Penne Cole's thoughts on food, travel and more
Asakusa is home to the Sensoji temple, Tokyo’s oldest. The pathway to the temple is marked by two gates – the Kaminarimon (Thunder Gate), and the Hozomon (Treasure Gate). The two gates and their iconic giant paper lanterns have become the symbol for Asakusa.
Look up underneath these lanterns to find a beautifully intricate carving of a dragon flying amongst the clouds.
I was lucky enough to visit on a double festival day, celebrating both Hozuki-ichi or the Chinese lantern plant fair, and Shiman-rokusen-nichi, the Day of 46,000 Blessings. It is said that visiting the temple on this day equates to 46,000 temple visits and lifelong health, so I guess I’m covered for my lifetime.
The Nakamise shopping street leads from Kaminarimon to Hozomon and beyond to the temple. Today, it is thronged with festival-goers, some in traditional Yukata. The crowds are undeterred by the light rain, and people are largely unharmed by the many umbrella spokes at eye height.
The street is dedicated to Japanese traditional snacks, touristy knick knacks and Japanese arts and crafts. This stall with mochi on sticks caught my eye. The mochi at the top of the picture is covered in a soy-sauce based caramel, and it is utterly delicious.
Because it is festival day, the temple is surrounded by hawkers peddling their wares. Offerings range from the traditional (ocellated octopus, anyone?) to the bizarre (blue bananas?) to the craving-inducing (deep fried Oreos? yes please!). I even find a man making fresh okonomiyake or Japanese pancakes. Faced with this array of good food, my intentions to have unagi (eel) for lunch at a special cafe my guide recommended flies out the window. Give me street food anytime!
After a while, the crush of the crowd starts to get to me, and I escape to the relative peacefulness of the temple gardens. Smaller shrines are dotted about the gardens, with the larger shrines serving as a convenient shelter for maximum street food enjoyment.
Given that it is a festival day, and apparently one of the best days to pray at the temple, I couldn’t resist getting my fortune told before I left. It’s a relatively uncomplicated process. Simply drop 100 Yen into the honour-system box, pick up the large metal cannister and start shaking it until a stick drops out. The stick has a number on it, which you match to the columns of drawers in front of you. This is, of course, easier said than done as all the numbers are in Japanese. It helps if you read Chinese as well, since they are the same script (in this case at least!). The drawers contain your fortune, printed on thin sheets of paper with Japanese on the front, and helpfully, English at the back. I got a “medium lucky” fortune while my companions both got bad fortunes. As is the custom, anyone who gets bad fortunes ties the paper to the racks provided as a symbol of leaving the bad luck behind. And with that, it was time to leave Asakusa.
Asakusa is best reached by metro. Take exit 1 if you’re on the Ginza line, and go straight when you leave the station to reach the Kaminorimon.
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