It was a Saturday, July 26, 2014, during the first weekly break of the 25-day 1st ICA/Japan Training Course for “Fostering Leaders to Reinforce Business Development of Agricultural Co-operatives in FY 2014” which I attended at the Institute for the Development of Agricultural Cooperation in Asia (IDACA) in Machida City, Tokyo, Japan, that I experienced the first sightseeing trip on the famous attractions in the capital of the Land of the Rising Sun.
After doing some shopping at the Akihabara District, our group of 10 composed of the 7 training participants (1 Filipino, 1 Malaysian, 2 Indians and 3 Thais) plus 1 IDACA Staff, 1 representative from the International Cooperative Alliance (ICA) and the tour guide proceeded to the Sensō-ji Budhist Temple, also known as Kannon Temple, which is the oldest and most popular temple in Tokyo located at the Asakusa, Taitō Ward or District.
I was so excited to step out from the chartered tourist bus to catch sight of the point of entry to the temple- the Thunder (Kaminarimon) Gate where tourists like me can hardly resist the urge of taking selfies in front of the imposing Buddhist structure featuring a massive paper lantern dramatically painted in vivid red-and-black tones to suggest thunderclouds and lightning and its two protective deities – (left side) Raijin – God of Thunder and (right side) Fujin – God of Wind.
From the gate, we moved along the more than 200-meter long and several hundred-year old shopping street called Naka-mise, which is lined with small shops selling omiyage (souvenirs) ranging from fans, ukiyo-e (woodblock prints), kimono and other robes, Buddhist scrolls, traditional sweets, to Godzilla toys, t-shirts, and cell-phone trinkets. Catering to the visiting crowds, the surrounding area has many eating places that feature traditional dishes (hand-made noodles, sushi, tempura, etc.).
At the end of the street, our shopping done, we reached the second entry point- the two-story Hōzōmon “Treasure-House Gate” standing 22.7 meters (74 ft) tall, 21 meters (69 ft) wide, and 8 meters (26 ft) deep with the first story housing two statues, three lanterns and two large sandals while the second story serving as repository of many of the Sensō-ji’s treasures.
In the temple courtyard stands a five-story pagoda dubbed “Goju-no-To” which, at 53 meters tall, is the second highest pagoda in the whole of Japan.
On our way to the Main Hall, we dropped by a traditional “o-mikuji “ stall wherein shrine-goers make a small offering (generally a five-yen coin as it is considered good luck) and randomly choose fortunes written on strips of paper from a box, hoping for the resulting fortune to be good. When the prediction is bad, it is a custom to fold up the strip of paper and attach it to a pine tree or a wall of metal wires alongside other bad fortunes, the idea being that the bad luck will wait by the tree rather than attach itself to the bearer.
Slogging on further, I noticed that the ambiance of the temple grounds turned spiritual. As we passed by a huge cauldron, I observed folks placing their incense sticks thereat and then waft the supposedly sacred smoke into their faces, for as long as they could endure, bringing them it was said, good health.
Finally, we entered the Hondō, or Main Worship Hall where the golden statue of Kannon, the goddess of mercy is enshrined.
While inside the Hondo Hall, my mind was transported back to the year 628 when, legend says that two brothers fished a statue of Kannon out of the Sumida River, and even though they put the statue back into the river, it always returned to them. Hence, the temple was built to honor her. But my deep concentration was interrupted by the call of the tourist guide for us to head back to the waiting chartered tourist bus that would ferry the group to IDACA in Machida City situated within Tokyo Prefecture.