19 August Asakusa, the Senso-ji temple, bashed by cash, an oriental shopping bazaar, a French café and an Italian meal.
Rising late, Val and I took the subway to Asakusa. Val had visited here before on her previous trip to Japan, and was keen to show it to me. Unfortunately, we took the wrong exit from the vast station complex and missed the front entrance to the Senso-ji temple complex, which is what we had come to see. Thus we entered by a side gate, and had to exit by the main entrance in order to enter by it, as one should do. There is an enormous red paper lantern hung in the kaminarimon gateway (Gate of the god of thunder), and we duly re-entered. On the inner side of the gate itself is a colossal pair of sandals made of rope. Val duly posed for photos by them, indicating just how delicate and tiny hers were by comparison.
Suddenly we or more accurately, Val were approached by half a dozen young Japanese people. They were university students studying English, who hung around the temple precincts ready to offer a free conducted tour of Senso-ji to any westerners who showed up. They were very keen to practice their English language skills. In fact, Val, having been there previously knew as much (if not more) about the temple as the students, but we were very happy to be shown round by them, and found them engaging company.
After washing ourselves in the usual way, and being persuaded to bathe in the smoke from the large incense stove, we went up to the main temple building.
The smoke is a prophylactic against, and cure for, all known ills, apparently. So judging by my coughing fit, I should never get a cough, cold, influenza, pneumonia or bronchitis ever in my life.
There was a Buddhist ritual in progress. We watched and heard the proceedings through a wire mesh window. There was a priest and a small congregation, who appeared to take little part in the ceremonial. We could hear a lot of that Buddhist Ommmmmmmmmmm growling chant.
In front of the mesh window was a large wooden box built into the temple wall. From a distance, Japanese visitors in numbers were throwing large handfuls of coins into the box. Unfortunately, I was standing close to the box and was thus in their way. The noise of the coins falling into the box, not to mention the noise of coins striking my head (causing me to offer my own incantation: Owwwwwwwwwwwww), drowned out much of the sound of the chanting from within the temple. Retreating to a safer distance, I noted that the students (and Val) all thought my experience amusing. But as there was no actual drawing of blood, their amusement soon waned.
The students urged Val and me to tell our fortunes. For a fee of 100 Yen, sealed metal cylinders with 100 numbered rods within were shaken and one rod extracted via a hole in the lid. The number on the rod indicated which pre-printed paper fortune to select. My fortune was in incomprehensible kanji. However, by dint of great intellectual effort, I turned the paper over and found my fortune printed in English, or at least in Japlish. It referred to great prosperity and was therefore a lucky omen. Vals was more cryptic and she was advised to tie it onto a wooden frame in order to leave the bad luck behind. Which she did.
We bade farewell to our student guides and left by the main entrance. Between the main entrance and the road is Nakamise-dori, a lane with shops on both sides. These sold various sweets and other eatables, cheap touristy souvenirs as well as surprisingly high quality souvenirs and clothing. We bought a few bits and pieces for the folks back home, as well as a souvenir or two for ourselves.
We went back to Asakusa station, passing a champion butchers shop (judging by the silver cup and certificates in their window) as we did so. There was quite a queue of mainly elderly people buying sausages and meat. I guess the shop has a high reputation.
We took the subway to Shibuya and walked along until we found Harajuku. This calls itself the Champs Élysées of Tokyo. We shopped in the Oriental Bazaar, a four-storeyed collection of shops under one roof. There are some high-quality items at fairly reasonable prices here, and I recommend the shop for all sorts of good souvenirs. There were original Hokusai prints at one of the shops for around 40,000 Yen (beyond my means, but good value). We walked along Harajuku, which does indeed have a Boulevard feel to it. We passed the Union Church, too late to attend their 4.00pm service. We had a drink in the Café de Flore, at a table overlooking the street, which again had a Parisien feel to it.
After returning to Stephens apartment, we waited for Yasuko to return from work and then went out to the splendidly-named Manmamiya (geddit?) Italian restaurant, between Myoden and Gyotoku stations, where we ate splendidly. Splendidly sated, we wended our way to the apartment, and soon were pushing out the Zs from the comfort of our futons.
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