Posted by: Laura | November 25, 2008

Asakusa

After another day of waking up really early and watching the sun rise on Fujisan, Mandy suggested we head up to Asakusa for the day.  Asakusa is the home of Tokyo’s most sacred and spectacular temple, the Senso-ji Temple, and houses some of the finest remaining examples of Old Tokyo.  First stop of this trip, the tourist office.  Not for information, since we already had a printed out version of Mandy’s soon-to-be guidebook, but to view the main attraction of the office… the mikoshi.  A Mikoshi is a portable shrine which houses the diety of a Shinto shrine in a parade during a festival.  I don’t know how the diety gets in and out of a mikoshi, but I guess you just “Gotta Have Faith” that the spirit is there.

Outside the tourist office is the second attraction, the clock which does a miniature rendition of one of the mikoshi processions.  Here is a video I took of it:

Kaminarimon Gate

Kaminarimon Gate

From there, we turned to cross the street and look at the very large red gate.  The gate leads to what is known as Nakamise-dori.  I’m not sure exactly what that translates to, but to me it means “large shopping area”.  The path from the gate to the temple is lined with little stalls selling everything from fine paper goods & nicely carved items, to cheesey cheap toys, keychains and anything you can imagine to adorn your cell phone with (they are obsessed with their cell phones here – even having spring and fall lines of phones – and those little charms that go on phones are a very popular item).

The first stop was the Kurodaya Paper store off to the right (not officially part of Nakamise-dori as it is an actually store, not just a stall, but it is right there).  This shop has been in business selling quality paper products for over 150 years.  It’s the type of store you could spend forever in if you are a crafter like myself, or at least like I like to be when I have time.  I got a journal, and some small kimono shaped pieces of paper to use for scrap booking later 🙂 haha.

Nakamise-dori

Nakamise-dori

After that, we walked along Nakamise-dori and walked in and out of stalls.  Since Mandy has already been here and written a section of her guidebook on it, she knew which ones were the more quality ones (not just keychains and cheap toys).  We stopped at the Green Tea stall to get a cup of hot rice sake, which tasted like warm, liquefied rice pudding – that was meant to sound good, I’m not sure if it did or not, but in any case, it was amazing!

From the hot sake, we went over to the ice cream stall (ice cream is everywhere here for some reason) to check out all the fun flavors.  The new one they have that wasn’t here last time Mandy looked – Lamb Raisin… needless to say we did not sample that one, or the Bean Curd (Tofu).

Some of the Ice Cream Flavors

Some of the Ice Cream Flavors

From the ice cream stall, we went to other stalls with fine dolls, umbrellas, fans, hashi (chopsticks), woodblock prints, and masks.  We also watched some traditional treats being made such as rice crackers.

Masks at the Sanbi-Do stall

Masks at the Sanbi-Do stall

Keychains, cellphone charms, lanterns, etc.

Keychains, cellphone charms, lanterns, etc.

Fall decorations; In the summer there is a canopy over the whole walkway to protect shoppers from the hot sun.

Fall decorations; In the summer there is a canopy over the whole walkway to protect shoppers from the hot sun.

Next, on to the traditional stuff.  First, some story boards.  The most interesting is the one about the seven gods, called the Shichifukujin.  Only one of the seven is a woman – Benten, who is the goddess of luck and love, and a patron of the arts and entertainment.  She is usually depicted with a mandolin in her hand.

Hozo-mon Gate

Hozo-mon Gate

Next you see the sight of many lanterns that line the way to another gate.  This one is the Hozo-mon Gate.  Looks a little like the first one, but the sight through this gate is not that of shopping, but of a very traditional temple area.

Under side of that big red lantern in the gate

Under side of that big red lantern in the gate

Five Story Pagoda

Five Story Pagoda

We walked through the gate, and saw the Five Story Pagoda on the left.  Then I bought a fortune from a fortune stand, or mikuji, and kept it since it told me nothing but good things (in very broken english).  The tradition is to tie the fortune to a tree branch or provided wire rack if you don’t like your fortune, and you pray that the wind will carry it away to prevent it from coming true.

Hand washing and drinking water station

Hand washing and drinking water station

After keeping my fortune, I followed the tradition of wafting the incense from the Incense Burner towards parts of you that need healing, so I wafted towards my sinuses (since they kinda hurt and I was praying at that point I didn’t have a sinus infection caused by the horrible dry air on the plane).  Then I washed my hands and drank from the water to prepare to go into Senso-ji Temple.

The Main Hall is very nice as far as temples go.  It’s a replica of the original temple, like much of this area because it burned down/was destroyed by air raids in WWII. There is a large painted dragon on the ceiling, I think because legend says that a golden dragon was seen dancing in the heavens above when the original temple was built.

Statue in the Gardens behind the temple

Statue in the Gardens behind the temple

Then, on to the Asakusa Shrine next door, the only original building remaining in the complex.  This shrine pays homage to the 3 men responsible for the creation of the Sensoji Temple.

Then, around the back of the Main hall, through a small garden, and on to… an Amusement Park!  We didn’t actually go in, but it was quite interesting even from the outside with it’s Sinatra like music playing throughout the park.

This is starting to get long for one day, but we’re almost done!

We then wandered around a little, went to a small museum, and then found a place for lunch.  I further mastered my hashi (chopstick, if you don’t remember form earlier) skills with a bowl of Oyakodon (rice bowl with chicken, onions, and egg).  The Japanese sure get an A+ for attention to detail in my book.  How many times to do you go to a resturant and have to put your stuff on the floor or try to pile it on the back of your chair?  They not only had a shelf built in on the bottom of the chair, but they provided us with something like a tiny, foldable shopping cart to put our bags into and keep near the table.  Genius!

After lunch we wandered a bit more and decided we were done for the day.  We headed back through the masses of people shopping at Nakamise-dori (now filled with many school children stopping in on their way home) and headed back to the metro and home.  Not a bad day by any means.

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