The sun rises with a new purpose today. A glistening, impeccable aura shines brighter than many days past. It's abundantly clear that today takes on special meaning for this country.
Of course, today is the start of a festive week here in Japan.
April 29th is known as the first day of "Golden Week".
The meaning behind the week requires a deeper explanation but to keep it brief, this week is special to the country because 4 national holidays fall into the course of 7 days.
This is a time for many natives to celebrate, spend time with loved ones, and travel the far reaches of their soil.
I have a feeling there will be an extra sentimental value with the note you left me on this leg of the trip.
Today marks the beginning of Golden Week. As per tradition, many shops and attractions are closed in honor to celebrate the various holidays during this week.
That does not mean that there aren't things to do. I want you to take this time to look inward.
For the next 7 days, I suggest that you reflect on some major milestones in your life, and some of the people that were a part of it.
Wear this neon band, as its vibrance will reflect the festive spirit of Golden Week.
Not only that, it will remind you of the people that brought joy into your life (and what you returned to others).
Enjoy and I look forward to seeing you soon!
-Kanda Myojin Shrine
As listed in the itinerary, I'm going to start the week with a pilgrimage to Senso-Ji Temple. It's the oldest temple in Tokyo, dating back over 1,400 years.
The temple was originally built to honor the goddess of Mercy, Kannon. It's here that I'll ring in the first holiday of the week, which is referred to as "Showa Day".
This holiday celebrates the life of Emperor Hirohito. He reigned over Japan during WWII, eventually passing away in 1989.
After his death, the holiday was established and he was affectionately given the nickname of "Showa". The term is a combination of bright "sho" and peace "wa".
Originally celebrated on May 4th, the holiday was changed to the late emperor's birthday of April 29th.
As a keen nature goer, this day is honored by encouraging locals to visit nearby parks and wildlife, reflecting on the change that the country endured in his time as ruler.
The idea of the holiday is to provoke natives into thinking about how Japan became what it is today, and how they need to help improve it for the future.
For me, this day regurgitates melancholic emotions. In particular, it brings a fallen friend to the forefront of my mind.
As I walk through the gates at the temple (known as the Kaminarimon), various memories of my friend begin to bubble.
Everything from the game-filled sleepovers to dollar store bike rides, this person was a permanent fixture in my adolescents. If my childhood had a "Mt.
Rushmore" of friends, this person was always Washington or Jefferson.
It's hard to think of many times during my upbringing that didn't include him. These memories continue to weave through my consciousness as I navigate the vast landscape of the temple.
Beyond the first gate, there's a popular stretch of shops, with the section being referred to as "Nakamise". A variety of snacks, trinkets, and souvenirs can be purchased here.
This section has been popular for decades, as it's the closest thing visitors can acquire, within the confines of the temple.
At the end of Nakamise is the 2nd gate, commonly referred to as the "Hozomon Gate". Beyond this point stands the main hall of the temple.
Despite this temple being the oldest in Tokyo, it was largely reconstructed after the war.
A bombing destroyed much of what originally stood, with the current temple being the result of a major renovation.
The five-story building (pagoda) is a bright shade of red, which has been commonly used to paint shrines here for centuries.
One unique observation I made was actually underneath the chochin lanterns hanging at each gate. Underneath one of them was an incredibly detailed carving of a dragon.
Legend has it that this dragon was put here to protect locals from fires and other disasters. I still can't get over the attention to the fine detail of these carvings.
It just exemplifies how creativity and craftsmanship can endure any period of time.
As I reach the edge of the temple, I've been told to wash my hands and mouth at a nearby fountain (Omizuya). I start by washing my left hand, followed by my right and mouth.
I end the washing by spilling water over the cup and onto the handle, cleansing itself for the next visitor. After that, I've been told to come over to a nearby incense burner (Jokoro).
The idea is that inhaling some of the rising smoke acts as a form of cleansing the body.
With the customary cleansing out of the way, I entered the main hall of the temple and threw a couple of coins into the offertory box, and said a prayer.
As you know, I'm not the most religious person. Despite that, I found this to be a good opportunity to take your advice and reflect on someone during this moment of silence.
As my eyes temporarily close, I begin to rekindle fond memories of my long-lost buddy.
Many years of galavanting around town, enduring pivotal experiences together. The countless games we played, arguments we may have gotten into.
Any negative connotation to our relationship just evaporated from my mind. He was like a brother to me. One that was with me through every trial and tribulation during adolescence.
If that wasn't enough of a reason to mourn his loss, it was how we abruptly stopped talking that expedited my grief. By the time we were young adults, we were pulled into different places.
Sure, that's a normal thing to happen between friends, but this case was different. I let petty differences and tastes create a fault line into a rock-solid friendship.
So much so, that I essentially disconnected him from my life.
Despite the disconnect, I'll never forget the moment I heard about his accident. The loss of control. The sudden loss of his life. The idea was just too surreal to grasp.
I don't know what I could have done to help prevent his loss, but my mind instantly ran the marathon of "what if" scenarios.
Whether it was a "butterfly effect" or just bad timing, I couldn't help but think that my absence in his life steered him towards that path.
I know it's a rather selfish thought, but my instincts just can't help but wonder why I was so adamant about pushing him away.
I suppose the main takeaway from the tragedy was how to manage friendships.
You never know how much sand someone has in their hourglass, so make every moment in the finite sand of their existence count.
I will treasure every memory I've shared with him and if there's an afterlife, I eagerly await our reunion.
With my thoughts re-collected, I open my eyes and turn back towards the gates.
In a moment of silence, I reaffirm my appreciation for my loved ones and vow to never take them for granted again.
One premature loss was enough, so I need to make up that disconnect with giving love and attention to others. Upon leaving the temple, my head is in a calm and re-assured place.
I'm ready to head back to my hotel and call it a day.
Tomorrow, I'll head over to Meiji Jingu Shrine. Thanks again for your support and I can't wait to see you!