My room is not ready. No matter. I leave my bag with the desk clerk and head out. The enticing light and warmth of the afternoon prompt me to visit Tokyo’s oldest Buddhist temple, Sensoji, the central attraction of Asakusa. A quieter and older part of the city with a long history, Asakusa is a former entertainment district and working-class neighbourhood west of the Sumida River.
Hurried along by a flag-waving tour guide, I visited Sensoji once more than a decade ago. Now, for no other reason than an ineffable command of the heart, I have chosen to stay nearby and experience it fully over the coming days.
Rather than navigate the crowded Nakamise-dori (a crowded avenue of shops and touristy tchotchkes) and approach through the imposing Kaminarimon Gate, this time I slip in through the back. As if I were strolling through the neighbourhood—as I might do on any sunny autumn day if I lived here.
This approach adds a commonplace touch. Students cross the foot-tamped earth in lines behind their teachers. Seniors rest where they find spots, text or chat with each other and soak up the sun. Couples and families mill about taking photos on smart phones. After bathing in fragrant incense pouring from the cauldron outside, worshipers mount the steps to pray in the newly-renovated main hall.
Today I don’t go inside. As the month-long Kikka-ten (Chrysanthemum Exhibition) is on, I linger among the flowers until lengthening shadows remind me it’s time to check in. Time to think about dinner.