January 22, 2014

Asakusa, Ueno, Yanaka, Japan Feb 2013

 Tokyo’s oldest Buddhist temple, dating back to 645, Sensō-ji is a grand, old red temple that spans the extremes of a bustling market street entrance to contemplative and quiet gardens within. Located in Asakusa, in the Tokyo’s northeast, a direction typically associated with the unlucky kimon or demon gate, Sensō-ji and the Shinto Asakusa Shrine guard against the passing of evil spirits.
 Nakamise-dōris long stretch of shops greet approaching pilgrims and travellers, selling everything from Mitarashi Dango to Dog Temple Clothes, Buddhist scrolls and even kimonos in a mix of the religious and profane. A bustling market place that achieves authenticity and kitsch simultaneously, it is a thrilling welcome to the temple. 

Kaminarimon (the Thunder Gate) with its red lantern of gargantuan proportions dominates as the entrance. If you look up, you can see the majestic, wooden dragon carving under the lantern, as the wind and thunder gods, Fūjin and Raijin, respectively stand guard on either side. 
 Visitors may also fan incense smoke onto themselves, particularly injured or sick parts of the body due to the smoke’s purported healing qualities. I took the opportunity to fan some onto my constantly acidic stomach! 

 Inside the temple grounds, we see pilgrims shaking metal sticks to receive their omikuji, scrolls of paper that lists a person’s future or dreams of coming true. Traditionally, ill fortunes (including the worrying dai kyō or great curse) are folded up and placed on the metal wires around the temple. We viewed many such scrolls.

 Outside the peaceful Asakusa Shrine, we see wooden prayer blocks, inscribed with the hopes, wishes and prayers of pilgrims. Sometimes anime characters are drawn alongside these wishes i a fascinating mix of ancient and contemporary Japanese culture. 

  Having survived the 1945 Firebombing of Tokyo, Sensō-ji and the Asakusa Shrine recall a Japan from long ago. Despite the bustle, it still has an ancient, magic charm.


Tokyo presents the image of a metropolis to rival Fritz Lang’s Metropolis, famous internationally for the hyper-modernity and the dynamism of its Shibuya, Harajuku, Shinjuku and Ginza districts, where the new, novel and modern reign and the city’s historical roots have all but been ripped out. Our visit to Ueno and Yanaka, in the Edo period’s Shitamachi (lower city) district reveals that Tokyo has retained much of its historic roots, in the well-cultivated Ueno park and surrounding areas. Having survived the Boshin War, the 1923 earthquake and the WWII Tokyo Air Raids, the north of the city feels like the Tokyo of old, or even like one of Japan’s regional areas. The Shitamachi district was where most of the working class of Edo lived, retaining much of its old world feel. 

Ueno Park, near Tokyo Daigaku harbours temples, glorious museums and Shinto Shrines. 

Wool dress from Singapore, Banana Republic Wool Jacket, A'postrophe scarf, tights from Forever 21, Primadonna Cheetah creepers, studded silk ribbon from Harajuku

After walking the length of Ueno Park, we head to Yanaka, a more traditional, suburban and native part of Tokyo, where we muched on battered oysters, mussels, Japanese burgers, and gyoza from street stalls, for ¥50-100 a piece. On that cold afternoon, we found ourselves the only non-Japanese seeking a quick lunch. The district is quiet and quaint. Election posters were still plastered on windows and the residents carried on with their trade - butchers, okashi-ya, sakana-ya and tea houses. It was a village atmosphere totally unexpected of Tokyo.

Check out our video of Sensoji Temple for more fun. haha!

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