During our most recent trip to Japan, in 2019, we visited the Kanda shrine — it was on our way to the sake association’s tasting center 😉
Next to the shrine was a building with a ‘cultural space’: a cafe, a shop and an event space, clearly associated with the shrine. It was quite new — apparently the Kanda shrine featured in the anime Love Live!, and being relatively close to Akihabara, I’m guessing it gets its fair amount of ‘pilgrims’ which must have put quite a chunk of cash in the shrine’s coffers. If this is the result, then that’s not bad at all!
We browsed through the shop for a bit, and I bought the book ‘Shinto from an international perspective’ by Satoshi Yamaguchi. It’s a dual-language book: pages to the left are in English, pages to the right are in Japanese. The writer is an ordained Shinto priest and worked in Geneva — so his perspective is indeed more international than many other shinto priests.
It’s an interesting read, but shallow. It does not really spend a lot of time on the foundational shinto myths, but it does do a good job of explaining the history and the various changes it underwent as a result of various social and political changes in Japan. Some things in the history of shrines we visited, puzzled me — and with this increased understanding, I’m more able to get the nuances.

If you’re interested in the subject, then it’s a very good starting point.

New notebook

Some time ago, I realised that our large collection of beautiful Japanese washi papers would do us no good when it’s stored away.
So I devised a way to force myself to actually use those sheets by creating a cover around an A5 notepad, with the washi on the outside. I use it for taking notes and todo-lists, and if a page is filled, I take it out. That means that there is an end-of-life for this: once all the pages are gone, I’d chuck it and make a new one with a different paper on the cover! The transience is precisely the point.
I’m sure it’s symbolic that the notepad I used has run out of pages, and so last week I made a new cover for a fresh notepad. I look forward to taking it with me and make a fresh new start at my new position later this week.
Notepad cover with dark blue Japanese washi paper depicting Daruma dolls
The paper depicts Daruma dolls. Daruma was one of the foundational fathers of zen buddhism, and a legend tells that he meditated for so long, that he turned blind and his arms and legs fell off from dis-use.
The Daruma doll has two empty eye sockets, and if you want to work hard towards a wish, you color in one of the eyes and place it somewhere it can see you work. Every time you see the doll, you are reminded of your goal and encouraged to work hard for it. Once you have achieved your goal, you fill in the remaining eye, to thank Daruma for his support.
All these dolls have their second eye filled in, which makes it double symbolic, because it’s certainly a goal I achieved in very short time!


Last year in April, we visited the temple in Takasaki, Japan where the custom of the Daruma dolls originated. They have a little museum with all kinds of dolls and interesting variants — sadly you were not allowed to take photos inside. But the giant doll on the outside does provide the perfect photo op!


Next to the museum was a hall that was used for ceremonies, and there were nets around the veranda around it. To me, it looked like worshippers who had their wishes fulfilled would bring their doll to the temple and chuck it onto the veranda. I’m guessing the priests would burn the dolls (they’re often made of papier mache) once per year, just like the wooden prayer plaques at Shinto shrines.

Friday Five

1. Where did you travel on your last vacation or other big trip?
That was our trip to Japan in March/April of last year. After some bad delays, we arrived at Tokyo, then rented a car and went to Enoshima, Hakone, Fuji, Kofu, Matsumoto, Takasaki, Kawagoe and then back to Tokyo.

2. What was the best trip you ever took? Where did you go, and with whom, and what made it so good?
Probably the trip to Kyuushu (yes, also Japan) in 2015. We saw a lot of beautiful things, but it was also very relaxed. And there were no crowds of (Chinese) tourists, which was a bit of a thing everywhere we went last year… We really slowed down and had the opportunity to experience many interesting cultural things.

3. Where do you dream of traveling on your next vacation when it’s safe to travel again?
It’s getting boring, but… Japan. There’s large parts that we haven’t seen yet, and I’d like to visit Kyoto again.

4. Where are you likely to actually travel to on your next vacation when it’s safe?
My sister is in the process of buying a vacation home some distance from where she lives (in Denmark). It might turn out that we spend a few days there?

5. Do you prefer to vacation to new places each time or to familiar places — or maybe you prefer to stay home?
I love being at home, but I also love experiencing new things! But I’m not really adventurous, and I like my creature comforts.

Spoiler Inside: Narita and back home

And that was the last of these entries!

Spoiler Inside: Fun in Tokyo
Spoiler Inside: Kawagoe and Asakusa
Spoiler Inside: Takasaki and Kawagoe
Spoiler Inside: Matsumoto
Spoiler Inside: More Fujikawaguchiko and some Kofu
Spoiler Inside: Why not have some more crappy selfies?