Shikoku: Tokyo Prelude

For two people about to embark on a Buddhist pilgrimage, Tokyo is the least likely starting point. It is the quintessential crazy cosmopolitan centre. The place you go to gasp at the outrageousness of urban life, where the rules of a country so tied to traditions explode in all sorts of non-traditional directions.

We had one day in Tokyo before shooting off on a speedy bullet train (Shinkansen) to Shikoku. Our approach was to visit two neighborhoods, one bound in tradition, the other moving well out of any historic straightjackets.

Our journey begins at our home base, the brand new APA Hotel Kodenmacho-ekimae in the central Chuo Ward. Even this is full of surprises. A room barely larger than the small double bed. An equally tiny bathroom. Yet, all things considered, it is easy to see how each and every square inch is efficiently used. Not to to mention the delightful Washlet Toto toilet with its prickly water jets cleaning your nether regions.

We first head for the Asakusa Ward. The focus here is on the Sesoji Temple. It has a history going back to 628 and, more recently, a post-war history of reconstruction after being burned to the ground in a 1945 bombing raid. And today it is as much amusement park as religious icon. The place is overwhelmed with visitors with sake ice cream cones, melon buns and a vast array of other local treats. The attraction is the temple but, in front, the street is lined with crafts and goodies. This is the Nakamise Dori. And, if this is not entertaining enough, behind the temple is a real life amusement park with Japan's oldest extant roller coaster. Slightly off the well-beaten tourist route is the compact Edo Shitmache Traditional Crafts Museum. It's a compact museum with a digestible introduction to Japan's makers.

We round out our day with a cultural counterpoint: the Shingasa ward. It's night now, the air is steamy hot and the streets are crowded. Light pours out of every storefront. The walls above disappear behind a luminous layer of brightly colored signs. It's the electric city.



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