“Asakusa is Asakusa for everyone. In Asakusa, everything is flung out in the raw. Desires dance naked. All races, all classes, all jumbled together forming a bottomless, endless current, flowing day and night, no beginning, no end. Asakusa is alive…..The masses converge on it constantly. “
This is a quote from Soeda Azenbo, published in the 1930 novel, The Scarlet Gang of Asakusa by Yasunari Kawabata. The novel creates a vivid picture of a wild and magical place.
In The Scarlet Gang, Kawabata calls Asakusa “something completely different from today`s world, like a remote island or some African village.”
Nowadays, while Asakusa remains distinct, it does not feel foreign or wild. Every time I go to Asakusa I have to try hard to imagine what it used to be. It is difficult, so little clues remain.
Pictures always help. Last night wandering the deserted side streets, one picture caught my attention; it was attached to a lamppost on Rokku-dori, the street of past masters. The picture was a black and white photo of Taya Rikizo, an unconventional opera singer and Asakusa legend.
A brief internet search revealed Taya singing a song called Korokke (Potato croquettes). This song, supposedly portraying the life of newly weds, was popular in the Taisho period (1912-1926).
The song made me smile. It is both funny and ridiculous. I replayed it 10 times before bed. Then woke up craving mashed potato.
Here is a primitive translation of the first two verses, and a YouTube clip of the song itself.
I`m happy I got a wife but
Dinner is always the same: korokke
(Chorus girls) Korokke!
Today it`s korokke, tomorrow it`ll be korokke
All year-long it`s korokke
This is madness
I`m happy I got a husband but
He`s always going out, hardly ever home
Again today he won`t come home, tomorrow he won`t come home
All year-long I`m stuck at home alone
This is madness