I need to warn you that this post is X-rated.
Right, now that I've made sure you'll read until the end, let's continue.
You probably all know about Kappabashi, also known as Kitchen Town, right? It's the street in Asakusa where you can buy kitchen utensils, plastic food and razor-sharp Japanese knives.
|どこへ行くの？ あさくさ！Where are you going to? Asakusa!|
Kappabashi is written 合羽橋 in Japanese, and its mascot is the kappa (河童, river child), legendary water sprites that are full of mischief: they love farting loudly or looking up women's kimono, but they can also get nasty and kidnap children. Have you noticed that the street and the water imp have different kanji in their names? That's partly because they're homophones (Japan does love its homophones) and partly ... keep reading.¹
The street itself is famous, but did you know that there's a kappa temple in this area? It's called Sōgen-ji (曹源寺) and it's a Soto Zen temple situated in Matsugaya 3-Chōme, almost exactly halfway between Ueno Station and Asakusa Station.
The temple complex includes a smaller temple with a big name, 波乗福河童大明神 or Namenori-fuku-kappa-daimyōjin, which roughly means "the temple that enshrines the god that helps you ride the wave of success". Well, that's what I was told, and it makes sense, since it's commonly believed that if you see a kappa, your business will thrive.²
A notice board at the temple explains the story in more detail. A raincoat maker called Kappa Kawatarō³ lived in this vicinity in the 19th century. The area used to be a basin with poor drainage, and floods would often cause undue trouble for the residents. Kawatarō started constructing a series of drainage ditches with his own money. The project was completed with the help of river kappa that Kawatarō had treated kindly in the past. There's a stone in front of the kappa temple that's allegedly Kawatarō's grave.
The temple has several kappa statues, and they're clearly boys. There's one girl who modestly protects her girly bits. Too cute.
Kappa are said to love cucumbers, and you'll always see fresh cucumbers left as an offer at this temple. If you visit, do yourself a favour, walk up the steps and peer into the temple itself. You'll see a superb collection of kappa paintings, statues and trinkets.
That entire area is a shining example of good branding: you see kappa on the street, on rooftops, in shops, on menus and, if you look closely, in chōzubachi (手水鉢) at temples. Promise.
Another tip for tourists who might stumble onto this post: most foreign tourists visit the broad street that runs parallel to the Sumida River, because that’s where you'll find the kitchen shops, but I recommend that smaller street that I followed to the temple. (See my map.) That's the one with the real shitamachi atmosphere.
Incidentally, I've done zazen at Sōgen-ji (link). I wouldn't recommend it to all and sundry. It would be better to have some understanding of Japanese and some experience of zazen. These photos of me were taken by another practitioner:
1) I plagiarized myself in this paragraph. It comes from an older Kappabashi post which you can find here.
2) The Japanese word for surfing is 波乗り, naminori, wave riding.
3) Kappa Kawatarō = Raincoat Kawatarō.
|Kappanogi-chan is a statue next to Sōgen-ji's entrance.|
Do you think he's supposed to look like a cucumber?
|This is Kawatarō's grave.|
|Golden statue in Kappabashi|
|I have no idea why Anpanman is flying high above Kappabashi.|
Because ... Tokyo.
|Autumn is here.|
|A Facebook page for kappa, and below, umai kappa ramen, delicious|
kappa ramen and various kappa-approved snacks.
I've also included several examples of kappa lights above shops.
|This warning in Asakusa Station (on the Tsukuba Express Line) cracked me up.|
Tourist-san, if you're looking for the Ginza Line in this area, you're really lost!
It's thataway, other side of the big temple, towards the river.