（日本語は明日加えます）Classes are over for the academic year at Rikkyo University. The chapel choir sang its last Service on Sunday, and the students are now in exams. Which means things slow down a bit for we choirmasters. This state will not last long, however, as the choir departs for England on Feb. 18, and much remains to do before that. Still, I managed to enjoy myself a bit recently.
On Sunday, Jan. 24, my colleague at Rikkyo University Hiroshi Oshima conducted a performance of Handel’s Messiah at Kioi Hall in Tokyo. It was one of the best performances of the work I’ve heard. The orchestra was the Tokyo Bach Kantate Ensemble, an excellent professional orchestra that was spot on in every respect. The chorus was sprightly and light when the music called for it, and powerful and dynamic when needed. The balances and pitch were good throughout. Subtlety of dynamics and word accent really brought out the meaning in the more dramatic choruses. Dr. Oshima not only conducted this fine performance, but also sang the tenor solos. It was interesting to watch him finish his solo, then return immediately to conducting. Congratulations, Dr. Oshima, the Chorkreis Kantate Ensemble, and Tokyo Bach Kantate Ensemble.
The following day I experienced some pain in my back – probably thanks to the very low (for large Americans, anyway) seats in Kioi Hall. Three hours slouched over with my knees sticking up were not what the doctor ordered. In order to clear things up I spent the afternoon walking down the Shakujii River, and then back home via another route. The river is a rather sorry thing, deeply entrenched in a concrete ditch many meters below street level. Still, the changing scenery along the river banks was good, and there were many parks for taking breaks. If you have back pain I highly recommend five hour walks in winter sunshine along a river. It certainly helped me. Photos of the walk:
I started walking near Oyama Station in Itabashi-ku. Here the river is at its dullest, with modest buildings and no greenery on either bank. It has to make its way under multiple levels of elevated expressways at one point.
Once crossing under the expressways, however, the scenery improves dramatically. Many stretches are shaded by cherry trees (imagine the scene below in the spring!).
Here and there are small river-side parks that use water from the river in imaginative ways. Below is a small catch-and-return fishing pond enjoyed by elderly men in the afternoon sunshine.
There are several temples and shrines near the river path. A fairly new (2008 or so) Buddhist statue sits right along the path, inviting the passerby to detour to the temple up the street. This Yatsu Dai Kannon （谷津大観音）requires a bit of work to photograph. Here are three views. Do you prefer your statues with or without telephone poles and wires?
The most memorable stop on this walk was another temple, the Shojuin（正受院）, sometimes called by its nickname “akachan-dera.” My first impression was of a jewell hidden away in a rather plain neighborhood. Plum trees were just beginning to blossom.
A wander around the grounds, however, revealed that this temple houses the cremated remains of many thousands of babies. I read that many were aborted fetuses, while others died as babies. Parents leave gifts and snacks for the departed near the building in which the ashes are stored. It is a profoundly melancholy place.
Moving on toward Oji Station brings one to the nicest part of the way. At Oji Shrine (below) the river has been diverted into a tunnel on its way to the nearby Sumida River, and the old riverbed transformed into a water park.
My walk home was less scenic, but pleasant all the same. I saw this building in the setting sun (Kita-ku Central Park).
The next morning I woke up with a much happier back, and good memories of an afternoon spent wandering this great city. Give it a try next time you have a pain to exorcise!