A Christmas Carol

by Otis Shaw

dcp_0022As I sat in the Senso-ji Temple gardens in Tokyo, desperately trying to find a plausible connection between the colonial adventures of Lord Jim and the `inconvenience` of Japan`s homeless. I was startled by the sounds of reindeer bells. I closed the chapter on Lord Jim and looked up to see a short, swollen, women, dressed in ill-fitting clothes. The bells were embedded in the tinsel that bound her dress. Layers of nylon and wool protected her from the winter chill, held tight against her body like the layers of an onion. Her body armour displayed colours only to be found in a children`s department store. The size 8, hooded top was adorned with green men from outer space. The word “alien” held aloft in a speech bubble. Her lime green woollen hat, identified her as `one of them`.

Struggling under the weight of her garments, her buckled feet, squeezed into abandoned trainers, the old women rocked to and fro, as she weaved in and out of the temple benches. An imaginary maze set up to constrict her daily routine. From her dry, chapped lips, she delicately whispered a prayer. The words were repeated over and over, like a sweet Christmas carol, closing the doors to all those others and protecting her from harm.

japanese-homeless-stylish-homes2Those unfortunate people who awake from their cardboard hell every Christmas, hidden away amongst the maze of shopping malls in Asakusa, seek refuge during the day in the Senso-ji Temple grounds. Japan`s aristocracy stroll past these vagrants, their eyes filtering through these woollen outcasts and focusing on the many food stalls encroaching the entrance to the temple.

Thousands upon thousands of visitors pour into the main hall in order to catch a glimpse of the sacred Boddhisattva Kannon statue and whisper a prayer to themselves before disgarding any loose change into the offerings box.

As I sat in the corner of the hall, visitors, local and foreign, bounced of each other, never really experiencing physical or eye contact, finally departing through the exit. I couldn`t help but think of the giant pinball arcades, filled with erogenous slot machines, that line every major city in Japan. A plaque at the side of the inner sanctum was almost completely ignored by thirsty revellers. It read;

Over the years, Buddhism, which originated in the fifth century B.C.E., diverged into two main branches: Hiinayaana which holds that adherents should faithfully follow the teachings of founder Buddha Shakyamuni, to reach enlightenment themselves, and Mahaayaana, which teaches that the faithful should not only seek their own enlightenment, but also help the suffering … Believers in Buddhism gave these figures concrete forms, creating sculptures of them, which they worshipped. Boddhisattva Kannon is one among many Bodhisattvas, and since early times has been widely worshipped by Japanese in particular. Bodhisattva Kannon is also the most merciful of the Bodhisattvas, sent to relieve human misery on Earth.


Many Japanese believe that their hopes and pleas will reach this deity. In particular, the Bodhisattva Kannon worshipped at Senso-ji has been an unparalleled source of benefits and miracles over the centuries, and has saved and protected countless people since its appearance in this world. Faith in the Bodhisattva Kannon, which has supported Senso-ji and drawn many people to this temple, consists of opening one`s heart and living by the merciful spirit of Bodhisattva Kannon and at the same time showing mercy to others in daily life. We hope that visitors to Senso-ji will join their hands in prayer, receive the merciful spirit of the Boddhisattva Kannon into their hearts and pray that they can bestow that mercy upon others.

On that note, the popular front, continuing to overspend at Christmas, pray that Santa has slipped another blank cheque-book into their stocking. As the world economy skates on thin ice, shouldn’t we be building more cardboard boxes before we fork out for another plasma television?

Arigatou gozaimasu.