We decided to visit one of Tokyo's most popular temples, Sensoji (浅草寺) which is also known as Asakusa Kannon Temple, to pay our respects and to cleanse our souls. Completed in the year 645, it's one of Tokyo's oldest temples. You can find all the access information to Sensoji through Japan Guide. They will list the ways on how to get there from several different stations. Or, alternatively, check out Sensoji's official website - http://www.senso-ji.jp/.
credits to http://www.senso-ji.jp/
First you enter the temple through the Kaminarimon (Thunder Gate) and walk along a shopping street of over 200 meters called Nakamise. As you walk through Nakamise, you'll find lots of souvenir shops and traditional Japanese sweets being sold.
We had a lot of fun buying souvenirs for our friends and trying out the yummy snacks. Whilst buying a set of bookmarks for my friend, we encountered another embarrassing language blunder. I wanted to ask if these cute bookmarks were made in Japan so I pointed to the bookmarks and asked the lady "nihon de tsukaimasu ka?".
Her confused face just looked at me. So, thinking she didn't understand my very badly accented Japanese, I asked again, slowly. After another moment of incomprehension, my trusty best friend jumped into the moment, to my rescue, and threw out a much more comprehensive question "kono buku-maku wa nihon de tsukaimasu ka?"
She looked even more confused and slowly nodded and said "Hai." or yes, in our language. All smiles and satisfied, we paid for the bookmarks and walked away. As we were walking down the street, it occurred to us; We were supposed to say tsukurimasu ka which is to make and instead, the whole time, we were asking the lady "Can these bookmarks be used in Japan." We lost it on the street laughing! How embarrassing!!! She must have thought we were really stupid or weird! Japanese blunder number two!
Despite this embarrassing incident, we trooped on through the crowds. Sensoji was incredibly crowded for a weekday morning. As you reach the end of Nakamise, you will be lead you to the temple's second gate, the Hozomon.
There are large incense burners within the second gate and you can smell it throughout the temple.We somehow convinced ourselves (from no scientific or cultural backing) that we might somehow "purify" ourselves if we walked through the smoke. So, we ended up with a light smokey fragrance and a very self satisfied air about us. After much research when returning home, we found that our "instincts" were somehow aligned with cultural practice. In fact, the smoke from the incense is said to have healing powers.
Before you enter into the temple, there is an area for you to cleanse your hands and mouth which is part of the purification ritual. Be aware that you shouldn't put your mouth to the ladle provided when rinsing your mouth, but rather, pour some water into your hands and transfer that to your mouth.
The day that we were at the temple proved to be quite a popular day. While we were praying, we noticed a commotion going about us. There were four men being filmed! It looked like they were filming for a Japanese comedy show or something of the like. It was quite exciting but to be honest, that excitement faded very quickly. I wanted to enjoy my prayers at a temple quietly and without commotion.
The second bit of excitement came when two very lovely ladies (looked Russian to me) came to the temple to pray but they were surrounded by very large bodyguards. Bodyguards who were very disrespectful, in my opinion. I understand that their job is to protect the people they have been hired to protect, but in doing that, they seemed to have no qualms about shoving people out of their way. I shot those body guards a few dirty looks, myself.
Once all the excitement died down, we decided it was time to read our fortunes! One of the most exciting parts of going to visit a temple! We put in a 100 yen coin each and shook our divination boxes and a long stick eventually emerged. I really enjoyed the sound of the sticks inside the box clanging against each other. In my heart, I could hear my future making its way to me.
Once a stick pops out, pull it out of the box and read the number it has written on it and find its counterpart on the drawers in front of you. Within the same numbered drawer, you will find your fortune waiting for you. In Sensoji, the fortunes were translated into Chinese, Korean and English.
If at first you don't receive a good fortune, tie that to the "tree" and get another one. It seems not many people know about this custom, but do not scrunch up your bad fortune and throw it away! Make sure you tie it to the "tree"! After receiving my good divination for the year, I happily took it with me while leaving behind my bad one tied to a "tree" to take away my bad luck.
Yummy mini dangos!
There's something so purifying about going to a place of worship that has stood a testament to time and I came out of the temple feeling like my body, mind and soul were cleansed and a new found anticipation for my future.