The rain was lashing down and we emerged from the Asakusa Metro Station into a throng of umbrellas. The weather had done nothing to deter the crowds surging down Nakamise-dori, the street that leads to Tokyo’s Sensoji Temple. The road was packed with market stalls piled high with everything from hand painted chopsticks to kimonos and nodding kittens, and people were stopping to browse the wares or to buy a warming snack of tempura or noodles.
An Ancient Buddhist Temple
We walked past the prayer lanterns and the incense burners to watch people getting their fortunes told. This is a popular pastime at Sensoji: you drop a coin into a slot at the fortune telling kiosk and pick out a numbered stick from a box. The number takes you to a wooden drawer from which you take a strip of paper with your fortune written in Japanese and English. If you like the fortune you put it into your pocket; if you don’t you can tie it to a rack and buy another one!
The temple itself dates back to the 7th century, although it has been rebuilt several times. We went inside, to find shelter and to admire the rich decor and the painted ceiling, but could not approach the inner sanctum as a private service was taking place.
Grounds of the Sensoji Temple
Outside the temple was a large pagoda and some murals that seemed to show scenes from Japanese history. We stopped to look at a small garden containing a shrine to Kumo no Heinai, a 17th century samurai warrior who later adopted a religious life. He came to regret having killed so many people and, as an act of atonement, he requested that as many people as possible should stamp on his grave after he died!
But by now the rain had started to turn to snow. Along with almost everyone else, we decided to seek refuge in the covered shopping streets to the side of Nakamise-dori.