The Japan Diaries: out on the town part 1 (Senso-ji Temple)
Spring is in the air and the weather is getting warmer, which means it's a perfect time to emerge from hibernation and take some fun day trips around Tokyo! We did exactly that last weekend, with an action packed excursion to Asakusa to see Senso-ji Temple, followed by a boat cruise down the Sumida river to Tokyo's futuristic Odaiba district.
Asakusa is an old part of Tokyo, steeped in tradition and retaining a good deal of old-world charm despite being almost entirely destroyed in World War II & subsequently rebuilt. Senso-ji, dedicated to Kannon (the Buddhist goddess of mercy), is its main attraction and one of the most famous temples in Tokyo. My daughter had recently visited on a school field trip, so she was naturally eager to go back and share her experience with Mommy & Daddy in tow.
When we emerged blinking into bright sunshine from the subterranean depths of Asakusa's local subway, I was surprised by the size of the crowd. People thronged the streets for as far as the eye could see. Many of them were obviously tourists come to see the sights.
People waiting to cross the main Kaminarimon Gate marking the approach to the temple.
Once through the large front gate with its impressive hanging lantern, we made our way down Nakamise-dori, a narrow shopping street lined with stalls selling all manner of Japanese souvenirs. It's probably one of the best places in Tokyo for foreign tourists looking to get their fill of curios to lug back home.
The constant stream of people made browsing the shops an uncomfortable experience so we didn't linger long.
A second, much larger gate waited for us at the end of the shopping street:
Will the crowds never end?
The true scale of this massive edifice only became clear as we drew nearer.
Flirting with Fortune
Beyond the inner gate, a courtyard of sorts sprawled out to either side. Before proceeding to the central building, we paused to perform an essential temple-going rite: getting our fortunes told.
This is done by selecting a random slip of paper, called omikuji, that has the fortune written on it. First you pay ¥100 as a "donation" to the temple (there is no way to prevent people from cheating on this; visitors are assumed to be honest - and I sure wouldn't want to risk bad karma from not paying). After plunking down a coin, you shake a metal container and withdraw a slim wooden stick labeled with a number.
My wife & daughter about to discover which fortune they've chosen.
On the wall, dozens of tiny drawers contain the actual omikuji. The number on the end of the wooden stick indicates which drawer to take your fortune from. Fortunes can range from great to horrible, with several intermediate shades in between those extremes.
This being a major temple of international renown, the fortunes had an English translation (which isn't always the case). My daughter was lucky enough to get a favorable fortune.
A close-up of the English translation so you can read it better.
Luck was not with my wife, however: she got one of the bad fortunes. But never fear, bad fortune can be dispensed with by tying it to a nearby rack, thereby transferring it away from your person. At the end of the day, priests collect the discarded omikuji and burn them all in a cleansing ceremony.
Japan is a country of convenience; there's even a convenient way to get rid of ill fortune!
The heart of the temple
Pressing onward, we reached the central temple building, consisting of a grand hall with a painted ceiling covered by scenes of mythological settings & creatures. I was most impressed by the fearsome dragon looking down on the milling crowd. At the very center of the hall, people tossed coins into the temple coffers and bowed their heads in prayer before a tableau of glittering Buddhist artifacts. The whole place made me feel very tiny & insignificant.
The central hall looms over Senso-ji's inner courtyard.
The grandeur of the central hall took my breath away. Take note of the dragon on the ceiling.
A close-up of one of the ceiling paintings.
This is as close as I dared to get to the central place of worship.
After touring the temple, we had a break for lunch before walking to the nearby waterfront and the next phase of the day's adventure. But that tale will be for next time. I'll stop here for now, and leave you with this irresistible caricature we found outside an artist's shop along the way:
Does he ever not look pissed off at somebody?
Links for more info
Previous entries in my Japan Diary series:
Hanging out with the ghosts of GeGeGe no Kitaro
Wikipedia article on Senso-ji: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sens%C5%8D-ji
This site gives travel instructions if you want to take a trip here yourself: http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e3001.html
For more posts about cryptocurrency, finance, travels in Japan, and my journey to escape corporate slavery, please follow me: @cryptomancer
Image credits: all images in this post are photos taken on my iPhone.
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