The sometimes Folded Giant Lantern at Kaminarimon – Vol. 1 “Asakusa” by Shinobu Machida’s Japan Tour
- By tomiyama update
Lower City Neighborhoods Cultural Researcher Shinobu Machida’s Japan Tour: getting to the heart of Japan’s origins. Vol 1, Asakusa, one of the most popular visiting spots for foreigners.
The Asakusa area, known as a visiting spot, is located to the east of Taito-ku, and is the oldest downtown area in Tokyo. One of the reasons foreigners love this place is being able to experience both good, old Japanese traditional culture and new, fascinating, notable sites such as the Tokyo Skytree.
When you talk about this neighborhood, you can’t leave out Kinryuzan Sensō-ji. The origin of Sensō-ji is traced back to the Asuka period (A.D. 583-710). It was built after two brothers, Hamanari and Takenari Hinokumano, who ran the fishing industry in Sumida river, drew up a statue of the Buddhist Goddess Kannon from an upper stream. The blessing of Sho Kanzeon Bosatsu (Kannon), the principal image in Sensō-ji, is highly beneficial and is said to have soothed many people’s worries.
The icon for Sensō-ji would be the famous Kaminarimon, a unique free-standing gate with two statues of the Shinto gods Fujin (Wind) and Raijin (Thunder). Raijin, built in 942, was originally placed in Komagata, and moved to its current position in the Kamakura period (A.D. 1185-1133). The statues were damaged in a fire in 1865, and restored with a donation by Konosuke Matsushita, the founder of Panasonic. A hidden secret is the carving of a dragon on the bottom of Kaminarimon.
The giant lantern in Kaminarimon is made of Japanese paper, and it’s refurbished every 10 years by Takahashi Chochin Kabushiki Kaisha (Takahashi Lantern Corporation), a shop established in Kyoto, sponsored by Panasonic. The materials of the giant lantern, including the bamboo and Japanese paper, are prepared a year in advance, and specialists try to finish it in around three months. The current giant lantern is the 5th lantern, created in 2013. You can see the giant lantern folded, a rare sight, to permit the portable shrines of Sanjasai (Sanja festival) to pass through the gate in May of every year. The lantern can also be folded for strong winds, such as a typhoon.
Shopping street Asakusa Nakamise has about 90 souvenir shops on both sides of a 250 meter approach to Kaminarimon gate. This street is always busy with visitors and foreigners buying souvenirs. It’s said this shopping street was created by the people who used to clean the street. The street’s specialty is doll cakes, including “Ganso Kimura-ya Ningyoyaki Honpo” (The original Kimura family doll cakes) and “Ganso Ningyoyaki Kimura-ya Honten” (The Kimura family authentic doll cakes). Ningyoyaki (doll cakes) are small roll cakes made from old fashioned Japanese sponge cake and filled with sweet bean paste. It can be molded into various dolls, such as Kaminarimon, Daruma, pigeons, Five Stories Pagoda, Raijin, etc, which entertain visitors. There are other souvenir shops which give a sense of Japanese emotion.
Nitenmon Gate is located in the east of Sensō-ji and was built in 1618. It was designated as a nationally important cultural property in 1946. Most architecture in Sensō-ji is rebuilt, the originals lost due to fire and earthquake. Only Nitenmon in Asakusa and the Rokkaku-do, built in the Muromachi period, still remember those years.
Asakusa Shrine is next to Sensō-ji. Asakusa Shrine and Sensō-ji used to be one place, but were separated due to Shinbutsu Bunri, an order to separate Shinto from Buddhism, issued by the Meiji government. Asakusa Shrine is often called “Sanja sama” as its alias, which derives from the three Gods being held up there. This shrine was also the origin of Sanja Matsuri.
If you want to see the town around Asakusa, coursing through famous spots with a Jinrikisha is a fun thing to do. Ebisuya Jinrikisha introduces tourist spots around Kaminarimon. The price of a cruise starts from 3,000 yen per person, which is reasonable. The young people who carry JinRikisha are called Shafu and they speak various languages, so you will be able to use them comfortably.
Asakusa Roku-ku, known as an entertainment district throughout the ages, used to have Asakusa Ryounkaku, a 12 story tower and a symbol of the Meiji period. The tower had the first electric elevator in Japan, but was lost due to the great Kanto earthquake. This place also has Asakusa Engei Hall, which was built in 1964 and turned out famous talents such as comedians Kenichi Emoto and Kitano Takeshi (stage name: Beat Takeshi). It also has Asakusa ROX, a commercial building notable for its architecture. On the 4th floor, inside Yumemachi theater, is the “30 Tsubo no Himitsu Kichi” (Secret Base with 99.17 sq. ft.). There the Asakusa Roku-ku townscape, as it was between the Meiji era and Taisho, with some nostalgic Sentō from the Showa era, is reproduced in diorama.
Asakusa is not only a tourist’s town but also one filled with places gourmets visit frequently. Asakusa Namiki Yabusoba is one of them, there you can touch the emotions of the Edokko (Tokyo people). Zarusoba, which is 100 years old, is also exquisite. Since Zarusoba is a popular restaurant, you have to expect waiting in line during lunch time. If you want to try Sukiyaki (beef hot pot) with Japanese Black beef, or Shabushabu (thinly sliced meat boiled quickly with vegetables and dipped in sauce), I recommend “Asakusa Imahan”, which has been in business since 1895. Their lunch menu starts with 1500 yen, so you can enjoy delicious meals for a reasonable price. If you want to eat some sweets, go to Angelus, an old restaurant built in 1946, whose homemade mini chocolate roll cakes are popular. They also offer a unique beverage called Ume Dutch Coffee (Plum Dutch Coffee) which is Dutch coffee mixed with plum wine. Ume Dutch Coffee is also loved by Shotaro Ikenami, a Japanese author, and Osamu Tezuka, a Japanese manga artist.
Asakusa ―――――― a beloved place which has flourished as a Lower City neighborhood since the Edo era and which still fascinates visitors inside and outside the country. By visiting this place, you may be able to understand the nature of the Japanese.
@japan introduces Asakusa, by Shinobu Machida, Lower City Neighborhoods Cultural Researcher and Idol Urara Tachibana, active in Akihabara