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Monday, September 18, 2017

When you say the calm before the tempest... Typhoon n. 1718 (the 18th of the 2017) is due to pass over Nagoya at around 21:00, yet the day is just cloudy and the wind is still.

The plan is meeting with my friend Kiyoshi in front of my hotel and then visit the Atsuta Jinja, the Nagoya castle and the Tokugawa Art Museum. For the ones not knowing Japanese history: the Tokugawa dynasty was the samurai family achieving the title of Shogun and creating the role of Taikun (a word known as tycoon in English) -- in opposition to the Japanese Emperor until the Meiji restoration in 1868. Or in other words, they were the legitimate rulers of Japan for over 300 years -- and Nagoya is the theater where the most dramatic scenes of their ascension to power take place, hence the museum dedicated to the art pieces they inspired or acquired is located in this city.

Kiyoshi and me

These are my friend Kiyoshi and me, outside the Atsuta Temple. I am the bald one.

Atsuta Jingu is famous for having witnessed the most important events of the Samurai epoch, as it was one of the wetfulcrum of the power held by Oda Nobunaga, Toyotomo Hideyoshi, and Tokugawa Ieyasu in this order. It was built to guard the Sacred Sword Kusanagi-no-tsurugi, and enshrines Atsuta-omikami, together with a little bit of Amaterasu-no-omikami (her main spirit is hosted at Ise Jingu), and other minor deities connected with the sword, including Yamato Takeru. Today it's also famous for offering the modern service of Kuruma-barai, or Car Blessing.

Better than an insurance, this service wards off breakages, stealing, vandalism and generally anything bad that can happen to your car. And it's very popular: we witness several car blessing during our brief stay in the shrine. Here's one stolen scene:


Now I am a bit confused about becoming a technomonk or a car blesser Shinto priest; this second one seems an even brighter future: instead of praying alone, you get the assistance of two mikos, moreover you get to work 8:30 to 16:00, religious festivals excluded.

Wondering about which future I should chose, I put my trust in the temple uranai -- basically you shake a box until a bamboo straw exits from a hole on a side; on the straw you read a number, and the miko "assisting" you in this operation gives you a fuda (leaflet) from a drawer indicated by that number. The result of the oracle doesn't disappoint me. The number I pick, 18, is attached to daikichi, great fortune:


It reads more or less "you rock and your life is a blast". On which I kinda agree, and happy with the result, I pay a visit to the haiden to bring my thanks to the enshrined kamis.

And since I am there I also buy a mamori (a leaflet with a blessing prayer) for good travels (obviously), one for good work (hi boss!), and one for peace and harmony in the household (that never hurts).

Happy with my new relationship with the local kamis (I am sure the daikichi oracle was bestowed by Amateraus herself, I always revere her as the matriarchal Lady of Life) Kiyoshi and Me go in search for some food, but being Sunday and being the area filled with visitors at the shrine, we can't find any. So we decide to take a detour through a private public garden (no, it's not a pen slip: it's a public garden you have to pay to get in): the Shirotori garden.


It's a typical Japanese garden where modern tea ceremony aficionados meet with the masters of this art. We have no time for a full tea ceremony, but take some of their famous tea and tea-based sweets in a little cafe in the middle of an "island" inside the park.


This is the view from the cafe.

While the visit at the shrine was blessed by a light rain that made the day less hot, now the rain has ceased, and the temperature is well above 25C. The Typhoon 1718 is scheduled to arrive in a few hours, yet the air is still like a brick.

Filled by the tea and the tea-based sweets, we have now the energy to visit the Nagoya castle.

The castle has been actually destroyed and rebuilt several times, and through time it has become a more and more military installation, which the house of the Daimyou (the Samurai lord) moved right outside the castle tower.

Now, the tower has been completely restructured in a museum (or better, a touristic attraction), while the warlord residence has been restored and holds many precious treasures, like gold plated painted panels.

Or like gold plated, painted and lacquered furniture.

The castle tower itself is original in its external design only, but the museum it hosts is worth a visit. For sure, the view from the seventh floor of the tower is the best in Nagoya.


Half the floor is occupied by a souvenir shop, where I buy a plastic box (looking like jade) with the well known seal of the Tokugawa family the three leaves in the circle, and a set of pens, that are always useful.

The third floor has a day-night cycle simulation of how Nagoya downtown should have looked like at the time of the samurais, including the sound of trader calls, hammers welding metal, cart wheels passing in the street and so on.


As we are getting ready to leave the castle, we hear a message on the loudspeaker about the alert of "strong winds" (aboive 180km/h) being confirmed for that day by the Weather Agency, which activates several emergency procedures like closing all the entrances. As we walk by the Lord palace, the one with the golden panels, we see it is being shut down, and as we exit the main gate, we see a family walking in with trolleys behind them dismayed at the entrance now closed.

Looks like the daikichi oracle is accurate.

We move to the Tokugawa art exposition, but pitifully I have no photo of that as getting photos is forbidden there. All I can show is a replica of Tokugawa Ieyasu's armor:


Again, the exposition gets closed behind us because of the incoming hurricane, and as we get out I tell my friend "that's hurricane smell in the air, now I can feel it", and he replies skeptic: "oh, you can smell hurricanes?".

I don't reply, as I never been near an hurricane before, but what I sense in the air is the same smell and oppressive stillness of a summer storm like those we often have in Tuscany, near the sea. Just, this feels much stronger.

After a so tiresome day (we've been walking without any pause since early morning), Yoshi-kun proposes me to relax and regenerate the energies the Japanese way: going an onsen. I suspect he wants to introduce me to this Japanese tradition, and I understand the feeling, as I wrote about it in Rai'an. Just, now he's the character I have pictured, and I am the Westerner that never had this pleasure before. But the idea is intriguing, also because I am curious to see an onsen for the first time, and I prefer a friend to be with me in case there's some protocol I don't know he can tell me about.

Nagoya has no natural onsen, but there are many artificial ones: they are called onsen rather than sentou, as the sentouz are more or less just hot pools, where the artificial onsens try to re-create the feeling (and the kind of water) of natural thermal sources.

As we enter, I notice the writing, first in Japanese and then in English, about the fact that 1) gangsters are not allowed in the premise, and hence 2) tattooed people are not welcome. I won't digress on the stigma of the Japanese for tattoos, but the fact that "gangsters" are not allowed in gives me a pause.

The first floor of the premise is a small shoe locker room: all the premise, except this exchange area, is shoe-free. Upstairs, we pay a relatively cheap ticket (about 5 pounds), and we get access to the family restaurant, where families are taking a break and/or eating or drinking something. The bathtubs are on the third floor, and they are divided by gender. And to enter, you need to be completely naked -- and for obvious reason, I have no photo of that.

Even my waterproof watch is a bit out of protocol, but it's still permissible.

First thing once in, you need to was yourself very accurately. You can either use a shower or a more traditional basin, and stand or sit according with your preference (the large majority of Japaneses will sit on a low stool), but the point is that, before approaching a bathtub, you need to smell good. Very good.

I thought the fact that I have much more body hair than a mean Japanese could be a problem, but Yoishi-kun reassured me about that. Indeed, I saw more than one Japanese with a similar amount of body hair than me, especially on his arms and legs, and no one had a problem. Also, the fact that I am a foreigner inspired just a mild curiosity, which usually disappeared as soon as me and Yoshi-kun started talk in Japanese.

The onsen had different bathtubs with different temperatures and different kind of water. One was a mineral water, with diluted soda, that freed oxygen at contact with the body. It was great fun and a pleasurable sensation to see and feel the bubbles forming around my body and on my body hair. one had microbubbles that made the water white as milk. One was 42C, and it was on open air, while another one was 25C, and used to cool down before exiting. One had two sitting spots with an electro-stimulation to massage the back muscles. I sat on the spot marked "weak", and the shock made me yell a little bit, causing a little laugh and a sharing smile of the only other occupier.

We staid in about an hour, also because we stopped a long time on the bathtub with a TV broadcasting the damage caused by the typhoon in the Kyushu prefecture.

When done, I felt totally refreshed, as if I was ready to another day as fatiguing as the one we just had.

Finally, it's time to get something to eat for real. I let Yoshi-kun decide, of course, and we end up in a small restaurant cooking the typical Aichi prefecture food: chicken served in various ways and unagi (eel). Since we sort of order one dish at a time, am not like taking a photo of the dishes, but this place goes against the Japanese cuisine convention of presentation over taste. All is tasty, but the food is treated like just food, with no particular presentation "effects". That's actually the way I like it: it's my tongue (and my belly) deciding if what I eat is good, not my eyes. Moreover, the waitresses seem to really enjoy themselves, and respond enthusiastically wen called to bring a new dish. It's like they're having more fun in serving than the customers in ordering, and that's a pleasurable sensation. Last but not least, the bill is very cheap, possibly the best (quality+quantity) / price ratio I had since long.

It's about 8'o clock when we're done, and the Japan Weather Agency is broadcasting the impact of the typhoon starting since 9pm to about 1am, where it should have its peak, to calm down at around 5am, but we're at Nagoya station, where all the modern skyscrapers are placed, and Yoshi-kun absolutely wants to show me the sky promenade, a ramp on a skyscraper hanging at the 46th floor, protected by glass walls.

As we get in, one of the two elevators are closed to public due to the hurricane, but the other is still open, we sneak in, and when we reach the promenade, we get sucked out by the terrifying winds.

The promenade is a downwards ramp behind a glass wall, partially covered by a closing about 6 meters above, but still open to the sky. This is the breathtaking view from there.

And this is what I was witnessing:

The sensation of being in the middle of a hurricane, 46 floors above the ground, was beyond description. An adrenaline rush as I rarely have felt, feeling terrified and at the same time in owe for the total, immense power of nature.

But this was the "calm" side. Once turned the corner, the wind became so strong that my classes flew away, about 10 meters ahead of me. Luckily, I recovered them, but they were badly grazed.

As we got out of the promenade, we found that the premise had closed the doors behind us because of the danger.

Now I wasn't sure if the oracle of the shrine protected me allow me to enter for a hairbreadth, as it had been happening all day long, or I asked too much to my luck and got punished for that.

At any rate, those glasses were originally my spare glasses, and they were very old. I needed to change them since long, and I was actually afraid that using them could damage my eyes further. Maybe a sign of destiny?


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