It is a beautiful place, that still has a feel of another older period in Japan’s history lingering in its atmosphere. It might be the fake boughs of cherry blossoms that hang from the open air stalls or the architecture. Or it might be the women gorgeously attired and made-up in traditional kimono, some of which may be geisha. It is not too hard to imagine the Asakusa that was once the hub of entertainment, and the Japanese seem to be fond of the place. From the conversations that I have had with some of them, when they ask where I have been in Tokyo, they always bring up Asakusa. Having heard it mentioned so many times, I had to see for myself what the appeal was.
I was lucky enough that a Japanese guy that I had become acquainted with offered to show me around. When we arrived, he directed me down a cobbled path lined with shops and food vendors where he would point out the ingredients and what was being made. He took me to Sensou-ji Temple which is the most well-known temple in the area, in part, because it is the oldest. I mentioned before in an earlier post about how bad luck fortunes being tied to string, and I actually got to do that. With a 100 yen donation, I shook a cylindrical capsule with a tiny slot for a single bamboo stick to fall out. After reading the number, I reinserted the stick, and then searched the drawers built into the wall for the corresponding number to withdraw one of the sheets of paper. Me being me, I unsurprisingly drew bad luck, while my friend pulled out normal luck. No big deal, but he explained to me further, that the reason why the slips of paper are tied and left behind is so that the bad luck will not follow the person back home.
Afterwards, we stopped by a fountain where he instructed me how to cleanse myself by reading the instructions posted. The reasoning behind that is before entering the actual temple to pray, one should be cleared of impurities. Wooden ladles ringed the fountain, and we poured water over one hand and then the other. Then we poured some water into one palm to rinse out our mouth. Finally the ladle was upended vertically, handle-side down before re-propped up on the edge. After the cleansing, I realized belatedly that Japanese often carry handkerchiefs on them, and for good reason. I had to borrow my companion’s hankie because my hands were still wet. Just a heads up, but paper towels are rare around here.
When we actually entered the temple, I tossed in a few coins in donation into the saisen, a coin box with a grate at the top, as there isn’t a specified amount expected, although I believe that if you really wanted your prayer to come true, you would donate more. Prayers in a Japanese Buddhist temple are different than the ones I do at home, as my family follows Chinese Buddhist traditions. In Japan, eyes are shut and the palms pressed together upright while you pray, which is different from what I am familiar with, which involves moving the pressed hands back and forth in a mimicry of bowing a few times or actual kneeling and bowing for more serious rituals.
I am really thankful to have had an actual experience in going through all the actions and etiquette, and I couldn’t have done it without my friend guiding me, so snaps to him for being a good sport about it, even though he doesn’t follow the customs.