Praying, gambling and drinking alcohol are popular Asakusa pastimes. You are never far from a bar, Buddhist or bookies in this part of Tokyo. Last Saturday, I had them all at my fingertips.
I was at Alice`s Bar on First Cry Alley (初音小路Hatsunekouji). It only opens on weekends, when horse races are held. Alice introduced herself as being born and bred in Asakusa. To my ageing eyes and ears, she sounded Spanish and looked eastern European.
Standing above me, she asked for my order. “Do you want the meat, the skin, or the liver?”
“Meat, please”. I replied, not daring to ask of what animal.
The bar is sandwiched between Sensouji Temple and Wins, a huge government licensed bookmakers. Both establishments make monstrous amounts of money. Sensouji has a collecting box the size of a small car, Wins has over 250 counters selling betting slips.
“You have to touch it. If you don`t touch it, you won`t win”. Alice lectured a customer.
`It` was a black papier-mache model of Daruma, the founder of Zen Buddhism. Daruma is a popular character in Japan. Apparently, he cut his own eyelids off to stay awake when meditating.
Darumas are normally red. Alice`s Bar has a black one. If her punters touch it, they will stay in the black, she explained to me.
I was sat on a stool outside, a transparent plastic curtain sheltering me from the rain. Putting my head between a gap in the curtains, I looked down wisteria-covered First Cry Alley and saw a row of tiny bars packed together.
The bars had striking names – the Racoon Dog`s Banquet (狸の宴Tanuki no Utage), The Seagull (かもめ Kamome) and Tom2.
“What kind of place is Tom2?” I asked Alice.
“Tom Tom? Oh, that`s a gay bar.” Alice cooly informed me. Apparently, The Seagull and The Racoon Dog`s Banquet are also for those who venture to the other side of the road.
They are not artyfarty bars. “It`s dangerous….there are yakuza (Japanese mafia). You have to be a member to go in” Alice told me. After my last experience, I think I`d rather cut off my own eyelids.