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Everything in Japan is dangerous

Are you ready for my first rant grumble* of 2016?

* I added some art to turn this into an aesthetic treatise instead of mere kvetching. Ignore Ru being her usual impatient impolite impudent and also impecunious, since we're now im-ing, self and just look at the pretty pictures.

I'm not complaining about tertiary education yet; that irritation needs to cool down a bit. No, this is about Japan's obsession with "abunai" (dangerous) and its concomitant addiction to Predictability, Rules & Regulations.

Last weekend I walked to Yushima Tenjin. It's a profoundly silly thing to do during the New Year's period, since it's one of the busiest shrines in Tokyo thanks to gazillions of students asking its enshrined deity, Sugawara no Michizane, for success in the school entrance exams that will be held in the next few weeks.

I'm not going to repeat the spiel about the god of scholars; you can read it here.

Yushima Tenjin from inside the complex, early in the morning when I was not the only person ignoring the barriers. See that torii? Now look at Hiroshige's paintings below ...

I knew the shrine would be busy, but I thought there would be breathing space at 8 am. I was wrong. To aggravate an already impossibly congested situation, the shrine, or its security guards, or whatever god prevents accidents, decided to block two of the shrine's five entrances apparently – if a security guard is to be believed – because they're too abunai. Dangerous.

Both blocked entrances involve steps, but only one flight is steep enough to possibly cause problems if you're stumbling along in a dense crowd and you're 97 years ol …

Oh. Sixty percent of Tokyo is 90+. Ah well. That explains that then.


Two different prints of Yushima Tenjin, both by Hiroshige. See the torii? Same torii (or different torii, same place)
in my photo. You could see Shinobazu Pond from the shrine in those days. Now? Forget it.

I've been to Yushima every New Year for the past six years, and this is the first time they've blocked these entrances. Now you're forced to walk around the block, up a steep hill just perfect for myocardial infarctions, and then stand in a queue that stretches several blocks to enter via the remaining two entrances on that side.

I guess recently an old-timer accompanying her great-grandson to pray for his (or her, but probably his: this is Japan) blessed entrance into the hallowed halls of next-door Tōdai accidentally tripped on the steps while eating mochi and carrying a portable kerosene heater, and that immediately led to new rules and regulations.

Did I obey it?

You really don't know?

I walked down a side street, ogled the steep Otokozaka (men's hill), noticed the red barrier, side-stepped down a tiny alley, approached the very easy Onnazaka (women's hill), spotted another red barrier, muttered impatiently, made a U-turn and … climbed over the men's barrier. I add, in my defence, that I was not the first person to do so. Nobody stopped us (that time).

I took a few photos, felt claustrophobic, developed a strong urge to slap the septuagenarian security guards who were yelling instructions into megaphones, and decided to go home. Down that manly slope. Again I was not the only criminal. (Do not for one second believe all Japanese people always follow the rules.) Whereupon a security guard came galloping up the steps shouting "abunai!" at us.

This is Otokozaka, the very dangerous slope, strictly for Very Brave Men Only, and the barrier that I climbed over.
Or side-stepped. 

Onnazaka. No idea why this is regarded as dangerous.

Now this is where I misbehaved badly. I knew exactly why he was upset and what he was shouting at us, but I pretended to be a clueless tourist, alternatively smiled and frowned at him, and continued on my merry way. The camera dangling around my neck, or rather, cradled protectively in my arms (it's new!), helped. The Japanese transgressors turned back up the hill. They were closer to the bottom of the hill than the top, but Septuagenarian-san waved them back up. I continued skipping down. Short of physically tackling me – and even then – listen, Japan beat the Springboks, but I wasn't playing in that team, OK? – there was nothing the guard could do to stop me.

Then I walked past a few other flustered guards who had, while I was taking photos, assumed their positions at extra barriers in the streets leading up to the shrine. They ogled me nervously. I capered on.

Japan, you are your own worst enemy. It's a trait we share. I'm sorry that I upset your security guards, but I break and enter. It's in my blood. #I'mfromAfrica 

I need a drink. Smirnoff, anyone?



Above, ema with a monkey (2016 is the year of the monkey) and below, shrine detail and good luck arrows.

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