I decided to research what to do during my 10 hours in Tokyo the night before. After some googling and a quick shout out to friends, despite being advised to stay closer to the airport, I decided to take the train an hour to check out the Senso-Ji Temple in Asakusa, the oldest Buddhist temple in Tokyo, before heading another half hour out to Shibuya, the heavily-populated shopping section in ‘new Tokyo.’
I looked forward seeing the extremes of traditional and modern Tokyo on my quick tour and I was gripped by the fact that the Senso-Ji Temple was home to Kannon, goddess of Mercy – and they had a fortune wall!
Unfortunately for me, the fortune wall turned out to be a game of omikuji (a glorified fortune cookie, and some say its predecessor) and mine foretold doom, gloom and ‘Bad Fortune’ for my future!
Between the train and the fortune wall there’s a long alley of vendors selling everything from sweets to local Japanese delicacies and knick knacks that look like they were designed with tourists in mind – yet, I was surprised that everyone who appeared to be shopping there, and there were lots, looked to be locals, I didn’t see one English-speaking person among them.
Beyond shopping alley and a large gate, in the courtyard a crowd circles around a large incense burner. I realized the importance of incense in prayer while visiting the temples in Singapore and paid 100 yen to be blessed at this one too. People were bathing themselves in the smoke that they believe will bestow a year’s worth of good luck upon them. I joined them, at the risk of smelling like incense the whole plane ride back to LA.
First your purify your hands
The shrine inside the main hall:
And then there was the fortune wall…
As in most Japanese temples, this one had omikuji, fortunes written on little slips of paper meant to be an indicator of one’s future (and also referred to as ‘the fortune lottery’). To get these fortunes (from which fortune cookies are said to be derived from), you shake a metal box with a small hole in the bottom until a bamboo stick with a number written on it falls out. After, you look for the drawer that has the number that corresponds the one on your stick, open the drawer and pull out the paper that resides within. The instructions, the only thing in English I saw in the whole temple, then states, underlined ‘take your fortune home.’
I carefully matched the Japanese characters on my stick to the drawer that had the same and took out my fortune.
The title was something like, “Last and Final Fortune” and was not good, saying, ‘Your wish will not be ranted (yes, they missed the ‘g’) and went on to say things will generally be bad, but ‘if you’re ok with this, you will forever be at peace.’
No, I was Not ok with that! My friend Angie actually has an omikuji box she got as a gift and when I did it with her once before, if we didn’t like the first answer we fished again, so here, with another 100 yen donation (about $1.25), I did it again.
I should have paid closer attention to the title of my first fortune “Last and Final Fortune,” because my fortune went from bad…to worse. The next fortune was literally titled “BAD FORTUNE” and besides saying my wish will not be granted it said, “Your family will leave (die), marriage and employment are bad…And that my life will generally be terrible.
I was debating third time’s the charm, but instead, crestfallen, I made my way out of the temple and hopped back on the train and headed to another part of the city, away from temples.
If I’d understood Japanese, I would have known that you’re meant to tie bad fortunes to this wire in the photo above, hoping that by leaving them there the fortunes won’t attach themselves to you. Since I did not know this, I waited until I got to the airport where I tore them up and discarded them in the trash before boarding my plane home – figuring if I didn’t take the fortunes home as the instructions said, the fortunes wouldn’t attach themselves to me.
My last stop before heading back to the airport was Shibyo, a district with multi-level shopping malls housing everything from Marc Jacobs to specialty stores and alleys cluttered with more shops (some of them kind of seedy), hole in the wall restaurants hawking ramen and pork and thousands of people. It reminded me a lot of Times Square. I grabbed some sushi at the sushi bar of one of the cleaner-looking eateries where I chatted with a Londoner who relocated to Tokyo for work and was still adapting – then I downloaded the New York Post and read my hometown paper the 1.5 hours back to the airport.
*Note: Although still a bit cynical about Tarot cards and the like, I do take my New York Post daily horoscope as the Holy Grail and I’m a little bit superstitious. Christmas 2010 my dad and my sister got me a charm necklace they knew I wanted that had a “J,” for Jen and a heart for love. I later added a star as a reminder to shine. Not a week after Christmas I was in Mammoth and after taking my necklace off to get a massage, I lost the heart…The three weeks that followed were the worst of my life. The boy I was dating cheated on me days later, a project I was working on fell apart – and my dad died. I’m not saying there was any correlation, but I re-ordered the heart charm…Coincidentally, I’m sure, life has been grand since, so I was a little bit shaken when my last day in Bali I reached around my neck and realized I wasn’t wearing my necklace, even though I remembered putting it on that morning before running around the streets of Seminyak one last time. When I got back to my room just before check out time I found the actual chain to the necklace on the floor, charm-less. The “J” was lying a few inches away. After scouring the floor, I found the tiny star a few feet away. But, no heart. I got on my hands and knees and swept every inch of the floor. I shook out my clothes and anything else around it could have possible attached itself to – no heart. Finally, I chalked it up to a loss and, being in a place where the locals give offerings to the Gods multiple times a day in turn for good fortune, I decided I left my heart in Bali and hopefully will receive good fortune for the sacrifice, even if unintended.
When I got the horrific fortunes at the temple I was worried that the bad luck had begun. I tried to wipe the idea from my mind as it’s a bit ridiculous, but sometimes it’s hard to fight things from your mind, even if you know they are a bit preposterous.
Thankfully, maybe it’s that I left my bad fortunes on the other side of the ocean and they didn’t ‘stick to me,’ but so far nothing unlucky – and, four days after I returned from Bali, three days after I’d unpacked, I was in my bedroom and saw a silver heart glittering on my carpet. I’m 100% positive my heart charm was on my necklace in Bali, and that I shook out the clothes I wore that day (for the 36 hours I traveled) before I left, yet, there it was, and now it’s around my neck, I’d call that fortunate.
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