The first official day of the trip and we were off to the North East area of Tokyo to the Asakusa district, an area that used to be renowned for housing the entertainment district in Japan but is now more known for the Temples. On the Eastern bank of the Sumida River is the Asahi building and the Flame D'Or Restaurant and bar. The bar does sell Asahi lager, which isn't really a surprise given its neighbour.

I can only imagine that people collect rubbish in order to make cash and not for the good of the environment. This area which has quite a lot of close-knit low lying buildings didn't seem as well off as some of the other districts. When I think of Tokyo I must admit this image wasn't one I came up with.

In the UK if you want to see a lot of vending machines in one place you have to travel to Alton Towers in the middle of the country. In Tokyo you don't have to travel that far at all as they're all over the place. They sell a variety of items including the usual soft drinks and cigarettes. It is also possible to get ones that sell more extreme items such as used schoolgirl underwear and live lobsters, although I never came across any of them. Crime isn't a problem in Japan and no-one is going to break into these. The same couldn't be said of the UK.

The group was on its way to the first park of the trip, Hanayashiki. It was quite early in the morning but there was still quite a lot of people about. On the way to the park we'd be passing through the largest temple in the area, the Asakusa Kannon-Temple.

This is in the centre of the temple grounds and such stunning architecture that I've seen in theme parks loads of times before but the real thing is just so much more magnificent. The temple grounds consist of a couple of large buildings and is surrounded by a number of smaller ones.

The temple is apparently the oldest temple in the city and has a history that goes back to the year 628 (I'm not missing the "1" off the front). Two men were apparently fishing in the river and found a golden buddha in their net. Even though they threw it back into the river twice (they knew no better) they kept netting it. So they brought it back to the town's wise man who built a temple around it. The temple that is there today.

The entrance to Japanese temples are often signified with the construction of a torii gate. These mark the gateway between the physical world and the spiritual one. Shinto is a religion that worships nature spirits called Kami. In the Shinto religion, three really is the magic number. The gate is usually made of three pieces and people walking through one will clap three times and bow three times. The number 3 is a sacred number in Shinto.

This is the entrance to the main temple with a stunning lantern hanging outside the entrance. I did go inside but I wasn't going to take any pictures. The temple just has a major calmness to it.

These temple grounds used to be the Tivoli of its day, where people would congregate to be entertained by magicians and acrobats. Japanese theatre, known as Kabuki, was also very popular here. A couple of week prior to us arriving the temple grounds housed a Samba festival with dancers from Brazil coming over to take part. Japan isn't as insular as people expect! This pagoda steals the skyline in the area.

In other countries this whole area would be over run with the tourist trade but in Japan this was being used properly. A large number of the people we saw walking around earlier were actually on their way here to pray or on their way back. Those people who were here to see the temples and not use them were paying the correct respect. This is why there are no pictures of the insides of the temples :D

The whole area was very tranquil, and not just because of the time of day.

Almost at Hanayashiki and my first attempt at buying from the vending machines. With none of these drinks available in the UK it was going to be another opportunity to just pick something at random and hope for the best. I had guessed that the drinks in the top left were tea variants so I stayed away from them. The cloudy thing in the top right was saying "happy guru", which gave no clue to what it was. However the drinks below that included the word "cider" so I thought I'd go for that.

It wasn't cider as we know it but an apple drink which was actually quite nice. Those sharp eyed people out there may have noticed that all the drinks are made by Asahi. They must be the Coca Cola Corporation of Japan.

Never one to miss an opportunity to pose in front of the camera, Keith hugs the vending machine.

With a bit of time to kill before the park opened I took a wander around the streets surrounding the park. Fortunately Hanayashiki has a tower ride that acted as a perfect beacon to indicate the way back. I really had no idea where I was going but which sometimes the best way to go exploring is just to head out there and see what you find. After all Captain Cook didn't follow a map to get to America. This small arcade contained a number of shops getting ready for the day's trade. It also contained a number of cyclists who would head straight for you; something else I would have to get used to I suspect. Captain Cook never had that to deal with!

Some of the smaller shrines within the grounds of the main Temple. A really nice mixture of plants, some of which I had never seen before. Not that I'm Alan Titchmarsh and always in the garden that is!

On the Hungary trip earlier in the year I had planned on making a "buddha pest" joke but didn't come across a statue of Buddha until I got to Italy, which was a shame. But here I am at the start of the trip and I'm surrounded by them. I'm not going to stick my finger up this one's nose though.

A couple more mini shrines which just look stunning. This reminded me of the backdrop in those Karate games I played in the 80s.

A shot of the pagoda taken from near the park. It's time to head back as it's due to open.

I told you the tower ride would show me the way back. I'd walked a fair few blocks to get here. If I hadn't fully woken up after the previous night's trek and jet lag then this brisk morning walk had certainly helped.


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