A few years ago when the world famous Sensoji temple in Tokyo got a major face lift the the site became the undisputed tourist mecca of Japan, rivaled perhaps only by the Shibuya street crossing. Still, at least in my eyes the grand Asakusa temple wins in my book. Most tourists flock there during the day to enjoy the shops, souvenirs, eateries and throngs of people. Personally I much prefer the temple well after closing time, after the crowds are gone and the temple structures are bathed in a wonderfully warm red light. When I guide friends and relatives around Tokyo I always make sure to include a last stop at the Sensoji, before heading back home.
My visit last Friday on the last half hour of the last day of this years Hagoita market gave me a few more photos I would like to share. These hagoita they sell are just so lovely, and all hand assembled (so no two should be perfectly identical) by different traditional merchants. Some day I would like to live in such a way that having one of these on my home shrine would be completely natural.
Sensoji temple is one of (if not the most) most popular tourists attractions in Japan and as such it is constantly crowded with huge crowds of people. I actually prefer to visit late, as late as possible to see the gorgeously lit up temple grounds with fewer people to distract me. On this cold December evening it was around nine in the evening but still plenty of people around!
Last week saw the three day annual Hagoita Market at Tokyo’s famous Sensoji Temple in Asakusa. I was late this year, only arriving at the last half hour of the last of the three days, very few people and a lot of the items already gone, a little bit different from the last time I visited back in 2012. The Hagoita a flat “rackets” or boards used to play a traditional game during the New Year’s season. Over time the haogita rackets got more and more decorated and these days you can see some giant ones absolutely not suitable for playing with. There are also a few stands selling the more traditional flat and simple boards along with the feathered balls that go with them. Although too late for this year, if you are in Tokyo in December next year pleas go have a look! More photos to come!
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.