A stroll through Asakusa

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.”

Asakusa map

The only red that I saw was on the buildings (*annual* map?)

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:

Asakusa gate

“Say ‘Sensoji’!”

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…

Asakusa shopping

Really nice kitsch

…but with a couple tourist marketing strategies the warlords probably never considered:

Muslim friendly shopping

Not what I expected to see here

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:

View back

Temple groupees

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.”

She loves me, she loves me not...

She loves me, she loves me not…

In addition, one can offer wishes directly to the bodhisattva:

Beg the Buddha

Taken under consideration

…and stop for a moment to inhale the incense…

Incense

The sweet smell of the spirit

…and finally to drink and rinse one’s hands in the fountain…

Fountain

Wash away your troubles

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:

Octopus Ball

Only one?

Fish on a stick

Fish on a stick

…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):

In bottles?

In bottles?

 

Once finished temple-exploring, there were even era-appropriate modes of transport that would take you off to your next Asakusa destination:

Travel in style

I am not amused

…and with that, we leave this lovely oasis in the city and move along to the next adventure.

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This entry was posted in Travel - accommodations, Travel - Japan, Travel - religious sites and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to A stroll through Asakusa

  1. John says:

    That was fun. Thanks ジョン

  2. Rachel Drummond says:

    Oh I love that photo of people smelling incense. Pocari Sweat is so good, despite the name! So is “Kirin Loves Sports” and “Aquarius”. They are all lemon-flavored electrolyte drinks!

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