Posts Tagged Asakusa
Last night I went to a farewell party with Kim and Kame before crashing on their couch. In the morning we all woke up hungover, and lurched our way out for breakfast like 3 zombies. Fortunately the restaurant we went to sold coffee in one liter pitchers.
After feeding and caffeinating ourselves, we took a nostalgia tour of Noborito so I could take some pictures of Hello House and the new and improved Noborito station. I lived in the area for a year, and the station was under construction almost the entire time. The completed station looked great! Around the station area there were also a lot of changes. Nothing ever stays the same in the Greater Tokyo Area.
Kim and Kame accompanied me to Asakusa for souvenir shopping. The shopping area in front of Sensoji temple is a fantastic place to get souvenirs: I had been there so many times that I already knew which stores I wanted to hit. This was possibly my last chance to do souvenir shopping in Tokyo, so I made it count. I ended up leaving with a fully loaded backpack and several shopping bags, looking like a pale pack mule.
After parting ways with my friends, I decided to take the Tokaido Line home, stopping at Kawasaki station. My first English school was near the station, so I was very familiar with the area. Like Noborito I was shocked at all the changes around the station area that happened over the past 2 years. Hostess bars and pachinko had been replaced by and supplemented with new stores, game centres, and movie theatres. As I enjoyed a delicious burger at Becker’s I realized that Kawasaki would likely be unrecognizable to me when I returned the next time. Kawasaki is usually not near the top of anyone’s Japan sightseeing list, but I’m really going to miss it.
Today was a great example of why checking weather information before traveling is important. It was WAY too freaking hot.
After taking a day off yesterday, my family and I were back on the train for another day of sightseeing in Tokyo. The first stop was Ginza. We wandered around the area, checking out the high end stores and the iconic Kabuki-za theatre.
By noon, the temperature was creeping above 30 degrees. There are 30 degree days in central Canada in the summer, but there are two main differences between Tokyo heat and Winnipeg heat; humidity and urban heat islands.
The humidity today was in the high 80% range. To compare, the average summer humidity in Winnipeg is around 50%. Humidity in the 80% range feels like walking around with a hot damp towel wrapped around you. This makes a hot day feel even hotter.
Urban Heat Island is term used to describe cities being hotter than rural areas. Tokyo is largely concrete and steel with little green space. The general idea is that heat is absorbed instead of reflected, and plants are not able to cool the air by expelling water vapour. The effect on a hot, humid day is not very pleasant.
We cut our trip to Ginza short due to the heat, but we did make sure to walk as close as possible to the automatic doors of the stores in the area. Every time they opened, we got a frosty cold blast of air conditioning. We retreated to the relative comfort of the subway system, and then moved on to Asakusa.
In my opinion, Sensoji temple is a required visit for all tourists in Tokyo. In my 9 months living in Japan this was my third trip to Sensoji, but it was still enjoyable. I helped my family buy souvenirs for friends and family at home.
We didn’t have the longest day of sightseeing due to the heat, but it was still fun. We were all happy to get back to Hello House and turn on the AC.
(2014 Update) My mom and sister still use the folding fans they bought in the stores leading to Sensoji 10 years ago. I did eventually get to watch kabuki in the Kabuki-za theatre, but not until 2006. Stay tuned faithful readers… stay tuned.
The guys brought a lot of their money to Japan in Canadian traveler’s cheques. After a week of adventure, they needed to get more cash.
After breakfast we went to a nearby bank in Noborito with an English sign stating that they exchange traveler’s cheques. However, when we went into the bank, they explained that they would not accept Canadian traveler’s cheques without the original purchase agreement. They also would not exchange Canadian cash into Japanese yen. We realized that we would need to find a bigger bank, so we went to Shinjuku where we easily exchanged the money and got service in English.
Flush with cash, we headed off to Asakusa to see Senso-ji temple, the oldest and most famous Buddhist temple in Tokyo. Senso-ji was originally founded in 628 AD and has gone through many upgrades and changes over the years. During World War II it was destroyed in the American air raids. After the war the temple was rebuilt as a symbol of rebirth.
The temple is famous for its large gates and lanterns, but for me and my friends the highlight was Nakamise – the 250 meters of stores leading from the gate to the temple. Nakamise is one of the best places to shop for souvenirs. We navigated the crowds and everyone bought some proper souvenirs to take home. Code Red wanted to bring back a sword, but we weren’t sure if it would be confiscated by customs or not. After much discussion, he decided not to take the risk.
At the temple, I played tour guide, repeating information that I had learned on my travels with The Penpal. I explained how to wave the incense smoke to cleanse yourself before going into the temple. I also explained omikuji – the small paper fortunes that you can buy outside most temples and shrines.
To get your fortune at Senso-ji you pay 100 yen, and then pick up and shake a large metal box filled with sticks. This makes an impressive noise. Eventually one of the sticks will pop out the hole in the top. The stick will have a number written on it – usually in kanji. You then open the drawer with the matching number and take your fortune.
The fortunes will range from excellent to terrible, giving detail on finances, romance, work, etc. If you get a good fortune you can keep it, but a bad fortune should be folded up and tied to a nearby stand. That way you can leave your bad luck behind. Green got the worst possible fortune, but instead of leaving it behind, he insisted on bringing it with him as a souvenir. For the rest of the day Flounder, Code Red, and Hippie debated whether or not they wanted to get on a flight back to Canada with Green if he kept his terrible fortune.
Senso-ji is a must visit if you are in Tokyo. Wear comfortable shoes and be prepared for crowds, and bring a camera because everything is worthy of a picture.
(2014 Update) Does anyone still use traveler’s cheques? Those things are the worst.
Today was a National Holiday: Coming of Age Day. It is a holiday to celebrate all the people who became 20 years old in the past year. 20 is considered the age of majority in Japan. Since I had the day off, I went to Asakusa with Yumi and one of her friends.
Asakusa is home to Sensoji – a giant Buddhist temple. The approach to the temple is a 250 meter long shopping area called Nakamichi. This is a great place to buy souvenirs and touristy stuff. Due to the holiday, the temple area was completely packed with people in kimonos, so getting around was difficult.
After spending some time around Sensoji, we went to the Shiodome area near Shinbashi and Ginza. This area used to be occupied by a large train station. Expressways and changes to other nearby train stations made the original Shinbashi station unnecessary. Since real estate is at a premium in Tokyo, the large area of land occupied by the train station and yards was redeveloped into an area filled with skyscrapers. Shiodome has become on of Tokyo’s most modern city centres.
The three of us wandered around some of the tall buildings and then went to a restaurant called “Vietnam Frog” for dinner. The food was fantastic and they had an English menu.
As a conversational English teacher, I have to be fairly good at having a conversation. I usually pride myself on being able to talk to almost anyone and still be somewhat interesting. During dinner my brain shut down and I literally had nothing interesting to talk about. Seriously, nothing. I ended up discussing my job in English at great length for some reason. When I got home later I was thinking “why did I just end up talking about work the whole time?”.
It was a great day out – I got to see a historical side of Tokyo and one of the newest major developments as well. I just wish I would have been a little more interesting for my friends to listen to…
(full rewrite of original post which was only 4 sentences long)