Graduation Ceremony

In Japan, or especially at Seikei University, the connection between students and the educational institution is very important. As a part of this, a whole day is dedicated to the graduation ceremony. The morning starts with a very formal ceremony. Not only all graduates but also all professors and chairpersons of Seikei attend. The president hands the certificates to the best students not with the word "congratulation" but instead "thank you very much". After some speeches and singing the Seikei hymn the graduates leave the hall by walking through a guard of honor formed by other students and parents.

At this point the party begins. Students hug each other wildly, the girls receive flowers and memorial pictures are taken with the beautiful Kimono and suits in front of a not less beautiful university. If Sakura is early, the cherry blossoms give another good background for pictures. At my laboratory everyone gathered to have one more lunch together before the students headed to the smaller ceremonies to get their certificates. Master graduates also enjoyed a less formal party with the professors on the highest floor with a nice view over Tokyo. A perfect day, except that we could not see Mt. Fuji or Asamayama, but we should be satisfied with a sunny day and more than 20°C in mid-March.


Praying at a shrine

Although Shintoism is the most important religion of an important ally with 140 million people, I have been taught de facto nothing about it during my 13 years at school, being taught religion in each of these years. Is it too close to pagan in the eyes of conservative Catholics? Is it to peaceful in the eyes of monotheistic teachers? We don't know, nevertheless the religious system in Japan is very interesting. Shintoism makes up about the greatest part of Japanese religion with Buddhism taking the rest. About one percent of Japanese are Christians, most of them Catholic.
Unlike in countries dominated by the monotheistic religions, none of the religions is exclusive. This means you can be both Shinto and Buddhist. You do not have to pay a monthly fee or be a formal member, you can just decide by yourself what meets your spiritual needs and belief. In many tradition and customs a large overlap between the two religions can be seen. While Buddhism reached Japan from China about 1500 years ago, Shintoism is the traditional Japanese religion. Being close to nature is characteristic for Shintoism. Many millions of deities are worshipped. They can be rather abstract like the gods of the Nordic Mythic or be the spirits of deceased persons or elements of nature, for example trees.

When I go to Tokyo I frequently visit the Meiji Jingu Shrine. Here, the Meiji emperor is embodied. He modernized Japan and opened it to the Western countries. So this shrine is not only one of the two most important shrines in Tokyo, but is especially important for foreigner who feel some relation to Japan. Before coming in front of the main hall seen above, you walk through a huge dense forest in the middle of Tokyo. It was created in voluntary work by the people after the death of the emperor and despite of this is a very natural forest which recreates itself. As in every larger shrine, you pass several gates and sometimes also some bridges.

The street leading through the forest is very wide. This is needed on the New Year's Days, when several million people pray at the Meiji Jingu Shrine. Before coming to the main hall, you also wash your hands and mouth having the meaning to clean yourself. Being clean and free from evil is very important.

As it was my first visit to a shrine in the new year, I took five yen coins with me. You always pay before you pray. Please remember that there is not tax or member fee for this religion, so the shrines finance themselves out of donations, a problem for smaller shrines. For students, giving a 10-Yen coin is a good choice. At the first visit you pray for luck in the coming year. As 5 is the number for luck, you choose five Yen coins for this occasions. On midnight between Dec. 31st and Jan 1st a rain of coins can be seen. For this occasion and the many visitors, the donation box is replaced by a something that looks like a swimming pool and reaches from the one tree to the other.

Many people collect their 5-Yen coins in the last month(s) of the year. Its difficult for rich people to collect an appropriate amount in 5-Yen coins, so you could see them throwing 5000 yen bills or bundles of bills somehow related to the number of 5.
After giving the money, you pray. To get the attention of the deities you clap your hands twice. Also don't forget to pay respect by bowing towards the shrine.
You can buy a such a wooden plate and writing your prayer on it. It is collected by the priests the next morning and included in their prayers.

Another famous activity is Omikuji to see the forecast of your fortune. You shake a wooden box and draw a random stick out of it. The number on the stick is related to the short letter which tells you your fortune. Be careful, it can be bad or even a curse! But don't worry, of course there is a solution, you can knot it around another nearby tree to get rid of it. Although I like Shintoism very much, I'll probably never understand Omikuji.

After the visit to Meiji Jingu Shrine you can relax at the meadow on the way to the Meiji Jingu Treasure Museum. The next photo show the sake barrels which are enshrined to be offered to the souls of the former emperor and his wife every year.


Volcanoes and hiking around Tokyo

Active volcanoes are a phenomenon. They are the connection from the earth's razor-thin surface to the heart of our planet. Japan is full of active volcanoes - beautiful to hike, disastrous when seismic activity reminds us how much power is stored under us.
I love hiking active volcanoes and will go to some of them more often in my life. They shall be honored with their own blogs. Mt. Fuji is Japan's tallest and most famous, a sleeping giant: http://holyfuji.blogspot.jp/. Mt. Asama is very active: http://mtasama.blogspot.jp/. A blog on the Izu Islands will follow.

Shinjuku high rise buildings

For somebody who has grown up in a village having no more than 400 inhabitants, high rise buildings are fascinating. I was already astonished during the bus ride along the highways from Narita airport when I saw so many building having more than 7 floors. Actually, this is standard in Tokyo. There are areas with many family owned houses having only two floors, which were built in early 20th century when land was affordable in Tokyo. Many newer buildings are accomodated or visited by more people than my home village.
Shinjuku is not only famous for its high rise buildings, but also for its high frequented station (during rush hour 500 people enter the trains per second), the amusement quarter Kabukicho, the beautiful park Shinjuku Gyoen and some other things like electronic department stores, although Akihabara is the first place in Tokyo for the latter. Today I would like to focus on the high rise buildings. The first building after exiting the station on its West exit is the futurustic looking Subaru building.

You can enjoy a nice 30 to 45 minutes walk in the middle of the skyscrapers, seeing how small one human is inbetween what humen are able to build. Some of them are perfectly cleaned mirrors.

The photo on the right hand side shows the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building, or Tocho. On top of each tower there is an observartory. The entrance is free so I enjoy it very often, also during night time (until 11 p.m.). The view is amazing, especially on clear days when you can see Mt. Fuji.

View from Tokyo Metropolitan Government Bldg. in the direction of Docomo Tower (in front) and Tokyo Tower (second from right)


Arrival in Japan

The flight from Europe to Japan is the first attraction of your trip if the weather is not to bad and you have a place at the window. After flying against the night, so having a very short one, you are above thousands of kilometers of almost untouched nature - beautiful Sibiria.
At my first flight to Japan, which was my first long flight at all, I was very excited when being over the Japan Sea. Shortly after I saw the land which I have dreamed about so long.

When you fly with All Nippon, you can enjoy the Japanese flag on the wing, but most important an excellent service. At Narita, when I looked at the cart to carry my luggage I was somewhat surprised: After going more than 100 km to the airport and flying more than 10000 km, this cart was manufactured just some minutes by bike away from my home village. In general, the modern Japan is a very open country which imports the best ideas from all over the world. At the some time I have not experienced any country within Europe that has retained so much of its traditional culture.