It is humid today, a cool 31°C with patches of rain, the perfect weather for dancing in the street. I head over to Tawaramachi Station for a train to Shibuya. From Shibuya Station, I head to Yoyogi Park, stopping off at the Tobacco and Salt Museum. The sign in the window reassures me that the museum will relocate to Sumida in spring next year. It closed almost a year ago. I begin to wonder why it takes almost a full two years to move the contents of a museum.
I continue my walk, taking a detour through a, “Shopping road that is nice to people,” before eventually arriving at Yoyogi Park. This weekend there is a festival held at the Yoyogi Park event open space, the “Battle of the Udon.”
There are nine different television stations here. There are nineteen different udon stands, each selling their own local variety of udon noodles. Stalls also sell various non-noodle based drinks and snacks. The best noodles from all over Japan have come here to compete in the nations biggest food competition. Every bowl of noodles is charged at a flat rate of ¥500. When you order food at the Battle of the Udon you are given a vote card with the name of the stall. On the final day of the event, the votes are tallied up, and the best udon in Japan is crowned.
The noise here is deafening; every store has a banner, mascot, and a guy with a megaphone shouting at me to visit their store. Some of the mascots are better than others. I really like stall number 18’s mascot, from Nagoya; they are promoting their Kishimen style udon noodles.
I go to stall number 19, from Saitama Prefecture, offering Shoji style udon noodles. As I approach the store, the guy at the counter shouts, “Welcome!” in English, and literally welcomes me with open arms. When I get there he reaches out his hand to shake mine. He looks genuinely pleased that I chose his store; most likely he is proud of the food he makes. “Udon!” I exclaim, my smile matched his.
After food, I head back to Asakusa. I exit Tawaramachi Station to the sound of tourism and the sight of umbrellas. The rain has started now but the show will go on. Today is the annual Asakusa Samba Carnival, half a million people are expected to attend. The streets are packed on every side, and the roads are closed to vehicles. The carnival is just about to start.
This festival first began in 1981, when the mayor of Taitō-ku invited the winning team of the Brazilian Rio Carnival to perform on the streets of Asakusa. Each of the ‘teams’ has their own theme, but in effect, they compete to be crowned the winner of a dancing contest. The parade starts behind Sensō-ji temple, where a display of the floats is free to inspect, and conveniently finishes close to Tawaramachi Station.
The teams vary in style. There is a ‘Puzzles & Dragons’ float, loads of marching bands, women dancing the Samba dressed in traditional Brazilian garb. Some teams even have a comedy aspect, like women with fish on their heads or dancing clowns. For the rest of the afternoon, every inch of Asakusa is alive with the sound of drums and loud music.
At 5 pm I decide to eat some food from Seven Eleven, before heading to the ‘Flying God Temple’.
The Legend of Tobi-Fudo comes from the Shobo-in Temple. It was first built in 1530. “Once upon a time, the chief priest of this temple went to the Omine Mountain in Nara prefecture to pursue his learning, he took the principal image of Buddha with him to the mountain from his temple, but the principal image flew back to this place in Edo within one night and gave diving favors to the people.” I am not sure what ‘diving favours’ are, but this is what it said at the temple entrance. I think it is supposed to say divine.
In recent years, people visit the temple to pray for safety in air travel. Praying their plane doesn’t crash. I suppose ‘diving’ is probably the wrong word to be using when talking about air accidents. There is also a sign saying a festival takes place in October on the temple grounds. I add it to my calendar and leave.
Read the next part of my Journey in Japan, where I see a giant Deinonychus, explore the Cup Noodle Museum of Yokohama, and spot a building that looks like a forgotten scene from a science fiction movie by clicking here.
Or alternatively, click here to begin the journey from part one.