The whole object of travel is not to set foot on foreign land; it is at last to set foot on one’s own country as a foreign land.” – G.K. Chesterton

Friday, 4 April 2008

Visit to Sensoji

Sensoji is Tokyo's oldest temple. Honestly, I'm not a temple person (as the lack of temple-viewing in the itinerary of our first visit to Kyoto can attest), but Sensoji is one of Tokyo's must-see sights, and since Kim was bringing her visiting friends to see the temple, I decided that we ought to tag along. Incidentally, there was also a mikoshi (portable shrine) festival on last weekend at Sensoji, which, unfortunately for us, meant having to battle people crowd left, right and centre.

It was crowded even from outside the outer gate (given the name Kaminarimon), and the crowd got only thicker as we proceeded towards the temple. I thought temples were supposed to be serene and peaceful - certainly not the case on this day as merchants and shops were set up that day to make a lot of business from tourists.

The outer gate, Kaminarimon; and the (crowded) path leading towards the inner area:

Rob and I were particularly interested in the food stalls along the way, and got separated from the others who had different interests. One of the stalls was selling a cake called Ningyoyaki, which literally translates to "fried dolls" although "baked" would be a better name. The queue was long, and it was a long wait for these popular cakes because the supply (handmade) was running far slower than demand. I'm surprised we stuck around long enough to get a bag of 7 pieces. Watching the guy make these ningyoyaki was mesmerising, but it's obviously a very repetitive and boring job to do.

Starting with an empty mold, the ningyoyaki guy fills a minute amount of batter to the bottom of each mold; then he uses a pastry bag filled with anko and puts a dollop of anko into each mold:

He then spoons a very thin layer of batter on top of the anko dollop (we're amazed at how little batter is used in this cake!), then he shuts the mold and places it on the 'grill' in front of him where three filled mold cases are cooking; he then picks up one of the filled mold (which would have had 5minutes cooking time) and unmolds the finished product:

Waiting in the (long) line for perhaps 20minutes, and finally sinking our teeth into these popular cakes

Were the cakes good? They must've been because Rob polished off 3 while they were still hot. I thought they were a bit too sweet, but then my tastebuds have been a bit off lately (became more sensitive).

After that long distraction, we finally made it to the inner gate (called Hozomon). On the other side of the gate, upon exiting, you can see two huge slippers hung on either side of the gate. Interesting. I wonder what they symbolise.

The path leading towards the inner gate, Hozomon; and the giant slippers on the other side of this gate:

The temple itself wasn't big, but there were a lot of people wafting incense smoke on themselves and praying and worshipping. And inside there were many people offering small change into the well by flinging it long distance all the way from the entrance (like I said it was very crowded). I was too busy worrying about being hit by one of the flying coins to take much notice of anything else inside.

The temple itself, and inside. The people were throwing money into the large well near the front and then praying:

Beside the temple, there was a row of foodstalls selling the usual festival junk food like toffee fruits, takoyaki (fried octopus balls) and chocolate bananas. We had far too much sweet junk, and my body felt icky afterwards.

I was glad when we headed home away from the crowd...

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