Friday, May 6, 2011

東京 Part 2-A Temple and a Shrine

Going to Tokyo can be somewhat daunting.  Not only do you have to figure out how to get around, you have to first decide where you are going.  There is a myriad of sites to see, museums to visit, shopping to do, and food to eat.  It is impossible to know where to begin.  This is why I was so grateful that we had Yuma to show us around! 

The first place Yuma took us was the famous Asakusa Buddhist Temple.  We caught the subway to the stop and when we got out, it was down pouring.  By pure luck, the subway exit was right next to a conbini (convenience store) where they always have 500 yen (about $5.50) umbrellas stocked for this exact reason.  

You can see how much it was pouring here-the rain gutter is like a waterfall!
 Newly acquired umbrellas in hand, we braved the plethora of puddles and driving rain in search of the temple.  We found the place in no time.  Despite the downpour, the place was chock full of people.  We stopped to get a sweet along the way: a cake shaped like a bird filled with sweet bean paste, one of the most standard (and delicious) treats in Japan.  It was still warm too!

The temple was incredible.  Because it was a holiday, the big doors were open and you were able to venture inside.  Yuma told us this was the first time he had ever seen the temple open to the public.  Before entering the temple, you stopped at a station right outside the temple steps that was full of burning incense.  You are meant to step up next to the incense and wave some of the smoke towards your head. The belief is that the smoke brings you wisdom.

Yuma and Karl in front of Asakusa Temple
 We went inside and Yuma taught us how to pray in the Buddhist style.  You took a five yen coin and threw it into a large container in front of the alter area while placing your hands together and bowing.  You would say a pray before stepping aside so the next person could say their prayer.

There are also fortunes that you were able to buy.  You put a fifty-yen coin into a wooden box then picked up a cylindrical wooden container.  Shaking the container on its side until a long thin rod came out just far enough for you to read the number written on it.  You then found the corresponding drawer with that same number opened it and took out your fortune. 

Yuma helping Karl get his fortune (Sorry about the blurry photo!)
A very excited Karl with his fortune
You do this once a year, usually on the New Year’s holiday.  If the fortune is good, you keep it and put it in your wallet.  If it is not a good fortune, you tie it onto a rack and leave it-and its bad fortune or luck-in the temple.  I was not so lucky and had to leave my fortune, but Karl got the “Highest, Excellent Fortune.”  He was very excited and is keeping it in his wallet.

Inside Asakusa Temple
Another building near the Temple
Looking out from the Temple
Just outside the temple there was a fountain from which you are meant to take a drink.  Yuma showed us how: you took one of the cups with the long handles and first rinsed your hand. Then you filled the cup with water coming from the fountain, poured it into your hand and drank. 

The Shinto shrine was right next to the large Buddhist temple.  At the Shinto shrine you prayed in a similar fashion to the Buddist way.  Although there was an additional step of clapping your hands twice and bowing during the prayer sequence.

Yuma and Karl at the entrance of the Shinto Shrine
Both the temple and the shrine were exceptionally beautiful buildings.  We have visited many shrine and temples since we got here last summer.  But I confess that I still know hardly anything about the religions and rituals themselves.  Yet another topic about which there is so much to learn!
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