Monzen - Nakacho - - Old - Town Flavor And Full Of Surprises

Monzen-nakacho--Old-town flavor and full of surprises“Is this vivid pink lotus for real?” I said to myself as I reached out to touch it. “My gosh, it is!” It was so perfect that it looked fake. The flower, with its brilliant yellow stigma, had 12 perfectly aligned seeds in the middle.

The single blossom growing from a vessel about the size of a large bucket among all the grays and browns of Eitaiji temple in Monzen-nakacho took my breath away.

This small temple, although dwarfed by neighboring shrines, is where Mon-naka gets its name. The original temple was built in 1624, and as is usually the case, a front-of-the-gate town, a “monzen-machi,” sprang up.

Tomioka Hachimangu Shrine was built shortly after Eitaiji temple and was administered by the temple.

Buddhism and Shintoism are often intertwined, so one managing or partnering with the other was common up until the 1868 Meiji Restoration when the government decided to make clear the boundaries between the two with the Shinbutsu Bunrirei decree.

Shinto was associated with the emperor, and the Meiji government worked to exalt Shinto and play down Buddhism. Eitaiji temple was razed, and was nonexistent for nearly 30 years until another temple, Kichijoin, was renamed and became the Eitaiji temple that stands today.

This “Fukagawa no Hachiman-sama” is considered the birthplace of modern sumo because many public sumo bouts (kanjin sumo) were held on the shrine grounds as a way to raise funds for repairing or building additional structures.

The shrine is also famous for its extravagant “omikoshi” created with the price tag of a billion yen--yes, you read that right. The portable shrine is adorned with rubies and diamonds, has a 24-carat gold roof, and weighs an incredible four and a half tons.

There’s a statue of Ino Tadataka, Japan’s first modern surveyor, who after praying here set off for Hokkaido to create an accurate map of Japan. He was 56 years old when he embarked on his mission.

Wow. I need to stop whining about walking 15 minutes to the grocery store. If you like flea and antiques markets, visit there every first and second Sunday for the real deal.

Anybody for a macrobiotic “bento?” Many environmentally and health-conscious people avoid meat, poultry, fish, eggs, dairy products, refined sugars and additives like MSG.

Macrobiotics is well-known around the world, but not so much in Japan, which is ironic because the movement was helped by a Japanese man in the 1930s.

The place to pick up one such bento is here in Mon-naka, at Kameido Masumoto, which has been in business since 1905. The bento changes periodically, and taste-wise, well, it’s … it’s … macrobiotic--which might be an acquired taste for those not into brown rice and veggies.

Organic, nonchemical steaming hot “fukuwake” lucky buns filled with seven vegetables in honor of the Seven Deities of Good Fortune are available for immediate consumption at the shop.

The Mon-naka neighborhood retains its “shitamachi” old-town flavor and is a pleasant place to spend an afternoon walking around discovering temples and shrines, shops and restaurants.

I laughed when I came across the seeming mismatch of plastic American slides and climbing frames next to Koto Ward’s oldest wooden structure, the Fukagawa Fudo-do temple with its trademark traditional “waraji” straw sandals and amulets.

Monzen-nakacho is a remarkable place full of surprises. If you’re in the area, you must pay a visit.