and is definitely cheaper, named "Hotel I.B.A.". I made arrangements to shift over to it tomorrow and stay there until the 13th, which should give me plenty of time to adjust to Japan and then find a hotel closer to the comic convention this coming weekend.
In the meantime, however, I went browsing through several old bookstores, wasting a tremendous amount of time but buying nothing in particular. Then I picked up a dinner at the Lawson's convenience store and headed back to the hotel to clean up and relax.
I'm pooped out... with my limited Japanese, every time I talk to someone I get nervous, frightened, and tense; but I know I have to talk to people or my Japanese will never improve. Still, even superficial interactions like the simple conversations with store clerks are a genuine effort for me, and it wears me out to the point that I want to be alone for awhile. Even then, I find myself re-thinking about the day's earlier activities and conversations, wondering about and looking for mistakes. I suppose that's how I learn... still, I'm pooped out.
I dug through my limited maps and area guides to find where the "Big Sight" is, and to see what would be the most reasonably close place to get a hotel. The first thing I discovered is that the correct spelling for the name of the place is the "Big Site", not "Big Sight" as on the cover of my comic convention guidebook. It's pretty far away from Ikebukuro, so I'll definitely have to change my base of operations for the weekend. It looks like an area called Nishi-Kasai would be a pretty good choice, but I'm going to wait a couple of days before I go over there to try and make arrangements for a new hotel room. I plan to activate my JR railpass soon, and until then I'm avoiding rail travel; after I activate it, my rail trips will be free. Well, that's enough work for tonight... I'm eating and conking out!
On to August 10th, 1998
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