Japan Day 4
Sunday, February 25th, 2001
@ Tokyo, Japan
All Photos  © 2001 Ting and Randy Vogel

Tokyo Map
and Picture Key
Asakusa Station Mural

Since today is Sunday, Ting and I got to play. We decided to start out by visiting Sensoji, a temple originally founded in 628 AD. The temple has been damaged, destroyed and rebuilt many times since then, and many of the current structures date as recently as 1945. Getting there was pretty easy...we just took the subway from Akasaka-mitsuke station just outside our hotel, all the way to the far end of the Ginza line. 

Outside the subway, Kaminarimon-dori is lined with carts and tables set up by vendors hawking all the usual cheap souvenirs: stickers, buttons, knick-knacks and doodads. Turning onto Nakamise-dori, one is immediately faced with Kaminarimon -- the Thunder Gate. Facing out from the temple are two large, caged statues of Fujin and Raijin, the Gods of Wind and Thunder, respectively. Hanging under the gateway in-between the statues is a huge lantern decorated with kanji that read Tokyo. Facing towards Sensoji on the inside half of the gate are additional statues, the god and goddess shown at right.

Passing onwards the crowds grew thicker and thicker, hemmed into the narrow street by permanent vending stalls. One of the curious sights that we neglected to take pictures of (not recognizing its uniqueness at this point) were the vendors selling sweets and crackers decorated with motifs particular to this temple. We did stop a couple times to sample several edibles however...fresh-baked and fresh-fried soy crackers, filled mochi sweets and yummy seaweed wraps.

Eventually we arrived at the end of Nakamisedori and the main entrance to the temple grounds. At small stalls on the sides of the wide path, assorted prayers and charms could be purchased from monks sitting on benches. Most of the visitors headed towards the main temple building, the Hozomon (1B). We turned off to the right instead and investigated the small side shrines. Clustered together behind the Kumei Heinai Buddha were the Mother and Child on one side and the Nisonbutsu on the other.

Returning to the main path we had splendid views of the large five-story Pagoda across the way. We walked up to the large covered incense burner to anoint ourselves with smoke, then at the purification basin for ritually cleansed water. Properly purified, we ascended into the Hozomon. Unfortunately, there wasn't much to see inside the temple, though we did have the opportunity to buy more prayers. Exiting to the left, I stood a moment for another Pagoda shot, and then we descended and entered the small garden filled with shrines on the side of the Hozomon. We took another picture at the Golden Dragon shrine because that matches my Chinese Astrological symbol.

We turned and left the temple through a side exit that led towards the Hanayashiki, an amusement park that began life as a botanic garden in 1853. One entrance lay beyond the bicycle farm, presided over by smartly dressed bicycle guards. Over the ten to thirteen foot hall wall, we could see some of the taller rides: the Funky Duck!, Helicars rolling serenely on a monorail type track, Flying Pirate Ships suspended like Gondolas from a cable, dimly visible behind an unnamed ferris-wheel type of ride. Little kids could be heard squealing in joy and terror as they stuck their heads out between the bars on the windows of the hanging cottages. The little cottages ascended lazily to a good 50 meters or so, stopped and completed a few graceful rotations about the main column and then descended to unload passengers for another cycle.

I would have liked to go in to take more pictures, but admission was about $20 each, and the rides cost extra...so instead we turned back towards Kaminarimon-dori, looking for just exactly the right sort of lunch spot. After a few wrong choices: sake bars, beer bars, self-cook BBQ places and such, we eventually found the right spot: a noodle joint. We pulled open a sliding door and ducked under the cloth hanging in front of the doorway. Inside, at least half the scant floor space was taken up by an open kitchen where everything was being done to prepare the food, clean the dishes and otherwise keep the place functioning. The menu was all Japanese, but we were able to point to the pictures of the dishes we wanted displayed on the wall. Ting picked out a beef soba-noodle soup, while it was buckwheat soba and fresh tuna sashimi with seaweed salad on the side for me.

After lunch, we continued towards Kaminarimon-dori, passing fancier and bigger shops as we approached the main street. After passing another small cracker factory, we turned down an arcade parallel to Kaminarimon-dori and walked until we came to the next big street. 

Upon crossing, we found that we'd arrived at the Drum Museum - how convenient! Downstairs, they had a shop filled to the rafters with all things taiko. If you had the notion, you could outfit an entire Taiko Ensemble, although you probably had to sell your house to do so! We bought tickets, then took the elevator up to the museum. 

As we entered, the docent left to go work in an adjacent office. In a light, airy room about 40 feet on a side were lots and lots and lots of drums. A few, like the tall skinny Ting drum had notices not to touch, or were cordoned off, or behind glass in a case, but the majority, like he large double-gourd balaphon were accessible and available to be played. Now and then, one would have brief instructions for coaxing forth sound, sometimes in english, and sometimes in charade-like sketches.

We both had lots of fun stroking and banging and plinking and pounding. After ten or fifteen minutes, a father and his four-to-six year old daughter came in to explore, adding to the general din as they went to work on the taiko drums near the entrance. The drum museum first opened in 1988, though the drum and festival instrument manufacturing company Miyamoto Unosuke Shoten has been producing their wares since 1861! Their mission of promoting understanding and love for drums was achieved on our part!

On our way to the plastic food district at Kappabashi-dori, Ting posed with a friendly Tanuki statue outside a restaurant. It was pretty obvious as we got closer and and closer to the center of this area, as the shops slowly morphed from assorted specialty restaurant supply shops (signs, ceramics, linens, pots, pans, ovens, et cetera) to its focus on plastic food. We spent awhile arguing about the merits of returning with various plastic foods as souvenir gifts, but it was obvious that peas didn't have a chance: it was maguro, unagi or nothing! However, since a piece of plastic maguro cost more than the real thing, we decided to save our money for the real thing.

The shops started closing up around 4 PM -- I was rather surprised that they were even opened on Sunday, but I suppose that just matches most restaurants. We turned around just as we reached the O-Nekko planted atop a generic concrete building and began retracing our steps back towards Kaminarimon-dori. The building with Teacup balconies marked our arrival, and rather than walking back to Asakusa station, we entered at Tawaramachi and rode back to the Akihabara for more shopping!

After it got dark, we started looking for food, but this part of town seemed to be pretty much shutting down for the night, and the only restaurants we found had really long lines (a good sign, it is true, but we were really hungry by that point, so waiting was not in the plan). Instead, we took the subway back to Akasake Mitsuke, only to find that most of the restaurants and nightclubs there were closed as well.

Well that figures, its Sunday night. We weighed our choices and decided that Indian food was the best option, as pointed to by the most saliva-promoting display of plastic food anyway. Although the restaurant had only a limited choice of dishes, we found enough yummy things to gorge ourselves and ran up a rather large bill. (The frosty mugs of anonymous beer on draft had nothing to do with that, I'm sure!).

Looking out the window from our table, i spotted the Philip Morris ad shown in the last cell. I cannot imagine the rationale behind putting clouds into the picture of smokers holding tightly to their ciggie boxes except to say it must be truth in advertising. Another ad in the same series had smokers riding cigarette-powered jet-packs through the sky...riding the nicotine buzz, yeah!

To back up a moment, an explanation is needed for the big shoes picture. Big shoes seemed to be quite the fad among certain stylishly dressed young women, both in Tokyo and in Kyoto. In fact, it didn't really occur to us how widespread a phenomena big shoes embodies until we were confronted with a pair of eight-inch monsters on the subway platform in Kyoto. So it was purely by chance that I took this shot of Ting modeling her silver mashers next to the cardboard model. Of coures, Ting's silver mshers were miniscule (only 2-1/2 inches!) compared to the big shoes we kept seeing. Little was I to suspect how difficult it would be in real life to capture photographic evidence of these rare creatures, the Big Shoes creatures that is.

Randy Checks out 
the Subway Map
Asakusa Area Map
(Thunder Gate)
Randy under 
the Gateway
Kaminarimon Goddess
Kaminarimon God
1A Nakamise-dori

Asakusa Map
and Picture Key
1B Hozomon
1C Kumei Heinai Buddha
Mother and Child
1D Five-Story Pagoda
Up Close
1E Ting Ensures Good Health
1F Purification Basin
Ting in Front of 
Main Temple
Randy with Pagoda
1G Golden Dragon 
...Immediately outside the North corner of the temple grounds was a small amusement park...

Bicycle Farm
the Funky Duck
Flying Pirate Ships!
Hanging Cottages
Lunch Cooks at Noodle Place
Making Crackers
Drum Museum Sign
Drum Museum Ticket
Drum Museum Entrance
The Ting Drum
Randy Plays Balaphon
Taiko Drums
Assorted Drums
Drum Map
Chinese Drums
Indonesian Drums
 Randy Plays the Steel Pan Drum
Ting Befriends a Tanuki
Godzilla in Tokyo
Teacup Balconies
...We shopped in Akihabara until it got quite dark...
Electric City!
LAOX Escalators
Ting Models Big Shoes
Are They Going to Heaven?