Perfect Timing

Today was all about luck for our group.

Three of us, up early as usual, headed down to the university bakery for breakfast. Unluckily, it was closed and we didn’t know what to do with our desperate hunger. Luckily, there was a tiny bakery about a half a block up from the university gate that we were able to grab some amazing pastries cheaper than our original destination. Now when you think of a savory breakfast food in the US, the last thing you think about is a pastry shop; however, I ended up eating this fantastic little pastry that looked like a figure-eight of dough with a long sausage, yes sausage, running through it along with melted cheese and ketchup—tasted amazing. Other items recovered on the journey included a small cake stuffed with meat of some sort and garnished with cheese, a small cupcake with a panda face (tehe) on it, and another sausage-based item.

After breakfast and waking everyone else up, our goal for the day was to make it to Asakusa to watch the Sanja Matsuri festival–yet another one of Tokyo’s three largest celebrations. To add to the fun of the day, seven Bunkyo students offered to come with our group for the day, show us around, and all-in-all have a good time. We hopped on the subway from Bunkyo to Asakusa which took about 40 minutes including train changes and whatnot; plenty of time to snap some pictures, mess with Steve a bit, and warm the legs up for another epic day of walking. When the Japanese students all said that this day would be one of huge crowds I thought to myself, sure, but it can’t be thaaat bad, it was. As we got off the subway train (along with literally every other person on the already packed car) it became apparent just what we were in for. The Sanja Matsuri is a festival that occurs annually during May in which thousands of people flock to the Sensoji Temple area to watch as groups of volunteers dressed in traditional costume carry shrines to the gods through the streets in parade fashion. The temple, founded around 628 AD, is said to be the oldest temple in Tokyo–fun fact. What is more impressive than the age, however, is the size the place and the streets surrounding it. I mean, you know a place is important when something called the Thunder Gate is the entrance. The gate houses statues of the gods Fūjin and Raijin, the gods of Wind and Thunder/lighting, respectively, in each side as well as an enormous red lantern that usually hangs down in the center. Because of the unfathomably giant crowds that come during the festival, this giant lantern, in addition to a second one on the inner gate, are lifted up to allow for a higher volume of people to flow in at once.

Pete outside the Thunder Gate

Pete outside the Thunder Gate

From inside the gate (after stopping to take a picture or five of the baby kittens in an old man’s hand) we were instantly met with a chaotic scene and sensory overload in every sense of the word. Overwhelming aromas of the street vendors filled the air as we immersed ourselves in the mass of festival-goers. Shops of every possible taste and type lined the streets of what is known as the Nakamise-dōri. I swear, there was a shop for everything. Samuri swords in one, umbrellas in another, extremely cheap tourist gifts in a third, and a toy store after that. Interspersed among all of the gift shops were a number of food stands that reminded me all too much of the Minnesota State Fair (the only difference being that the state fair has not yet decided to go for the “whole grilled and salted fish” on a stick…yet). I guess in a way the two are fairly (haha…fair) similar in that they both revolve around a well ingrained set of traditions that is characteristic to each city. The way the Sanja differs from the fair though is its religious undertones which brings me to our next stroke of good luck for the day. Just as we reach the temple steps, surrounded by an extremely strong scent of incense being burned all around us, The streets from where we had just come parted and loud yelling began to grow near. Through the courtyard of the temple a golden bird statue began to come into view as the yelling got closer. Luck was definitely on our side since we showed up as soon as the festival began. The men and women under the enormous shrine heaved and yelled as they walked to the sound of wooden blocks being beaten together. Once they reached the center of the courtyard the shrine bearers hoisted the huge golden structure into the air as the crown went crazy! It was very moving to see the power and joy the whole thing brought to everyone around me. Children also got to take part in the festivities by carrying a smaller shrine in the same manner through the streets while a group of two young boys kept time on a giant drum.

As we made our way out of the craziness of Asakusa and back onto a subway bound of the Edo-Tokyo Museum we managed to catch a glimpse of the Asahi Brewery (denoted by the giant, sperm-like ornament on the top of the building) among other things. The Edo-Tokyo museum was fairly interesting though not the best part of the trip by any means. One of those “I’ve seen a museum before” moments, and I spent the whole time walking among the various exhibits chatting with a Bunkyo girl about how we were bored and just wasting some time wandering around. One thing I did find exceptionally interesting though was the WWII exhibit which housed the original copy of the declaration of surrender signed by the Japanese government following the two A-bomb strikes to end the war.

Making our way back onto the train for the ride home brought one of the last interesting notes of the day. There were two different lines at the station we were boarding at; the first was the one we would be getting on, and the second was a separate line that ran to different parts of the city. This second line, as our guides pointed out to us, was closed due to an individual leaping out in front of the train to commit suicide not 30 minutes before we arrived. Apparently, in the economic struggles that are facing the whole world, this phenomenon has been occurring much more frequently as of late.

The day ended with accidentally offering to not only have three of the Bunkyo students back to our dorm, but cook for them as well! I’m just happy me and Peter were able to scramble our cooking abilities fast enough to find something suitable for our guests out of the extremely limited resources available. Luckily, we managed to make everything ok and the day ended like any other; a few beers, a bowl of rice, and an early bed time.

Until tomorrow ❤

~Pat

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