Kae, Miho's eighteen year old niece, who kept us company while we were out sightseeing.
We left Yasu's house early in the morning and walked down to the main road in torrential rain. Despite the fact that we were carrying around huge umbrellas, we still didn't manage to stay dry. We stopped at a street corner for some reason unbeknownst to us, as we watched several Tokyo-ites rush past us on their bicycles. All of a sudden, we saw a familiar-looking vehicle approach us- it was none other than Miho and her odd-looking black minivan! As we jumped into the van to get out of the rain, we realized there was someone else with her. We introduced ourselves as slowly as possible, since she did not understand English very well. Yasu then introduced her to us.
The many shops and food stands in Asakusa.
Her name was Kae Inouye and she was an eighteen year old university student. She was extremely timid but was very friendly and tried her best to communicate with us, in fact, she even brought a translator with her which we used a lot to message eachother back and forth throughout the rest of the day.
Yasu had planned several different excursions for us that day. We asked him where he was taking us, but he just smiled and said "It's a surprise". Miho dropped us off on a street corner in a busy area and Yasu lead the way, until we finally arrived to an area that consisted of several rows of small shops that carried all sorts of merchandise including Japanese sweets, fans, kimonos, art and all kinds of other souveniers. Alex and Nicole immediately started picking out gifts for our family and friends in the United States, but I was fixated on the enormous variety of sweets the minute I set eyes on them.
There were tons of candies and confections for sale at Asakusa. I bought the ones on the upper left side and they were amazing- strawberry mochi with chocolate filling- yum!
They had everything from flavored mochi, azuki-bean filled manju, elaborately wrapped matcha cakes to all sorts of pretty candies that I did not recognize as anything I had ever seen before, such as these shiny multi-colored little balls in cute little boxes. I had no idea what they were, but I decided that this was something that I wanted to try. I bought a small box, but as I was paying for it Kae abruptly stopped me to warn me on her translator that I needed to eat all of it that same day, as it had ingredients in it that expired very quickly. To this day I have no idea what these ingredients were, but upon biting into one I realized that these sweets were definitely an acquired taste. The outside was composed of this dry, gelatinous membrane that peeled off easily and didn't have much taste to it, and on the inside it was pretty tart, yet slightly sweet and very powdery and messy.
It is very rainy at this time of year, so I had to use my umbrella pretty much all day. This picture is of me at Asakusa, sightseeing.
I didn't really care for it, and threw the rest of it away. One thing I bought and really enjoyed was a box of strawberry mochi with a liquid chocolate filling- Yum!
We then worked our way through the rain and crowds until we weer at the entrance leading up to Sensoji Temple (also known as Asakusa Kannon Temple) . Everyone was pushing into each other to avoid the heavy rain, and it was uncomfortable squeezing past so many people with their huge umbrellas. I was the only one, out of the three of us, who had really read up on the weather in Tokyo during that time of year and brought an umbrella with me, so it was even more uncomfortable pushing through so many people because I had both Nicole and Alex trying to get under my umbrella. Nicole and I stopped to use the bathroom and on the way out, the bathroom attendant ran after us with two clear plastic umbrellas (apparently these are a very popular type of umbrella in Japan because everyone had them), which she handed to us with a smile on her face.
Giant lantern at entrance a huge temple in Asakusa.
Kae showed me her translator. It said "gift for you, so you don't get wet". Once again, it never ceased to amaze me just how kind, generous and hospitable the people in this country were.
With our three umbrellas, we were prepared to make our way up to the temple. There was an enormous red paper lantern hanging over the entrance which, of course, we all stopped to take pictures of. There were also areas where incense was burning and people were circled all around, inhaling the smoke. There was also a fountain for hands to be washed prior to entering the temple. This was very different from anything we had ever been around before, and we were quietly absorbing this new experience while we watched the hundreds of Japanese perform their rituals.
Sensoji Temple in Asakusa.
This temple was also much older than anything we had ever seen before, with the exception of museum artifacts we had seen in Chile and in exhibits in San Francisco. Sensoji temple was completed in 645 A.D., according to our travel book, making it Tokyo's oldest Buddhist temple. Adjacent to it, was a Shinto shrine and a rack-looking fixture where people in which people were throwing their coins, for luck perhaps. I learned later on in the trip that the coin divination ritual is typical of Shintoism, which is Japan's native religion, which seemed very fused with Buddhism from what I could tell. In fact, a tour guide that we met later on in the trip told us that most Japanese people sort of go back and forth between Buddhism and Shintoism depending on what it is that they are seeking out of these religions.
Buddhist statues in front of Sensoji Temple.
If they are seeking wisdom and a deep understanding and acceptance of life and death they will do it through Buddhism, and if they are looking for luck and good fortune, they will turn to Shinto. I am not sure exactly how true this is, but it seemed like a reasonable explanation for the fact that Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines seemed to stand side by side, or within one another, in many cases.
The inside of the temple was enormous and spacious, with beautiful painted artwork on the ceiling. Everything looked ancient, but very well preserved and clean. It made me feel really happy that historical, sacred sites such as this one were well taken care of by this society, especially after our trip to Chile, where it seemed that almost every historical site was covered in graffiti.
Tokyo Tower from below. We ended up going all the way up to the top in a glass elevator. I almost had a horrible panic attack (I am extremely afraid of heights, but had promised myself that I wouldn't hold myself back from any experiences.
I do not mean to sound critical of Chile, but the cleanliness and care that the Japanese put into preserving their historical monuments and sites was something I really appreciated, and that I also found really inspiring. After we were done exploring Asakusa, Yasu took us to this amazing little hole-in-the-wall restaurant where we ate a delicious lunch that consisted of a batter with different types of seafood and vegetables in it (including cuttlefish, green onions and shrimp) that was poured onto a skillet that was built into our table and eaten as it was being cooked along with several different sauces to choose from. The restaurant consisted of just two tables in a tiny room and was run by an older couple. As we were leaving the restaurant we were approached by a rather large group of students from Osaka
who were working on an assignment for one of their classes which required them to interview tourists about their impressions of Japan.
One of the views of Tokyo from the top of the Tokyo Tower.
They were all very friendly and encouraged us to visit their hometown, which unfortunately we were not able to fit into our schedule during this short trip.
Our next stop was the Tokyo Tower, which resembled the Eiffel tower in many ways, except for the fact that it was red. We took an elevator all the way up to the top because we had been told that the views of Tokyo were fantastic up there. Of course, it was hard for me to fully enjoy them since I am afraid of heights and every time I looked down through the glass and realized how high up we were, everything would start to spin because I was so dizzy. The view really was amazing, though, and I definitely recommend going there, especially on a clear day. Before leaving we stopped at the Baskin Robbins in the downstairs food court, where they had some really interesting icecream flavors I had never seen before, including azuki bean, musk melon and "popping showers", whatever that means.
The most mysterious (and scary sounding) ice cream flavor ever... "Popping Shower"