What is the very first thing you visit in a trip to Japan? Jumping straight into the madness that is Shibuya or Harajuku jetlagged and exhausted would have given me a seizure, so I opted for a quieter approach: Asakusa, the Old Town of Tokyo where there are still some streets that haven’t given way to dinosaur-embossed skyscrapers (we love you too, though, dinosaur-embossed skyscrapers).
We began by visiting Senso-ji, Tokyo’s biggest temple. Your arrival into the temple itself is preceded by the crossing of several massive gates, flanked by endless stands of tourist-trap shops of every kind imaginable. Then there is a big pot with incense burning inside; you’re supposed to wave the smoke towards your face, so that it may cure you of any ailments.
The place was absolutely packed, even though by this time a very cold wind was already building up. Still, there were very few tourists to be seen: on the outside people were just strolling along the shops, and inside people were making donations, praying, having their fortune told, buying good fortune charms, and other staples of Japanese temples. I saw that this temple had a special rack to tie up the Kyô (awful luck) fortune, which may have saved Tomo from Azumanga a headache in that one episode.
At some point we moved away from the main room and ended up in an inner sanctum with several statues of what I assumed were bodhisattvas. There was an area near the altar reserved for people who were praying. We were taking it all in when an old lady approached Sawako and started talking to her in Japanese. For a fleeting moment I thought she might be telling her to prevent the foreign demon from defiling a place of prayer, but in fact it was the opposite: she told Sawako that she should take me inside, that I had evidently travelled very far to get here (quoting Robert Downey Jr. in The Avengers: “Well, you’re not wrong”) and that I should get to pray properly.
After leaving the temple, we took a walk around the area until dinner. It was established that it ought to be something Japanese for dinner, and that having been in the country for like three hours, my preferences were rather unformed as of yet, and the dice ended up rolling “izakaya”. Izakayas are Japanese pubs, basically, where you have drinks accompanied by tapas of sorts.
Surprisingly enough, I didn’t even get a second glance when I ordered tea instead of alcohol, but it IS a pub -tea is served in a massive beer jar, on the rocks. We were seated in a section where you had to take off your shoes and either kneel or sit with your legs crossed. I managed to finish the dinner without toppling over, but I almost couldn’t walk afterwards! This is going to take some training.
There isn’t a seat in my room, so I’ve already started…