Sunday, September 26, 2010

A Saturday at John Lennon Museum, Saitama, Saitama, and Senso-ji, Asakusa, Tokyo (Picture Heavy!)

Following the serendipitous meeting of N. at Yodobashi Yokohama a few weeks ago, hubby and I made a new friend. I must say we were damn lucky to have met her!

N. is a huge fan of anything British, and somehow our conversation drifted into music and, alas, the Beatles. She told us of a certain John Lennon Museum inside the Saitama Super Arena, Saitama, and after a decade's run Yoko Ono is doing away with it, not wanting it to be attached to certain locations and be forgotten over the years. I sympathize. Turns out the museum is closing permanently this coming Thursday, September 30, and N. urged us to go check it out before it's gone forever. I like the Beatles, not as much as some folks out there but I grew up listening to them as my parents and aunts and uncles were all fans. So I proposed for us all to go together, and although N. had already been to the place twice, she agreed in a heartbeat.

A view of the Saitama Super Arena from the connecting train station. You can see the train tracks below!

At the train station, N. introduced us to her BFF M., who had lived in Brooklyn for 3 years during college and speaks fluent English. The fascinating thing is that given all her time in NYC, M. actually speaks with a Scottish accent, thanks to her Scottish boyfriend K. (silly me gushed to her how cool her "English" accent was upon our meeting - doh! My bad, sorry M. :X). Let's just say N., M. and K. turn out to be some of the nicest and substantial people hubby and I have ever met! Seriously, you don't just run into people like that, and meeting them make the both of us miss our friends in Jersey so dearly.

The John Lennon Museum as seen from the outside.
If you're wondering why there's a guy in black suit holding a speaker phone, it was because there happened to be a Metallica concert at the stadium inside the Saitama Super Arena. So the guy is actually directing the folks who are line up for the concert, joining the line that is probably about a freakin' mile long!!! I had no idea Metallica is that popular in Japan...

The museum lobby where tickets are sold.

The museum was done tastefully enough, I thought. It was a bit of a maze, but by the time the exit comes around, I had learned more about John Lennon, and somewhat about Yoko Ono, than I ever anticipated. You know, most museum sort of just show you the "cool stuff." This museum, however, tells all of John's ups and downs and you really get to know the guy and where his inspirations sprang, from his childhood trauma to boy-band fame to love struck fool to peace activist to emotionally struggling artist to loving house husband and devoted father to, finally, being the musician he always wanted to be. Just when he thought he had figured things out and, perhaps, found his inner peace, some stupid dumbass went and took the life out of him. Such is the life of John Lennon. Tragic, truly.

No, these are not the 2 friends N. introduced us to, though it would have been superbly awesome to meet John Lennon and Yoko Ono ^.^ I was glad we visited the museum before it closed.

After the museum visit, N. and M. took us to Senso-ji in Asakusa, a fine temple and popular tourist destination in Tokyo. It was only a 40 minutes train ride away.

Me, N. and M. in front of the Senso-ji's outer gate, the Thunder Gate - Kaminarimon.

Close up of the gigantic lantern hanging from the gate.

Underneath the lantern is a really cool wooden dragon carving!

Beyond the Kaminarimon is Nakamise-dori, a street lined with souvenirs and snack shops on both sides.

Approaching Nakamise-dori, we immediately detected a sweet and warm fragrant, and looking around we saw people flocking to a snack shop. Of course we joined the crowd and bought ourselves some ningyo yaki, a traditional Japanese dessert that consists of a pancake shell with sweet bean paste filling. Ningyo yaki comes in many shapes and are handmade with molded pans, though many shops nowadays also employ a machine that stamps these out at a faster rate.

Ningyo yaki machine at one shop.

Ningyo yaki made and wrapped by said machine.

Ningyo yaki by hand and molded pans at a different shop.

As you can see, the ningyo yaki made by hand with molded pans is not as perfectly shaped as the machine stamped ones, but in all fairness the handmade ones from this particular shop actually tasted a lot better. The pancake shell were softer and fluffier whereas the machine stamped ones were a bit more chewy.

Fresh senbei, it was still hot when I bought it. Mine had shichimi sprinkled on it.

Nure senbei, which is soft and moist and tasted like...the senbei before it was grilled/baked LOL! Is this Japan's answer to cookie dough? :P

The ubiquitous dango. I love mochi, and I love dango, but I'm not so keen on the sweet/savory soy sauce-mirin syrup it's dipped in. I've tried many dangos at different places but still can't get used to the taste of that syrup. And usually I love the sweet-salty mix too. So odd!

A very thin, paper like cracker with a thin spread of umeboshi paste in the middle.

Made it through Nakamise-dori, we reached Senso-ji's inner gate, the Treasure-House Gate -Hozomon. It is much larger than the outer Thunder Gate but features a similarly large red lantern.

Beyond the Treasure-House Gate looking straight ahead is Senso-ji, a Buddhist temple dedicated to Kannon (Guan Yin).

Beyond the Treasure-House Gate looking left is a 5-story pagoda.

In the front court yard of Senso-ji, there are omikuji (fortune telling) stalls, where in one donates a 100yen coin then proceeds to shake a metal hexagonal box vigorously until a random bamboo strips falls out of the tiny hole underneath the box. Labeled on the bamboo strip is a number, and matching up this number among one of the wooden drawers, the seeker will find his/her printed fortune stored inside.

My luck of the draw? "Regular fortune," (kichi, 吉) was what the leaflet says in English. Hubby was worse, he got "Bad fortune." We left both of our leaflets behind, tying it into a knot on the wire rack where everyone left their so-so/bad fortunes behind. I tied mine next to his, hoping my "regular" will at least pull his "bad" up a bit ^.^ Our friends N. got "Medium fortune" and M. was even luckier with "Super fortune." M. ended up taking her leaflet, i.e. her luck, with her.

Then we got in line to come right up to the temple to pay our respect. The main hall was closed, of course, but there was a box metal box where you can throw in a coin and bow your head to pray.

We hung around some more afterwards until it got dark. When we left, the shops at Nakamise-dori were all closed although the lights were still on and bright. We didn't have time to go to the Asakusa Shrine, but we did walk around until settling into dinner at an open front dining bar on a street lined with one dining bar after another.

After dinner, N. introduced us to yet another one of her closed friends, C. and we all decided to go grab some ice cream at a nearby Baskin Robbins. And then the funniest thing happened! Hubby and K. passed on the sweets, so it was just us 4 ladies eating ice cream in front of the shop. Then an older uncle entered the shop with his wife, and moments later he stuck his head out of Baskin Robbins' door and motioned for the 2 guys to come in with him. Hubby and K. weren't sure what was happening, but they were game anyway and came inside the store as told. Turned out the old uncle wanted to buy them both ice cream LOL! Politely, hubby and K. refused but the uncle was in great mood (...or drunk) and was insistent about buying them some ice cream. In the end, hubby and K. gave in and indulged themselves with the smallest kid's cone on the menu. I guess that means my "Regular fortune" must have somewhat helped hubby's bad luck ^.^ What hilarious, though heartwarming, experience!

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