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Disability Arts Online

Earthquake / 7 April 2011

Photo of large statue of the Buddha in Asakusa, Tokyo

Buddha with trees and Sky Tree seen from the Temple complex in Asakusa. Photo © Gini

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woman riding
on giant fish
makes sense to me
now I too have
ridden a serpent;
The great snake monster
that is Gaia, arched
and rolling spine
curving and bucking with
shivers and shudders.
I exercise the
Narrow Focus
and ignore
the dragon
beneath me.


Asakusa is today's destination and I will need to change trains. Ueno is suggested as the obvious change point, but when I ask the station staff to check out the elevator situation they change their minds and send me via Ningyocho. An embarrassed-looking, but helpful assistant carrying the portable ramp, travels with me to the change-over station.

Asakusa is a large station with confusing signage. I join several Japanese tourists looking for the correct exit. Thanks to Google maps I have a good idea what to expect and in principle it's easy to get to my destination. Confronted by the reality, I'm a little overwhelmed. 

Soon, tiny shops line narrow walkways en route to the Temple Complex and, together with ancient and new pagoda-style buildings, vie for my attention. It's hard to decide which to explore first. The shrine is my ultimate destination, but getting there is a joyful roll from one distraction to the next.

People here are very chatty, all of the Japanese mention the quake situation, none of the Westerners do.

I sample strange food including sesame ice-cream, which tastes a little like wet sawdust; buy a Japanese coin purse and look at Samurai swords. I find a beautiful kimono and copies of famous woodblock prints. And eventually I arrive. 

There seem to be a lot of wheelchair users here and when I find the access lift is closed I enroll one of them in my quest. Sadly the lift is closed because of power saving. There are other shrines, some with one step and some with level access and all have burning incense as well as the flowing water for cleansing. There is plenty to see and do.

Here in Asakusa
are the crips.
We are many
with sticks, 
and chairs:
powered or peopled.
We can all pass
the giant sandals
high on a wall
out of reach.
But to touch them
brings blessings
and good walking.

I sample the "Rubbing Buddha", a metal statue with a soft brassy gleam on feet, knees, belly, chest and head. I watch a laughing woman rub her own knee, then the knees on the statue; an intense man who starts at the feet and works seriously upwards and a woman who rubs slowly on the belly; the man who is holding her hand, kneels down and reaches for the Achilles heel.

An elegant wooden hair-pin lures me into a tiny shop, and the owner soon expresses great concern for my safety. Tokyo is dangerous, he says and he thinks I am very brave.

Around five-thirty it gets dark, the little shops are closing and lanterns are being lit at the night-time eateries. SP and I meet up around seven and I get my first experience of a rolling sushi bar. This one has chairs, so they can take one out for me.

I try two new dishes: the fish custard and the fermented bean curd. The first has a delicate flavour, but the second tastes like the pong of smelly feet. We eat quite a stack of plates-worth and drink copious mugs of Japanese tea. 

We leave feeling full and happy, there is a moon and stars, Sky Tree has a few lights, the funfair has closed and all is peaceful.

The earthquake that shakes Tokyo later that evening is not unlike the smaller ones that happen frequently.