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August: The Return of Souls

August is peak summer season in Japan.  We can look forward to some of the most spectacular fireworks displays and festivals in the world, ...

Senso-Ji Temple of Asakusa


Reaching the Kaminarimon Gate (" thunder gate"), which by the way is the most famous gate entrance in all of Tokyo. When you look at picture post cards of Japan, you will almost always see a picture of this gate. The gate itself is guarded by two enormous wooden statues: Furin the wind god, and Raijin the thunder god.




Passing under the first huge red lantern through the gates you enter into another world. Welcome to old Edo. Walking along Nakmise-dori street you instantly get a sense that you are in the real Japan. Everybody making their way down this street are usually headed to the second gate called Hozomon Gate which houses two Nio statues that guard the temple. You must snap pictures of these. Once finished continue through to the Main Hall. Before proceeding any further stop and take a few more snaps of the Main Hall then reflect a little on its beauty. It was destroyed during the Tokyo Fire Bombings. Rebuilt in 1958 now houses the secret Bodhisattva Kannon statue.


( Mr. K was surprised at how many Westerners were here, and at how tall they were).


Whenever I visit a temple or a shrine I always work my way to the water trough first. After rinsing my hands and mouth I head up the stairs to deposit my coin, clap, and then pray. Once this is done and I have taken a few more pictures of the place, I head over to the food stalls to enjoy some sweets. I will be introducing a few places that are noteworthy, and are must try delicacies.

(Mr. K standing in from of the Hozomon Gate. The second gate)


Earlier in the car, after leaving behind the vacuousness of the maid cafe, heading over to Asakusa, home of Senso-ji Kannon Temple we felt it was time to get a taste of real Japanese culture, you know, something with substance and meaning. This temple is visited by over 30 million people a year and is the oldest temple in Tokyo, that's almost like the entire population of California visiting one tiny little Japanese village. The Bodhisattva is venerated in the sacred halls of Sensoji and is regarded as one of the holiest Bodhisattva temples in Japan. I love Senso-Ji. I don't know about you, but I always get a sense of nostalgia when visiting temples. I mean, there really aren't any words for me to describe how i feel when I see thick plumes of ceremonial smoke fill the air, or when I hear the low dirge hum of a temple monk uttering the words of a 2000 year old ancient script. The peace that transcends all boundaries, all time, and space. An infinite knowingness out of nothingness. A timeless dance of a dervish. The waning Autumnal sun thinly spread out across the cool blue afternoon sky, like the sky itself was etherized. My soul was revived from the vaingloriousness that people attach to this country's sub-culture; the weakness; and the pity; the vulgar childishness that has poisoned the soul of this country all have no place here. Sensoji is a holy place.


( Oka, or incense)


The burning of the incense is supposed to create a smoke that you rub in your hair to make you smart. I made sure to stay there for as long as I could.  The caretaker was tending to the flames and trying to keep the smoke under control.



Another point I wanted to highlight was the contrast between modern and traditional architecture. In the foreground you can see parts of the temple and in the background you can see Tokyo Sky Tree, a mammoth new Tokyo Tower that's being built to overlook all of Tokyo.

At this point in my tour I became Mr. Ks teacher. Some of you may know that I have spent years traveling all over Japan sampling delicious food and onsen, so when it comes to sweets and treats, well, I am pretty good. What many people skip over when visiting Asakusa is the Age-manju stall. Agemanju is a deep fried sweet bean paste filled pie which was originally made popular in Nara, about 700 years ago! The really neat thing about age-manju is its regional diversity. For 700 years this sweet bean confection has been evolving and getting better and better. Some of my favorites are from the Tohoku region, namely Fukushima and Miyagi Prefectures. Words like "crispy" and "hot" and down right delicious is what crosses my mind. Agemanju is not Japanese soul of food, it's Japanese comfort food, the kind of stuff you can snack all day and never get tired of, especially with hot tea! The reason I highlight this confection is because they're hard to come by in Kanagawa and parts of Tokyo, so whenever I'm around Tokyo, and I have time I like to stop by Asakusa and grab a bag or two. I highly recommend the plain ones, although the apricot ones are excellent, too! The sesame ones are OK. If I had to choose then plain would be the best. When the agemanju is very fresh and hot is when you want to eat it.



Agemanju is cheap and delicious and they come in a variety of different flavors. Good examples are here and here.
Several flavors were available.
The apricot was absolutely delicious. I've also heard that there were some pumpkin flavors, too. For me, it's the plain and apricot ones that are the most delicious.
Continuing our walk down Nakamise-dori, we came across a few more stalls. The next one is a very old favorite of mine called Kaminariokoshi(雪おこし), which is basically a rice crispy treat that'll 


knock your socks off.
Next week when I go back up there I'm going to buy several boxes of this stuff.
I remember when I was a kid back in the States, and at how much I enjoyed eating rice crispy treats. That's the best way I can describe these! They come in pepper, soy sauce, and few others. Try em'
And then, there's nothing quite like the rice cracker (osenbei). One of the nicest treats to enjoy with hot barley tea in the morning.



After walking around for several hours and catching up with some old favorites we stopped by a very famous sukiyaki place called Imahan[今半]
From what I heard it was one of the most well known and expensive sukiyaki place in Asakusa.
Reflecting on this little trip my image of beautiful Japan was revived. Often times people get stuck in a rut and forget where they are living and why they came to this country. Visiting Asakusa reminded me of all the reasons why I love this country so much, and why I don't want to leave.

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