A Visit to Asakusa

The modern-day hustle and bustle of Tokyo is not new. Before Tokugawa established his capital in ancient Edo, the remains of which are to be seen in the East Gardens of the current palace, the Sensoji temple, dedicated to Kannon – the Buddhist goddess of mercy – stood in the Asakusa district.
There are no skyscrapers here, some buildings surrounding the temples and the connected market place are as much as ten floors high but for the most part one or two is the norm in what is a bazaar that has existed since the founding of the temple in the 600s.
Europeans are used to religious sites as being grand places of deep solemnity, even in Sir Christopher Wren’s grand monument of St. Pauls the crush of tourists keep their voices hushed. Not so here where Buddhist and Shinto temples and shrines cluster together for companionship and there is a buzz of joy and camaraderie filling the place. Something the Christian west and Muslim Middle East could do well to learn from.
Before the shrines themselves there is of course reverence and peace but even that is accompanied by the clatter of coins being cast into the collection boxes before supplications are made and hubub of voices from just outside where visitors shake numbered bamboo canes that lead to fortunes hidden in matching drawers.
Mine was rubbish so I tied it to the rack of strings designed for the purpose so the bad luck would be released when they were burned by the monks later and washed myself in the smoke of the incense burner to negate the ill effects.
The market leading up to the temples, marked at either end by grand gates enshrining the gods of thunder and rain which protect the area, sell everything from traditional sweets and rice crackers to toys and kimono, a range of items from the unbearably kitsch (child sized ninja outfits or luck plastic nodding and/or waving cats) to the exquisitely beautiful (lacquered, decorated sets of chopsticks or hand crafted painted fans) and everything in between.
All of which adds up to a religious experience unlike any in the west – a quixotic mixture of peace, joy, companionship and the best selection of tacky souvenirs one could possibly wish for.