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A Setsubun lantern procession in Asakusa

The traditional Setsubun ceremony is performed at countless temples across Japan on February 3rd — an event that involves throwing beans to dispel devils and bring good fortune. At Asakusa’s famous Sensoji Temple, however, the main event is also preceded by a lantern-bearing procession. A custom that may not bring luck or banish evil, but it does make for quite a spectacle.

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Asakusa sadness and smiles

The popular tourist trap of Asakusa is an interesting area to visit. On the one hand there is the famous Senso-ji Temple, along with all the shops selling tat that go with such places. Basically a fun and somewhat cultural spot to meet friends and take a few photos.

But Asakusa is also surrounded by some of Tokyo’s less well-to-do districts, giving it another, very different dimension. One that some people take note of, and others choose to ignore, but either way it’s always there, on the fringes.

Asakusa

Underground Asakusa?

Tokyo’s subway system is as clean and efficient as its highly praised cousin above ground. So much so in fact that it results in a rather sterile, characterless environment. One invariably made even more tedious by painfully long walks down practically indistinguishable passageways.

This exit in Asakusa, on the other hand, is arguably the exception to the rule. Yes, it smells. Plus its crumbling walls aren’t exactly appealing. But all together it’s a combination that arguably gives it something that the rest of the network is crying out for — a bit of character.

Asakusa subway

A striking foreign Maiko in Asakusa

OK, she’s not a real Maiko, just a woman dressed up for a TV show. But with the country’s most famous non-Japanese Geisha having recently quit the profession, leaving only one left, it’s probably about as near as any foreign female is going to get for the foreseeable future.

foreign geisha/maiko

And she did make for quite a striking sight.

foreign geisha/maiko

A sight one doesn’t see everyday, that’s for sure.

foreign geisha/maiko