There's nothing more exciting than getting the chance to get up and head out on a sunny Sunday morning and meet up with your friends for a sight-seeing adventure. That is exactly what I did.
The destination was set for Kawagoe and the group that I went with consisted of members of Sophia Communication. SC is a social circle/ school club that brings Japanese and Foreign students together in one space with the intention of exploring different parts of Japan and enjoying various activities together. For the international students, it's usually a chance to practice Japanese. For the Japanese, they get to practice English. In general, it's also a great way to make connections with some amazing people from all over the world.
This was my second time going out on an adventure with the group. And yet, it was composed of people I had never really spoken with before. You see, the club is filled with over one hundred people who don't meet regularly, so it's not always easy to keep track of members. Nevertheless, I had been wanting to go out exploring with them for a while now and believed that it would be a fun and interesting experience.
As per usual, my Japanese was not up to par with most of the other Japanese students. Although I have grown accustomed to speaking Japanese, the issue this time was my lack of vocabulary. Honestly though, that was not an issue. First off, everyone was pretty much napping on the one-hour train ride. Secondly, everyone's speaking level for both Japanese and English varied greatly. So, we were all learning from each other at times.
The real fun began the second we left Kawagoe station. The first thing we did was head to Ko Edo - This was going to be my very first time being there. I'll announce to you now that I am not sure what streets we walked during our journey, but there was a point where you just knew you had arrived in Ko Edo. By the time you turn a corner, you are met with a series of traditional architect, home to several shops and restaurants along either sides of the street.
People crossed up and down the streets in yukata and fox-spirit ensembles: masks and ears included, and the scent of delicious Japanese sweets made your mouth water.
We spent the whole day visiting shops and Shinto Shrines in the area. The shops consisted of toys and decorations, as well as many different kinds of Omiyage - Souvenirs. We also stopped at about two smaller Shinto Shrines, our curiosity pulling us in all sorts of directions, before making our way to biggest of them all. At each Shrine, we were able to appreciate just how beautiful and peaceful everything was. We practiced the proper procedure of visiting a Shinto Shrine. First, for purification purposes, you wash your hands and mouth at a fountain that usually stands near the entrance. Using the ladle, you rinse your left hand, then your right, then your mouth, spit out the water and then rinse the ladle with the remaining water before returning it to the fountain. Only afterwards are you able to make your way to the actual shrine. There's also a process for clapping, bowing and praying when approach Shrines. You bow, clap twice, and then bow again. While other members took their time to wander about, we wound up being able to partake in fortune telling and wish making.
With fortune telling, you are able to receive a slip of paper that will tell what kind of luck you are due to receive. If you get unlucky or bad, you’re supposed to tie it onto a piece of pine or a wooden structure with metal wires so that it doesn't attach itself to the bearer. Sometimes, this can be done with strips deeming good luck for an even better chance of the fortune taking place.
In comparison, the wish making are usually done on Ema, wooden plaques, where the wish is written and then it is able to be hung near the shrine. Both you usually buy, and the tradition is common with Japanese Buddhist temples as well.
While I did not partake this time, I had previously done so in Miyajima and Narita, in which both occasions I had received good fortunes. But, I am saving my wish for when I go to Kyoto.
All in all, I was able to really appreciate Ko-Edo with my group. It was very serene and was a great chance to bond with some unfamiliar faces. We talked to a few merchants, including a seller of Natural Honey and freshly grilled yakitori (chicken on skewers). We also got to Ko Edo's famous sweet potato pastry.
Ko Edo, for me, is just one of those places you have to see if you ever find yourself in Tokyo. I really wish that I could one day return during a Matsuri, a festival, for they seem lively and fun-filled beyond what I could imagine. Maybe next time?