The neighbourhood of Asakusa (pronounced “a-sock-sa,” as far as I can tell), enjoys the presence of the splendid and historical Senso-ji Buddhist temple. As you can see, this is not a pleasure to be dismissed on a rainy day. The incense in the air warms and dries the wet visitor, and welcomes him or her to the temple grounds.
The neighbourhood is old, and is known for being old; consequently, there are all kinds of tourist shops not just in the area but right on the temple grounds. The difference between these temple shops and most touristy shops in the busy areas of the world, though, is profound: these shops are interesting and not tacky! My students purchased wonderful paper balls, which can be blown up, for young Telemachus; they also gave me some of the snacks that are sold there. The snack foods were delicious, and the tourist shops actually had more than useless nic-nacs. I purchased a wind-chime for my mother there, and it has the most perfect melodious sound I’ve ever heard in a wind-chime. I’m sorry I didn’t get more pictures of the shops and bakeries, but they are visible through the front gate in this next shot:
The temple grounds, which have been dedicated to the Bodhisattva Kannon for more than a thousand years, boast a five-storey pagoda, one of the tallest in Japan; it is a recent reconstruction, though. I was fascinated by the spiral spire at the top. The painted colours of this Buddhist temple were unlike anything I saw in South Korea, where greens and blues tend to dominate. As a non-believing connoisseur of historical religious buildings, I appreciate both styles.
The next few pictures show some of the various gates around the temple complex.
The main shrine building in the temple features a high ceiling; it seemed higher than the temple shrine buildings in Korea, but that might have been because it also seemed smaller, though it wasn’t. In any case, there were fewer practical shrines on the premises than I would have expected; I never saw anyone sitting and praying. It felt almost like a schematic experience of what a Buddhist temple should be, as though the temple were preserved by loving citizens for cultural, rather than religious, reasons. Perhaps that’s so. The next pictures show the shrine building and the shrine itself:
Directly in front of the shrine, inside the main hall, there is an “offertory box” into which visitors throw small change and wish and pray for luck. There is also another offertory system involving luck, too. One puts an amount of money into a jar, and takes out a stick at random. The stick corresponds to a drawer, and the visitor can then open the drawer and remove his fortune paper. Mine was translated into English, with many details. It was “Best Luck,” and although I don’t believe in luck, I am going to frame it and hang it on my wall. The reverse of the document is shown below. Interested readers will note the presence of number 13–which, of course, is regarded as unlucky by some in our western culture; the number has no negative associations in Japan.
There is also a small and beautiful garden on the temple grounds, and gardens and gods go together in Japan, too, it seems.
Asakusa was my favourite neighbourhood in Japan, and I ended out going back with my students a second time, I liked it so much. Later, we went to a pub, where we drank sake. Afterwards, I took this picture of white lanterns with black writing: