Tokyo is a huge, sprawling, swarming city. A day is maybe enough to see and experience one district, but not in depth. On our first day we took a walk towards the center of the city. We ran into a shrine almost immediately.
This one was fairly small, like a large garden. After the walk through the the torii gates comes the shrine itself, and on the deck a small box for donations and a large rope attached to a bell for prayers. For those like me who were not acquainted with the required ritual, the temple provides a handy guide.
The order is important if you’re trying to be respectful and do it right, but as a foreigner you get a million and a half chances to mess up, so no one will bat an eye if you do it wrong. They may think of you as a silly foreigner however.
Along our route to the center of town we went through a long local park, bike path, greenery, and even a small fishing area. There retirees, mostly old guys, fished in a pre-seeded river segment.
While we were there they caught one! Natalie chatted with them for a bit while I smiled and nodded. While the park was a peaceful space, it was littered with memorials from the war – in one segment the remaining pylons of a bridge were maintained and enshrined with a plaque.
We stopped for lunch at a very typical fast-diner sort of place. Small and quick, they serve set meals of different combinations of marinated beef, rice, curry, and noodle soup. I chose what would remain one of my favorite (and most affordable) meals, the sliced beef with rice. Slightly sweet in flavor it’s very filling and tasty.
Natalie had the curry and rice, a spicy and flavorful dish not as fully developed as the katsu curry you might get at a more expensive establishment, but still good.
Before long we wound up in Asakusa, a district in central Tokyo, and entered the Senso-ji, an enormous Bhuddhist temple. One of the main gates contains an amazingly large lantern and is both a tourist attraction and a completely functional and oft-visited temple. In Japan the Bhuddism and Shinto live side by side and most Japanese follow the traditions of both. The Torri gates are associated with Shinto, while the more traditional ‘temple’ style is associated with Bhuddist. Many families have a shrine to each in their house, and the people pray at both sites regularly.
One of the fun things to do at temples is to get your fortune – omikuji. For tourists this is fun, for believers it can be a genuine question asking. You pay a small fee, usually about 100 yen (or close to a dollar) and shake a box of sticks.
As you shake you think of your question, and then when you pull out a stick it directs you to one of these drawers. Inside is..
Your fortune! Or prediction, or answer. The translation is kind of vague on the details, a bit like a horoscope, but the short of it that, in regards to your question, either things will go great, ok, badly, or very badly. There’s also some life advice on there and if you look up your sign you can get a horoscope prediction.
If you like your fortune, great! Keep it. If you don’t though, you can wish it away by tying it to one of the many lines strung around the area, and let the wind blow away your bad luck. There are many, many of these tied fortunes around the temple.
To wrap up the day we visited a small mall, and inside was a Seria! A Seria is like a dollar store in Japan – everything is 100 yen. Unlike a typical dollar store though, the stuff they stock is usually of usable quality, and is sometimes a steal. They’re a great place to get usb cables and the like, as well as fancy looking but inexpensive chopsticks. The kid’s sticks are fun but pretty flimsy when it comes to actual use.
With that we returned to our ‘hotel’ in Sumida, which was both affordable and bewilderingly tiny. We are also pretty sure it moonlighted as a brothel.