I’m living in the birthplace of those glorious digital pets, so obviously I’m having a riotous time. Let me share some of the things I’ve been up to since I landed in Tokyo two weeks ago… because I promise I do more than just eat and run!
Thanks to my first host, Bonnie, an avid scuba diver who runs with Namban Rengo (check out her diving blog here), I got an awesome introduction to Japan and Asia for that matter. In addition to all of the fabulous eating we did, we also poked around a few of Tokyo’s most iconic shrines and participated in some neat religious traditions. Here we are at a couple shrines in the Asakusa area. The top left picture is the most famous Buddhist shrine in the city, the Asakusa Kannon shrine, which is massive, ornate, and laced with symbols and rituals.
The back of the entrance features two massive rope sandals (waraji) that were constructed for Kannon, the bodhisattva who represents compassion and who the shrine was built for.
Upon entering the complex, there’s a sheltered area that contains hundreds of paper fortunes in wooden drawers. Following the honor code, in typical Japanese style, you put 100 yen ($1) into a slot, pick a stick out from a metal container, find the box that corresponds to the number on the stick, and pull out the fortune inside. My fortune was mostly good so I got to keep my slip, but Bonnie’s was pretty ominous so, per tradition, she tied it on a wire to rid herself of that burden.
Walk a little further and you come to a brick structure that looks like a well with smoke blowing out of it. Before entering the shrine, people wave smoke over their face and hair for good luck.
When you approach the main part of the shrine, you’re supposed to drop a few 5-cent coins into a metal grate, clap your hands twice, and say a prayer. Then you can walk up to the lavish gold altar dedicated to Kannon.
After an awesome introduction to Tokyo, I moved in with another Namban runner, Mary, and her husband Peter for week #2. It didn’t take long for me to feel right at home in their neat Shibuya home and for Mary and I to bond over some major similarities: we’re both part of two sets of twins (and she has 3 more sibs on top of that!), both she and my mom are from upstate New York, and we share an intense love of NYT crosswords (shout-out Mom and Grammy), Modern Family, and American Idol. In addition to showing Will Shortz who’s boss and enjoying two awesome sushi dinners (described here), we had a really entertaining weekend.
On Saturday, I tagged along to an annual hanami party thrown by some local brewers in Yoyogi Park. Although I guess it wasn’t technically a hanami, which occurs while the cherry blossoms are in full bloom, I enjoyed a sunny afternoon with new friends under those impatient trees. The park was more crowded and colorful than Luke’s beanie baby drawer back in the day and I loved how so many people took advantage of the gorgeous weather.
Especially this guy.
On Sunday, Peter and I got an early start with two of his friends, Mika and Murphy, and took a few trains to a nearby mountain range. The day started off right with my first glimpse of Mt. Fuji from the train and some sneakily discounted coffee (get at me if you want to spend less on Starbucks and aren’t ashamed to dig in the trash).
The three of them plus another friend are training for a 100k charity walk called the Oxfam Trailwalker next month, so we did about 25k of the course. It was incredibly refreshing to be in nature after a few weeks in busy, bustling Tokyo. We got to see some beautiful Japanese homes, lush green tea plantations, and colorful koi windsocks celebrating the upcoming holiday of Children’s Day along the way.
I also went to Mary’s school one morning this week and it was a total hoot! Her kids are precious and hilarious and she is the kind of teacher I’d kill to have. Her kids get guest visits from real sumo wrestlers (and chances to “wrestle” them), have petting zoos at school, and are getting ready for an aquarium field trip this week. Am I too old to re-enroll with this lot?
On a less jovial note, I’m currently facing my first running niggle of the trip, and my first ever away from my coach and trainers. Dead shoes, flat roads, and hard terrain these past couple weeks are probably the culprit of what we think is a calf strain. While giving the old wheels a rest and cross-training is never ideal, this set-back is giving me a revived appreciation for my health and the sport that surfaces most powerfully during time off. Injuries are also a very real element of distance-running everywhere in the world, so this one gave me an excuse to try out a very Asian form of healing: acupuncture.
Hopefully that session kick-started the healing process and I’ll be good to go in a few days. I’ll keep ya posted!
I’m now all settled into my FIFTIETH bed of the year, in the beautiful home of the lovely Griffen family. My stay started off on an awesome note with a delicious izakaya dinner last night and a hot cappuccino greeting me bright and early this morning. I truly don’t know how I end up with the most amazingly generous, hospitable, interesting, and fun hosts (with spectacular taste in food), but I do, and I’m so thankful for each and every one of them. They constantly remind me that, for every crazed, destructive person in the world, there are countless more with pure intentions and huge hearts.
Have a great weekend, folks! Keep those prayers rolling for everyone affected by the Boston and West, Texas tragedies.
Finally, good luck to all you Mt. Sac competitors. Let that magical track do its thing and enjoy sunny Cali!