November 3rd, Monday
The festivities all centered around the Sensoji Temple. This is the head temple of the Seikannon sect of Buddhism.
We entered through the Hozo-mon Gate which is guarded on either side by two Nio (deva Kings), carved from wood. The main road from the gate to the temple is called Nakamise and is lined on either side with carts and small shops selling trinkets, welcome cats, touristy things, and food. Really awesome cheap food. And you can buy alcohol right there. I ate a delicious fried thing. Twice. Also along the main road was the residential area of the temple called Denpo-in. We meandered in and out of the main road onto side streets and explored many little shrines, some amazing statues and beautiful gardens.
Everywhere we went people wanted to talk to us and help us, even if they spoke very little English.
When we arrived finally at the Temple, we entered slowly to the sound of chanting and drums. Inside, monks were praying, and everywhere people were praying. There were many places to buy prayer beads. We all put yen into a donation box and pulled sticks from a can which we matched up to a drawer and pulled fortunes out of. I got a "Bad Fortune," which I took a photo of so you can read how awful my life is about to become. The general gist of the fortune was that: "Your request will not be granted. The person you wait for will not arrive. The lost article will not be found. You should stop starting a trip."
I was distraught until a group of friendly ladies in white befriended us and showed me how to do away with my bad luck by folding up the paper and tying it, with everyone else's to a rack. Then they bowed with me and cheered. I was going to ask more, but a gong sounded and they all began to chant. When they were done, I asked if they were nuns, which they were. They showed us their prayer books, and tried to explain some of the prayers. We all became great friends, and they hugged us goodbye and wished us all better fortune.
I don't have the words to describe the things we saw but I must find them because when I got the bad fortune my camera died so I have no further photos. And the day only got more exciting.
There was a huge pit of sage burning, people bought sage and burnt it and then waved smoke on themselves and each other. Nearby was a fountain, and people dipped into it with long silver ladles, scooped water onto their hands, put it in their mouths and spit.
We began to walk Nakamise back to find some food when a procession began. First came Japanese children dressed like samurai. Next, women wearing crane heads on their heads, with long white hair, and blue costumes. They had wings tied to their backs and arms, and they moved and danced like cranes. Everyone was so quiet. Everyone moved so slowly, so when they finally unfolded their wings there was a gasp from everyone, even though it was such a simple gesture. The whole day was like that. Everything was simple and beautiful. We all had to push together to let the wagon that followed them through, which was full of geishas playing instruments. We followed the procession (which John got a video of), back to the Temple. We could not see what happened next, but monks entered and a ritual was performed with chanting, and everyone crowded around and the crane dancers stayed right up front. When it was done, the crowd began to disperse.
Again we started to walk back for some food, and then were stopped in our tracks by another procession. This one involving a giant golden dragon puppet controlled by about 6 men. They made the dragon dance and even bend to kiss the heads of children in the crowd.
We did some shopping. Steph found a cat and picked it up and we had to convince her to leave it, but there are great photos of her and the cat on Casey's camera. Then a street vendor sold Steph two HUGE pears after letting her sample some from the cart.
THEN we tried to get lunch yet again but we were suddenly surrounded on all sides by people. The real parade was about to begin. Within moments we found ourselves sitting on a red plastic sheet, shoes off, with hundreds of others in the street. Two our left, a Japanese couple who clued me in to taking off my shoes. To our right, a woman who used to be a geisha who spoke excitedly during the entire parade about her experiences. Behind us, two women from Singapore who spoke Japanese and English and so translated for us, and an older gentleman from Mt. Fuji.
The parade deserves its own entry.