One of my favourite travel memories has to be when a few friends and I spent the afternoon in Asakusa, Tokyo.
I cling to this memory a lot because it was probably the freest I have ever been. The small details of the day don’t really matter. The only thing it comes down to is sitting outside at Asakusa 2-chome Bar (this was actually the name of the bar, I believe!) and enjoying a beer, speaking in passable Japanese, and laughing about everything.
I’m painting a picture here, so bear with me.
We had meant to spend the day in Asakusa, mainly because we wanted to see the temple. Sensouji. It’s apparently Tokyo’s oldest temple. When you get out of the station, you’ll see an array of shirtless men, beckoning mainly foreigners (also mainly female) to take a ride on their rickshaws. I was slightly interested if only because I’d never been in a rickshaw, but the gate was maybe two seconds away on foot, so it would’ve been a waste. Our guide, my friend, kept telling us he wanted us to experience “real Japan”. He’s a Kawasaki native. I’m almost certain I had such a good time there because of him. I’m such a big believer of local travel and not tourism (I hate tourism). Knowing someone who’s native to the area really helps elevate an experience, in my opinion.
We walked past Kaminarimon and into the main shopping street. Lots of shops were selling souvenir things — stuff that tourists would like. I saw a yukata that I wanted to buy for my dad, but I didn’t. I’m not big on shopping. I realize this makes me sound like I can’t be bothered to buy souvenirs for people, but also trust that I don’t bring a lot of money to buy physical things. No, what I really wanted was a fortune — as in a literal, paper fortune.
How did we even get one? I can’t remember now. Maybe we had to donate a certain amount or pay 500 yen for a fortune. Maybe we had to bow our heads in prayer and a priest would just hand us one. Actually, I think we just selected one from a pool of many. I honestly can’t remember. But I got one, and I still have it. I keep it with me in my wallet. Dai-kichi, the best fortune. (Side note: I got two fortunes while I was in Tokyo and they both were dai-kichi)
What did we do after we got fortunes? Walked around some more, maybe. The vibe at Sensouji was so good. There were some tourists, but mainly local visitors coming to pray or receive guidance for the new year. No one looked at us; no one paid us any attention (in comparison to my time in Seoul, where I was the main attraction wherever I went). It was so liberating to just exist within a space and, while I didn’t belong in that specific location (I am not Japanese; I was just visiting), I still felt like I belonged to a larger fabric. Like a human fabric. It was so calming.
It was still afternoon when we settled at the bar. Immediately we took seats outside and immediately, we saw the bar owner gesture to their only foreign staff, a white woman, to come over and help us. I felt no ways about this, but when the bar owner came back, we spoke to him in Japanese. Our friend explained that we were learning the language, and he was so, so thrilled. We sat there and talked and drank — all of us. The bar owner, the foreign lady, some other man. We drank and ate yakitori. I ordered all the cartilage (it’s my favourite). The bar owner gave us a special kind of bread, which he said was made by the people of his region (I believe it was like a red bean bun). I remember being on my yakuza trip (I can’t explain what my fascination was), but I kept pointing out people that I thought were probably in the yakuza. My friend said we could potentially get in a lot of trouble and I shouldn’t be so loud, but I was drunk. Swearing in Japanese, chugging beer, and cracking my teeth on chicken bones. It was the best.
I have so many other fond memories of Tokyo. It’s a place that definitely has some of my heart.