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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 (Asakusa – Part I) January 12, 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 “Tokyo (Asakusa – Part I)” complete with photos.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-ke

Asakusa is one of the must see places in Tokyo.  For any resident, however, it’s a place to avoid, unless you live in the area.  It’s a typical tourist location.  There is really only one thing to do in the area, but it can take up to half a day to complete it.  Asakusa itself is one of the oldest entertainment districts in Tokyo, and one of the oldest neighbourhoods.  If you take the Shitamachi bus line from Tokyo Station, you will essentially be travelling in the oldest areas of Tokyo once you reach Ueno.  You can see some of the oldest houses in the area if you know where to look.  You can also enjoy the beautiful Sensoji temple or shopping for very kitsch souvenirs.  Be aware that this being a tourist trap, you may want to keep a closer eye on your wallets and purses.  It can get very busy, which can bring out the pickpockets.  Do note that this is still Japan, so the chances of a pickpocket are still extremely low.

The best thing to do when arriving in Asakusa is to get there early, say 9 or 10am and head straight for Sensoji.  Head to exit 1 from the Ginza line and A4 from the Asakusa line.  From here, you can head straight to Kaminarimon, or Kaminari Gate.  This is the main entrance to Sensoji, and Nakamise Shopping Arcade.  This gate will be very busy and any pictures are sure to include other tourists.  This spot is also popular for hiring rickshaws.  Prices can vary and they are all eager to take you around the streets for a private tour.  Prices start at 5000 Yen for one person, for 30 minutes, 8000 Yen for two people, all the way up to 30,000 Yen for over 2 hours.  These people can be very colourful, but do your best to find someone who can speak English, at least a little, so that you can understand the history of the area better.  The gate itself is fairly large and lit up at night.  There are four large statues located within the gate.  The two facing the street are Shinto gods, while the opposing two are Buddhist gods.  While these are not the most fascinating statues in Japan, they are the easiest to access and it provides a taste of what you can see in other areas of Japan.

Once past the gate, you will be within the Nakamise Shopping Arcade area.  This area is where tourists tend to buy everything.  You can get things from key chains, head bands that say “Japan” with the rising sun logo, and even yukatas.  While you may think you are buying a kimono, do note that you are more than likely buying a basic yukata.  There are a few shops selling these clothes and they can be very beautiful.  It may not have a traditional print, but for most tourists, it’s still very popular.  You may even get a small deal if you buy a few of them as gifts.  If you are looking for real kimono, you would be looking at spending at least 100,000 Yen for a very basic one.  About half way up the street, there is a small branch leading to Shin-nakamise Shopping Arcade.  This one offers a more modern style shopping and it feels like you are in a smaller Japanese city.  There are shoe shops, drug stores, and various restaurants and snack shops.  It’s worth a quick romp, but do note that things probably won’t open until 10am.  Towards the end of Nakamise, there are lots of food shops selling Dorayaki, a pancake like sandwich with sweet red bean paste inside, and senbe, a Japanese rice cracker.  These places aren’t the cheapest, but they are very good and made fresh.  I’d suggest buying some if you want to try traditional Japanese junk food.

This is Part I of a II part series.  Please continue reading about Asakusa in Part II.

Asakusa Information:

Asakusa (Japan Guide):  http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e3004.html
Asakusa (Wikipedia):  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Asakusa
Asakusa (Wikitravel):  http://wikitravel.org/en/Tokyo/Asakusa
Asakusa (English):  http://www.asakusa-e.com/index_e.html
Asakusa (Japanese):  http://www.asakusa-e.com/index.html
Rickshaw Information (Japanese):  http://www.jidaiya.biz/kanko-j.html
Tokyo Shitamachi Bus:  http://www.kotsu.metro.tokyo.jp/english/bus_guide.html

Tokyo (Nippori) December 22, 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 (Nippori)” complete with pictures.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-iQ

Nippori is an overlooked area of Tokyo.  Most people who do venture to this area will more than likely pass straight through it.  It can be considered a focal gateway to Saitama, a residential city to the north of Tokyo.  There really isn’t much for the regular tourist, but there area a couple of interesting things to see and do that could warrant a visit.  The first would be the Fabric Town, and the other would be the Yanaka Cemetery.  The other main reason to visit Nippori is to head to Narita Airport.  It’s a popular transfer point for those on the west side of Tokyo who want to save some money by taking the Keisei Skyliner instead of the Narita Express.

The first thing to do in Nippori, would depend on your purpose.  If you want to see the cemetery, I’d recommend heading there first.  It’s a large area with a long history.  If you head to the southern exit, you will be near the central entrance of the cemetery.  From here, it’s a short walk up the hill to reach Tennoji Temple.  This is a nice little temple with a seated Buddha inside.  It’s actually a bit of a surprise as the outside appears somewhat modern and inside is a quaint little Buddhist Temple.  It’s a nice place to go and relax for a few minutes, but the temple itself is pretty small.  From there, you can head straight into the centre of the cemetery.  The entire cemetery is lined with cherry trees.  It is very beautiful in the spring as the entire area is bathed in pink from the cherry blossoms.  In the autumn, it’s the same, but with colourful leaves.  Yanaka Cemetery is also one of the most famous cemeteries in Japan with various writers, poets, politicians, and scholars.

Fabric town is located on the opposite side of Nippori Station.  It’s a short walk from the station, and a little difficult to find.  Look around the main entrance of the station, where all the taxis park, and you’ll find a few signs pointing you in the general direction.  You have to walk past a major street before you enter Fabric Town.  While it is called Fabric Town, it’s more or less of a street.  There are very few shops located off the street that sell fabric, so don’t worry about venturing off the main street.  Here, if you love to buy fabric of any type, this is the place to be.  You can find various patterns, colours, thread, accessories, and so on.  The fabric can come in silk, polyester, cotton, and even leather.  If you love arts and crafts, enjoy sewing, or just looking for a good costume idea, this is a great place to get started.  Metres of fabric can start at 100 yen each.  Often, there are spools of fabric just sitting in bins in front of each shop inviting you to enter.  Once inside, you’ll have to decide what you want, how much you are willing to spend, and how to bring it home.  Husbands beware, if your wife loves sewing and crafts, you might want to drop her off and head over to Ueno for a little shopping, or even Akihabara to look at more electronics.

Other than that, there really isn’t much to see or do around the station.  There are a few shops to visit, some izakayas and restaurants, but other than that, it’s a pretty boring place.  The only interesting shop would be the Edwin store.  They have a large shop located in front of the station where you can buy all of their latest jeans.  Edwin is a Japanese jean maker whose headquarters are located at the end of Fabric Town.  It is akin to Evisu jeans, although Edwin is not as big, nor as popular as Evisu.  Either way, happy shopping.

Nippori Information:

Nippori (An article about an area that I barely visited in Nippori): http://www.nihonsun.com/2009/06/01/nippori-shopping-street-a-shotengai-worth-a-visit/
Nippori:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nippori_Station
Yanaka Cemetery:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yanaka_Cemetery
Fabric Town Blog Post:  http://www.askingfortrouble.org/crafts/2007/11/02/tokyo-shopping-guide-tomato/
Edwin Jeans:  http://www.edwin.co.jp/index.html


Happy New Year January 1, 2009

Posted by Dru in Uncategorized.
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Author’s Note:  Dru’s Misadventures has moved to HinoMaple.  Please venture on over there to read “Happy New Year” complete with pictures.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-6c

Happy New Year!!!

It is now 2009, in Tokyo.  This is the first year of my blog,  but my 4th New Year in Japan.  New Year’s in Japan is a very different experience compared to Canada.  I’d say that it’s much more boring.  Of course, if you have a lot of foreigner friends, and they happen to be in Japan at the same time, it can be fun, but generally, there isn’t much to see or do.  I recommend avoiding this time if you are planning to visit Japan.  There are only a few exceptions.

In Japan, you generally have 5 days of holidays before you head back to work.  This season, we’ll have 6 days, due to the orientation of the week.  Many people will actually have 9 days as Monday is also a holiday.  Traditionally, the end of the year is spent doing many things.  It begins on December first.  Many people go to bonenkai parties.  These are essentially the same as any other Year End Party or Christmas Party, however, in Japan, these are still a little different.  Some people will go to a party every week.  Others, just one.  The most I heard was someone had to go to a party almost everyday before the holidays.  These Year End Parties aren’t easy either.  While it may sound easy, you have to remember that you are drinking until you nearly throw-up, and quite often you go beyond that.  You also have to function normally at work the next day as well.  While you may think that these parties can be “skipped”, many times, people go to parties that their clients are holding.  If they don’t go to these parties, they could be seen as not being a team player, or not caring for their own clients.

The actual holidays start around December 30th.  The end of the year is generally a very busy time to take a train or plane out of Japan.  If you plan to go from Tokyo to Osaka, or Hokkaido, and vice versa, you will have a very tough time.  Prices are increased for planes, and chances of getting a spot on a Shinkansen could be impossible.   Everyone usually goes home at least once during the holidays.  The best people go home for the entire holiday, whether they want to or not.  The other major thing to do for the last two days of the year is to clean up.  Unlike North America, Japanese people do their “Spring Cleaning” at the end of the year.  In this time, people tend to just throw away old junk and clean behind the shelves.  Depending on the house, it could take a day, or it could take five days.

On New Year’s Eve, there are no parties.  If you are a foreigner, you can always have your own party, but if you are planning to go out, good luck.  Most shops close early, and almost nothing is open after 9 pm.   There is only one interesting thing to do, if it’s your first time in Japan.  Go to a temple or shrine.  Meiji Jingu is the most famous in the West.  Thousands of people go throughout the night and literally throw money towards the shrine.  Dozens of guards are lined up and the police work all night helping you be orderly.  There are other temples and shrines to visit, but I have never been to any of the major ones.  Visiting a local shrine is much easier, but not as exciting.  It does provide a very interesting insight into what could be normal for other Japanese people.

On January 1st, there is absolutely nothing to do.  Some major electronics shops and restaurants may open, but generally, just stay home.  After, you can enjoy the shopping bonanza.  The first two days after the new year is Japan’s biggest sale time.  It’s akin to Black Friday in America and Boxing Day in Canada.  The morning of January 2nd, there are usually lines of people waiting to enter every shop.  Deals can be had for almost everything.  If you are strong, and brave, you can easily enjoy the shopping and the hunt for bargains.  If not, try to go a week later.  Sales tend to last for the entire month, but pickings can be slim after the first week.  The first day is the best in terms of selection, and obviously things get worse from there.  There is another interesting thing you can buy.  “Fukubukuro”.  These are “lucky bags”.  Hundreds, if not thousands of people will line up  at various shops to buy these lucky backs.  To buy one of these bags, you can spend as little as 5000 yen and as much as 500,000 yen.  You will often get double the price you paid, but there is one catch.  You don’t know what you are getting.  They just sell sealed bags stuffed with goods and you have to hope you get something nice.  Recently, there have been more and more bags where you can see what is inside.  If you are worried about size, they usually have signs that say who they are for.  In most cases, only certain people buy them.  Most people don’t.

Once January 4th comes around, things return to normal, relatively, and people go back to work and enjoy working hard.

I hope you all have a safe and Happy New Year.

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