Quite by accident, after the end of IUJ and before I headed back to Maine, I booked my Tokyo hotel in an area known as Taito. Once there, I realized I had landed on the edge of one of the more interesting (to my mind) areas of the city. It’s roughly a square kilometer of temple complex + pedestrian walking zone + “low” neighborhood and is characterized by charming historic elements and an interesting tendency of the locals to don traditional clothing and walk around looking like geishas and warlords. This, my friends, is the district of Asakusa. Tokyo Travel tells us that “during the Edo Period (1603-1867), when the district was still located outside the city limits, Asakusa was the site of kabuki theaters and a large red light district.”
As you can see, this is quite an extensive area. Happily, many of the streets have only foot traffic and several are covered against the elements as well. Most importantly, the area surrounds the Senso-ji, a popular Buddhist temple. Here’s a shot of the temple’s main entrance gate, the Kaminarimon or “Thunder Gate,” located just above the tiny blue question mark seen at the bottom of the map:
Popular with locals as well as tourists, this whole area place stays pretty busy all day long, even in the steamy August heat and humidity. Directly through the gate above, one finds oneself at the beginning of the Nakamise-Dori, a shopping “street” filled with 89 shops which looks, in a Colonial Williamsburg-type way, a good bit as it must have looked during its heyday, rebuilt and updated for the 21st century…
…but with a couple tourist marketing strategies the warlords probably never considered:
At the end of the Nakamise-Dori, one meets the second gate, announcing that one is leaving the world of mammon and entering the area of worship and devotion:
The temple, as I mentioned above, named Sensō-ji, is dedicated to the Buddhist bodhisattva Kannon. It is Tokyo’s oldest temple, initially founded in 645 CE and continuing to be one of the most architecturally significant in the country, although much of the complex was rebuilt after the bombings of World War II.
Lots to do here for the faithful. “Within the temple itself, and also at many places on its approach, there are o-mikuji stalls. For a suggested donation of 100 yen, visitors may consult the oracle and divine answers to their questions. Querents (those who query) shake labelled sticks from enclosed metal containers and read the corresponding answers they retrieve from one of 100 possible drawers.”
In addition, one can offer wishes directly to the bodhisattva:
…and stop for a moment to inhale the incense…
…and finally to drink and rinse one’s hands in the fountain…
We were not allowed to take pictures of the inner sanctum of the nearby temple, but it had lots of gold and was lovely. (I resisted the impulse to acquire one of the myriad semi-precious stone bracelets that had been blessed and were available for purchase.)
Just outside the central temple complex, hungry pilgrims could pick from a number of comestible delights available. Tempting as they were, I resisted the options shown below:
…and to wet your whistle, one of my favorite Japanese beverages (at least from the name; I have actually never tried it, for obvious reasons):
Once finished temple-exploring, there were even era-appropriate modes of transport that would take you off to your next Asakusa destination:
…and with that, we leave this lovely oasis in the city and move along to the next adventure.