Monday, July 16, 2012

Ambling about Tokyo and 七夕

Last week was 七夕 (tanabata), or, as the English textbook I use in my classes calls it, "Star Festival."

Tanabata celebrates the once-a-year reunion of Vega and Altair and is probably better known as the legend of the Princess and the Cowherd. During tanabata, people also write their wishes on strips of paper and hang them from bamboo.

One of the teachers from my schools invited me out on July 7th, the day of tanabata, to Asakusa, and knowing of my habit of taking pictures wherever I went, he also advised that I arrive with my camera well charged.

Very good idea, I might add.

Asakusa, housing one of the oldest shrines in Tokyo, is always jam packed with tourists and locals simply looking for some luck. When I asked coworkers if there were special events for tanabata at the Asakusa temple, I was met with a laugh and the reply, "There are always special events at Asakusa."

July 7th was no exception.

Since it was so packed, our party of five (S-sensei, his wife and daughter, M and I) had to be careful navigating to make sure we stayed together. Despite trying to stay close, there were quite a few times when someone wandered off, but it wasn't too difficult to regroup (thank goodness for cellphones!).

S-sensei was a great guide, armed with a bilingual guide book and his own wealth of local knowledge.

Despite having stayed in Asakusa in 2007 when I was last in Japan, this was my first time exploring it in depth. S-sensei took us to plenty of places, which included the famous Senso-ji, as well as well-known hole-in-wall boutiques.

S-sensei, in addition to spending time guiding us around Asakusa, also treated us to San-sada tempura.

Everyone got the jyouten don set, and it was, by far, the best tempura I'd ever had.

The tempura was fried to crispy perfection, and all the seafood was large and fresh, with no skimping and cutting corners. It also rested on a bed of hot rice drizzled with soy sauce. After a long morning of walking and weaving like ninjas through crowds, the bowl of fried protein and carbs was a delicious treat.

After guiding us around Asakusa, S-sensei's wife was also incredibly considerate, insisting on having us try the Funawa desserts. She bought a box set of yokan, which I easily polished off the next day with tea. The Japanese really do have a gift for beautiful taste and presentation!

Despite the rain, it was a wonderful trip to Asakusa, and having a fluent English guide was beyond helpful (did I mention that S-sensei also speaks and reads Chinese? He's so worldly...) While I lament the fact that they had to show around some foreigners when I'm sure there were better things to be spending their Saturday on, I really appreciate that they were so thoughtful!

The day didn't end there though. My brother also had a friend who was in Shinagawa, and she also braved the horrendous rain to come and have dinner with us at Jangara ramen and then doing some window shopping after. Thank you so much, S!

To give some background--Jangara is amazing. After having a bowl from my first trip to Japan in 2007, I never forgot the flavor, and with the rain pouring down outside, enjoying Jangara's 全部入り(all toppings included) was a welcome meal.

All in all, it was a wonderful way to spend my tanabata. Good company is always a gift from the powers that be, regardless of what you worship, don't you think? :)

As always--till next time!

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