If I have to rank the many tourist destinations in Tokyo and give you the place that should be on the top list of any tourist with the ambition to see Tokyo, it is easily the Asakusa district. I have blogged about this part of the city and the fantastically colorful Sensoji (Tokyo’s first and grandest temple) many times before but I just can’t help myself from pulling up the camera whenever I pass. Everytime I visit I have the ambition to find the odd little spots I have missed earlier, to go for details rather than large open views but I always get blown away by the colors and size of everything. Asakusa is easily the second greatest city attraction (ok, technically the greatest but Gion in Kyoto still wins for pure charm, beauty and dignity) in Japan. You can make several little trips (the place changes atmosphere and color so much during the day) or spend an entire day here from morning to midnight. Luckily most of Tokyo’s backpacker hostels are in the area. Use the tags at the bottom of the post to find more posts about Asakusa!
The many gates of the temple are fantastically photogenic, and the nearby bridge over Sumida river tends to be a popular photo spot with tourists and locals. One local lady even decided to climb the bridge pillars to get a better view! Next to the famous Kaminarimon you’ll also find the number one souvenir associated with the gate: Kaminariokoshi. In the last photo you’ll see a couple checking out the shop just before closing one evening a few weeks ago.
Last night was the annual Tourounagashi (灯篭流し) ceremony at the huge Sensoji temple in Tokyo’s Asakusa district. It takes place during Obon, which is the traditional time for Japanese people to tend their ancestral graves, remember the relatives who came before them and pray and give offerings to their ancestors. At the temple, the Tourounagashi ceremony is part of that tradition and buddhist monks chant over the ceremony as lay people let painted paper lanterns slide into Sumida river, carrying prayers for peace and rest for their deceased loved ones. Even deceased pets can be honored in this way. The ceremony in Tokyo is not very big, the more famous ones are held in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, as Obon coincides with the a-bomb remembrances over there. Other famous ones are held in Fukui, Kyoto, Niigata and Yokohama.
Not to worry about pollution and littering, this being Japan all the lanterns are collected as the are carried by the wind along the river by volunteer boat teams making sure not to add to the trash in the river. Speaking of trash, in the years I have lived in Tokyo the river has actually become markedly cleaner. I see less garbage and more birds in the river than before.
The quay from which the lanterns were launched were packed with people so I had to be content with staying up on the embankment. Maybe next time I’ll join the people offering lanterns and prayers.
As a bonus, one photo of the always magnificent Kaminariom, the huge paper lantern under the gate leading to Sensoji temple. Enjoy!
There’s festivals, and then there’s The Festival with a capital F, the biggest and happiest traditional festival in Japan is the massive Sanja Matsuri held in Tokyo’s historic Asakusa district every year. Millions of people and tens of thousands of omikoshi carriers make this the place to be if you are into festivals. I was going over this year’s Sanja Matsuri photos when I found these that illustrate well the “scrum” of the omikoshi, how people are jostling, arguing, joking and teasing their way into the omikoshi with sometimes several hundred members per omikoshi (portable shrine)! Quite different from more local festivals in smaller villages and cities where there’s usually just enough people to get by. And there’s not one of these omikoshi, there’s hundreds of them parading around. It’s easy to get lost in taking photos and ending up cornered between to buildings in the middle of the scrum unable to get out. I saw this parade of omikoshi headed by musicians and after them a mostly female omikoshi with some lovely looking ladies! Look at the last few photos to get an idea of the amount of people, and then imagine the whole city looking like this, several blocks in every direction! Sanja Matsuri is so big I have several friends who refuse to go there because of the crowds, but I don’t mind. Can’t wait for next year’s Sanja festival!
It’s not very new anymore but I still make a point to go up to the top floor every time I pass, the new tourist information building in front of Asakusa’s famous Kaminarimon, the entrance gate to the huge Sensoji temple. I took these photos at the Sanja festival earlier this month, just as the dozens of omikoshi, portable shrines, leave the temple through the main street and spill out on the big scramble street crossing. It was fun to see it all from above, as I have been down there in the middle of it all many times, trying not to get trampled by the rickshaw pullers, the busses, the police cars and the omikoshi! I think it was the first time I ever saw an omikoshi from above like this.