Thursday, March 31, 2011

Asakura, Tokyo, Japan

I had the opportunity to spend Sunday afternoon strolling around a very interesting neighborhood of Tokyo called Asakura. Asakura is the best approximation of what Tokyo looked like hundreds of years ago, with narrow streets and tiny stores surrounding beautiful temples. Here is a tour of my experience in Asakura.

After exiting the metro, I soon found myself at the Kaminarimon Gate. Hanging in the gate is a 220 pound lantern. Gods of wind and thunder reside at the gate and are an impressive sight.

Right next to the Kaminarimon Gate is the Tokiwado Kaminari Okoshi, which is a 250 year old maker of rice sweets. They were tasty, though to me were odd.

After passing through the gate, you reach a long straight street full of tiny shops. They sell everything from touristy souveniers to very nice artwork. Radiating off in every direction were more tiny streets with more shops and restaurants. I could have spent days wandering, it was really fun.

At the end of the street you pass a traditional Japanese garden designed in the 17th century full of peaceful statues. Then you reach a large incense burner surrounded by people "washing" themselves. It is supposed to be healthful to cleanse yourself with the incense. I waved some smoke over my head for good measure and good health.

Overlooking the garden and incense burner is the Sensoji Temple, the oldest temple in Tokyo. Built in the 7th Century, the Temple is home to a golden statue of Buddhist goddess Kannon, which was apparently pulled from the ocean by fisherman.

In front of the temple are several covered areas where you can determine your fortune. For 100 Yen ($2), you shake a metal canister until a stick falls out. On the stick is a number. You match that number to a drawer in a long cabinet full of hundreds of drawers. Inside each drawer is a fortune. The first time I tried, I got a terrible fortune, appropriately named "The Worst Fotrune". After the experience I had the past three days (earthquake, sitting forever in a plane, sleeping on the airport floor, taking three whole days to get to my hotel), I did feel like I had the worst fortune. I didn't like the fortune though as an indicator of my future though, so I decided to try again (I was informed in Chinatown in San Fran that this is perfectly acceptable). I pulled what is labeled the Regular Fortune. It was better. Inside the temple, I realized that the official fortunes are given out there, so I decided to try one more time, just to see what my "real" fortune really is. Again, in spite of the hundreds of fortunes I pulled the "Regular Fortune" so that must be it.

My fortune is as follows: "When spring comes, withered tree blooms so charming. The sweet smell fills in the wood field and the sky. Your fortune will go developing your chance. The bright moon comes to shine among the fading clouds. Meeting a person of high social status, his help will bring you a happy life.

*Your request will be granted. *The patient get well soon. *The lost article will be found. *The person you wait for will come. *Building a new house and removal are both well. *Marriage and employment are both well. *To start a trip is well."

Past the temple are a variety of shrines, gates, and pagodas. They look like the traditional Japan that I really hoped to see. It was fun to wander through the shrines and ponder how old they are. There were many tourists admiring the buildings. I almost forgot that this country had just experienced a major crisis and still was facing a long road to recovery.


Barbara said...

Thank you for this wonderful tour. Your photos are wonderful. I want to go. If one did not know that there had been a huge disaster, one would not know it from looking at the people in the photos. But I guess there was not much for the regular citizen to do.

I was impressed with the 7th century temple. From the photo it looked very new. When I think of 7th century things in Europe I think of them as more aging.

I love your writing. Thanks.

Lorie said...

I just returned from a three week tour of Japan and stayed in the Edo district where the oldest shrine is located along with the 5 story pagoda. I also got the regular fortune -- the same one you got!