TOKYO -- As you walk up to the Senso-ji Buddhist temple here, you might be forgiven for not realizing you're standing in front of the city's oldest temple, first built in the year 645.
Past its main gate, the temple grounds are lined with tourist shops, selling candy and souvenir knick-nacks. Japanese shopkeepers, wearing traditional outfits and split-toe shoes, attract tourists with rice cakes being cooked over hot coals and other goodies.
Beyond the shops, however, lies the main shrine of the temple, dedicated to bodhisattva Kannon, the Goddess of Mercy. Located in a large pagoda, the shrine is one of the most popular in Tokyo, and sees millions of visitors a year, with many coming for a well-known New Year's celebration.
I toured the temple today with Fr. Paul Okura, a Tokyo archdiocesan priest who is also the head of the archdiocesan committee for justice and peace. Along with us was Hiruma Noriko, a staff member of the Japanese bishops' council for justice and peace.
Okura and Noriko have been my guides in Tokyo, as part of a weeks-long reporting trip to Japan, which will culminate in coverage of the annual commemorations of the destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki on August 6 and 9.
Making our way to the main shrine, the three of us joined many others as they made the trek. As we left the main altar area, Okura pointed me in the direction of a fortune-stall, where, for a small donation, you can receive your fortune. Once you deposit a coin, you shake a metal box to receive a random number. Using that number, you pick the correct fortune from 100 different drawers.
I pulled fortune number 65, which is titled in the English translation "Fortune, but finally."
It reads: "You will be suffering from disease and get depreciated by other people. You are always attacked by danger, so you can't get through everything. When spring comes, you may meet a happiness. You should make a perfect and good plan and wait for a good chance, with patience."
Well, then, here's to a good, and patient, three weeks in Japan.
For more photos of the temple, see the slideshow below. Check back for more updates on my trip, and coverage of different people and events.