The dawn of a new era

The new Emperor of Japan ascended the Chrysanthemum Throne today which signalled the first day of a new era.  Whilst they do use the year 2019, they also use their own system based on the number of years the Emperor has been on the throne.  When I got my ID card, I was surprised to see that my date of birth was 34.  When I queried it, I was told that I was born in the 34th year of the Showa Era, which was the name for Hirohito’s reign.

So today is the first day of the Reiwa Era – beautiful harmony – and the cause of a ten-day-long public holiday … hurrah!

The first week in May is called Golden Week, and there are three public holidays, which can give a 5-day break if they fall on the right days, but the extra days this year have doubled that.  So I hopped on a train to Tokyo to make the most of my unexpected free time.

It is soo crowded here – I’ve never seen so many people in the same place before.  I used to think Oxford Street was crowded in the run-up to Christmas – now I know that it’s simply a little bit more lively than usual.

This is a popular shopping street in Tokyo –

– you can see our guide waving her flag below, so we can all fight our way through the crowd in roughly the right direction.

And this is the longest queue I’ve ever seen –

– it’s a two-way  queue which snakes its way around the perimeter of a large Shinto shrine.  There are thousands of people all standing patiently – no jostling or queue jumping, of course.  We asked what they were queuing for ( … The Dalai Lama?  Ariana Grande?) and it turned out they were all waiting for a date stamp from the temple, officially recording the new era.  Oh well, if you’ve got ten days to burn, you can spend one of them standing in a queue for 18 hours, I suppose.

Today was also an auspicious day to get married.  We saw two weddings within half an hour at the shrine –

the bride’s father looks very uncomfortable in his suit at this wedding –

he can’t seem to lower his shoulders below the level of his ears – I don’t think the bride will be very happy with the photos.

There’s a huge installation of sake barrels in the grounds of the shrine –

Sake manufacturers consider it an honour to donate a barrel to the shrine – and they do get a bit of free advertising out of it.  Our guide told us that they’re all empty though, as Shinto priests are allowed to drink – unlike Buddhists.  And these priests have very cosmopolitan tastes … there’s also a display of 60 barrels of the finest Burgundy –

– presumably all empty too.

I went to see the Palace gardens, and the azaleas were magnificent-

all clipped into very tidy hedges, which were a riot of colour.

Following my tried and tested method of joining a queue if I see one  (although not an 18-hour stamp queue, I do have my limits) I joined a queue in the gardens, and it turned out that I was queuing to take my turn to squat in the grass –

and photograph this flower –

Any ideas as to why?  Everyone else seemed very excited by it.

Another busy place today was the maid cafes.  I’d heard of them before, and seen a video clip, but some of the maids were out on the streets today touting for trade –

I picked up a menu, and the Japanese obsession with cuteness hit me right between the eyes.  In fact, kawaii was one of the first words I learnt when I arrived, they all use it so much.

This is not a children’s menu –

– so adults go into these places and  order an omelette and rice shaped liked two (platonic) bears in a bed, or a ‘bunny in the forest’ ice cream.

Think I’ll be giving this one a miss.