That jet lag never seems to amaze me. Woke up at 5AM and couldn’t fall back asleep. Eventually everyone woke up and stated they were hungry after discussing pancakes that were too far away at a restaurant that wouldn’t be opened for another 2-3 hours. We opted for the best alternative – 7-Eleven. We grabbed some hot food as well as onigiri (my old friend who saved me the last time around in Osaka).
We hopped on the train to meet my friend Yuko at Asakusa Station – Tsubasa Station however somehow we opted to walk part of the way there that made me a little late to meeting her. I met Yuko back in 2011 when I went on a Contiki tour of Europe – 7 countries in 10 days where we sat on a coach bus together whether we liked it or not but luckily our group was the better of groups as opposed to the examples we saw interacting with other groups. She was in school when I met her and she was studying music I believe. She is now a marketing researcher.
I had chatted with Yuko for a bit prior to the trip about a festival called the Asakusa Kannon-ura Ichiyo Sakura Matsuri – 4 Chrome, Taito – She had never been to it and we wanted to attend. This courtesan parade is held on the second Saturday of April each year. It consisted of a closed off street north of the Senso-ji Temple where there would be cute Japanese children in procession as well as Geisha/ Oiran Dochu procession to follow and ending off with a drumming performance.
The Oiran Dochu Procession (おいらん道中) in the Edo period was the procession of the Oiran courtesan accompanied by young females to a client’s residence after formal invitation. The Tayu (the top ranking woman) would wear tall footwear in which they would take strides dragging their feet in figure 8 patterns while holding the shoulder of a man (their body guard) to steady her. The steps would be slow but highly exaggerated to gain attention. The Tayu were witty, self-confident and skilled in calligraphy as well as ikebana (flower arranging). The young females that accompanied the Tayu were meant to become prostitutes. The Oiran courtesans were at the highest of standards of being companions and being entertained by them was expensive that it could put a castle into debt. Although they would be paid handsomely, the Tayu could decline an invitation.
This procession is put on by volunteers to commemorate the history of the Oirans of North Asakusa, which was the red light district of the past.
We got there rather early for opening remarks and then the first round of children came at 1045AM waving fake cherry blossom branches and also a little brass band. The next rounds of kids were suppose to come but we decided we were hungry and went on our way to venture for food. The area of Taito is actually quite charming and I really liked the feel of the streets. We walked over to Senso-ji Temple where tons of cherry blossoms and their huge row of markets lined the front of the temple that both started and end with giant red lanterns. We of course did our fortune (100y) – if you get a bad fortune you must tie it up so that they can burn the bad fortune you received away. I absolutely hate being in crowds – what is worst is touristy crowds. We had such a large group that we ended up losing partial group halfway through the walk through the market but we gathered back together. We left Yuko in charge of finding us a good place to eat for lunch. We found ourselves on the second floor at a restaurant called Owariya (1-7-1 Asakusa) that specializes in shrimp tempura and soba noodles. I ordered the Kashiwa A-Seiro with stirred chicken sauce (1,100y)
Back to the festival for the actual Geisha procession – It was actually quite slow and not as eventful as I’d hope but none the less an experience. I ended up getting pulled to the front by an older Japanese lady because she saw me with cameras and so I sat down so everyone could see over me. The procession was very intricate because a few of the geishas were wearing shoes that were 10 inch platforms and slowly they kept dragging their feet in a figure 8 pattern. There were people dressed up with fox masks on who were dancing with ornate colours and fans – that was my favourite part.
We decided to leave and skipped the drumming to grab ice cream. Not regular old ice cream but 7 levels of matcha green tea ice cream at Suzuki-en. Cassie’s high school friend who she hadn’t seen since high school – Atene joined us. Atene now lives in Yokohama and works for the government but studied architecture. We went to line up at Suzuki-en to be told we need to head to another building – their waiting room which literally was a waiting room for the extended line about a block away from the main store. Once our number was called, we were handed tickets and back we went to the main building where awaited the employees to serve you your level of choice for matcha or 4-5 other varieties of ice cream. Since we had such a large group, we all opted to get a double scoop and get each level of matcha possible. I grabbed a level 6 cone for Kanako and myself a level 3 & a level 7. My volleyball friend Kanako was in Hiroshima/Shizuoka visiting her grandparents but had a few days off to roam around so she took the train and joined us for half the day. You can definitely taste the difference in each level of matcha and in the end, I truly preferred the level 7 although it did taste a little powdery.
As a group, we decided to continue on together to Omotesando area. Slowly but surely made our way through Senso-ji temple to get to the trains and off we went. Omotesando is the high end shopping area with a lovely and large street that reminds me of Queen St West meets Yorkville in Toronto or Tokyo’s Champs-Élysées. We ended up walking through Omotesando Hills, a shopping mall and residential space designed by 1995 Pritzker recipient Tadao Ando. The design has this staircase in the middle that spans 3 floors. The staircase is used for runway shows from time to time. We visited a few galleries and artist’s stores and ended up at Tokyu Plaza (designed by Hiroshi Nakamura). The entrance has a giant mirrored escalator entrance and a beautiful rooftop (which we never made it to). We took some photos before Kanako said her goodbyes and went on to meet with her other friends.
We walked over to Yoyogi park where it was jam-packed with people (it was a weekend to begin) with white cherry blossoms adorning the park especially concentrated into one area. The hanami (cherry blossom) viewing brought people out in droves picnicking with tarps under all the trees and tons of locals and tourists basking in the white glow of the cherry blossoms. At this point, the cherry blossoms were in full bloom in Tokyo.
Atene’s original plan was to get us to Roppongi but with the sheer amount of people in our group and how much walking we accomplished that day (29KM), we finished off our night in the Shibuya area. We walked through Shibuya Crossing and had dinner at Tsukada No Osusume that specializes in the Miyazaki region – mangoes, chicken and miso. They had this miso jam/dip that was so flavourful and you are able to purchase as well. For the amount of drinks and food we ate, the bill came out to about 16,000y.
Of course when in Japan, you just need to try out the purikura(プリクラ) – japanese photo booths. Let me tell you, we looked all kinds of wrong and different but funny. After all the excitement of purikura, we walked over to the subway station that has a bridge up where there is a famous mural by a Japanese artist as well as clear views (as clear as a window with the crisscross wire in them can be) where you can watch the whole Shibuya Crossing play out. We called it a night after we watched people cross a few times as Yuko and Atene still had a bit to go to get home and we were all in food coma mode.
Glenn’s journey to Japan has been a trek to say the least. He arrived at 1AM after 38 hours at Chicago airport. Turns out that someone made a fake bomb and brought it on the plane (not working) but nonetheless that that person was able to make it pass security and onto the plane.