In the Footsteps of Abdürreşid İbrahim Tokyo

If you’re goIng to Tokyo for the fIrst tIme and your head Is full of the clIchés you’ve heard about Japan and the Japanese sInce chIldhood, then Japan Is probably goIng to surprIse you.

The source of those clichés could very well be the impressions of Japan that poet Mehmet Akif (1873-1936) attributes to Abdürreşid İbrahim in his 1912 poem, From the Pulpit of Süleymaniye Mosque.

“Civilization only got in as science...
Any nonsense was chased away from the door!
If of value, goods of the West gain currency;
If of passing fancy, they rot in customs.”

A true metropolis
When you look at Tokyo today, you see that a thing or two eventually made it through customs. Who can resist change?

Tokyo in the 21st century is one of the world’s largest metropolises with a population of more than 30 million. Naturally a metropolis of that size needs a subway system, and Tokyo is no exception, boasting one of the world’s most extensive underground systems, a network of vital arteries connecting its many districts.  When the city’s power was cut in the last great earthquake, the subway stopped running.  Turks who were in Tokyo at the time recount with profound admiration how tens of thousands of people, with enormous calm and stoicism, sadly made their way home on foot, and in the dark at that. Other nations could never survive such great traumas as easily as the Japanese. Tradition in that sense lives on, perhaps most saliently in the Japanese character.

The Japanese Miracle
That character manifests itself especially in the Japanese work ethic. Everyone who enters into a working relationship of any kind with the Japanese speaks of their industriousness, their seriousness, their meticulousness. Even when doing the simplest job, they act as if they are doing the most important thing in the world. Reflected as well in the result and the product, this has been dubbed the Japanese Miracle. Tokyo reflects it, too, even amidst all its crowding and mayhem, its physical environment and fast-paced life. There is not a nook or cranny that could be said to have been left as is, untouched by human hands. With so little land and such a big population, vertical planning would be expected. But Tokyo is not like that. The majority of residences in the metropolitan area are two and three-story houses of wood or light steel construction. When I say ‘house’, I’m talking about the average 40 to 50 square meters that typically house a Japanese family of four. Furniture is minimal and functional and not for show, and guests are more often entertained outside the home.

The real Tokyo
Like every city, Tokyo does not show its real face to a tourist. If you want to know the real Tokyo, you have to stray from the usual touristic itineraries.

To be able to say that you have seen Tokyo, you have to stroll through the narrow streets without sidewalks, wide enough only for only a single car to pass, see the telephone and electricity cables that crisscross those streets like a net and bite your lip wondering how it is that a technological giant like Japan has not found a solution for this snarl of cables. You have to notice the ‘ramen’ shops on every street corner with their red and white lanterns, last stops in the wee hours just like our tripe soup shops.

And to be able to claim you found something Turkish in Tokyo, you definitely have to taste, and admire, the piping hot sweet potatoes sold by vendors whose calls, ‘yaakimoo’, echo through the lonely night streets, sending a slight shudder down your spine, just like those of the ‘boza’ vendors of Istanbul.

Cherry blossoms, the sakura
And to be able to say that you have felt Tokyo, you need to go bananas over the beauty of the cherry blossoms (sakura), harbingers of spring, that burst into bloom all along the dessicated branches in shades of pink and white... And then to ponder the transitoriness of this world when they are soon pummeled by the spring rains and washed away.
Confucius say: “Everything is beautiful but not everyone see.” Tokyo is a bit like that for those who want to see.

Japan is a country of islands, and the sea is a constant theme in Japanese art and culture. Tokyo’s mind-bogglingly calm sea makes a pleasant contrast with the city’s fast-paced life. But beneath that calm lie the tunnels of Japan’s vast transportation network. Meanwhile, merging with the sea at sunset, the Tokyo skyline puts on a dazzling light show.

It wouldn’t be too far off to dub Japan the East’s East. At the same time, the Japanese have been eminently successful at making apt use of the mod-cons of the West and the necessities of modern urban life. Tokyo in that sense is no different from any western metropolis. Autobahns and coast-linking suspension bridges, each one a wonder of architecture and aesthetics, add beauty and function to the city.

Tokyo is a densely populated city, a living environment for millions of people. But it’s possible to get away from the business district and shopping centers and escape from the city’s bright lights to the serene and mystical atmosphere of Japanese architecture and temples. And an evening repast replete with ocean flavors is de rigueur in Tokyo. Abdürreşid İbrahim’s grave in the Tamareien Muslim Cemetery near 
Tokyo keeps his memory alive today.

You can sample traditional Japanese sushi almost anywhere in Tokyo.

Bristling with skyscrapers, Marunouchi, stands out for the splendor of its modern Japanese architecture and its intense work-life.

Ikebana, the art of flower arrangement, is one of Japan’s oldest and most highly respected traditions.

Turkish Airlines has Istanbul-Tokyo-Istanbul flights daily. Departure times are 4:55 p.m. from Istanbul and 11:40 a.m. from Tokyo.

With its Sumo wrestlers, traditional Kabuki theaters, tea ceremonies and geishas, Tokyo is chock full of touristic delights just waiting to be discovered.

An active volcano, Mt. Fuji is one of the symbols of Japan. Visible even from the capital Tokyo, Mt. Fuji is considered sacred by the Japanese.

An island country, Japan is extremely rich in seafood. You can see that richness for yourself at the Tokyo Fish Market.

A taste of Turkey in Tokyo

Tokyo Mosque and Culture Center serves as a bridge between the Turkish and Japanese cultures. Badly damaged in the 2000 earthquake, Tokyo Mosque has been rebuilt in the classical Ottoman architectural style to reflect its ties with the past. Simultaneously, it also shines a light on the future through its construction technology and the theater and exhibition and conference areas it houses.

The imperial dynasty is another of Japan’s traditional treasures. Located in the center of Tokyo, the Japanese imperial palace is open to the public on special days.

Tokyo boasts a vast subway network, and the subway stations are home to markets with numerous shops selling a wide variety of interesting products.

Japan is famous for its advanced electronics and technology, and Akihabara is one of Tokyo’s leading electronics stores.

The depth and appeal of Japanese culture are clearly discernible in the Zen gardens that are created by raking sand and pebbles into a different pattern every day.

Architect of tokyo mosque
“Its roots deep in the past, Japan is a good example of the traditional - modern dichotomy with its thriving traditional arts and advanced modern technology. While we were engaged in the project, we took care that it would be a building with a distinct personality. We were bringing an unusual cultural project to a civilization that was also unusual. Like Japan, we too are a people with an old civilization, a people whose story is the same yet different. In seeking a link and points of contact, in short, an aesthetic commonality between tradition and modernity, what should take precedence is not a conflict of civilizations but what civilizations can learn from each other, as the dignity and honor of being human behoove them to do. Today, too, without that duality crystallizing, every initiative in whatever branch of the arts is doomed to oblivion. We therefore did our best to represent the values of Turkish-Islamic architecture as we were building the Tokyo Mosque.”