Surviving in the World of Destruction and Creation – the Story of Asakusa
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In the last article I wrote about Japanese traditional clay dolls and clay figures. Today, I would like to introduce you a shop of Edo-style small toys which is the only one specialized shop in Japan.
This shop is very famous and many of you already know about it or have been to it. But I insist writing about this great shop for those who have never been to and for those who are interested to achieve some Edo-style toys.
Sukeroku was established in 1866. I looked through the history to get some information on what happened in 1866 when Sukeroku opened.
Surprisingly, there was a big fire in Asakusa area in December, 1865 and Kaminari-mon gate of Senso-ji temple was also burnt down and after this fire, for nearly 100 years, there was no gate excluding some temporarily constructed ones.
Today’s Kaminari-mon gate in Sensouji
Photo by alafista.com
The original Kaminari-mon gate (which can be translated into ‘Thunder gate’ in English.) was built in 942 in Heian period and several times it was burnt down in fire in its history.
The actual gate and big red Chochin lantern was donated by Konosuke Matsushita, the founder of Panasonic (used to be called Matsushita) in 1960. (Though the lantern is renewed every 10 years and the latest renewal was in 2013.)
Senso-ji temple is so famous and it is introduced in every guidebook of Japan and I don’t think that I have to duplicate it. Anyway, Senso-ji temple is surely one of the ‘must’ places for tourists, such as Fountain of Trevi in Rome.
Not only for foreign visitors but also for people in Edo period, Senso-ji temple was an important place as the oldest temple in Tokyo (Edo) and as the center of culture and commerce. Many Ukiyoe artists made their works of the view of Senso-ji temple, which can be one of the evidences of its importance and popularity.
One Hundred Famous Views of Edo (名所江戸百景 Meisho Edo Hyakkei)
by 歌川国貞 Utagawa Kunisada
However, during World War II in 1945 the vast area of Tokyo was bombed and destroyed, and Senso-ji temple was not the exception. No matter in these circumstances, the bell was survived and the bell you see now is the original one.
Photo from the official site of Taito ward
Sukeroku is situated in a Nakamise-dōri street, which is the approach to the main temple from Kaminari-mon gate. It is said that this “high street” was created in the end of 17th century or in early 18th century, when the temple gave its neighbors the privilege of getting the permission for business inside the temple and on the approach. However, during Meiji Restoration, the estate of Senso-ji was confiscated by the new government and so was the business permission of the shops. The shop owners were forced to leave, but after that the new shops were build with red brick, which were burnt down in Great Kanto earthquake of 1923. Two yeas later, they were rebuilt but in 1945 and they were burnt again with the war but soon recovered… and now you see Nakamise-dori street which has gone through several modifications and modernization, where there are no power poles or electric wires!
Here I put two interesting photos so that you can compare the view of Asakusa in Meiji period to the one of today.
Nakamise dori in Meiri Period (1868–1912)
Photo from Boccheruna古事記
Now we know that Senso-ji temple is living in a long history in which destruction and revitalization came in rotation repeatedly and so is Sukeroku.
When I was a kid, my grandmother always took me to Senso-ji temple almost once a month and every time she took me to this shop, Sukeroku. She really loved the small and Edo-styled toys and once in a few times she bought one that she really liked. Although the name of the shop came from the name of Kabuki program ‘Sukeroku’ it reminds me of another program, ‘Shibaraku’. One day I noticed that my grandma liked the clay figure of ‘Shibaraku’ which was put in the show window and I decided to buy it for her with my saved money and I cannot forget her smile even now after several decades…
Photo from Sukeroku Yukarino Edozakura by Kunisada.jpg
Photo from Ukiyoe search
The present owner of Sukeroku is the fifth generation. Some days ago I saw him speaking English on TV show so why don’t you make a visit and achieve some special traditional handmade crafts for you and for your beloved. The toys you may find in Sukeroku are not just beautiful but they have meanings as shown below! Moreover, they are original and you cannot find the same things in other shops in Japan, which means only one in the world!
(*1) There is a proverb in Japan, “Don’t count your raccoons before they’re hatched” (I know in other countries they use chickens instead of raccoons.)
(*2) The verb used for using an abacus is “はじく(hajiku)” and this verb can also mean “to repel or to prevent”.
Photos and information are from the official site of Asakusa-Nakamise
Shop information of SUKEROKU 助六
Opening hours: 10:00 – 18:00 (open everyday)
Address: 2-3-1 Asakusa, Taito-ku, Tokyo
Credit card: acceptable
How to arrive: Entered from Kaminari-mon, walk through Nakamise dori street and at the near end of the street soon before another gate “Hozo-mon” on your right side.
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