On March 21, my friends and I formulated a list of twelve things we had to do while in Tokyo; among them, my three that have been completed thus far are: 1) Visit Tokyo Tower 3) Visit Sensoji in Asakusa and 4) Take a trip to an onsen in Hakone. Slow and steady wins the race. Tomorrow, if it doesn’t rain, I’ll tackle number six: ride my bike to the Imperial Palace and tour the garden. For the complete list, please see the original post: http://lettersfromval.com/2012/03/21/my-last-first/.
I visited Asakusa today, three months after writing that list, due to a lucky encounter with N. It was my good fortune to teach her two weeks ago at a time when I was supposed to be teaching another group that couldn’t make it. It was her first day of re-starting English lessons, after a long absence, and her enthusiasm and love of language made the group come alive. As often happens, we were starting the food chapter, and after the lesson, N invited me to lunch and a tour of her neighborhood of Asakusa. Of course, I jumped at the chance to be guided around Asakusa by someone who has lived there for more years than I’ve been alive. N, whom I’ve already dubbed my Japanese mother, (she sounded exactly like my mother, “You can do anything, you’re clever, etc., etc.), treated me to a really special day. Visiting Asakusa on my own, while leafing through a Frommer’s guidebook, just would not have filled me up (literally and figuratively) the way this day has. Let’s look at Asakusa, starting with… you guessed it–food.
1) N took me to one of her favorite Italian restaurants, because she wasn’t sure if I was a fan of Japanese food. Very often my students express surprise when I tell that I’m a huge fan of sushi, sashimi and wasabe. We lunched at Ristorante Giardino, that has an outdoor patio for dining, where we enjoyed one of the lunch set menus: an appetizer, two main dishes in perfect Japanese sizes, dessert and coffee.
* Chocolate cake, tiramisu, and coffee gelato. At the restaurant N taught me to say “I like cake” in Japanese, but it’s the coffee ice-cream that rocked my world, and I quickly changed my “I like cake” to “I love ice-cream.”
2) After our long lunch, N suggested that we tour Asakusa by rickshaw. She’d never ridden in one before, and I never even take taxis, so we were both hyped for the adventure. Our very lovely rickshaw guy (and by lovely I mean personality and (such) a cute face) carried us down multiple streets where I touched three silver statues of raccoons for good luck, beauty, and prosperity, saw the Japanese version of Robin Hood perched atop a building, and passed countless restaurants, shops and tourists. He went out of his way (it wasn’t a part of our package) to show us the amusement park, and then he carried on with the famous sites: the Buddhist school, the hall for comedy and magic, and the sidewalk with the impressions of celebrity hands. The weather in Tokyo, today, was warm, with a cloudless sky, and it was nice to feel the breeze on our faces as he made stops to point out various landmarks.
3) The Sensoji Temple, the oldest temple in Tokyo, has swarms of tourists year round. Though it was a Thursday afternoon, there were many groups of schoolchildren, locals and foreigners from all over the world, some who wanted to pray, shake a good fortune out of a wooden box, and others who simply wished to marvel at the beauty of the temple, the gates, the shrine, and the surrounding grounds.
* N showed me the right way to pray at the temple; first, wave the smoke towards you to rid yourself of darkness and negativity, then take a ladle filled to the brim,wash both hands, rinse your mouth (spit), then pour some water on the ground for the ancestors.
We descended the steps, and though we were less than ten steps away, we left the bustle and high energy of the temple behind, .
A few days ago, my daily inspiration from Brahma Kumaris was, “Great souls take advantage of every moment and every opportunity to give happiness to others through kindness in their thoughts.” On my journey through life, I’ve been blessed to meet some truly great souls, not just great but fantastic. Fantastic N, had not only kind thoughts, positive actions and a willingness to share her neighborhood and culture, which she holds dear, but she gave me the gift of her time.