Tag Archives: Asakusa

Visit to Yoshiwara: what the goddesses tell us?

If you’re interested in Japanese history and traditional culture, you might have heard of “Yoshiwara” where there was an authorised red light district until the Anti Prostitution Law was enacted in 1958. Yujo (courtesans), expecially oiran (high-class courtesans) were said to be fashion leaders and stars in the Edo period and depicted in many traditional arts such as ukiyoe, kabuki acts and rakugo stories. Even now, many movies and dramas about Yoshiwara are produced. These women were bought and brought from the remote areas (most of them are said to be from the Tohoku region). To become oiran or high class yujo, in addition to beauty, they had to aquire lots of skills including poetry, songs, musical instruments, dancing and etc..

As I’m learning shamisen (there are many songs about Yoshiwara), I wanted to visit this area but hesitated to do so alone, because Yoshiwara is now crowded with the buildings offering sexual services. Indeed, although it’s quite close to Asakusa, there are a few people who visit there for sightseeing.

Some weeks ago, I visited there with my husband for the first time. First we visited the Ichiyo Memorial Museum. Ichiyo, one of the most famous female novelists in modern Japan, is a lady depicted on the front side of the five-thousand-yen note. She was living just closed to the Yoshiwara district for some period and got inspiration for her novels.

After that, we walked around the area, tyring to find the traces of the glory of Yoshiwara. Well, the inside of the Yoshiwara district was totally disapponting for women… (never expect traditional buildings like Shimabara in Kyoto…) but with a map, we could easily find where exactly the Yoshiwara district was. Around the area, there are many historical shrines and temples including the famous Otori shrine. But what struck me the most was the story I heard at Yoshiwara Benzaiten Shrine. This place was built to commemorate the courtesans who passed away from the Great Kanto Earthquake in 1923. The quake caused a big fire and the women tried to run away, but the grand gate was intentionally locked. At that time the district was surrounded by a moat to prevent them from escaping. So they jumped into the pond (now reclaimed) located on the opposite side of the grand gate in order to escape from the heat wave. As a result, only a few women survived and approx. 500 women lost their lives, included small girls…

This shrine is small but beautiful, having a bright and warm atmosphere. Many locals and volunteers seem to come here to pray and clean.


Just close to Yoshiwara Benzaiten, there is Yoshiwara shrine. This shrine is getting attention as a spiritual place that would give luck to women.

It’s hard to express how I felt exactly, but visiting Yoshiwara was certainly a sobering experience.

Night walk in Asakusa & traditional dessert place

Asakusa is no doubt one of the most touristic places in Tokyo. After dark, it gets less busy and you can enjoy a pleasant walk around Sensoji-temple.Kaminari-mon (雷門). 
Nakamise shopping street. 

Five-storied pagoda.

Nio statue. img_3267-2

Hozo-mon (宝蔵門).

The main building.

Tokyo Sky Tree on the right side.

Umezono (梅園)”, located just off of the Nakamise street, is a highy recommendable place to enjoy traditional Japanese desserts, which has a history of over 160 years.

Their specialty “Awa-zenzai (あわぜんざい, steamed sticky millet with sweet bean paste, 777 JPY-)” is a suitable treat after a long walk on cold days. It’s served with pickled perilla seeds.

How to order is a bit different from general coffee shops. After you walk in the shop, you buy a ticket at the counter then have a seat at a table. A waitress will come to pick up this ticket and serve green tea.

Hide Your Belly Button When You Hear Thunder

Today it rained so hard with thunder here in eastern Japan. I saw a small boy running so fast on his way home. For the small kids, thunder must be one of the most terrifying things.

On a day like today, I remember my childhood: The adults around us said, “Hide your belly button, or the god of thunder will take it away.”

Who is the god of thunder? Although there are several myths describing this god, but in general, he’s called ‘Kaminari-sama’, or more formally ‘Raijin’, living above the clouds with the drums on his shoulders to create the sound of thunder. If you visit Japan, you can meet him at the most famous touristy site, Kaminarimon of Sensoji Temple in Asakusa, Tokyo.

Raizin“. Licensed under Public domain via ウィキメディア・コモンズ.

Then why kids have to hide the belly button? This actually means “Wear your clothes properly to cover your belly.” It’s normally hot and humid in this season, but the temperature goes down quickly when thunderstorming. So the parents tell kids not to expose their bodies to cold temperature; otherwise, they would easily catch a cold.

It seems to hold true… Now I’m feeling cool breeze from outside.