We wanted to go somewhere typically Tokyo. We choose Senso-ji, the city’s oldest temple, thinking it would be calm; hoping it would give us a glimpse into the life of Tokyoites and a gentle intro. to the mega metropolis.
Approaching the great Kaminarimom or Thunder Gate we were taken aback by the number of people. Rickshaw drivers touted for custom. Japanese students asked if they could take us on a tour in the hope of practicing their English and there were more foreigners than Japanese dressed in kimonos. Nearly everyone wanted to have their photo taken by the enormous red chochin (lantern)- which may be paper but weighs 670 kg. The gods of wind and thunder looked down on all the commotion.
Bewildered for a moment we soon plunged in, following the crowds into Nakamise-dori shopping street. Part of a tradition of selling to pilgrims, every need was catered for. Small shops sold fans, kimonos, Japanese clogs and Buddhist scrolls. There were toys and T-shirts, mouse-pads, and dog outfits, socks with toes, chopsticks and wigs with elaborate hair-pins.
Food was everywhere. Bean-paste buns, rice crackers, sweets. Great lines formed, as vendors and machines worked as fast as possible in tiny, cramped booths. It was a great production line, seething, swelling, never satisfied.
And all the time people were moving towards the Hozo-mon, the gate guarding the main hall. Once through it, another sound hit me. Clack, clack, clack. All around me, clack, clack, clack. Labelled fortune telling sticks were being shaken in metal cannisters. Answers to questions provided in one of the hundred corresponding wooden drawers. There was laughter, excitement, and fun. Stuff was still on sale, but now it was official temple merchandise. Amulets, statues, scrolls and books about the temple. A smoking cauldron caught my eye. The sweet smell of incense was overpowering. Fumes curled lazily upwards. Worshippers wafted the smoke towards themselves, covering themselves with it, bathing in it. They believe it bestows good health. Palms were placed together in a gesture of respect. Sometimes they bowed.
Then it was over to the dragon water fountain for a final purifcation before approaching the main hall. Water poured over hands with long handled ladles. Water poured into the palm to rinse the mouth. And finally the ladle tilted so water ran over the handle and cleansed it for the next person.
After all this eating and buying, joy and excitement, it was up the steps to make an offering and pray to the deity. Finally.
We could not have picked a better spot for our first outing. We could have picked a quieter one.