On the 21st of every month, an Ennichi festival is held at the Nishiarai- Daishi temple and we were lucky enough to be in Tokyo to celebrate. The temple is connected to Kukai (Kobo Dashi), a Buddhist priest, and the monthly, religious festival is popular with not just the locals, but with worshippers from all over Japan!
Poor ol’ Jenny wasn’t feeling too well that day, she had flu- like symptoms from our last flight, so she had a rest and I joined a few others from our hostel to check it out. Although we were only there for about an hour, it was so emotionally fulfilling.
Lots of market stalls and food stalls were set up and there wasn’t really any other tourists other than ourselves in sight, so it felt like we got a proper intimate and real experience of this Japanese tradition. The closer we got to the temple, the more people eagerly peeped out of their food stalls, waving free samples on cocktail sticks for us to try.
The first thing I had was called Senbei, which is basically a rice cracker which, unexpectantly, takes a lot of effort to make! Processes in the making include boiling, beating, steaming, kneading and leaving in the sun for a few days, until the treat is finally ready. They had jars full of different ones- spicy ones, plain ones, salty ones, sugary ones. We tried a really sweet one and I can see why it’s a hit with the locals. I’ve added a photo from Google images as I was so engrossed I didn’t get one myself.
The next was Nishiarai- Daishi’s speciality called Kusa- Dango; a bright green and very squishy and sweet rice dumpling, which was nice to chew. Just like Senbei, the main ingredient was rice, but you’d never guess! It was topped with something called Anko, which is a sweet red bean paste. I’ve never seen or tasted anything like it, but would definitely buy if they sold them in England. (Once again, I’ve added a photo from Google).
I tried something else as well, but I didn’t find out what it was called. It was a round, white shape and tasted really sweet like the other samples, but it crumbled like power in your mouth.
They also had these tumbler dolls called ‘Daruma’ and they were selling so many. They are made with a wish from a Japanese proverb: “Fall seven times and then raise eight times”, which makes sense, because they are designed that if they fall to the side they rise back up again. They all look the same but they have selections of different meaning; some are for wealth, some health, good luck and so on. The idea is to paint one eye and make a wish. If your wish comes true, you paint the other eye in a way of expressing gratitude.
Leading up to the temple, white and black lanterns hang between red poles and more people appear. There was a monk stood with a money pot in his hand and when I put some change in to the pot he said a prayer for me in gentle Japanese then we bowed to each other afterwards. Everyone is so respectful towards each other here; they always bow and say hello. They really acknowledge you making the effort to speak in Japanese to them too- just the basics! I’ve now learnt hello- konichiwa, thank you- aregato, excuse me/ sorry- sumimasen, good- oishi.
Just outside the temple there was something that resembled a well, which had smoke coming out of it. The idea is to wave the smoke towards yourself in areas that need healing. I put my foot in the air in the hopes that it might make my still painful foot a bit better! There was also a gorgeous little statue with water and large wooden spoons which you could pour on yourself to cleanse and purify yourself.
The temple itself was stunning. You don’t get anything better than Japanese architecture. It was just so huge and prominent and perfect. Inside, all you could see was intricate, gold décor. Monks stood around gongs in vibrant orange and green outfits, humming loudly and performing a ritual whilst worshipers sat and prayed. Outside the temple there was something we could throw money into and pray. I threw some change in and stood back and prayed for the health and success of my family and friends.
On the way out there was a still pond with a waterfall, dressed in some bright green foliage and flowers and full of a mixture of orange and white Koi fish. Some of them were huge! The walk back was sunny and pleasant and we all got to know about each other’s journeys a bit better. Having that experience made me want to go back to the hostel and get my healing stones out to meditate.
Once Jenny was feeling a bit better, we decided to explore the local area and go and find the sushi place recommended by our hostel. Being a bit far out from the main city is quite nice because it means we are surrounded by simple and traditional houses and buildings- it looks like a toy town and everything runs slowly and smoothly.
The sushi place does have a name, but I couldn’t tell you what it is called because it is all in Japanese. But I can tell you that it was the best sushi I have ever had. The building itself was like a small hut, with a slidey door to get in. The furniture inside and the walls were typically Japanese styled. There was a counter at the front full of fresh seafood, behind it stood the chef- a lovely, old Japanese man who worked there with his adorable wife.
The decorated plates, the chopsticks, the ceramic cups with fresh green tea and the Japanese scrolls on the wall made me feel so content. This is exactly what I had come to Japan for. We were the only two in there and we watched as the sushi was made for us. The old couple were so friendly and cute and although they couldn’t speak very good English we all managed to hold a few conversations (with hand actions and facial expressions to help) and had a good laugh as well. The more old Japanese people I see, the more I just want to gather them up and shrink them and carry them around in a briefcase.
The sushi consisted of octopus, caviar, cod, tuna, vegetables, shrimp and the most flavoursome soy sauce I’ve ever tasted. It was the PERFECT platter. I didn’t want to leave the cute old couple after-they wouldn’t even let me tip them! It wasn’t just the sushi that made that experience special, it was everything- the building, the fish tank, the couple, the green tea, the décor- EVERYTHING!
We will be heading into Shinjuku tomorrow for another day of adventures, so I will be checking back in, in a few days’ time! In the meantime, if anyone else that has been to Tokyo can recommend me any good places, please go ahead!