The little bar/cafe on top of the tourist information building in front of the Kaminari temple gate is probably one of Asakusa’s best kept secrets hiding in plain sight. Surprisingly reasonably priced for such an epic location, you can do worse than ending up here if you are one of the millions of foreign tourists visiting Asakusa this year.
Tokyo is one of the most crowded capitals on Earth but in the middle of it all there is still opportunities to see a little bit of non-human nature. A while ago I was walking through Tokyo’s famous Asakusa district and saw these pets taking their owners for a walk through the city. Cats are commonplace, both in trams and roaming the streets on their own, seeing a pig though, was the first for me! A few foreign tourists tried to communicate with the pig but he was incredibly focused on the food his owner was enjoying.
Apart from pets there is a surprising amount of wildlife in the city. Even in the most central parts we have Palm Civets, Raccoons and cats. In the outskirts we have foxes, rabbits, kites and eagles and still within city limits but in the most remote areas we have bears, badgers and boars!
Tokyo is full of history and interesting stories if you just know where to look and aren’t too distracted by the food, the fun and the shopping! I have passed these two statues at the famous Sensoji Temple in Japan’s number one tourist site, Asakusa, maybe over a thousand times but I only recently learned about the history of them.
In the first half of the 17th century when Edo was the trading and crafts center of Japan and the home of the ruling Shogun (Warlord) a struggling trader in rice took in a small boy from modern day Gunma prefecture and did his best to teach him about trade and commerce. Eventually the boy returned to his home town and started a very successful trading business. His old master though was not so lucky and died impoverished and destitute. The former apprentice, Takase Zembe, heard of the tragedy and ordered two huge statues of the bodhisattvas Kannon and Seishi. They were donated in 1678 to the memory of the rice merchant and his son. Both the statues miraculously survived the US fire bombings of 1945 and they are still in their original positions to the right of the second Nio gate.
But the story doesn’t end there, because almost 300 years later one of Zembe’s direct descendants, Takase Jiro who was the Japanese ambassador to Sri Lanka in 1996 developed a cultural exchange and partnership between the Sensoji Temple and the famous Isurumuniya Vihara temple in Anuradhapura, the capital of ancient Ceylon (Sri Lanka). As the Senso-ji’s pagoda was rebuilt in 1973, the temple in Sri Lanka dispatched its senior abbot to the dedication ceremony, bringing with him a granule of the physical remains of the Buddha, a massively important relic, to dedicate to the Japanese temple.
The granule remains in the pagoda to this day and I hope both it and the two statues representing the gratitude of a devoted apprentice to his former master will remain for many thousands of years to come.
I passed the statues a little while ago, and found them occupied by two birds who posed perfectly for the camera.
Continuing on my series of obscure but interesting spots, here is Ubagaike – The Pond of the old Woman. In the old days this unremarkable park with its little pond was shallow marshland that grew smaller and smaller as the city of Edo (old Tokyo) grew around it. In 1891 the local government finally had the marsh filled in and the present day park was put in its place. The name of the pond comes from an old legend concerning a stone pillow housed at a nearby temple.
During the reign of Emperor Youmei (585-587 A.D.), in a place called Asajigahara, there was a small trail connecting Oshu and Shimofusa. It was the only trail in the area and along it there was only a single house, inhabited by an old woman and her beautiful daughter. Any traveler wishing to rest on his journey had to stop over at their house where the old lady would promptly bash his head in with a stone pillow and steal his clothes and belongings. The old lady would then dump the bodies in a nearby pond. Naturally her daughter was not happy with this and pleaded with the old lady to stop the killings but there was no persuading her. The body count reached 999 and the daughter was desperate to stop the killing. One day a young man came to stay over and the old lady, as was her habit, took the stone pillow and promptly split his skull open. Upon closer inspection though, the old lady found that she had killed her own daughter who had gone in disguise, hoping that this final sacrifice would persuade the old lady to stop the killings. As the old lady was going mad from the realization of her deeds she took her daughter’s corpse and threw herself and the corpse together into the pond. Since that day, the pond has been knows as Ubagaike, the Pond of the old Lady (old hag might be a better translation).
The park and the pond isn’t much to see anymore, but the legend is interesting enough. It is a short walk from the north of Sensoji Temple in the famous Asakusa District. The final picture is from a series of legends illustrated by Utagawa Kuniyoshi (1798-1861 A.D.) showing the Goddess of Compassion visiting the house of the old lady as she is arguing with her daughter.