Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Exploring Asakusa (a partial Shichifukujin)

A few weeks ago I was chatting with a friend about heading to Tokyo for one of the Shichifukujin tours in January.  She said it sounded like a fun day of exploring and mentioned that she needed to head to Tokyo to get a package from the New Sanno, an awesome BIG tanuki!  So, we decided to combine our two trips into one and make a girls' day out of it!

I met Nina downstairs around 0800 and we headed out to my car.  Now...a little side story...when we talked about the trip a few days before this, Nina said their car had sold and we would either have to train up, rent a car, or take my car.  I said, "It'll probably be best to take my car.  Only thing is I will need you to drive it because I've only driven a mile down route 16, twice."  She said if I was okay with it, she would be okay with it.

So, back to Sunday  morning...we walk outside and I heard this voice that sounded a lot like mine and it said, "If you're brave enough to ride along, I'd like to drive to Tokyo today."  Then, I heard a voice in my head scream: "WHAT?" Being the most encouraging friend that she is, Nina said, "Sure!  You'll be fine!  I know you can do it!"  And, guess what?  I did it!    That thing I thought was the most terrifying thing I could possibly do while living here...that thing that the guys in AOB tell us over and over and over is horrible and dangerous...well, I did it with no problem!  I felt like a one-year-old that just learned to walk.  I had all the skills I just had to get over the fear.  :D

Nakamise Dori decorations
Anywho...we loaded into the car and took off for the New Sanno.  Traffic was pretty calm at 8 in the morning, so that was nice!  We made it to the New Sanno, parked, and then headed to Hiro-o Station.

Nakamise Dori decorations
With our cameras ready, and newly purchased snacks in our bags, we made our way toward Sensoji.  I always forget how crowded this place can be!  When we came with Dave in October it was crowded, and it was a cloudy, rainy, miserable day.  Today was super sunny and hardly a cloud in the sky!  So, lots.of.people!

Our ultimate goal was to have a nice, relaxing day in the city.  But, we also wanted to try and see the 9 shrines that make up the Asakusa Shichifukujin....7 Lucky Gods.  So, after a leisurely trip down Nakamise Dori, we walked up the stairs and into Sensoji.

It's the year of the sheep, so there were cute little sheep statues and paintings and drawings everywhere!

Look At All Those P E O P L E ....

( you can see I, once again, had one of my settings messed up.  Nina even said, "Do you have it set right this time?"  I looked at the screen and saw that ISO was right and a few of the other settings I've messed up over time were all right.  However, I had it set to fluorescent light instead of a beautiful sunshiny day.  /sigh/  So, most of my pictures have a blue tint to them.  One day I'll figure out this camera.)

Just to the left of the main Kannon-do Hall is Yogodo, where Daikokuten is worshipped.  Daikokuten is the god of wealth.  The line at this hall was a bit longer than I wanted, or had the patience to stand in and wait for a stamp, so we took a look around inside and wandered back on out.  

I must have been having a good ole time talking and walking and looking because I didn't take many pictures in this area. 

After weaving through the crowd in front of Sensoji, we made it safely to the other side and then up the path to Asakusa Jinja.  A friend told me I could get a scroll to have stamped at all the stops on this pilgrimage, but I didn't see it and after seeing the insane crowd around Sensoji I really didn't want to stand around in lines all day long.  I just wanted to get to the shrines and temples and look around.  So, we walked around and took some pictures then headed out of Nitenmon - the eastern gate of Sensoji's grounds.  

Asakusa Shrine was reconstructed by Tokugawa Iemitsu in December 1649.

Once through the gate we walked down the street a couple blocks and were greeted with a "Good Afternoon!" from SkyTree.

Next up:  Matsuchiyama Shoden.  Or, as Nina and I dubbed it, the Daikon Temple.  You'll see....

We made a slight left off the main road and walked up a few stairs to find several statues.  Not sure of the significance, but they were pretty, resting in the cool shadows of the tree branches.

Small note here:  the crowds we saw at Sensoji were nonexistent here.  The shrines were relatively empty once we left the Sensoji area.

From here we followed the daikons (why are there so many daikons?  I wonder what the daikons mean?) and money bags.  (A daikon, by the way, is a huge white radish.  A few weeks ago I had ozoni - soup - with daikon in it...yummy!)

As we walked around snapping (bluish) pictures and checking out all the daikons, a priest very graciously invited us inside.  I'm not sure why we didn't...maybe we were distracted or we decided to move on to the next temple on the list.  After reading a few other blogs and websites, I'm definitely going back to this jewel for better pictures (ahem, ALL camera settings right) and a better look around.  What we saw was pretty amazing, though!  One of my two favorites of the day.

Main hall is in the back.  There are boxes of daikons on the left side of the picture.  

The water was coooolllllldddddddd.

Intertwined daikon.  I thought it looked like they were hands folded together.

Money bags on the peaks

Money bags at the end of a rain chain 

Money bags on the roof

As we walked around the corner we noticed someone standing next to a little door and looking down.  So, we checked it out.  Turns out there is a tiny little monorail thingie to take you down the hill.  Ha!  Maybe this is what distracted us from venturing inside!  So, we did eenie meenie miney mo and picked a button to push.  Eventually, the car came back up this huge (not huge) hill, we got in and slowly traveled down.  I'm pretty sure we could have walked to the stairs and then down them faster than this thing moved.  But, who just walks past  a tiny monorail??

Next up:  Imado Jinja.  This was tops on my list for the day.  I mean, who couldn't love a shrine peppered with....

...can you tell???  The poster below is a representation of where the seven lucky gods shrines are located.  Do you notice a common addition with each god?

Each of those lucky gods is paired with a cute cat!  See the close-up below of Benzaiten with a cat biwa.

Entrance to Imado.  This shrine is full of lucky cats.  As the story goes, a long long long time ago, an old lady needed money.  It came down to her selling her beloved cat to pay the bills.  Then, in a dream, her cat came to her and told her to sell cat statues, which she did, and which lifted her out of poverty.

The lucky god at this shrine is Fukurokuju, the god of happiness and long life.  Imado is also the place to go and pray for love.  There were so many ema tied to poles around trees here.  I don't think I've seen this many ema in one place!  All of them had the fortune cats on them, sitting as husband and wife.  You can see one of the rounds in the picture above, bottom center of the torii.

Well, hello there cats!

There were cats E.V.E.R.Y.W.H.E.R.E.

In the main hall
Male on left.  Female on right.

On square stones

On the moon on a trellis

In the bushes.  In the flower pots.  Behind the flower pots.  In front of the flower pots.
Just, everywhere!

We walked to the gift shop and bought a couple fortunes.  I'm not totally sure, but I think mine said little luck.  dun dun duuuunnnnn.  So... I left that little paper behind!  I kept the cute little golden fortune cat though!

We sat down for a minute or two on these cute Disney benches.

At this point we were getting a bit hungry.  We were also eager to find a warm place to relax for a few minutes.  So, we started down the street looking for somewhere to eat.  After stopping at an intersection, trying to decide which way to go, we smelled something wonderful.  Then, turning around we found an inconspicuous little door that led to a room with only a handful of tables in it and a family of three in the small kitchen cooking up some yummy deliciousness!  No English menu.  Nina could read some of the hiragana on the menu and ordered tonkatsu.  I pointed to the man across the aisle from me and said, "That".

Hamburger steak with egg on top, rice, miso soup, a small salad.
Sooooo much food I couldn't finish it all!
After we were sufficiently filled as well as warm and toasty, we bundled back up and headed back out on our trail.  
The next stop on our tour:  Hashiba Fudoson, where Hotei is worshipped, the god of contentment and happiness, aka:  the fat buddha or the happy buddha, or maybe even the fat, happy buddha.

By the gift shop at Hashiba Fudoson, I dropped a couple hundred yen in a box and pulled out what I can only assume is my lucky god...maybe for the year?  I don't know.  I think it's Bishamonten, the god of treasure, wealth and warriors, Protector of Buddhism, Guardian of the North (as in: "Winter is Coming?"), dispenser of riches, Defender of the Nation, Scourge of Evil Doers, Healer of Illness, Commander of Shitenno (all that, from  He is tiny.  He is cute.  And, now he sits on a shelf.  Sounds like I'm pretty much protected from anything bad!

 Just a few blocks away we came to Ishihama Jinja.  At this point, the wind was starting to pick up and the clouds were starting to roll in.  So, that blue tint I have on all of my pictures are even worse for the rest of the trip.

Ishihama Jinja is a fairly new shrine.  

It reminds me of those samurai origami things Mackenzie likes to make

It was just weird seeing the shrine buildings with the industrial bubbles behind them.  Not a common backdrop to many shrines I've seen thus far.

Here is a better view of the samurai-like roof.  With this being a modern shrine the roof didn't seem as impressive to me as others I've visited.  It was pretty, but not hundred-picture inspiring.

Inari shrines in a little side pocket of the grounds.  That little guy poking up behind the right torii is a mini Mount Fuji.

So, I can't find too much information about this little Fuji.  I'm going to guess that it's here for those who can't actually climb Fujisan.  Mt. Fuji is regarded as a sacred mountain; with the Shinto followers believing it is the embodiment of the spirit of nature and the Buddhist followers believing it is a gateway to another world.  In the Edo Period pilgrimages up Fujisan became very popular.  For those who couldn't make the trip up the mountain, Fujiko (pilgrimage groups) would bring back plants, rocks and dirt from Mt Fuji and put them at the top of a hill constructed in the city, called Fujizuka.  This way some of the spiritual power of the mountain was reachable to those who couldn't get to it in reality.  I can't find it now, but I read somewhere that women were not allowed to climb the mountain before the Meiji Period, so this may have been a way for the ladies to worship Fujisan.

Maybe it is, maybe it isn't.  I'm going to pretend that it is, because that makes it a pretty cool place.  And, with another interesting tidbit learned about this mountain, I've added something to my list of places to see:  Hatomori Shrine in Sendagaya, one of the oldest Fujizuka in Tokyo!

Okay, so after walking around this shrine for a bit we decided we would make our way back to the New Sanno where Nina was going to retrieve her brand new 3 ft tall tanuki.  But, first we wanted to find a coffee shop to relax in for a few more 2-moms-in-Tokyo-without-our-kids minutes.  :)  So, we arrived back around Sensoji and wandered the streets in search of a coffee shop.  It was actually harder to find than we thought.  We were just about to give up, really, we saw a sign for the subway and were heading toward it when we noticed, out of the corner of our eyes, a cafe!  Woop woop!

The little creamer cup made us both say, "Awww".
A cafe with cat pictures everywhere.  And, the infamous cafe cat made a brief appearance just after we sat down.  We picked the table by the window and ordered our coffee and each of us had a sweet cake.

After our rejuvenating coffee break we hopped on the train and retrieved Mr. Tanuki.  Then, we slid that huge box into the middle seat of the car (certainly glad we chose to take a car to Tokyo instead of trying to wrestle him all the way home on the train.).  The trip home was pretty uneventful...and I did it without one incident or panic attack; take that AOB guys!!  :D

I had an amazing final trip with my dear friend, Nina.  The day was beautiful!  The crowds weren't bad once we were away from Sensoji.  We might not have made it to all of the Shichifukujin destinations, but the few we saw were pretty darn amazing!  We found some yummy rice crispy treat like snacks to eat and enjoyed a delicious lunch.  It was such a perfect day!  I'm so thankful to have shared such a great day with such a great friend!

And, to top it all off...I drove in the big bad city of Tokyo!  I even backed that big ole van into an itty bitty parking spot without hitting the walls or the car beside me!  Okay, so I may have come close, but Nina saved me by reminding me to pull my mirrors in.  I call that success!

I bought a 7 Lucky Gods ema at Hashiba Fudoson.  There were no trees to tie it to, that I could find, so I brought it home.  It sits on the shelf with the cute little Bishamonten.  I guess if he's a warrior and protector I should describe him as fierce.