Just before New Year’s and Christmas, my sister asked me to go to the Hagoita-Ichi in Asakusa to buy her a paddle. The paddles are traditionally used to play a game called hanetsuki, but are mostly bought as good luck charms for the New Year. The Hagoita-Ichi is held at good ol’ Senso-ji Temple - aka, That Temple Everyone Visits in Japan – and despite the maddening crowds, I managed to secure a paddle and all my limbs. Best result!
To get to Senso-ji, you first pass through the massive Kaminarimon, or Thunder Gate, before you hit the swarm that is Nakamise-Dori, the shopping street. You want souvenirs? Baby, Nakamise-Dori is your place. In amongst the traditional, you’ll find stalls selling Johnny’s crap (not that I was interested in those *eye dart*), fake handbags and ice cream burgers. It’s a weird mix of the old-and-the-new, and sadly seems to act more as a tourist trap these days. It’s still fun to experience, though, especially when it’s a beautiful day and the place is buzzing with people.
Kids hard at work painting their own paddles at Hagoita-Ichi.
Needless to say, the paddles themselves are magnificent. Elaborate, beautiful and breathtakingly detailed – and expensive – the work that goes in to each of these is obvious. The stallholders are a heap of fun, teasing passers-by and generally giving Hagoita-Ichi an amazing atmosphere. If you get the chance, go – just be aware that you’ll be ducking past photographers left and right, and be prepared for the crowds.
Now to New Year’s Day! After a lovely night in with my housemates, three of us headed out to the Narihira Santosen Temple (Narihira-san Tosen-ji) here in Katsushika to pray for the New Year. I’m not religious, so bare with me as I stumble over some of the terms and Gods (feel free to correct me!), and I was worried that I would be encroaching on a ritual that was, basically, not for me. But Rie, my housemate, insisted I come, explaining that Japanese Shinto and Buddhist gods are pretty much open to everyone (so no-one is being struck down by mighty forces). The Narihira-san Tosen-ji is famous for its Bound Jizo, and the practice of which you tie a rope around the Jizo to hold in bad energies (as well your “wish”), and at the end of the year, a priest cuts off the ropes to begin the New Year fresh.
Eunyoung tying her rope around the Jizo. He’s a pretty cool guy, to be honest – present in one form or another in most East Asian Buddhist texts, have a read of the Wikipedia page if you’ve got a couple of minutes. (Sidenote: he’s also wearing a knitted hat under the ropes, as per the Six Hats for Six Jizos story, so his noggin doesn’t get cold! I love this story, a lot. Kindness is important, yo!)
The day ended with some traditional Fan Dancing and Taiko (drumming) – to be featured in an upcoming Omo! in Tokyo vlog, as photos cannot do either of them justice.
Rie and Eunyoung, my wonderful company for the day! We also bought Darumas, and painted in one of his eyeballs as per tradition. I learnt a lot, to say the least, and felt it was a wonderful start to my new year here in Japan. Here’s to 2013!