Saturday, September 5, 2009

JapanBall 2009 - A Large Group on Four Tours

I've mentioned ad nauseam that I'm in Tokyo, but I don't think I thoroughly explained the why and the how. Last year my husband and I joined a tour group known as JapanBall that attended five Japanese baseball games in one week. We had such a great time that I had to return this year. (Unfortunately, Marc, my husband, couldn't join us this year because of work.) In my previous blog post I mentioned running out for breakfast. Here's what I had.

I went to a nearby convenience store (known as konbini in Japan) and purchased what you see in the above photo. My tuna & mayonnaise onigiri (rice ball), goma (sesame seed) and cheese pan (bread) and green tea were oishikatta (delicious).

After breakfast on Friday morning I met my fellow JapanBallers at the hotel. The group is 25 strong, probably the largest contingent organizers Bob and Mayumi have had. After introductions, we split up into four smaller groups to explore Tokyo. I joined Mayumi and eleven others on a tour of Asakusa, a historic district where the Sensoji temple is located. I've been several times, but it's always nice to see this complex of bright orange structures.

Here I am at the Kaminarimon ("Thunder Gate"), the entrance to Sensoji. I love the guys posing to my right.

The Kaminarimon is a popular meeting place, probably because it's gigantic. The top character (雷) is kaminari (kah-knee-nah-ree) and means "thunder." The bottom character (門) is mon (mown) and means "gate." I'm not sure of the Buddhist implications of this term, but I think it has something to do with protection. Maybe.

This dude is one of the protectors. He looks pretty scary, but I think he's on our side. Against evil. His name is Raijin, and he's the god of thunder and lightning. Is it odd to have a Shinto god at the entrance to a Buddhist temple?

The long walkway from the gate to the temple is lined with shops that sell a mix of products ranging from high-end crafts to cute souvenirs to chotchkes to food stuffs such as the rice crackers pictured below. I didn't fall for any of it.

At the end of the line of shops is the temple itself, which is being renovated and covered in scaffolding and a bright white sheet. Disappointing. In front of the temple is the incense burner you see above. Patrons buy a stick of incense and burn it here, fanning the smoke toward them in the hopes the smoke will keep them healthy.

Before entering the temple, people wash their hands at this fountain with my crazy dragon friends. The idea is to purify yourself before entering the sacred place.

There is also a five-story pagoda on the complex. I love the architectural detail.

This is a bodhisattva called Jizo, the guardian of children and the protector of the souls of children who have died. I'm not sure if this is marking a grave, or if he's just there to be worshipped.

This is my favorite part about Asakusa. Sensoji is a beautiful temple, but I love the calm generated from this quiet corner.

This is the Nade Botokesan Buddha. People rub his leg and pray for good luck and healing.

Prayer board such as the ones above hang at shrines. People write prayers on the backs.

After about an hour of walking around the complex, most of us headed back to the hotel while others wandered on their own. That's the great part about this tour: You're able to do as you please; if you're not interested in going to a particular place, then you don't have to go.

During my free time before I meet the group before our first baseball game, I had lunch. Last night when I briefly explored the neighborhood surrounding our hotel, I noticed a shop called Original Bento. I made a note of its location and went there this afternoon.

Here's what was in my bento: Rice, salt-grilled mackerel, potato croquette, mountain vegetables, egg "omelet" and pickles. Original Bento also had a host of side dishes, and I was pleasantly surprised when I found goya champuru, which is an Okinawan dish made of tofu, eggs, a vegetable called goya in Okinawan dialect and "bitter melon" in English, and Spam. Yes, Spam. I can't describe my happiness when I ate this meal. That was two days ago, and I'm still happy.

In the late afternoon I met up with the group to walk to the Tokyo Dome, site of our first game: The Yomiuri Giants (Hideki Matsui's former team) against the Yakult Swallows (Akinori Iwamura's former team). More to come!


Marc said...

great pictures. I'm left hungry and jealous!

Although I do laugh that you were enjoying your traditional Japanese bento this a good old Pepsi Next! :-)

Marc said...

P.S. Spam rocks.

Daniel said...

I had a dish with bitter melon when I was out in Okinawa and it did not go so well. I'm amazed that you can eat the stuff and that you seem to like it. Did you always like it? I hear it's an acquired taste.

shrinecastle said...

The Pepsi Nex was actually yucky.

shrinecastle said...

Dan, it does take a couple of tries to get used to goya. It's called "bitter melon" for a reason. I love it in champuru, but I'm not a huge fan of it when it's raw in a salad. Spam actually helps!