While chilling in the gardens around Dembo-in in Asakusa, admiring the beautiful Koi under the bridges, I got chatting to an elderly local called Hideo. I think he just wanted to flex his pretty impressive English skills, but his eyes lit up when we told him we were staying in Shinjuku. Excitedly, he insisted that when we got back there, we head on down to the Hanazono Jinjya Shrine, as there was a one day, once a year Torinoichi Bamboo Rake Festival taking place, and it ended at midnight. He explained it was where these elaborate bamboo charms were sold that would bring good luck for the following year.
You could be forgiven, on first arriving at Asakusa on the Ginza subway line, that you’ve descended into Japanese tourist-trap hell. And to some extent you’d be right; it certainly seems to be the most touristy place I visited in Tokyo at least – as soon as you pass under the impressive Kaminari-mon (“Thunder Gate”) you’re greeted by a line of literally dozens of stalls selling everything from woodblock prints to Gundam model kits. Further down though, towards the Senso-ji temple, they give way to more traditional craft stalls, with giving you a unique chance to see artists in action. The Temple at Dembo-in, where Japan’s two leading religions Buddism and Shinto meet, and it’s surrounding gardens and pogodas are breathtaking, and a welcome break from the initial chaos.