Skip to main content

Tokyo Camii Mosque and memories of Cairo

The call floats over the city, drifts on the dust, spirals around minarets, disappears into the desert where dawn is breaking over the pyramids.

Early-morning Cairo, and I'm listening to the alāt al-faǧr, the dawn prayer, one of the five daily prayers offered by Muslims. I got used to the call of the muezzin, the person who recites the prayers, but that early-morning chanting remained my favourite.

It's my fondest memory of a city where I worked many lifetimes ago. It was a difficult experience – Islamic culture isn't always kind to an unmarried, independent, strong-minded woman – but I still miss the narrow streets, the intense heat, the ancient-beyond-comprehension history. What is happening now in Cairo, the current violence, is breaking my heart.

Tokyo Camii Mosque from the parking area

That was a rather roundabout introduction to explain why I enjoyed my visit to Tokyo's biggest mosque, Tokyo Camii in Yoyogi, so much. (It's written Camii but pronounced Jamii or ジャーミイ.) I did this walkpedition with regular companion Cecilia.

Japan has around forty mosques, and there's been a mosque in Tokyo since the early 1900s.

The original Tokyo Camii was inaugurated by a group of Kazan Turkish emigrants who came to Japan as refugees after the Russian Revolution in 1917. Their original small mosque was built in 1938, but was demolished in 1986. A new large-capacity mosque was rebuilt and funded mostly by private donations. The structured framework was done by Kajima Corporation, and the traditional crafts were done by one hundred Turkish craftsmen who worked at the mosque for a year. It was completed in 2000.

The central dome of Tokyo Camii Mosque

It's structurally similar to the famous Blue Mosque in Istanbul.

The Friday prayers at the mosque (Friday prayers are the most important) are given in Turkish, Japanese and English rather than Arabic, attesting to the growing number of foreigners in Tokyo.

The man in reception, who gave us some information about the mosque, talked to us in both Japanese and English. The most interesting thing he told us? The tulip, which we all associate with the Netherlands, is a Turkish flower! Nah, really. Commercial cultivation of the flower began in early Persia, probably in the 10th century. It's called lâleh in Arabic and Turkish, and it's written with the same symbols as Allah, which is why the flower became a holy symbol.

It's a popular motif in Arabic art, which forbids the depiction of humans.

Tulip motif on the walls

Tokyo Camii is a remarkably laid-back mosque, compared to the strict places of worship I visited in Cairo. I thought we'd have to use a separate entrance and cover our heads, but we probably could've used the main entrance without any thunderbolts in retribution. I was wearing a scarf, but not very successfully: I wasn't paying attention to proper behavior, as is my wont, and I was walking around with my head thrown back to take photos of the gorgeous ceiling. Head covering turned into shawl rather quickly.

While we were upstairs in the women's gallery, yours truly with a bare head, several men came in to pray. They saw me, but barely blinked.

Edit added on 27 August: As far as photos are concerned, we asked permission to take photos and were told, "Sure, no problem, go ahead." I don't think a camera would ever be refused, except during prayers, but I recommend a polite request anyway. (You can speak English. No worries.)


The mosque from the women's gallery


The mosque serves an active community. During the recent fasting period known as Ramadan, it provided free iftār (evening meal) to two hundred visitors, regardless of their religion, to introduce visitors to Islamic culture. The food was made by three chefs who came from Turkey to Japan specifically for this event.

You can read an excellent article about Tokyo Camii at Nippon.com. I've also embedded two videos. The first one is a lengthy prayer; the kind of thing I could hear in Cairo. The second video is about Tokyo Camii.


This is the main door, where men may enter.


I love the geometric decorations.



Outdoors veranda ceiling

Indoors main dome






Mother-of-pearl inlay




My favourite photo: a book stand

Ru sitting demurely in the women's gallery
with her head scarf. If you look closely,
you'll see how wet my shirt was
under my backpack. It was VERY hot.





View Larger Map

Popular posts from this blog

Higanbana, a flower of loss and longing

I love this flower. I love all flowers, but this one, ah, this one comes packaged with the most wonderful stories. Its scientific name is Lycoris radiata; in English it's red spider lily; in Japanese it has several names including higanbana (ヒガンバナ), in other words, autumn equinox flower.


It's also referred to as manjusaka (曼珠沙華), based on an old Chinese legend about two elves: Manju guarded the flowers and Saka the leaves, but they could never meet, because the plant never bears flowers and leaves at the same time. They were curious about each other, so they defied the gods' instructions and arranged a meeting. I assume it was not via Twitter. The gods promptly punished them, as gods are wont to do, and separated them for all eternity.
To this day, the red lily is associated with loss, longing, abandonment and lost memories in hanakotoba(花言葉), the language of flowers. It's believed that if you meet a person you'll never see again, these flowers will grow along your…

This is what my language sounds like

A while ago I promised I would do a post about Afrikaans songs. Oh dear. It's more work than I thought it would be, and it's aggravated by the fact that I've lost touch with contemporary culture in South Africa. (Please don't ask me about Die Antwoord. I don't get it. I don't want to get it.) So for now, while I continue my research, I've selected two golden oldies that are very natsukashii (that's a Japanese word for "dear" or "missed") to me. You'll notice the central themes that unite these songs: an abiding love for Africa, as well as loss and longing.
Quick recap: Afrikaans, my mother tongue, is a South African language developed from 17th century Dutch. It has adopted words from Malay, Khoisan and Bantu languages, but 90% of its vocabulary is of Dutch origin. Yes, I understand Dutch (with a bit of effort) and Flemish (easily). Afrikaans has about 6 million native speakers.
Tomorrow we return our focus to Japan. Tonight, son…

South Africa is not a safety country (hallelujah)

I did. Smile. Nonstop. Al die pad dwarsdeur end-uit.

Thunder myths in Japan

Last night we had a magnificent thunderstorm in Tokyo, so today: a post about thunder! I've also discovered that there's a thunder temple in the shitamachi, but I'm going to keep you in suspense. I'll try to get there today, provided it stops drizzling, but it probably justifies its own post. Meantime … Raijin (雷神)
The god of thunder is called Raijin, Kaminari-sama or Raiden-sama, and he loves to eat the belly buttons of children. When there's thunder, parents tell their kids to hide their navels so that Raijin can't kidnap them.
Quakes, thunder, fire and father
Traditionally the Japanese feared four things in ascending order of severity: 地震·雷·火事·親父, jishin (earthquake), kaminari (thunder), kaji (fire), oyaji (father). The father was the most terrifying because in old days he had complete control over his household. (I can hear men sigh with longing, "When did it all go wrong?") I've also seen a slight adaptation:地震·雷·火事·大山風. The first three terrors r…

Yotsuya Kaidan, Japan's favourite ghost story

Kaidan! Ghost stories! You ready?
August is the month of Obon (お盆), a Buddhist festival that honours ancestral spirits, who are believed to return to their birthplaces in this week.  Since otherworldly beings are wandering about, it's also the perfect time for ghost stories or kaidan.
Kaidan (怪談) consists of two kanji: 怪 (kai) meaning "strange, mysterious or bewitching apparition" and 談 (dan) meaning"talk"or "recited narrative". It's a slightly old-fashioned word that conjures up tales from the Edo era, and we're going to start our August Kaidan Series with an old Edo tale of murder, betrayal and revenge that remains the most famous ghost story in Japan.
It's called Yotsuya Kadain (四谷怪談), and it proves that "heavenhas norage like love to hatred turned, norhellafury like a woman scorned".¹ It's roughly based on a real event: a woman called Oiwa² married a man called Tamiya Iuzaemon, but after their divorce, various misfortunes be…

Edo wind chimes: air con for your soul

Have you noticed that Japan has a thing about bells?
Watch people's phones: every second phone charm has a little bell that jingles with the slightest movement. There are bells on doors and bells at shrines and bells at temples. There are bells on traditional hair ornaments called bira-bira kanzashi, bamboo chimes tuned DFGA for your garden, bells are a symbol of peace (link) and their sound echoes the impermanence of all things (link).
From which one could correctly deduce that peace is ever transient.
Now, before I get sidetracked down a thousand rabbit holes, let’s focus on the real topic: bells, yes, but specifically wind chimes or fūrin(風鈴).

I would not to mine own self be true if I didn't include a little history lesson. Here we go:
The oldest wind chimes found at archeological sites in South East Asia are 5000 years old. These early versions were made from wood, bones and shells; and were probably used to keep birds out of cultivated fields and/or to ward off evil spirits.
C…

The princess who loved insects

Edit added 8 May 2013: This post receives so many keyword search hits for "The Princess Who Loved Insects" that I've published an updated post (with extra information) that focuses on the book. Click here to read it.)

Blogging has been an interesting experiment. I initially started two blogs, Rurousha for personal musings and Sanpokatagata for factual stories accompanied by photos. I've now decided I'll do all stories on this blog, regardless of the content, and turn Sanpo into a supplementary photo blog. I'm not sure it's a good idea, since I'm not a good photographer at all, but let's see how it goes.
It occurred to me that "nomad" is not the ideal name for my blog. I don't wander anymore; I want to live in Japan forever and ever amen till death do us part. Then I remembered that I've already stayed in six different apartments in Tokyo and although most of my income is derived from one company, I've been based in three diff…

Bush clover, the flower of autumn

It's a modest plant, easy to overlook, yet it used to be Japan's most beloved flower.

Bush clover (ハギ, hagi) is mentioned in 141* poems in the Manyōshū (万葉集, Collection of Ten Thousand Leaves), Japan's first anthology of poetry, compiled in the 8th century. That far exceeds the 119 poems about the second-most popular flower, plum blossoms. The latter was revered as an exotic import from China; the former was praised for its rustic simplicity.

Bush clover grows about 3 m in height and has long, slender branches that droop across paths. The branches represent feminine elegance, but it's also a symbol of vigour thanks to its ability to produce young shoots from old stock. It flowers in September, when summer's heat lingers, but it's believed that if you can see dew drops on the plant's small green leaves, you know that autumn is near.

Nowadays the flower attracts little attention. There aren't any good bush clover viewing spots in Tokyo that I know of, apart…

Hiking along the Mitake Valley in Okutama

I'm lying. Exaggerating. It's not hiking; it's walking.

As a matter of fact, the Mitake Valley Riverside Trail has given me a new definition of walking vs hiking: if you encounter vending machines along the way, it's walking, not hiking.
I've done several hikes in Okutama, but I'm going to start with this walk because anybody can do it. It's exceptionally beautiful, truly pleasant and very easy. You don't need to be an experienced hiker, you don't need hiking boots, you don't need energy drinks – or Scotch – to keep going.

It starts at Ikusabata Station on the Ōme Line, follows the Tama River and ends about 5 km upstream. It took me about two hours of slow walking, many photos, frequent diversions and arbitrary stops to enjoy the autumn colours.
Let's do this section by section. Warning: this post is photo-heavy!
Ikusabata to Sawai

It takes 90 minutes from Tokyo Station. Take the Chūō Line to Ōme, transfer to the Ōme Line and get off at Ikusab…

Swing yourself into good luck at Ana Hachiman-gū

I'm not superstitious. I firmly believe that chocolate ensures mental health and books bring eternal happiness, and that's why I gather as much of both as I can, but that's science, not superstition. Don't you dare argue with me.
That doesn't mean I don't find superstitions interesting. Anything that humankind applies to explain what it doesn’t understand yet – or should that be to understand what it can't explain yet? – any fire that the talking ape lights in an attempt to keep the darkness at bay interests me, be it religion, mythology, superstition or folktales.
Why are we always asking why? That's what I want to know. Anyway.
When I heard about a shrine in Waseda that has a "return of spring = change in fortune = swing from the negative to the positive" festival, complete with charms and whatnot, plus a quirky combination of astronomy and astrology, I toddled along.
It's held at Ana Hachiman-gū (穴八幡宮), and it’s called Ichiyō Raifuku (…