On Friday morning, Jon had provided me with instructions on how to get to the Asakusa district. It required taking a couple of trains, but before I set off, I tried to find the Japan Rail office at Shinjuku Station to exchange my voucher for a JR Pass that’d let me do some travel around Honshu. I was planning to visit Kyoto, Osaka, Hiroshima and Kobe so I could visit The Great Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake Memorial Disaster Reduction and Human Renovation Institution aka the Kobe earthquake museum. In light of Christchurch, I wanted to see how Kobe had recovered after its 1995 earthquake.
But the simple diagram of the ticket office location didn’t quite match the sprawling mass that is Shinjuku Station, so I gave up and headed off to Asakusa. Sitting on the train, I realised I was the only non-Japanese person, and that all the station announcements were in Japanese. But, really, it’s not hard to miss a stop when the recorded voice repeats it three times.
Asakusa is the home of Asahi Breweries headquarters. It includes the Asahi Beer Hall building, designed by Phillippe Starck with a giant golden flame atop it. Or as it’s locally known, the golden turd – which is exactly what it looks like.
I didn’t really know much about Asakusa, so I just wandered the streets. There were many enclosed streets, lined with the same sort of shops I’d seen in Kamakura. Asakusa is another spot that’s popular with Japanese tourists, and it seemed well geared up for souvenir requirements.
I wandered around until I stumbled across the Asakusa shrine, only I didn’t specifically know that at the time. One of the nice things about shrines is their park-like surrounds, though the urban location of this one meant that tall buildings towered behind the shrine buildings and the trees.
I glanced up and saw a billboard advertising something called the Amuse Museum. It reminded me of the sort of fruity little attractions you get in Anaheim, hoping to lure in Disneyland visitors. I had to investigate.
It turns out the Amuse Museum was dedicated to traditional Japanese textiles, arts and crafts. It had a large collection of homemade kimono sewn by working class families out of scraps of indigo-dyed cotton or hemp fabrics. The kimono were thick and heavy and would be worn both outdoors in cold winter weather, as well as indoors to sleep in on freezing cold nights.
There was also an display of tattsuke – handmade women’s working trousers, also made from indigo-dyed hemp. They were sort of proto blue jeans, and as a result have the look of styley streetwear, rather than lady-farmer long johns.
I wandered up to the roof-top area and had a look around the neighbourhood. The under-construction Tokyo Sky Tree towered above everything, with several cranes still working away 450 metres up in the air.
I figured I’d seen enough of Asakusa and made my way back to Shinjuku, where I met up with James. We headed to Shinjuku Station to catch the Yamanote line to check out the Harajuku district.
Then everything changed.