Asakusa – SkyTree – Akihabara
15.11.2014 16 °C
After an exciting week at the lab, I finally had the opportunity to explore Tokyo. My colleague gave me some tips on what parts to visit and where it is nice to eat. As I was still jet lagged I didn’t manage to get out of bed before noon so I made my way into the city rather late. Nevertheless it took me less time to arrive at my destination then google maps predicted.
My first stop, on suggestion of my colleague was Asakusa, one of the older parts of town, with still intact architecture not destroyed during war. The most prominent sight here is the Senso-ji, the oldest Buddhist Temple in Tokyo. Even the entrance gate Kaminarimon (Gate of thunder) is a sight to behold. Guarded by the statues of Fujin (God of Wind) and Raijin (God of Thunder, hence the name of the gate) the gate itself is “blocked” by a giant red lantern (chochin). However you can easily pass beneath the lantern and end up in the in the Nakamise-dori, a 250m street approaching the temple with loads of different vendors, ranging from tourist crap such as plastic Godzilla’s etc. to genuine Japanese jewelry, sweets and food. Before entering the actually temple grounds (Hondo) you have yet to pass another, even mightier gate, the Hozomon (Treasure House Gate), which as the name suggests, holds the treasures of the temple. Inside the Hondo there are many O-mikuji stalls at which, for a small donation of 100Yen, you can draw a random fortune and ask your questions and get answers form the divines. You basically shake a metallic box and draw a stick from it which states one of the 100 drawers from which you can take your fortune. Sadly I wasn’t quite so lucky and got a bad fortune, Oh well. Heading up to the actual temple I noticed a sort of little well like structure which people surrounded and lit incense sticks and put them in the sand. Furthermore a lot of people gathered and inhaled the smoke and tried to “wash” themselves with it. As I learned later the incense is supposed to clean the body of bad spirits before entering the temple and is believed to have healing powers if applied to a hurt part of the body. A little further I recognized the dragon fountain where people washed their hands and mouth before entering the temple. Needless to say that, ungracefully as I am, I managed to spill the water all over my shirt and almost my camera -.-
The actual temple building is impressive, especially the roof. Although the building itself is huge the actual area it covers is relatively small. The shrine is beautifully painted what you especially can see at the paintings at the ceiling. The Praying chamber is what really knocks your socks off however. Carefully crafted into the last detail and decorated with loads of ornaments. According to the legend, the temple was found by two fishermen who found a statue of the Kannon (a deity of mercy)in the Sumida river in 628.
Around the Temple itself there are many smaller shrines and a nice small garden with the obligatory Koi-carp pond. Also on the temple ground stands a five-story high pagoda. (To all the Pokémon fans out there: seems familiar? Hint: Ho-oh on the Sprout tower).
On my way back from the temple I tried my luck with some traditional Japanese food stand delicacies. Today’s choice was Takoyaki, which are sort round “pancakes” filled with octopus, topped with the takoyaki sauce, which reminds a little of Worchester sauce and mayonnaise. Yam!
Strolling through the rest of Asakusa and its lovely small shops I spot the Tokyo Sky Tree, the new landmark of Tokyo, and my new destination has been set. The walk to the sky tree was less exciting but I got a couple of nice shots of the architecture and the Sumida River. The closer you get to the sky tree the more you realize how big it actually is. With its 634.0 meter it is the tallest tower and second highest building (after Burj Khalifa) in the world and was finished in 2012. At the foot of this steel colossus of brilliant architecture there is (of course) a big mall and at this time of the year a …. well .. it’s supposed to be a Christmas market but with curry, Japanese sweets and mulled wine (red and WHITE!!!) it sort of gets lost in translation (nice try though). .At this height the view must be amazing but I wouldn’t know since I decided against going up there by standing 2 hours in a queue and paying almost 20€. Going to do that another time. Inside the mall I had my first encounter with the famous "Super" Toilets! Although as a gadget freak I am always open to new gimmics that make the world mor comfortable, I must admit that the heated seat is something to get used to (althogugh really nice in the winter) and the bidet (water cleaning) function is somewhat.... ehm well to be honest i sort of felt violated and will not touch that button ever again :D
On my way back home I spontaneously stopped at the famous electric town Akihabara. Next to all the electronic stores it is the Makkah for all Anime fans. Huge vans with prints on the side for new amine series starting soon, and big speakers drive up and down the street with the sole purpose of getting your attention and, after a while, driving you insane. Coming back to the electronic stores, it is true that they have a lot. However, it seems to be always the same chain store selling the same goods. Interesting to notice is that due to the fact that there are so many different providers of the same product, electronic companies in the Japan go for the proactive sales approach. While in Germany/Netherlands and many other European countries you get the feeling employees are actively avoiding you in an electronic store, in Japan you get the feeling that there are more salesperson than actual customers at the store, trying to convince you to buy their product, regardless of whether you already have an air-condition because theirs is definitely better. At least I think that’s what they were saying; it was in Japanese so I didn’t understand a word….. :D
After a long and exhausting day in Tokyo I went on my way home but not without treating myself to a nice dinner at Ikebukuro in a small restaurant with fried pork with noodles and some Chinese dumplings.
So that was my exciting first weekend at Tokyo and I hope there are many more to come. Since my internship finally starts to get going, I will keep it to shorter posts in the future but try to update more frequently. So long!