Since today is Sunday, Ting and I got to play. We decided to start
out by visiting Sensoji, a temple originally founded in 628 AD. The temple
has been damaged, destroyed and rebuilt many times since then, and many
of the current structures date as recently as 1945. Getting there was pretty
easy...we just took the subway from Akasaka-mitsuke station just outside
our hotel, all the way to the far end of the Ginza line.
Outside the subway, Kaminarimon-dori is lined with carts and tables
set up by vendors hawking all the usual cheap souvenirs: stickers, buttons,
knick-knacks and doodads. Turning onto Nakamise-dori, one is immediately
faced with Kaminarimon -- the Thunder Gate. Facing out from the temple
are two large, caged statues of Fujin and Raijin, the Gods of Wind and
Thunder, respectively. Hanging under the gateway in-between the statues
is a huge lantern decorated with kanji that read Tokyo. Facing towards
Sensoji on the inside half of the gate are additional statues, the god
and goddess shown at right.
Passing onwards the crowds grew thicker and thicker, hemmed into
the narrow street by permanent vending stalls. One of the curious sights
that we neglected to take pictures of (not recognizing its uniqueness at
this point) were the vendors selling sweets and crackers decorated with
motifs particular to this temple. We did stop a couple times to sample
several edibles however...fresh-baked and fresh-fried soy crackers, filled
mochi sweets and yummy seaweed wraps.
Eventually we arrived at the end of Nakamisedori and the main entrance
to the temple grounds. At small stalls on the sides of the wide path, assorted
prayers and charms could be purchased from monks sitting on benches. Most
of the visitors headed towards the main temple building, the Hozomon (1B).
We turned off to the right instead and investigated the small side shrines.
Clustered together behind the Kumei Heinai Buddha were the Mother and Child
on one side and the Nisonbutsu on the other.
Returning to the main path we had splendid views of the large five-story
Pagoda across the way. We walked up to the large covered incense burner
to anoint ourselves with smoke, then at the purification basin for ritually
cleansed water. Properly purified, we ascended into the Hozomon. Unfortunately,
there wasn't much to see inside the temple, though we did have the opportunity
to buy more prayers. Exiting to the left, I stood a moment for another
Pagoda shot, and then we descended and entered the small garden filled
with shrines on the side of the Hozomon. We took another picture at the
Golden Dragon shrine because that matches my Chinese Astrological symbol.
We turned and left the temple through a side exit that led towards
the Hanayashiki, an amusement park that began life as a botanic garden
in 1853. One entrance lay beyond the bicycle farm, presided over by smartly
dressed bicycle guards. Over the ten to thirteen foot hall wall, we could
see some of the taller rides: the Funky Duck!, Helicars rolling serenely
on a monorail type track, Flying Pirate Ships suspended like Gondolas from
a cable, dimly visible behind an unnamed ferris-wheel type of ride. Little
kids could be heard squealing in joy and terror as they stuck their heads
out between the bars on the windows of the hanging cottages. The little
cottages ascended lazily to a good 50 meters or so, stopped and completed
a few graceful rotations about the main column and then descended to unload
passengers for another cycle.
I would have liked to go in to take more pictures, but admission
was about $20 each, and the rides cost extra...so instead we turned back
towards Kaminarimon-dori, looking for just exactly the right sort of lunch
spot. After a few wrong choices: sake bars, beer bars, self-cook BBQ places
and such, we eventually found the right spot: a noodle joint. We pulled
open a sliding door and ducked under the cloth hanging in front of the
doorway. Inside, at least half the scant floor space was taken up by an
open kitchen where everything was being done to prepare the food, clean
the dishes and otherwise keep the place functioning. The menu was all Japanese,
but we were able to point to the pictures of the dishes we wanted displayed
on the wall. Ting picked out a beef soba-noodle soup, while it was buckwheat
soba and fresh tuna sashimi with seaweed salad on the side for me.
After lunch, we continued towards Kaminarimon-dori, passing fancier
and bigger shops as we approached the main street. After passing another
small cracker factory, we turned down an arcade parallel to Kaminarimon-dori
and walked until we came to the next big street.
Upon crossing, we found that we'd arrived at the Drum Museum - how
convenient! Downstairs, they had a shop filled to the rafters with all
things taiko. If you had the notion, you could outfit an entire Taiko Ensemble,
although you probably had to sell your house to do so! We bought tickets,
then took the elevator up to the museum.
As we entered, the docent left to go work in an adjacent office.
In a light, airy room about 40 feet on a side were lots and lots and lots
of drums. A few, like the tall skinny Ting drum had notices not
to touch, or were cordoned off, or behind glass in a case, but the majority,
like he large double-gourd balaphon were accessible and available to be
played. Now and then, one would have brief instructions for coaxing forth
sound, sometimes in english, and sometimes in charade-like sketches.
We both had lots of fun stroking and banging and plinking and pounding.
After ten or fifteen minutes, a father and his four-to-six year old daughter
came in to explore, adding to the general din as they went to work on the
taiko drums near the entrance. The drum museum first opened in 1988, though
the drum and festival instrument manufacturing company Miyamoto Unosuke
Shoten has been producing their wares since 1861! Their mission of promoting
understanding and love for drums was achieved on our part!
On our way to the plastic food district at Kappabashi-dori, Ting
posed with a friendly Tanuki statue outside a restaurant. It was pretty
obvious as we got closer and and closer to the center of this area, as
the shops slowly morphed from assorted specialty restaurant supply shops
(signs, ceramics, linens, pots, pans, ovens, et cetera) to its focus on
plastic food. We spent awhile arguing about the merits of returning with
various plastic foods as souvenir gifts, but it was obvious that peas didn't
have a chance: it was maguro, unagi or nothing! However, since a piece
of plastic maguro cost more than the real thing, we decided to save our
money for the real thing.
The shops started closing up around 4 PM -- I was rather surprised
that they were even opened on Sunday, but I suppose that just matches most
restaurants. We turned around just as we reached the O-Nekko planted atop
a generic concrete building and began retracing our steps back towards
Kaminarimon-dori. The building with Teacup balconies marked our arrival,
and rather than walking back to Asakusa station, we entered at Tawaramachi
and rode back to the Akihabara for more shopping!
After it got dark, we started looking for food, but this part of
town seemed to be pretty much shutting down for the night, and the only
restaurants we found had really long lines (a good sign, it is true, but
we were really hungry by that point, so waiting was not in the plan). Instead,
we took the subway back to Akasake Mitsuke, only to find that most of the
restaurants and nightclubs there were closed as well.
Well that figures, its Sunday night. We weighed our choices and decided
that Indian food was the best option, as pointed to by the most saliva-promoting
display of plastic food anyway. Although the restaurant had only a limited
choice of dishes, we found enough yummy things to gorge ourselves and ran
up a rather large bill. (The frosty mugs of anonymous beer on draft had
nothing to do with that, I'm sure!).
Looking out the window from our table, i spotted the Philip Morris
ad shown in the last cell. I cannot imagine the rationale behind putting
clouds into the picture of smokers holding tightly to their ciggie boxes
except to say it must be truth in advertising. Another ad in the same series
had smokers riding cigarette-powered jet-packs through the sky...riding
the nicotine buzz, yeah!
To back up a moment, an explanation is needed for the big shoes picture.
Big shoes seemed to be quite the fad among certain stylishly dressed young
women, both in Tokyo and in Kyoto. In fact, it didn't really occur to us
how widespread a phenomena big shoes embodies until we were confronted
with a pair of eight-inch monsters on the subway platform in Kyoto. So
it was purely by chance that I took this shot of Ting modeling her silver
mashers next to the cardboard model. Of coures, Ting's silver mshers were
miniscule (only 2-1/2 inches!) compared to the big shoes we kept seeing.
Little was I to suspect how difficult it would be in real life to capture
photographic evidence of these rare creatures, the Big Shoes creatures