Ueno Park became a sort of refuge for me while in Tokyo. I’d wake up earlier than most in my little room in Yanaka and have breakfast before walking to the train or metro station right outside of Ueno. I’d walk up the steps near one of my favorite temples and see the same person sweeping the stone in front of it. It’s one of the things traveling alone affords– a creation of a routine, however simple, and one that makes you feel a little more at home.
Ueno is a calm in the midst of the busyness. During mornings, I was one of just a few people there. I’d sit on a park bench and write while I waited for my train or maybe drink a coffee or have some breakfast. Though I found, like in much of Europe, this makeshift picnic style of eating so common in America is something of a curiosity here. Only an official picnic will do. But even still, I had my picnics. During midday, exhausted from walking and craving sustenance, I’d find my way back to Ueno, get a sushi bowl at a department store supermarket, and find a bench to serve as my dining spot. One afternoon, a soft rain began to fall. I opened my umbrella and perched it behind my head and continued to eat. Living in Montana, a warm rain certainly wasn’t going to get me inside.
One morning, I set out in search of a special place in the park, Kiyomizu Kannon Temple. The night before I’d read about it in my guidebook: A renowned fertility pilgrimage site. The temple is a shrine to Kasodate Kannon, the patron goddess of women seeking to have children. And at that time–precisely one year before I would go on to be due with our first baby– I thought it a good idea to pay her a visit.
The temple is small but beautiful. I wash my hands as is customary and waft incense around as I’ve noticed others do. I walk up the stairs to the temple itself and stare into its depths of gold. There are other women there (and men, too). It is obviously sacred to them. They ring the large bell centered before shrine to offer their intentions and prayers then walk over to the small window and present their book to have it painted with traditional calligraphy representing this particular site.
I think about that morning now, as I stare down at my belly and feel the rolls and kicks, thirty three weeks pregnant with our baby. Perhaps Kasodate Kannon was listening after all as another version of me stood in front of the statue and visualized a someday baby and the world that she and her husband would have the privilege to share with this someone that didn’t yet exist.