Tokyo Jidai Matsuri

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Today is Culture Day and there’s a big parade in Asakusa called the “Tokyo Jidai Festival” which features period costumes from a variety of periods in Japanese history. Let’s check it out!

1:00 JST

Again our journey starts with a stop at Mister Donut to fuel up, followed by the usual subway connections to Asakusa. I won’t bore you with those details. What I will bore you with is the wonderfulness of a street parade attended by hundreds upon hundreds of onlookers in front of the Karimarimon Gate. The Seven Lucky Gods were there as was a contingent of Shinsengumi, samurai warriors, Mito Komon and a host of historical and mythological figures that I don’t even recognize…

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mito_Kōmon

Unique to this parade (other than the solely Japanese jidai characters) were the strips of plastic tarp lining the streets for the crowd to sit on, after removing their shoes of course. And when the parade ended, wow it ended abruptly, the streets were cleared and all returned to normal.

Chatted with one of my “tarp mates” about our impressions of Japan. She is a native born Jamaican, vacationing in Japan but currently a full-time resident of Beijing. Big standout in her mind was how quiet the Japanese are compared to the Chinese who are LOUD. Especially on the trains and subways where no one speaks a word in Japan. Even this parade, with hundreds and hundreds of people, is very quiet.

4:00pm JST

Sensoji Temple is packed today. Investigated a kushi and kogai combination that I found yesterday, only to find upon closer inspection that it is cracked and the paint chipping on the ends. That’s not satisfactory, so I visited an antique dealer I know and purchased an authentic and lovely kushi and kogai set from him. Also found a few other items for friends back in the States. Postcards are also coming so stay tuned!

5:00pm JST

The sun has set and I get a big helping of Okinomiyaki from one of the food stalls set up on the temple grounds, last night. The food vendors got an early start so they could be ready to handle the additional crowd from today’s parade.

9:00pm JST

I’m now becoming expert at navigating the Tokyo Metro system in the same way that I had attained understanding of the JR system five years ago… good enough to get around without being picked off by the wolves. Walking back to the apartment from the subway station, I noted how chill the air is. My leather jacket is now going to become a must during both day and night. Figured out how to work the apartment heater too, just as wonderful a feeling as the AC was in the intense summer heat, five years ago. Ahhhh… the little pleasures.

Watched the Yomiuri Giants defeat the Hokkaido Nihon Hams in a very close game while enjoying my hot green tea and a bag of day old baked goods from Akafudado. A day old and still yummy. I also watch a variety of anime titles on Tokyo MX at night, some of which I’m familiar with, many of which I am not, some of which are so bizarre, they will never find their way to American television. Hey, I think I just saw an episode of “Genshiken”…

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Genshiken

Return to Asakusa

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John returns to Asakusa to keep his appointment with the antique dealer, and continue his hunt for kanzashi and souvenirs for his friends.

12:00noon JST

Today I take the somewhat less complex subway route from Monzen Nakacho to Asakusa using the Oedo and Ginza lines, landing me on the doorstep of Senso-ji temple, the Kaminarimon Gate and Nakamise-dori. Nakamise shopping stalls carry a variety of souvenirs and giftables but you have to be careful, much of the time the prices here are inflated. I’m not one to buy souvenir chopsticks or fans, but I did find some excellent chopstick sets with tortoise, rabbit, phoenix and koi motifs.

I walk passed the five story pagoda, the Senso-ji main hall and the subsidiary temples on the grounds, to the appointment-only antique dealer and am greeted with an azuki bean filled pastry accompanied by a bowl of real, traditional matcha. Being ever so slightly aware of tea etiquette, I thank them, admire the bowl (a rough oribe-ware style bowl), turn the bowl 180 degrees and drink the matcha in the proper way. Yeah, that should be sufficient to convince them I’m not a total animal.

They ask me to be patient while the owner collects the kanzashi pieces and presents them to me. They are wonderful antiques, but the price for the kushi and kogai set is just too high for the ultimate owner of these pieces and again I have to decline. They’re worth the price too because these pieces are 100 years old and feature real gold dust maki-e work.

4:30pm JST

Twilight descends and the videography of the Sensoji temple complex continues. Trees, bridges, statuary, temples, woodwork, this is a visually rich environment as is all of Japan. Problem is there are dozens of photographers and tourists with cell phone cameras all with the same idea. Just who let all these people onto my film set?

I notice one of the stalls on Nakamise Dori sells bridal accouterment so I ask the owner of this store if they sell kanzashi… and she trots out the very thing I’m looking for, kogai style kanzashi made with wood and kushi with elaborate decorations. The prices aren’t outrageous either, although a tad higher than in Kyoto. The icing on the cake is a kogai and kushi matched set, very nice but I think the ultimate owner of what I buy will prefer the separates I’ve selected.

The owner of the store is amused by my Doraemon cell phone cover and impressed by my knowledge of such historical characters as Mito Komon. “You know a lot about Japan,” she exclaims! No, I just watch a lot of television 🙂

5:00pm JST

The sun has set as I stroll passed more vendor stalls full of toys, temple goods, maneki neko, hina dolls (yes collectable hina dolls), kimono, happi and jinbei. The tiger and dragon happi coat looks sharp on me in black and gold but the fit isn’t quite right. I would like a set of jinbei for those hot summers, though…

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jinbei

I retrace my steps on the Ginza line to the Tozai line and back to Monzen Nakacho. Oedo line would have been a somewhat shorter ride.

6:45pm JST

I meet Andrew at Mos Burger for dinner and then we do a snacks run to Akafudado where I pick up a tube of “Dental Cream” and a bag of pastries for Y350. It’s anime and pastries before bed tonight!

Kanzashi in Asakusa

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It’s a gorgeous, sunny day in Tokyo and John is out and about, shopping for “kogai” hair sticks and “kushi” hair combs for a friend back in the States. What better place to start than Nakamise Dori in front of Sensoji Temple, Asakusa!

12:00noon JST

After a hearty breakfast of onigiri from Lawson’s with the lunch time crowd on the nearby park benches, I begin today’s subway journey with something new: a Tokyo Metro One Day Pass. This pass allows you unlimited travel on Tokyo Metro lines as well as Toei busses and Toei subway lines. I hop on the Oedo line train bound for Karamae where I have to walk a block to change trains to the Asakusa line. Oh look, there’s a Toei bus stop right outside the station, what a surprise.

[ First-Time Traveler’s Tip: If you plan to use either the subway or JR systems heavily, consider one-day and multi-day passes! ]

Before changing trains I run across a nifty toy store that sells tons of children’s toys, scale model kits and N gauge model railroad trains. They also do wholesale business. Needless to say, I have to pick up four N gauge locomotives [ although at a significantly higher price than if I had purchased them at one of the stores on Nakamise Dori ].

I change trains to the Asakusa line and it’s only one stop to Asakusa station, but unlike the Ginza line, this station stop is a couple blocks from the Karimarimon Gate in Asakusa. I walk the back streets of Asakusa and a large covered shopping arcade.

1:30pm JST

Enjoying the afternoon shopping at a wide variety of stores, some carrying kitchy junk but others carrying quality goods. The kimono tailor, for example, where I ask them where I can find kanzashi, and they direct me to Nakamisme Dori. On the way to Nakamise Dori I stop in another store that sells paper goods and decorative items. After picking up a few cell phone stickers and keychain, I also ask them where the best place is to find kanzashi…

… and the snowball starts rolling.

From there phone calls are made, maps are consulted, the owner of the shop arrives to add his opinion, and a thick Asakusa guidebook is annotated with PostIt notes to direct me to a few antique dealers.

Then I meet Yuki, a Japanese woman with excellent English language skills, who is picking up a special order from this shop. She proceeds to act as translator and offers to guide me to a couple of these antique shops. One of them will see you by appointment-only, so an appointment is made and Yuki and I stroll through the Sensoji Temple complex on the way to these antique dealers, first to a stall where antique kanzashi (as well as old kokeshi dolls) are sold.

We then head to the appointment-only antique store on the far side of Sensoji which houses the hilts of samurai swords, armor, expensive china and ancient ceramics. We are seated in comfy couches and served hot coffee before the antiques master who has several very expensive antique koogai and kushi sets waiting before us. Absolutely lovely pieces and all of them true antiques.

Yuki translates between myself and the antiques master and his wife who is seated on tatami mats in the space that serves as their office. I feel like I’ve just turned Japan on its head with this one simple goal and entered another world. It’s also emblematic of how things are done in Japan… the word of a friend… a phone call… a personal meeting. We discuss prices (which are reasonable) but I’m reluctant to purchase such expensive items for a friend whose budget doesn’t include Meiji Era antiques. I defer and agree to meet with the antiques master at his shop tomorrow, when he says he will show me a few, more appropriate pieces.

4:00om JST

Yuki and I say goodbye to the antiques master and chat as we wander back to Nakamise Dori where we wander into several shops … and then the the time comes for us to go our separate ways. I am indeed fortunate to have made a friend whose bilingual skills made this experience enjoyable and memorable. Helping each other to extremes seems to be an obsession with the Japanese and it’s the oil that keeps their society and communities running, everyone doing his part to keep the karma bank full.

I hang about Sensoji taking photographs and recording some video footage of the lovely twilight sky against the temple gates and Tokyo Sky Tree just across the river.

6:30pm JST

Instead of the Asakusa line, I take the Ginza line back to Monzen Nakacho, the total time from station to station, a little more than half an hour. Its also time for dinner and what better place for dinner than Yoshinorya, right next door to the subway exit and I do mean right next door. I have beef curry and rice with a soft boiled egg and a bowl of miso soup.

7:35pm JST

Iidesuyo!

I wander down to “the other side” of the Pachinko parlor to score some fresh baked pastries and noticed the food vendors are setting up their stalls on the sidewalks. Serendipity, the way it works for me in Japan, has set up an imagawaki vendor for me… fresh grilled pancakes filled with sweet red azuki bean paste, yum!

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Imagawayaki

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