Asakusa is one of the most impressive and memorable neighborhoods in Tokyo. At the heart of the area are the grandiose shinto shrine Asakusa and the equally impressive buddhist temple Senso-ji.
The area is bustling with all kinds of people: young people dressed in traditional outfits tiptoe past fat Buddha statues while locals try to find a moment of peace amid thousands of tourists chasing after some artificial spirituality to their vacation.
Naturally I joined those thousands. At the front of the temple you can get your fortune foretold. Mine was all good: Just like the full moon on the 15th at night, your future will be full brilliant.
The inner courtyard of the shrine has a steaming pot surrounded by people frantically flailing their arms in the air. Here you can bless yourself (or your dog, as I saw some people in front of me do) with incense. The atmosphere around the pot can get hectic, there’s a real elbow race to get to the incense. This just tells me they must do some good if people are willing to fight to get to them!
And no, those are not swastikas on the incense – that’s manji, the Japanese symbol for a temple!
Souvenirs and Treats on Nakamise Street
If the atmosphere around the incense pot feels hectic at times, just getting to the temple can feel like an uphill climb. To get to the area, you have to first elbow your way through the always crowded Nakamise, which for some reason seems to contain at least 30% of the Chinese population at any given time.
This tribulation is made somewhat more pleasant by the fact that both sides of the street are lined with little shops and stalls selling all sorts of things, including food!
I was so excited about all the options I probably tried ten different things, most of them some kind of sweet variation of rice and red bean paste. There are also great and calm teahouses on the side alleys of Nakamise, where the local teamasters are happy to tell you everything about the local tea varieties. They can talk for 30 minutes without taking a breath, in Japanese of course, and they don’t really mind if you only speak about two words of the language yourself!