Crisp wind sun and bicycle Sunday, something tells you to turn right here, though you think you’re familiar with this laneway off the river in Kuramae, down behind the Nui hostel, near the art deco-style pumping station that you like – but not this bit of it, you haven’t ridden this section of it in the shade up here, probably nothing – oh look, there is a sort of bustle on the corner around a big church, well fancy that, a church! St John’s of Asakusa, and they are having a bazaar.
Looks like a party. Looks cosy. That’s because wherever you go in the world, church bazaars are the same – from Maroochydore to Marunouchi, the same wise women in aprons shift the same stuff with the same efficient compassion and veteran smiles. Knitware and hairclips , crockery that looks sort of Japanese, animal figurines, world-music CDs, a framed picture of a Greek island harbour, white and blue. Cruet sets. And kitchenware that looks almost like a good idea – almost – like this smoky-pink Pyrex frying pan. Picture yourself in your kitchen, hahaha, almost. As well as cartons of brand new stuff you’ll never see in the shops, how about these, she says, we’ve got these slippers that glow in the dark, to wear after an earthquake, see, very handy, if I put them in the darkness of this shopping bag, how they work, and they’ve got reinforced soles to protect against broken glass, and in sizes small, medium and large….
There’s a little courtyard, refreshing plain soil underfoot, there’s yaki soba, frankfurts, and okonomiyaki. People are milling and there’s a cheerful woman in red checks with a wireless microphone calling out the day’s activities. A beatific lady with giggling eyes and wearing slacks and cap and an embroidered jacket sells drinks from an ice-filled garbage pail. She keeps her own beer beside her in a bicycle basket, raises it to her lips and beams at you. You order yakitori from a man in a baseball cap whose name you learn is Jim Takahashi, he introduces his son-in-law Makoto Ohta on the right at the grill, who smiles broadly from behind white-templed glasses.
We serve between 300 and 500. Right here in this courtyard.
Ohta looks fit and good-natured in his grey T-shirt and bright blue apron, something about him makes you relax. Maybe because he provides a sort of soul food – this is the point of today’s fundraiser – he is in charge of making the industrial quantity of lunch they serve every Sunday (except today) for the homeless and others who can’t get their own. He says, We serve between 300 and 500. Right here in this courtyard. Depends on the weather. Takahashi says, It spreads through word of mouth. Less people when it rains. A woman comes by with one of those clear plastic yaki-soba cartons and says, we fill these with takikomi gohan with chicken, that’s mixed rice with chicken. Ohta says they start cooking from 0730 on Sundays and there are about 12 of them, sometimes less, and they’re open to volunteers. You get the feeling working with him could be fun.
St John’s is at 2-7-6 Kuramae, Taito-ku tel 03-3851-9521