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Asakusa Temple

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There is hardly any visitor to Tokyo who does not get to see the Asakusa Kannon Temple, or catches a glimpse of the theater and shopping district surrounding it.

The huge red lantern hanging at the red lacquered portals is impressive and unforgettable.  This is the main thundering gate, the Kaminarimon, for the gods of wind and thunder stand guard at its side (Fujin and Raijin). The row of stalls which line both sides of the walk seems to have encroached since Hiroshige’s days, making it narrower for the constant stream of people that flows.  By the time they reach the entrance to the temple, they are ready for the smoke ceremony of purification, supplication and healing from the giant incense burner, ever kept supplied by earnest believers.

SONY DSC Faith in this temple is attested by its long history.  The eastern gate, Nitem-mon, is commemorated to the three fishermen, Sanja, who are supposed to have been the founders of the institution in the 7th century.  When they cast their nets one day, a tiny two inch image of the God of Mercy was found.  This story is not strange, since most of the ancient temples which originated in this era have a similar story to tell.  It is quite possible that when the anti-Buddhist faction of the house of Mononobe got the upper hand, they threw these images into the waters which invariably surrounded the temples.  When the Soga returned to power they were probably fished out again.

Ryogoku Fireworks

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A whoosh, an eerie screech, a puff and the fireworks display starts with a bang the kawa biraki, the river opening ceremony.

Predominant in the Ryogoku area were the amusements, temples and shrines so dear to the hearts of the common people.  The summer festival of “Hanabi” attracted hundreds of thousands.  It was an annual free show sponsored by the riverside restaurants and boat-keepers.

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Originally, there were two main makers of fireworks, their contests of skill making the fete more interesting. These were the Kagi-ya and the Tama-ya.  After each burst, the grateful crowds shouted both names enthusiastically.  Their order of firing followed by a printed program on sale gave the names of the maker, the donator and the explosives specified name.

Unfortunately, Tama-ya one day, in a local celebration, accidentally set fire to one of the Shogun’s mansions.  For this his shop was suspended.  Irrespective, the faithful yearly spectators kept on repeating the names of Kagi-ya and Tama-ya.

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Congestion of traffic has today banished the Ryogoku display to the Tama River, where it is held in the latter part of July.

 

 

 

Shower at Ôhashi

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”Shower at Ôhashi” has always been pointed out with pride as having deeply influenced the French Impressionists.  Van Gogh even copied the same composition in oil.

What we see as a long raft of logs in this print, actually showed two rafts in the original. The bridge is no longer at its original site, but was somewhere near the present Ryôgoku Bridge, the center of the annual fireworks display which has been suspended recently for causing congestion to Tokyo’s heavy traffic.

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The umbrellas that are depicted, can still be seen in the smaller towns, mainly hot-spring resorts.  Inns keep a stock of them for the convenience of customers on rainy days and usually the name or trade-mark is conspicuously painted on its top.  The handle and ribs are made of bamboo and the covering is oiled paper.  When closed, it is not carried by the handle but dangled from the top where a wire ring is attached.  Being strong and heavy the samurai learnt to use it as a temporary weapon of defense until he could get at his sword.  Since the ribs folded like bats wings, they were called the kômori or bat.

Mingling with the pattering rain were the sounds of wooden footgear, the geta, thonged like the sandal, the underside of the oblong pieces of wood had two lateral uprights, sometimes one, for easier passage on muddy ground.  A cap of stiff oiled paper or leather was affixed as a toe guard.

Kanda, Dyers Street

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The Kanda area is today noted for its many schools, colleges, bookshops and second-hand bookstores that extend up to Jimbocho, where one can still fond editions long long out of print.

Notwithstanding the tendency of Shinjuku in becoming the central heart of Tokyo, the Marunouchi business section is steadily pushing itself towards Kanda, which is not strange as part of it is the same word.

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Notwithstanding the tendency of Shinjuku in becoming the central heart of Tokyo, the Marunouchi business section is steadily pushing itself towards Kanda, which is not strange as part of it is the same word.

Kanda formerly merited the name of a ward itself and in Edo days many merchants concentrated here.  To say that one was born in Kanda was a compliment.  They took pride in its Myojin festival which in conjunction with that of Hie Shrine was the city’s largest and best.

The Kanda Myojin records back to the 8th century.  It could be much earlier, proving this area being settled long ago.  Its hills helped make the city of Edo by filling up the swamps.  An important source of water supply for Edo passed through Kanda brought in from the lake of today’s Inokashira Park just besides Kichijoji Station.

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The area surrounding Kanda railway station was known as Dyer’s Town.  Here long strips of silk, hemp and cotton were printed into Yukata patterns washed in the flowing waters of the canal which also has long since been filled up.

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Kojimachi, Sanno Shrine Festival (麹町、山王神社祭り)

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The Hie Shrine, or Sanno Sama, where the Capital Tokyu Hotel is located, together with Kanda Shrine, were the most popular among the Edo people.  These two shrines alternately held the most spectacular parish festival of the year.

 

The gilded miskoshi portable shrine was nothing compared to the numerous “gentle moving dashi” carriages.  The latter were also temporary residences of the god-like, but they were personages and things closer to life.  For example, the Sanno had among many others, dashi for Benten the goddess of matrimony, Kasuga Riujin the sea god, the treasure ship of the seven of the seven gods of Fortune, for a whaling junk, a tea whisk, anything that alluded to the occupation or concern of the local inhabitants.

 

The citizens of each block subscrited money and took care of its “special guest god”.  After each festival they were preserved in special buildings constructed in the yards of its leading citizen. The history of each car and figure were well known and parishioners prided to show them off to the rest of the city.  All friends were invited to open houses properly decorated for the occasion.  Festive food was provided and those with marriageable daughters decked them out with new headresses and kimono that must have cost a tenth of the family’s annual income.  This was the spirit of the Japanese matsuri festival.

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More information about the Sanno Matsuri festival

http://www.tenkamatsuri.jp/

Language Barrier

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English signs are plentiful in Tokyo, and each Tokyoite has a vocabulary of English words in his language, the only thing is his pronunciation. To understand him master first how the basic vowels, A,I,U,E,O, sound A is as an Art. I as in Imp. U as in Bull. E as in End. O as in Odd. Repeat them slowly and distinctly in front of Japanese so he can correct you. You’ll get it in no time. Usually these vowels are preceded by consonants which you pronounce in the ordinary way. From here you are successfully venturing the road to healing and speaking the Japanese language.

If you cannot be understood in English, it maybe you’re talking too fast. Anyway sign language helps and it is amusing. The Japanese are great in catching pantomime , after all their great Noh and Kabuki are actually mimes. Don’t give up, be patient, for the crucial moment, someone will be at your elbow saying in clear English “Can I help you.”

You won’t get lost in Tokyo, you can even successfully shop, eat drink and be merry in silent understanding. Here’s one tip, be sure the “yes” is “yes” and “no” is “no”. The yes may mean just the opposite, like “Yes, we have no bananas.”