Kami Watch Over Me (Japan Day 14 – Tokyo)

Friday, Nov 04 2022 (Day 14)

Table of Contents

ට  Day 0 – Thursday, Oct 20 2022 to Friday Oct 21 2022 – Flight from Edmonton to Tokyo
ට  Day 1 – Saturday, Oct 22 2022 – Tokyo, Saitama, Ikebukuro
ට  Day 2 – Sunday, Oct 23 2022 – Autumn Reitaisai 9, Shinjuku
ට  Day 3 – Monday, Oct 24 2022 – Akihabara
ට  Day 4 – Tuesday, Oct 25 2022 – Hakone
ට  Day 5 – Wednesday, Oct 26 2022 – Kamakura, Enoshima Island
ට  Day 6 – Thursday, Oct 27 2022 – Hanno
ට  Day 7 – Friday, Oct 28 2022 – Shinkoiwa
ට  Day 8 – Saturday, Oct 29 2022 – Akihabara, Matsudo City
ට  Day 9 – Sunday, Oct 30 2022 – M3-2022秋, Moto-Yawata
ට  Day 10 – Monday, Oct 31 2022 – Akasaka, Shimokitazawa, Shibuya Halloween
ට  Day 11 – Tuesday, Nov 01 2022 – Shinjuku, Sophia University
ට  Day 12 – Wednesday, Nov 02 2022Sophia University, Kabukicho
ට  Day 13 – Thursday, Nov 03 2022 – Shinjuku Loft
ට  Day 14 – Friday, Nov 04 2022 – Shinjuku, Hanazono/Asakusa Tori no Ichi, Sensō-ji (You are here)

Shinjuku

This was my last full day in Tokyo until near the very end of the trip, unless I get tired of travelling around at some point during my shinkansen jaunts.  A chunk of this day was againn spent on work as well, and another chunk on blog-writing, so I didn’t leave the hotel room until close to noon. When I finally ventured out, my first order of business was lunch. I had seen a Singapore restaurant named Hainan Chi Fan nearby that I wanted to try out, so I headed over that way.

Once I was seated, they sent me a small bowl of complimentary salad before I even started ordering:

Interesting. That was.. okay. I’m not big on salad. I then browsed through their menu:

They had Fried Hokkien Mee, my favourite dish, but the helping looked really small, and I had already primed myself for having Hainanese Chicken Rice (or their variation thereof, they just called it Singapore Chicken Rice, but the Hainan part was in their name), so I passed over the tempting noodles and ordered the half-and-half chicken rice set instead, where half of it was steamed like normal Hainanese Chicken Rice, and half was fried.

This was pretty great, and the sticky soy sauce and chilli were authentic. The ginger-garlic mix was not, I had never tasted anything quite like that, but it was pretty good and went decently well with everything else nonetheless, I guess a local variation that they make. Yum!

After lunch, I headed down to Shinjuku yet again, to pick up a new data SIM card from a different provider, Sakura Mobile. This one was more expensive, about 10000 yen or so, but offered an “unlimited” (there is a rolling 3-day usage cap but quite a high one, throttles if you cross the limit instead of cutting off connection, and only throttles at night) data plan, which seemed good because I might be travelling to some places or on some trains without free wi-fi soon, and my current data SIM card was about to run out already. I passed by a really weird six pronged overhead bridge along the way, and it was hard to take a picture to do it justice.

It was shaped like a bent wire with three or four different straight segments, and seven or so different entry/exit stairs since it stretched over a particularly complex intersection. It was apparently called the Shintoshinhodokyo or something like that..

I then reached the office after some time trying to pinpoint it, as the signs were not very clear. It was on the 9th floor of a building, and there was a scribble wall inside the office filled with guest scribbles, that I took pictures of while I was waiting. I did not add a note though as I didn’t end up waiting long since I had a pre-scheduled appointment.

I then started to head over toward one of my two target locations for the day.I got waylaid by a store that I passed by on the way though, as one of my online friends, who goes by Oaisa, had requested me to get a Kuromi plushie from Hello Kitty for her if I saw one. The store I ran across was a Baskin Robbins and Hello Kitty collaboration, and I contacted her as she was online, sending her a bunch of pictures, and she eventually decided on one that she really liked, which I got for her.

Not sure how I’m going to bring her along with me though, she’s going to be a little squished in my bags. But she’s cute, even though Hello Kitty has never really been my cup of tea. I also bought an ice cream from Baskin Robbins,

Since I had also already done the item purchase, this gave me some sort of Hello Kitty collaboration card that I’ll scan and then give to her once I get home to Edmonton. Tigey also wanted in on the festivities, so he did this:

I then finally pulled away from the shop. Outside, I saw a truck branded with some sort of male idol group, conveniently stopped at an intersection while waiting to turn right. The truck was blasting out one of their songs as well and it reminded me of guerilla live shows from several anime shows that I’ve watched, where the sides of the truck would open up and the band would be inside the truck, with their instruments or backing band, ready for a random live performance. Alas it was not meant to be, as this truck just moved on.

Hanazono Tori no Ichi

Anyway, I eventually reached the festival grounds for the Hanazono Tori no Ichi. For some explanation on this, Tori no Ichi, or Rooster Market, is held on every Day of the Rooster in November. The days in a year (apparently) rotate through the zodiac cycle as well, so Day of the Rooster happens once every 12 days, and depending on how the math turns out, this means that there are either two or three Rooster days in November each year. During these auspicious November Rooster days, festival stalls pop up around temples, with a bunch of stalls being set up to sell kumade, or bamboo rakes, that people buy and bring back to their home, and place in an auspicious spot, in order for good luck and prosperity (or whatever the blessing on the kumade is, they seemed to have different phrases and wishes on them) in the coming year.

There are several pictures of these stalls in the upcoming photo dump, and it was also a common sight to see people carrying small or large ones away from the market. This one below was just a medium sized one, some were mounted on large sticks that the person hoisted away on their shoulder.

When certain purchases were made, the festival vendors would also yell out and clap their hands a few times in a ritualistic manner that seemed to be for blessing the kumade before the new owner took it away, this happened fairly frequently, about once every five minutes or so, for as long as I hung around the part of the festival that sold these bamboo rakes. I’m not familiar with the actual custom though, but I think it’s something to do with particularly large or “auspicious” rakes. There’s apparently a whole haggling custom that goes hand in hand with these purchases too but there was no way that these were going to fit into my bags and survive the journey home, so I obviously had no need to buy one.

There were also boxes near the front of the temple festival grounds where people could bring their kumade from last year to dispose of it before going off to buy a new one. According to the temple, that was the preferred method of getting rid of them, similar to how one is supposed to bring your lucky talismans back after a year and get a new one. Though if this was not possible, they said it was okay to dismantle it and get rid of it normally depending on local trash ordinances. Such a box looks like the left one here (the right one being some sort of offering box):

There were two main temples that hold these Tori no Ichi festivals in Tokyo, Hanazono Shrine in Shinjuku, whose festival event is called Hanazono Tori no Ichi, and Chōkokuji Temple in Asakusa, whose festival event is called Asakusa Tori no Ichi. Supposedly the Asakusa one was better, but the Hanazono one was certainly a lot closer, especially since I had come to Shinjuku area again for the fourth straight day, so i went there first.

It was very obvious once I reached the area. There was a middle square of shops selling the kumade bamboo rakes, all selling differently-sized, glittering rakes next to each other, and a larger ring of stalls around that middle square, by and large selling food. The food ranged from yakisoba, to takoyaki, to okonomiyaki, to buttered potatoes, to various meats on a stick (there was lots of squid in particular), to sweets like candy floss, candy apples, and chocolate bananas, and more yet. Prices for the same item across different stalls were exactly the same, i.e. all yakisoba was 500 yen, no matter which stall one bought it from, and so on. There were also a couple carnival game stalls too, but not a lot — there was exactly one goldfish stall, one prize shooting gallery, and one net scoop thing, off the top of my head, and maybe a couple others I either missed or have forgotten.

The wall of lanterns was quite something though. I also had one festival stall food item here, this osakayaki, which I gathered was Osakan-style okonomiyaki, from a stall named Shitamachi Meibutsu.

Transit from Hanazono to Asakusa

But all too soon, I had exhausted walking the length of Hanazono Tori no Ichi, as it wasn’t particularly huge, especially since I wasn’t in the market for any bamboo rakes, nor did I want to get in line for temple donations or blessings/talismans here. That was alright though, as there was another temple festival to visit still.

The other version of the festival, the Asakusa Tori no Ichi, was held in the area surrounding Chokokuji Temple. The only issue with this is that there are two Chokokuji temples in Tokyo that turn up on Google Maps — one with the 長國寺 kanji in Taito City, and one with the 長谷寺 kanji in Minato City, near Shibuya. The first one is the correct one, but Google Maps tried to send me to the wrong one at first. I knew the location it gave me was in the wrong general area of Tokyo though, so that didn’t fool me.

What did fool me was sleepiness and apparently a bit of a food coma, as my route took me from Shinjuku-Sanchome Station to Ginza Station using the very familiar by now Marunouchi Line, and then using a new line I had never taken called the Hibiya Line, I had a ten stop ride to Iriya Station, which would put me in the vicinity of the correct Chokokuji Temple. The first part of the journey was okay, and Ginza Station was extremely pretty:

I dozed off the during the Hibiya Line part though, and ended up on a very crowded train past the end of the line, as the train going along the Hibiya Line had transitioned into another line, the Tobu Skytree Line, and continued on after reaching the end of the Hibiya Line. I ended up at a random station named Gotanno Station when I got down, a quiet, residential station a little ways into Adachi City, about five stops past where I was meant to get off. It was breezy and felt great waiting on that platform after a quick nap.

So that was a fun side track. I should mark down all the stations I’ve been to/passed through on a map at some point. Several trains passed by poor Gotanno before one local train stopped, and thankfully that was the right train that I needed to take, since it looked like there were several possible paths that incoming trains could take due to some splits further on along the line. Soon enough, I was back on my way, and I alighted at Iriya Station.

It wasn’t a very big station, and wasn’t exactly the nearest station to the temple either, I found out eventually, but it wasn’t much further and it was the right combination of price and speed to get where I needed to be, I like walking after all.

 

Asakusa Tori no Ichi

Anyway, by hook or by crook, I was finally in Asakusa! The place name I kept on mixing up with Akasaka, where I was currently staying. The first part of my walk was quiet, but it was very obvious once I was approaching the temple where the festival was being held:

This one had long lines of lanterns leading a steady stream of people to the event, police officers guiding people along the streets and across traffic-blocked roads, and even a loudspeaker, reminiscent of Shibuya on Halloween, crooning out things like “Kyou wa Asakura Tori no Ichi desu neeee” and transitioning into other police announcements like being careful and (I think) where and when the event was. It was an all day and night event, according to its website, with the earliest vendors setting up the previous evening and many of them scheduled to be open past midnight tonight. I wasn’t going to spend THAT long here, but I certainly was going to be here until the sun set, at least, since that was less than an hour away.

The front of the temple looked like this:

The inside also had a wall of lanterns, as well as a veritable sea of people that could have rivalled Shibuya Scramble at Halloween.

And that was just the crowd lining up to make donations at the central altar! The portion of the market selling kumade rakes here was close to the size of the entire Hanazono Tori no Ichi itself, to the point that it took me a while to find the other festival stalls. I just wasn’t thinking big enough, they were in the surrounding streets around this central bamboo rake market, making a huge ring around it, and further extending off along the southern main road toward the actual Asakusa station.

The entire thing was huge, I believe this Asakusa Tori no Ichi was easily about 6-8 times the size of Hanazono Tori no Ichi. And although the crowd wasn’t quite as thick around the outside stalls as it was around the temple altar, there were still easily several thousand people walking past and browsing the stalls there at any one time, dodging and weaving past each other amidst cries of “irasshaimaseeee!” from vendors who had no current customers. While there was practically no one in kimonos or yukatas, there were lots and lots of children, grandparents, salarymen, young adults, flocks of schoolgirls and schoolboys, boy and girl pairs out on dates, and even a decent number of dogs on leashes or being carried along.

The variety of stalls were also higher here — I don’t believe there was anything in the Hanazono market that wasn’t also here, unless you count variations like that Osakayaki, but there were definitely food and game booths here that were not at Hanazono, like kebab stalls, toppogi stalls, little portable pachinko-like machines, random number games for prizes, and the hexagonal Japanese lottery ball machines. Though the prices for everything was pretty fixed across all the different stores as well, there were just a lot more options for all the food as well as the games in general, just due to sheer numbers. In addition, several of the shops that opened onto the streets that the festivals were being held on capitalized on this by being open, offering people the use of their benches and tables while also selling things like soup or alcohol.

Was it obvious I liked this place very much? This checked off one major item from my bucket list, the night market, even if I would have preferred if it was a summer festival or a permanent night market. I’m sure I’ll experience both of those in the future, though.

I bought two pieces of food here, one being a hashimaki, which is apparently an okonomiyaki wrapped around a pair of chopsticks (which are called hashi in Japanese), with a half-fried egg (concealed by toppings in the picture) on top of it:

That was 400 yen and was very interesting and delicious — half of it was eaten like an ice cream cone since it was wrapped around the chopsticks, but it was too heavy for the thing so the other half had dropped off onto the oil paper, but that was fine as the chopsticks could then be peeled apart and the rest of it picked up like one normally would with those chopsticks. Finally, I had some yakisoba as well, for 500 yen:

Most of the vendors asked “ima taberu?” when I bought something from them, inquiring whether I was going to eat it there or bring it home. For those buying to bring home, which was a significant portion of the festival-goers, they got a rubberband around the box (or got a box in general if it was normally given out on paper or packets).

I wandered around the festival for slightly over an hour before I left, having followed the stalls south toward Asakusa Station. The stalls soon opened out to regular commercial areas:

At this point, I reached the station, and I meant to go home. However, it was not yet to be. This station was the Asakusa Station for the Tsukuba Express line, which was a separate line that I would have had to take to Akihabara, and then transfer to another line to get home, and it seemed like I would have to double dip on fares so it would end up being a 400 yen or so trip. I was feeling cheap after spending some money on festival food, and besides, I saw that one of the exits from this Tsukuba Express station, heading in the direction of the regular Asakusa Station (where I would be able to take the regular Tokyo Metro Ginza Line home for around 200 yen), actually passed by Sensōji Temple.

Sensōji Temple is the main temple to Kannon, or Kwanyin, the Goddess of Mercy, which my extended and direct family follows or at least deeply respects. It’s apparently the oldest temple in Tokyo, and although my sister alerted me to possibly visiting it if I had time, I was not actually planning to as it was not on my way to anything and I had no plans to visit that part of Asakusa initially. I tend to be rather free-wheeling and deciding my itinerary as I go, only setting broad goals and often going a different way on the fly if some street looks interesting, so Sensōji wasn’t even on my radar up until I was leaving the wrong Asakusa Station and heading to the correct one and realized that it was on the way. Well, I wasnt going to say no to fate, so I headed that way.

The temple itself was gorgeous at night, especially since I could also see Tokyo Skytree in the background: Apparently it’s one of the main pilgrimage sites in Japan — it actually is claimed to be the most visited temple in Japan and the most-frequented spiritual site in the world, but I don’t know how to verify that. However, I do know that it was sparse but still active even late at night, and it looks gorgeous when lit up with lanterns.

And whoa, the temple. i had chills as I approached. Oddly enough, it started to drizzle as I left Asakusa Station and headed over here, only the second time since I came to Japan that it had rained, with the first time also being a drizzle at night and the early morning on one of the first days when I was in my Takadanobaba lodging. It drizzled a little right up until I got to the temple and queued up for the shrine to toss my 100 yen offering into the altar and make a wish. The drizzle then stopped somewhere around then. Kami’s watching over me?

The Nakamise-dori shops that line the street leading up to the temple looked great at night too, even though they were mostly closed. I liked the way the leaves that lean over the shop eaves were illuminated.

The street eventually opened up into a covered shopping street and then the correct Asakusa Station, where I took the Ginza line home.

Although I got home somewhat early this evening, I had a little bit of trouble at night trying to find a hotel for my next place the following day, since I hadn’t really booked the details of my trip out any further in advance, and hadnt realized that it was much harder to find lodging in smaller cities and towns outside of the Tokyo region. I’ll leave the results of all that for the next blog post though.

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