Saturday, 19 July 2014

Asakusa and Senso-ji Temple

Kaminarimon-The Thunder Gate
Any tourist going to Tokyo will not want to miss Asakusa. It's the old town of Tokyo where the famous Senso-ji temple is located. My wife and I have visited Senso-ji temple at our previous trip and we have been missing the place since. It was no surprise that we chose to visit Tokyo oldest temple again. As the newly built Tokyo Sky Tree is only a stone throw away from Asakusa, we planned it together in the day's itineraries.

Guardian of the Gate
Big Red Lantern
Bottom View of Lantern

The first sight that greeted us when we came out from the Asakusa Train Station was Kaminarimon-the Thunder Gate which was the outer gate of Senso-ji temple. Flanked by the two statue guardians-Fuijin (God of Wind) and Raijin (God of Thunder), the entrance of the gate was easily recognizable by the big red lantern with the Chinese character "Thunder Gate" hanging in between. The Thunder Gate is the symbol and icon of Asakusa. It is always crowded but taking a photo with it is a must do when you visit Senso-ji temple.

Japanese Masks
Lanterns for Sale

Entered thru the gate, we reached the crowded Nakamise-dori. Stalls selling masks, souvenirs, foods, clothing, accessories etc lined the both sides of the 200 meters street. We were spoiled for choices on what to buy back home and took our time to explore the stalls that caught our eyes. Make sure you compare the prices of the stalls that sell similar items before purchasing anything. The difference can be vast. Generally I felt the stalls nearer to the Kaminarimon were cheaper but I could be wrong.

Hozomon Gate
Big Sandal
Hozomon Gate and Asakusa Pagoda
Hozomon Gate and Sky Tree

We would reach the second gate-Hozomon Gate leading to the main temple. Just like Kaminarimon, it is protected by two guardians (Two Deva Kings) with a large red lantern at the main gateway. There are two side gateways which are distinguished by a gold lantern each hanging from the ceiling. The Hozomon gate has a second floor which historic Buddhists' treasures are stored. But it is restricted to the public. At the rear end of the gate, two gigantic sandals donned the walls at either side. It was said they were shoes made for the Deva Kings that guarded the gate. At the left side of the Hozomon Gate lies the famous Asakusa Pagoda. The five story pagoda housed the sacred Buddha's relic and can be visited only at certain time of the year.

Main Shrine-Hondo
Purification Fountain
Close View of Hondo
Girls in Kimono

Going through the Hozomon Gate, we reached the main shrine (Hondo) of the temple. It was newly renovated. After the purification process at the purification fountain, we offered our prayer to the sacred golden Kannon statue which was housed inside the inner shrine and out of sight to the public. Legend told that in Year 628, the statue was found and re-found by two fishermen at the Sumida River after they threw it back into the river. The chef of their village enshrined the statue in small temple, recognizing the sacredness of the statue.  Following the local custom, we offered incense at the incense pot at the main temple ground. It was said that the smoke from the offered incense would cure one from any illness and bad luck. We also visited the Asakusa Shrine that is dedicated to the two fishermen brothers-Hinokuma and Takenari Hamanari. Pay attention to the two Komainu (Korean lion dogs) guardians after the stone Torii. I found them rather special. Near the Asakusa Shrine was Nitenmon-the lesser known gate of the Senso-ji temple.

Asakusa Shrine with Komainu
Senso-ji Temple Layout

On our way back to the Kaminarimon, we visited some old streets that side tracked from Nakamise-dori. There were many things on offer and we could witness the day to day life that the locals lead. Note that some of the streets offer good photo-taking spots for the nearby Sky Tree. Make sure you snap some photos first if your next stop is there.

Colorful shop
Old Street Shot 1
Photo with Sky Tree
Old Street Shot 2
Street shot with Sky Tree
Give me a "FIVE"!

One of the reasons we came to Asakusa was also to try the it's famous Unadon (Eel rice). We actually targeted a famous restaurant introduced by the tour guide book but found it already closed for business when we reached there. Guess what, it was only 130 pm! The business must be overwhelming.  We were quite disappointed as we have to walked a few streets to reach there. Our spirits picked up again when we found another restaurant which has a long history of selling Unadon.

Sorry! Shop Closed (Unadon Restaurant)
Lantern-making Shop
Unadon Restaurant
Although expensive, we were not disappointed. The Unadon served to us were of top quality. They could be easily distinguish from the ones you try at the normal shops. The tenderness of the grilled eels and tare sauce for seasoning were from a different league.  Make it compulsory to try the Unadon if you are here. This was one of my most sumptuous lunch in Tokyo.

Unadon Feast
My Portion
Last Photo before Feast
After filling our stomach, we were prepared for our next destination-The Tokyo Sky Tree.

Famiy Photo at Kaminarimon


Monday, 7 July 2014

Sanrio Puroland (Hello Kitty Land)

Sanrio Puroland
When I visited Tokyo, visiting Sanrio Puroland (popularly known as Hello Kitty Land) was a must do item. The reason was simple. Both my daughter and wife are fans of the Sanrio characters and I risked incurring their wrath if this was not included!

Charlotte & Sanrio Characters
Sanrio Puroland is an indoor theme park and situated at Tama Center in Tokyo. The theme park is not very big and is housed inside a three story building. Most of the attractions are at 1st and 2nd floor and you can easily spend 1 day here. We went there on a weekday and found the place not overly crowded. The entrance fee during weekdays are also cheaper (Adult: 3300 Yen, Child: 2500 Yen).

Jewelpet Dokidoki Magical March
Hello Kitty in Wonderland

Needless to say, the theme park is decorated with the "Kawaii" concept in mind. Kawaii means cute in Japanese. Everything is centered around it's main starlet-Hello Kitty.

Hello Kitty Bun

Hello Kitty Decor
My Melody & Kuromi Mymeroad Drive

Sanrio Character Boat Ride
There are two rides-"Sanrio Character Boat Ride" and   "My Melody & Kuromi Mymeroad Drive" available for the visitors. My daughter enjoyed both rides thoroughly which allowed her to see the cute characters at their lovely settings. We managed to catch a stage show-Hello Kitty in Wonderland and a live participatory show- Jewelpet Dokidoki Magical March which the children got to mix with the stage Characters. Although not a fan of Sanrio, I must admit I enjoy the shows with the Kawaii characters dressed in their attractive outfits accompanied by the alluring music.

Do not missed the spectacular dance parade where you got to meet all the Sanrio Characters. My daughter was overjoyed to meet her favorite Hello Kitty but my wife was slightly disappointed not to see her favorite PK Duck-her young time darling.

Parade Shot 1
Parade Shot 2
Parade Shot 3
Parade Shot 4

There are other attractions like the Lady Kitty House, Kiki and Lala twinkling tour etc. The girls enjoyed their outing here. If you are a Sanrio fan, you will not be disappointed. Go to this website for more info on Sanrio Puroland.

Photo with Little Twin Stars
Lady Kitty House
Family Photo at Sanrio Puroland

Monday, 23 June 2014

Meiji Jingu Shrine-Tokyo, Japan

Torii Gate
I planned our first destination in Tokyo to Meiji Jingu Shrine. It is situated in Shibuya which is only around 10 mins ride by train from Ikebukero (where we stayed). I done my research which indicated the Shinto shrine is best visited on a Sunday. Many traditional Japanese Shinto weddings would be held there and provided many great photo capturing opportunities.

Sacred Sake Offering

The popular Meiji Jingu Shrine was built and dedicated to the Meiji Emperor and his wife. A route (15 mins walk) leads from the Harajuku Station through a tranquil forest to the Main Shrine. We were greeted by a huge wooden Torii gate at the main entrance. The toriis are commonly found at Shinto shrines and temples and represent a unique icon of Japan. No visit to Japan would be completed without a photo with a Torii.

Family Photo at the Main Shrine's Torii
Purification Fountain
Along the way, we passed by another massive Torii gate which was made from the trees from Ali-shan at Taiwan. But the sight that beheld us was the Sake Offering Hall. Decorated with exaggerated characters and sometimes vivid pictures, the sacred sake (omiki) offerings look like individual piece of master crafts to me.

We soon reached the main shrine. Before entering the shrine to offer your prayers, visitors are expected to cleanse themselves at the Purification Fountain. Do not be worried. There are clear procedures in English at site. You can refer to this site if you are interested in the purification ritual (Shubatsu).

The main building inside the shrine is the Offering Hall. We needed to walk through a large square to offer our prayer. At the right side of the hall, there is a fence around a tree which many "Ema" are hung. An Ema is a wooden plate which you use to write your wishes.

Main Gates into the Square
Main and Offering Hall
Thru the Doorway

It was not long before a traditional wedding procession took place. Many photographers have already secured a strategic spot for their shooting. I was lucky to secure a place myself at the last moment. The star of the wedding was the bride. Dressed in an all white kimono (Shiromuku), she struck a strong contrast with the groom in black formal kimono and the others in coloured outfits. The procession took place across the square and lasted about 15 mins. A few other wedding processions were to take place and I was happily snapping away with my faithful camera. Mission completed :-).

Traditional Japan Shinto Wedding Procession
Japanese Family Photo Shoot

The Groom and Bride
There is an inner garden (500 Yen) which is famous for the Iris flowers. They are supposed in full bloom in June. We went a a tad too early and only a few of them are fully bloomed. The garden is good enough for a stroll but in my opinion can be avoided if you do not have a lot of time. There is also a Homotsuden (Treasure Museum) which we did not explore.

The experience at the Meiji Jingu Shrine is an enjoyable one. Compare with other temples and shrines I have visited, the setup of the shrine may not be very impressive but the atmosphere and culture that bind to the holy ground are invaluable. Seeing many Japanese (young and old) offering their sincere prayers at the shrine, I could see the highly-esteemed place Meiji held inside their hearts. I could finally understand the reason why Japanese couples like to celebrate the wedding at the Meiji Jingu Shrine. Do not miss this place when you have the chance to visit Tokyo.
Family Photo at the Sake Offering Hall

Related Posts: The Tokyo Trip