Approaching Asakusa from a different angle…

Senso-ji in Asakusa is probably Tokyo’s most famous temple, and I have visited there a number of times. However, this time (on 15th April) I approached it from a whole different angle and saw things in a new way.

I usually approach the bold red temple gate from the “main entrance”, by which I mean the street that leads from the closest subway station (Asakusa on the Ginza Line). This time, I was walking from Ueno via Kappabashi-dori, so I came to Asakusa slightly from the side instead of the front.

Before I hit the temple, I came across this inspiring mural which seems to have been painted last year:

Mural

☆★☆

Mural

☆★☆

Mural

☆★☆

I love temples, but I had thought that I wouldn’t bother visiting Senso-ji again, having been so many times before. But I’m glad I did bother to go there again, as I managed to find something new and I really enjoyed my visit. I came at Senso-ji via this interesting side street:

Asakusa

…and immediately ran into some statues on the temple grounds:

Statue of Uryu Iwako

This is Uryu Iwako, who was born in Fukushima prefecture in 1829. After the Meiji Restoration Iwako worked towards the education of young girls in the Aizu clan and also founded the Fukushima Relief Facility for the assistance to the poor and orphans. She was a social worker, who died in 1897.

Monument in Memory of Sansho (three haiku master poets)

This is a monument in memory of “sansho” – the three haiku master poets (Nishiyama Soin, Matsuo Basho and Enomoto Kikaku). According to the sign next to the monument, the inscription can be read as follows:

Nagamu tote hana nimo itasi kubi no hone SOIN
Hana no kumo kane ha Ueno ka Asakusa ka BASYO
Yukumizu ya nani ni todomaru nori no aji KIKAKU

Hmm… Unfortunately my Japanese is only good enough to pick out “hana”, which could be “flower” or “nose”, “kubi no hone” (“neck bone”), “hana no kumo” (flower cloud? nose cloud? flower spider? nose spider??) and “nori no aji” (the flavour of seaweed).

After a quick Google I discovered that these were in fact three haiku – one by each poet. The first, by Soin, translates roughly as:

Having seen them long,
I hold the flowers dear, but ah,
The pain in my neck.
(source)

Basho’s is:

Sounding through clouds of flowers
is it the bell in Ueno
or Asakusa?
(Muza-chan)

And Kikaku’s is:

Can running water impart its taste to nori?
(source)

Wonderful! 😀

After pausing for haiku, I was caught by some more beauty, this time in the form of the curious combination of cherry blossom, the new Tokyo Sky Tree and a pagoda:

Cherry blossom, Sky Tree and Pagoda

The cherry blossom was still on the trees that day but every time a gust of wind came by there was “sakura snow”.

Cherry blossom pond

There are lots of Buddhist statues dotted around Senso-ji which, as you know, I love!

Buddha statue

I swear I hadn’t seen half of these ones before, despite visiting many times.

Buddha statue

☆★☆

Senso-ji

Walking up to the main temple building I realised I was at the rear, so I went around the side to the front.

Senso-ji

I thought the temple grounds were fairly busy, considering it was a Friday, and considering all the recent events in Japan which have been putting tourists off visiting (for no good reason!). I saw a lot of tourists, Asian and non-Asian, but I guess there were probably less than usual. Certainly, the shop-keepers I spoke to said they had noticed a considerable drop in trade, and seemed very grateful for my custom.

Senso-ji is a beautiful example of a Japanese temple:

Senso-ji

However, as much as I love Senso-ji for its glorious, bold, red paint, I do hope that tourists visiting Japan have a chance to see some of the less glamorous yet still amazing temples in other areas of Japan. Still, Senso-ji is beautiful, so let’s enjoy it for a moment:

Senso-ji

☆★☆

Senso-ji

☆★☆

Senso-ji

☆★☆

Senso-ji

☆★☆

Senso-ji

As I was leaving the main temple building I found some more statues:

Statue

☆★☆

A Pair of Buddha

And a great little shop that sold THE BEST MELON PAN I HAVE EVER EATEN.

Traditional shop

☆★☆

Melon pan

I love melon pan (melon bread) but honestly, this was above and beyond all melon pan I have ever had from any convenience store or supermarket. You simply must try it if you go to Asakusa! In fact, you must try it if you go to Japan! 😉

I left the temple via the route I would normally enter by – down Nakamise-dori. Nakamise-dori (“central shop street”, I guess) is a street lined with souvenir shops. You can buy all manner of tat there, and some quite nice stuff if you dig a bit deeper.

Nakamise-dori

☆★☆

Japanese headbands

☆★☆

Souvenir shop

☆★☆

Gatcha gatcha machines

☆★☆

Souvenir shop

☆★☆

Kimonos and yukata

☆★☆

Sumo statues

☆★☆

Masks

☆★☆

Souvenir shop

☆★☆

Strange shrunken toys

☆★☆

Nakamise-dori

In my opinion, Nakamise-dori is probably the best place to buy souvenirs in Tokyo, especially if you just want some cheap, typically Japanese stuff like yukata, fans and dolls. You can also buy postcards, magnets, keychains etc. After shopping ’til you drop, you should probably come back to the main entrance, which is where I finished my walk:

Senso-ji

This is right by Asakusa subway station or, if you fancy splashing out, you could always take a ride in one of the rickshaws that are always lined up and ready to go (watch out though – I hear they’re total tourist traps and very pricey!).

Rickshaw

I guess most people who visit Japan end up in Tokyo at some point. If you do find yourself in Tokyo without much of a plan, I highly recommend Asakusa as a place to spend a couple of hours. You can wander around, see some beautiful architecture and statues, do a little shopping… and eat some melon pan! What more could you want? 😉

☆★☆

As usual, all photos can be found on Flickr.

Senso-ji

4 thoughts on “Approaching Asakusa from a different angle…

  1. I’ve been to Asakusa only once, in 2009, and the temple was covered in protective stuff for renovations, I think. I wasn’t particularly impressed. Asakusa is not my type of place to go sightseeing. Though we did find a nice whale restaurant. And yes, it was delicious.

    Like

  2. Thanks for these pictures and everything. I, too, had been to Sensoji numerous times – mainly when friends or family visited and I was showing them around Tokyo – but it was only the last time I went, in July 2010, that I went “behind” or beyond the temple to explore the many statues and stones and secondary buildings you highlight here. Mainly, I was in search of the Ichikawa Danjuro statue, but discovered that there’s really a whole lot more to Sensoji than I’d thought!

    Like

  3. Asakusa is one of my favorite places, and I think it’s great fun–especially if you’re only in Japan for a short stay! Also, what’s the filling on that melon pan? I’m always wary it will taste like actual melon!

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s