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This shot, taken on New Year's Eve 2005, is of the Kaminarimon, Thunder Gate, which leads to a long temple market street which ends at the Sensoji Kannon Temple, Asakusa's most famous site. Legend has it that in 628, two brothers fished a statue of Kannon, the goddess of mercy, out of the Sumida River. When they put the statue back into the river, it always returned to them. Consequently, Sensoji was built there for the goddess of Kannon. The temple was completed in 645, making it Tokyo's oldest temple.

Japan is a vertically structured democracy. Those on top have more votes than those down below. This is why those on top love Japanese democracy. Asakusa, one of the old 'Shitamachi' wards of Tokyo, is for those down below. For this reason those on top never come here. Also for this reason YOU should come here when you are in Tokyo! Even today in March. 2007, it still retains the feeling of being old Tokyo, far removed from the antiseptic Roppongi Ark Hills and other copy-cat post-modern Orwellian developments.

"The Sumida River, silver in the winter sun, glistened beneath us. We were on the roof of the Asakusa subway terminal tower, looking out over downtown Tokyo, still in ruins, still showing the conflagration of two years earlier, scorched concrete black against the lemon yellow of new wood.

This had been the amusement quarter of Tokyo. Around the great temple of Kannon, now a blackened empty square, had once been a waren of bars, theaters, archery stalls, circus tents, peep shows, places I had read about where the all-girl opera sang and kicked, where the tatooed gamblers met and bet, where the trained dogs walked on hind legs and Japan's fattest lady sat in state.

Now, two years after all this had gone up in flames, after so many of those who worked and played here had burned up in the streets or boiled in the canals as the incendiary bombs fell and the B-29s thundered the empty squares were again turning into lanes as tents, reed lean-tos, and a few frame buildings began appearing. Girls in wedgies sat in front of new tea-rooms, but I could see no sign of the Fat Lady. Perhaps she bubbled away in the fire.

What was he thinking, I wondered, looking at the avian profile of the middle-aged man standing beside me, outlined against the pale sky. I had no way of knowing. He spoke no English and I spoke no Japanese. I did not know the Yasunari Kawabata was alredy famous and would become more famous still. But I did know that he was writer who had written about Asakusa, and it was the place itself that interested me.

Yumiko, I said. this was the name of the heroine of the novel Asakusa Kurenaidan, which Kawabata had written when....twenty years before, at about the same age as I was now, and just as enraptured with the place....he had walked the labyrinth and seen the jazz reviews, the kiss-dances, the White Russian girls parading, and the passing Japanese flappers with their rolled stockings. It was here on this roof where we were standing that Yumiko had confronted the gangster, crushed an arsenic pill between her teeth, then kissed him full on the lips.

This was where Yumiko, having given the man the kiss of death, slipped though the porthole of a waiting boat and sped away just as the river police arrived."

From Donald Richie's Japanese Portraits, Tuttle Publishing, 2006

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