Asakusa Picture Scroll Murals on the Shutters of Nakamise, Tokyo

Why not take an early morning stroll down the quiet Nakamise street of Sensoji temple? Before the shops open, the shutters are still pulled down. This reveals some beautiful Emaki (picture scrolls) that have been painted on them. In 1992, some artists gathered under the direction of a famous Japanese artist named Ikuo Hirayama. They painted beautiful Emaki (piture scrolls) on the shutters along both sides of Nakamise street. Various artwork includes the Sanja festival, senko hanabi sparklers, cherry blossoms, and other beautiful scenery that embodies the Edo atmosphere.


Things to Do

1. Nakamise

Do you know Nakamise which is known as one of the oldest shopping streets in Sensoji which is known as a popular spot among foreign tourists?

Sensoji is located in Asakusa Station in northeastern Tokyo and can be accessed by the Asakusa Line or the Ginza Line. Nakamise is about 250 meters from The Kaminarimon("Thunder gate") to the second gate, Hozomon. The street is filled with about 89 stores selling Japanese traditional souvenirs. Here you can find such gifts like folding fans, beckoning cats, and Japanese kimonos. During the Edo period, visitors to the temple increased. The surrounding neighborhoods were then allowed to open various stores on the condition that they would clean the temple grounds. This is said to be how Nakamise originated.

One festival that flows with the spirit of the Edo period is the Sanja festival. It is held on the third Friday, Saturday, and Sunday of May. Many locals and tourists gather to see the various dances performed in the area around Asakusa shrine. It’s about this time of year that Shitamachi Asakusa becomes the liveliest.

Local Asakusa people wear Japanese happi coats and work together to hold up the portable shrines named Mikoshi on their shoulders. They parade the surrounding neighborhoods while swinging the Mikoshi and vigorously shouting “Wasshoi! Wasshoi!”.

Origin of the Sanja Festival The word “Sanja” refers to the three shrines that were deified to the three people who were involved in the origin of Sensoji temple. According to legend, two brothers fished the statue of Kannon Bodhisattva out of the Sumida river. They continuously attempted to put the statue back in the river only for it to miraculously return every time.

So the two brothers visited the master of the village.
“What are we to do with this statue?”
To which the master replied.
“This is the honorable and merciful statue of Kannon Bodhisattva. She should be worshipped.” He then went on to worship her at his own house. Later, in the 7th century, the temple was built to deify Kannon Bodhisattva.

2. Other Festivals at Sensoji Temple

Every year on February 8th, the Needle memorial service is held at Awashima hall. Many women visit to bring broken or used needles and place them on Tofu. They pray to the needles to give gratitude and to improve their sewing skills. They believe the needles worked hard to sew many things or to help patients at hospitals and for that reason, should rest on something soft.

April 8th is thought to be the birthday of the founder of Buddhism, Shakyamuni. People celebrate the Kanbutsue (flower festival). When we visit the temple on this day we are served sweet tea. This is due to the folklore that sweet rain poured down the day Shakyamuni was born. Hanamido displays the lumbini flower garden and is placed at the temple. At the center of the statue the birth of Buddha is placed and celebrated by pouring sweet tea over its head with a ladle. Drinking this sweet tea is said to be a blessing of good health. On July 10th, the Hozuki market is held. It is believed that visiting Sensoji temple on this day holds the same benefit as visiting here 46,000 times. Hozuki is a Chinese lantern plant which was thought to be a medical herb and stops hiccups once swallowed.

3. Senko Hanabi Sparklers

Japanese summertime is hot and humid. So many ideas were made to help people be more comfortable. Enjoying the Hanabi fireworks at night is one such way. People gather on the riverside or beach to view them. There are many food stands selling watagashi (cotton candy), takoyaki (octopus dumplings), yakisoba (fried soba noodles), and many other delicious foods. Kids can enjoy fishing for goldfish and colorful yo-yo balloons with their families. At night, to escape the heat, couples wear yukata (a light cotton kimono) and use uchiwa (circular-shaped fans). Many unique and exciting fireworks light up the night sky to entertain the crowds.

Another way to enjoy fireworks is with Senko hanabi sparklers. They are popular amongst family, friends, and couples. Senko hanabi sparklers are simple and short lived. So what makes them so popular in Japan?

During obon (the summer holidays), families often return to their hometowns. Kids can enjoy using the sparklers with their grandparents while eating watermelons by the house at night. These memories are brought back to us when we use the sparklers. Senko hanabi dates all the way back to the Edo period. Just as many Japanese people appreciate the short lived beauty of cherry blossoms, perhaps the same can be said about senko hanabi! In the Sengoku civil war period of history, Samurai warriors respected death over dishonor. They preferred to die with honor than to live in shame in war. This mentality may be succeeded by Japanese people even in modern times.

In spring, cherry blossoms flourish and Japanese people enjoy viewing them while having a picnic. It’s a great time to share food and drink with the family. It is said that there are 600 kinds of cherry trees, but there are only 9 original species. The most popular of which is named Somei Yoshino. It was cloned during the Edo period. This particular type of cherry blossom was designed to blossom for two weeks when finally the petals would all fall down at once. Again, we can see how the life cycle of the cherry blossoms matches the Japanese mentality that they prefer a short and beautiful life.

Please enjoy the beautiful Emaki (picture scrolls) in Nakamise street of Sensoji temple early in the morning.

*This article was published on WOW! JAPAN. Click here to see a list of WOW! JAPAN articles.

Kanto Feature

The information in this article is accurate at the time of publication.

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