But nearer to home is Kichijoji's Inokashira Park, a setting dotted with ancient trees surrounding an elongated, spring-fed pond. It's been a point of pilgrimage since roughly the 12th century since it houses a celebrated shrine to Benzaiten, goddess of love and music. It was also a favored hunting ground for the Minamoto clan and a long-time source of drinking water for Edo via the Kanda River. Nowadays people come to float in swan boats, visit the zoo, parade around with their sumptuously dressed pets, paint, neck, do park stuff. There is also an officially sanctioned group of artisans and performers on hand to entertain the public. The artisans offer fairly unexciting merchandise, but the performers for the most part are unlike anything you are likely to see elsewhere.
We first got to know Broomduster Kan a few years ago during our first visit to the park. Leather clad and playing a cool retro-looking Czech dobro, Broomduster draws rapt crowds as he cranks out energetic blues for about 8 hours a day on weekends. We have had the honor of sharing a bill with Kan-san (indoors, elsewhere) and can attest that he is in the running for the title of the hardest working man in showbiz.
Then there is the storyteller. Touhou Ikimaru （東方力丸）comes to the park each Sunday with a couple dozen manga which he lays out on the ground. Customers choose the story they want to hear -- there are love stories and histories, but most of them seem to be tales with plenty of action. Touhou rips into the story, doing all the voices, providing explosive sound effects, looking like a long-haired shaman trying to cure his patient through the power of fable. He brings his street performance to other areas of Tokyo as well, and has been featured on Japanese television and in the new Sabu film, Kani Kosen (蟹工船 or "Crab Factory Ship"), based on a manga which is based on a 1920's proletarian novel detailing the squalid conditions and crew mutiny on a fishing vessel.
Last weekend there was a new addition to the Inokashira Park performance squad. We didn't catch his name, but he seemed to be offering a stream-of-consciousness description of a ride on the Yamanote Line, stopping along the way for commentary about Kentucky Fried Chicken, McDonald's, President Bush, and Faithful Dog Hachiko. He was wearing a Popeye T-shirt and atop his head was a flu mask with the kanji for "weird" （変 or hen) markered onto it. We will return to catch his act.