After a break, I got back into doing the temple thing during ‘O-shogatsu’ (the Japanese New Year celebrations), and what better place to do it that to go to one of the biggest temples: Asakusa. It was a great time, people bustling, eating takoyaki (like a fried octopus dumpling), buying some of the nastiest souvenirs I’ve seen in a while, and generally having a good time. The whole area around the shrine felt like a cold version of the summer matsuri (festivals). It really was a great atmosphere.

But that’s not why we’re here – there are some big deities to be respected, and it’s time to get into it. First we stop off at the ‘O-mokuji’ drawers. Basically, you drop in 100yen, shake a big can, and a pencil like piece of wood will drop out. On it there’s a number, and for each number there is a drawer, and in the drawer is a piece of paper which has your fortune on it. Fortunately for me, it has a rough English translation on the back, because a lot of this kanji looks pretty scary. This is what mine said:

You can get both treasure and dignity. Your family business will be really prosperous. Your skill will extremely develop and will be well-known to the people even in the capital. Shooting arrows to the sky brings you big game. You are happy as mentioned above, you can also get help and assistance of gods.”

I have to admit that I’m pleased with that.

But it’s not over yet, we have to go to the big temple and show respects: take a coin (or a few coins) with a hole in them (such as a 50 or 5 yen) and go into the temple, put it in the tray and make a prayer calling today’s God-in-Residence. Should be simple.

We got in along with about 200 other people under the watchful eye of a security man behind a mesh cage, who was wearing a riot helmet and shouting through a megaphone for people to keep moving. It was like being in a huge, packed underground train carriage. It was like getting out of the matches during the World Cup. Everyone was pushing and talking. Then the hail of money started. It was virtually impossible to get near the money collection area, so people throw the money from 10 meters back or from wherever they were, hails of it, handfuls. I soon saw why the security people were behind the mesh as over 200yen in 5yen coins bounced off the cage. I’m pretty sure my 50yen made it into their tax-free collection pot OK, and addressed my prayer ‘to whom it may concern’, sure in the knowledge that I stood as good a chance of getting his name right as he would of getting mine right. All ages were there: middle aged men shoving, small children held up to throw coins into the back of people’s heads, women with money in one hand, clutching their Louis Vuitton bags in the other. It was all over in about 3 minutes as we were carried out by the weight of people. Amazing.

I think maybe I’ve slipped in recent years, and not gone to these kinds of things, but it’s at times like being in the temple surrounded by a mob of worshippers that I remember how much I really like the people in this country; most really do just get out there and do it. The whole afternoon really re-energised my view of Japan which was becoming a bit jaded and subdued. Maybe I did learn something in there.