As anyone who has visited Japan (or is a self-professed Japanophile) knows, Tokyo has many, many districts. Compared to my home in Seattle, which had several well-known districts which I can describe off the top of my head, Tokyo is a much larger, more historical city with many different neighborhoods each with their own feel and attractions.
But if I had to list two districts at the top of that list, I would choose Asakusa (浅草) and Ginza (銀座). Both are famous, but have a different vibe. Recently my wife and I took the kids to see Sensoji Temple in the Asakusa district, and ended up in Ginza as well. The contrast was interesting.
Asakusa is a pretty well-known district to anyone visiting Tokyo. For those briefly visiting, this is a popular destination because you get to see lots of traditional Japanese crafts and culture all in one shot. I’ve known a lot of friends and coworkers who went on business trips there and were almost always taken to Asakusa’s Sensoji Temple without even knowing precisely what it was they saw.
Since it’s summer in Japan that means it’s hot and sweltering too. For someone who grew up in the Pacific Northwest all his life, getting used to sweltering, humid heat isn’t easy. It’s draining, and your shirts are guaranteed to be soaking wet within 15 minutes of going out the door.
And boy was it hot and muggy that day! Here’s me holding Little Guy (notice the super curly hair) who was tired and cranky.
This is the reverse side of the famous Kaminari-mon Gate (雷門) in front of Sensoji. This leads to the Nakamise-dōri (仲見世通り) market street. This long stretch of stalls has lots of touristy Japanese wares some for foreign tourists like ninja costumes, others have confections that my wife likes. It’s a strange mix of broken English (from sellers and from non-Japanese Asian tourists) and Tokyo-style Japanese1 hawking wares.
The trip from the city of Kawasaki to Asakusa took a few train rides (the Ginza Line is convenient but slow) so by the time we got there we were famished. We found a good Soba restaurant just behind the shops, about halfway down that specializes in maguro-soba (soba noodles eaten with maguro tuna).
I love zaru-soba personally (cold soba noodles) so I never fail to eat it when I can.
Having eaten our fill we went back through the Nakamise-dori to the second gate to the temple proper:
From here, the tradition in many Buddhist temples is to purify one’s self before entering the inner sanctum. This includes waving fragrant incense smoke over yourself (there’s a huge brazier there, hard to miss), and also washing one’s hands.
Here, my daughter is pouring the water over the right hand, then the left hand.
The inner sanctum doesn’t allow photos,² but it’s a very large space with a big grilled box in the middle. You can toss in a coin, put your hands together and bow your head. The main image is of Kannon Bodhisattva and was said to have washed ashore in the 8th century or something.
After having paid our respects we wandered around the grounds more. We did omikuji fortunes, for example.
My poor daughter got 凶 (kyō) or bad luck, the rest of us had lucky fortunes. She tied her’s to the fence nearby, so the bad luck would not follow her, per tradition. 🙂
We also visited some of the smaller shrines and altars on the premises. My son, just like daughter at that same age, loves putting coins in the donation boxes. He still hasn’t got the bowing part down though, but he’s trying.
After this we decided to go home, but on the way we had a change of plans. More about that in part two.
P.S. My son had so many comments and compliments about his curly hair. We don’t know where it comes from (possibly a paternal relative on my side) but anyhow people loved it. We even had a couple ladies try to take pictures with him. He was shy and brushed them off as only a two-year old can.
1 Hard to explain, but Tokyo’s street dialect rough, with lots of rolled “R’s” and such.
² I posted a photo here in a much older post. I don’t remember if they changed the policy or maybe I just wasn’t paying attention at the time. Also the altar looks somewhat different now.