The final stop on our morning tour was the bustling Asakusa Buddhist temple. Rika-san lead us into the middle of the grounds and gave some brief history of the temple and its various customs (e.g., wafting incense smoke toward the body part you want help with). After that, we were free to explore on our own for about an hour. Once we broke away from the group, we were stopped by a pair of students, possibly college aged, needing to practice their English skills for an assignment. Having done our part to bolster US/Japanese relations, we began to explore the temple and the row of merchant booths outside.
The booths held an interesting mix of food, traditional items, and obvious tourist traps. There were some interesting items, but nothing really caught our eye to make us part with our yen so early in the trip. The time was spent mostly taking pictures; while Jm was taking a few, I was busy looking inside some store windows. I turned around to find a most amusing scene.
I had read in the National Geographic guide that Buddhist monks can sometimes be a bit aggressive in their asking for alms. Well, one female monk had managed to grab ahold of Jm’s jacket sleeve and was waving her bowl while chattering away in rapid Japanese. I stood there chuckling because I did not know what else to do. Jm repeatedly repeated the closest thing to “No, thank you.” in Japanese and finally managed to extricate herself from the monk’s kung-fu grip. Jm was not quite as amused as I was, but someday she’ll look back and laugh about it. Maybe… Fortunately, that was the only rough spot for the entire trip.
It was back onto the bus one last time, and we soon found ourselves deposited in the middle of Ginza. Having spotted the Bic Camera building, we walked over and explored the floors of Japanese electronics. I briefly toyed with getting a PSP but resisted the urge. By this time, we were quite hungry and decided to find lunch somewhere in Ginza. Walking around, Jm spotted a restaurant called Casual Tempura tucked away in a side street. We love hearing both of those words, so we decided to give it a shot.
The place was tiny and sat maybe twenty people. Now, I should mention that I had my electronic dictionary with me, but I had absentmindedly left the phrase books back in the US. However, I managed to remember enough Japanese to get us seated and order two delicious set meals for only 1480¥. The staff was very helpful and polite, but we did sit and wait for someone else to leave first so we knew what the protocol was for paying the bill. With our hunger satiated, we walked around Ginza and explored some of the shops. Jm picked up some Japanese greeting cards (609¥) along the way including a cute Hello Kitty birthday card for our niece.
Now, we just had to get back to our hotel to freshen up before our Kabuki night tour. I had brought along my trusty Treo loaded with a public transport guide called Métro. It made finding the right train back very easy, and the train ride set us back 760¥. Our hotel was located right next to Shinjuku station though you did have to walk a bit to get to it. Shinjuku station is a sprawling beast that connects a few train and bus lines. You have to pass through a long tunnel filled with various shops and restaurants before emerging right at the doors of the Keio. We prettied ourselves up and went back down to the lobby to await our introduction to Kabuki.