When I was growing up (in Cambridge) my family would often host students to stay with us while they attended university – somewhat like AirBnB for students! My gran had one-such Japanese student named Nobby in the early 1990s, and he was around for almost 5 years. Fast forward 20 years and he still comes to visit when he’s in the UK, and my parents/aunt/uncle keep in touch regularly. Today Nobby was our tour guide in Tokyo!
We met at Thunder Gate (Kaminari-mon) just beside Asakusa station at 11am – I haven’t seen Nobby in perhaps 10 or 15 years, but found him in the crowds of people gathering. This area felt like a tourist zone, with more English spoken than we’d come across so far this week.
Entering the giant gate, pillared by Gods of thunder and wind, we came across a walkway stretch of vendors selling anything/everything: from keychains and hats, to kimonos and snacks.
Through a second gate we were shown how to properly cleanse ourself before entering the temple.
- Wash your left hand
- Wash your right hand
- Take a sip of water, rinse and spit (optional)
Atop the steps of the Sensoji Temple we made small offerings and bowed (twice), clapped (twice) and concluded with a final bow.
We admired the Temple and Nobby then took us to the side to show us the Sensoji Shrine – a smaller building but equally aesthetically stunning.
To the west stood a tall building draped in scaffolding. A picture showed us that this was the five-tier temple, unfortunately under renovation this year.
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It was around 12pm by now, and we had requested to sample sushi for lunch. Nobby had made arrangements nearby, a short 10-minute walk.
We were treated to sushi omakase – a platter selection of the chef’s choice for today, each.
This was our first sushi meal of the trip and I for one was very impressed by the quality of the fish! It was the perfect amount of food to keep us going for the afternoon.
Next on the agenda was to visit the Tori No Ichi festival at Ootori Shrine. This is a celebration every November, where people meet at temples and purchase a kamade (rake) to bring in good fortune or health or safe travels for the year. Each was handmade and would be displayed for a year, until the next Tori No Ichi.
Leaving the sushi restaurant we started to see people walking down the street carrying these kamade over their shoulders, so we knew the festival had begun. What followed next was astonishing – from a simple main road we took a right-turn and suddenly found ourselves in the middle of a street festival. Food vendors lined the residential streets – if we hadn’t just eaten I’m sure we’d have gone straight for the takoyaki (grilled squid balls). Jane seemed fascinated by the chocolate-dipped bananas on sticks…
Winding through these streets we soon came across our first kamade stall, piled high and wide with rake-like structures for sale (ranging from 500¥ up to tens of thousands, we were told). This was the first of so many stalls selling kamade. The more we walked, the more they kept on coming.
When a patron purchased a kamade they were honoured with a symbolic clapping and chanting experience. This was happening all around us!
We soon joined a short queue to reach the front of the shrine and made our offering.
After much deliberation, Jane and I found a small decorative figure and kamade that we’ll host in our apartment for the next year.
As we left the area (perhaps after an hour inside) the queues of people started to multiply. We were informed that trying to visit such an event in the evening would have been carnage, so we’d timed this well.
Nobby wanted to then treat us to traditional Japanese matcha tea, and we soon found a spot. This was my first time, and the tea was electric-green and very bitter. The mochi and matcha biscuits were a nice touch.
We relaxed here for a while and later walked down towards The Sumida River. The grey skies loomed over the Tokyo Skyline and we couldn’t even see the Tokyo SkyTree.
In the early evening we decided to call it a day and rest up for the early-rise tomorrow (8:35am flight).
We picked up some snacks for dinner and were in bed by 10pm, with alarms set for 3:55am!