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Temples of Tokyo – Part I [Sensoji] February 9, 2010

Posted by Dru in Japan, Kanto, Tokyo, Travel.
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Author’s Note:  Dru’s Misadventures has moved to HinoMaple.  Please venture on over there to read “Temples of Tokyo – Part I [Sensoji]” complete with photos.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-gh

When people think of Japanese temples, they think of Kyoto.  Not everyone has a chance to go to Kyoto.  If you only have a week in Japan, sometimes you can’t afford the time to go to Kyoto.  While it can be done in a day using the shinkansen, sometimes it’s much better to just relax and visit a few temples around Tokyo.  That way, you can take your time and save a lot of money on train fares.  In Tokyo, most tourists will only visit two temples; Sensoji in Asakusa, and Meiji Jingu in Harajuku.  Technically, Meiji Jingu is not a temple, but a shrine dedicated to the Japanese religion of Shinto.  Often overlooked is the temple called Zojoji.  It is much smaller than the other two, but due to it being left off most major tour books, it’s a great place to see a temple without the hustle and bustle of the other two tourist spots.

The first things to know when talking about temples and shrines are, what is a temple, and what is a shrine?  In a few simple words, a temple is dedicated to Buddha and a shrine is dedicated to a Shinto god.  It can be very difficult to know which is which, but in Japan, the easiest way to tell the difference is to look for the torii.  If there is a torii gate, a wooden archway near the entrance, it’s a shrine.  If there is a pagoda, or a huge statue of a Buddhist deity, it’s a temple.  In reality, there is no easy way to distinguish one from the other without research or looking at everything extensively.  Generally speaking, once you see a few of the temples and shrines, you tend to understand what the others will look like.  After visiting the these three temples in Tokyo, you don’t have to visit Kyoto, but as always, things are always slightly different, or they might have that one unique factor that makes it stand out.  Kyoto is still a very important place in Japan, and it’s still highly recommended.  If you don’t have time to make it out there, don’t feel too sad, but if you do have time, I would always recommend heading there.

Sensoji is probably the most visited temple in Tokyo, and the oldest.  When arriving at Asakusa station, it’s very easy to get disoriented.  They have finished some remodelling of the station to make it easier for people to find their way to the temple, but once you are on the street, you can still be a little disoriented.  Finding your way to Nakamise Shopping Street is the best way to get to the temple.  There is a large Buddhist style gate called Kaminarimon, with two large wooden statues inside protecting the temple.  This is the start of the shopping street, and the approach to the temple itself.  The shopping street is great for the usual souvenirs that you’ll need when you go home, so be sure to buy everything here.  Other areas of Tokyo don’t always offer this type of touristy garb.  You can easily buy rice crackers and yukatas, along with other cheesy Japanese stuff.  Do note that most Japanese people will only buy food, and rarely, if ever, buy the other stuff.  The temple itself is beautifully bathed in red paint.  Being a big tourist attraction, you can buy an “Omikuji”, which is a fortune.  They generally include English.  First, put your money into the donation box; then shake a large metal tin.  After shaking, turn the tin upside down and shake it until you get a stick.  This stick tells you which drawer to open to get your fortune.  It’s pretty simple and once you are there, you can watch others do it first and just copy them.  They should have English on the reverse of the fortune, or a translation somewhere nearby.  Do note that if you get one with okay, or bad luck, you are supposed to tie it to a post so that it doesn’t follow you.  If you have good luck, you are supposed to keep it in your wallet for one year.  Next, you can enter the temple itself.  There really isn’t much to see.  When you enter, you can only stay in the front entrance portion of the main hall.  Here, you can toss some money into the donation box and pray for whatever you like.  Also note that it’s better to throw a coin with a hole in it as it’s considered lucky.  5 and 50 yen coins are the only coins to have a hole in them.

This is Part I of a two part series.  To continue reading about the Temples of Tokyo, continue to Part II.


http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e2058.html (About Temples)
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sensō-ji (About Sensoji)
http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e3001.html (More about Sensoji)



Tokyo (Harajuku) [Part I – Shrines, People, and Shopping] September 29, 2009

Posted by Dru in Japan, Kanto, Tokyo, Travel.
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Author’s Note:  Dru’s Misadventures has moved to HinoMaple.  Please venture on over there to read “Tokyo (Harajuku) [Part I – Shrines, People, and Shopping]” complete with pictures.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-gb

Harajuku is a place where you can see almost everything Tokyo has to offer in a small compact area.  You will be able to see the old Japan, namely Meji Jingu, one of the quietest and biggest shrines in Tokyo.  You can also see almost every type of fashion that Japanese boys and girls love.  You have the goth lolitas, cheap and trendy, hip hop, and expensive and glamorous.  Harajuku was popularized in Gwen Stefani’s “Love. Angel. Music. Baby.” album that was released in 2004.  This included four back up dancers of Japanese descent who dressed in a stylized Harajuku style.  While their style is far from what you’ll see in Harajuku itself, Harajuku’s fashion can easily be said to be the inspiration to the Harajuku Girls fashion.

If you head to Harajuku, I’d recommend going early and having a nice walk around Meiji Jingu.  It is a long walk from the station to the main temple, but it’s much better in the morning when it isn’t too hot.  The opposite can also be said about the temple in the winter time.  Going in the afternoon when it’s a little warmer might be better.  It’s best to avoid this temple in the rain.  I will write about Meiji Jingu in greater detail in a future post.

Most people who visit Harajuku go for one major reason.  They want to see all of the goth lolitas.  Several years ago, there were lots of people in Harajuku that dressed up in gothic style clothes, or even as lolitas.  It’s not uncommon to see people in maid outfits as well.  If you do a search for Japanese Punk, or Goth music, you can see a sampling of what some people wear in Harajuku.  By and far, the biggest name in Japanese Punk, although you could say glam rock or “visual-kei” is Gakt.  He is a very eccentric man who is a bit of a narcissist.  Unfortunately, I haven’t seen too many people dressed up in Harajuku.  I’m guessing that the police have cracked down and forced them to find a new place to hang out.  They may have also been pushed out by the tourists and their inability to just enjoy themselves.  I would imagine that there are still many of them hanging about around 5pm on weekdays, and in the afternoons on the weekend.  You may even be lucky to find a few people with signs promoting “Free Hugs”.  This was a popular thing to do for these kids a few years ago, and a few people still do it.  Today, I tend to notice more foreign people dressed up as goth lolitas rather than Japanese people.  If you are still interested in looking for these people, the best place to see them is on a small bridge leading to Meiji Jingu.  If you don’t see many people, aside from the tourists, you came at the wrong time, or the wrong day.  Diligence is very important if you must see them.

The most famous street in Harajuku is Takeshita Street.  It’s located in front of the Takeshita Exit from the station.  This street is about 400 metres and closed to all traffic.  At all times of the day, this street is crowded.  On weekends, you’ll be lucky to move up or down the street without breathing down someone’s neck.  It’s a very hectic street that isn’t for the light hearted.  However, this is the centre of the teenage fashion in Harajuku.  You’ll be able to see everything from maid outfits, to S&M style clothing, and even some cosplay outfits.  One of the more famous things to do is to line up and buy a crepe.  Being the teen heaven that it is, crepes are the perfect date food, or just a nice desert with friends.  It’s far from the French version of crepes.  These crepes are a little heavier, rolled with lots of cream and stuffed with a few pieces of fruit.  You can also buy savoury crepes with ham, lettuce, or even cheese.  If teen fashion isn’t really your thing, but finding a good deal is, look north along Takeshita Street and somewhere along the middle of the street, you’ll find Togo Shrine.  This shrine, in and of itself, isn’t that important.  However, if you are there on first Sunday of the month, it’s worth a short visit to see the flea market.  It is famously known for selling antique furniture, but you can also find a lot of interesting old things that aren’t priced at flea market prices.  Do feel free to bargain, but don’t expect them to do too much.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Meiji_Shrine (About Meiji Shrine)
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Harajuku_Girls (Information about Harajuku Girls)

This is Part I of a II part series.  For more on Harajuku, continue reading Part II.


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