In Tokyo, where Mickey Mouse and Hello Kitty reign in their own respective "kingdoms", there is another theme park that predates them both. Hanayashiki goes back to the mid 1850s and is acknowledged as the first and oldest amusement park in Japan.
It seems entirely appropriate that Hanayashiki is located in Asakusa, where the famous Sensoji Temple is. Asakusa is part of shitamachi or "low town" Tokyo where commoners and tradespeople lived in the olden days. Even today, amidst the contemporary and ultra modern vibe of Tokyo, Asakusa exudes an unchanging, enduring appeal.
Hanayashiki is squeezed into a small area located a few hundred meters from Sensoji temple.
I stepped through the entrance and a wave of fond memories of small town carnivals and "peryas" swept over me. The little carousel blared out a lilting melody as toddlers and their mothers rode the horses round and around. There was a good sized crowd of locals, with families or friends. There were hardly any other gaijin around.
Large swans swam slowly in circles in shallow but clean water.
I was surprised to see several old ladies all dressed up, riding the small ferris wheel. Perhaps Hanayashiki was part of their happy childhood memories and they were here on this cold winter day to relive that part of their past.
Hanayashiki means "flower mansion". While there are no flower beds or gardens these days, there is a pond with a pretty red bridge, greenery and even a small traditional shrine.
Around the pond are tables and chairs where parents wait until their children have had enough of the amusement rides. There are also vending machines for cold and hot drinks and a small kiosk selling snacks.
The first time I saw Hanayashiki, I remember a tall tower with little "cabins" suspended from it that would spin you slowly around and give you a bird's eye view of Asakusa. That used to be the main attraction and one that you could see from afar.
It has been changed today to "Space Shot", a ride that straps you into individual seats, zips you up to the top of the tower and quickly drops you back down. I suppose this is trendier and perhaps more "thrilling", but it does not quite have the charm of those floating little "cabins" in the sky.
These "flying" pirate ships take you up and around the park, suspended from a track.
Because the area is so compact, rides are right beside each other and sometimes, seemingly on top of one another -- this makes it easy and convenient to go around the park, particularly for families with younger children.
There is even a small roller coaster that breaks no sound or speed barriers but just gives you a good honest run with some dips and turns.
Just like any "perya" there are old time games for children where they can win prizes. There is the quintessential shooting gallery, a coin and hoop toss and a small sandbox where you can dig for buried "treasure".
It was time well spent at Hanayashiki. Martina had fun trying out the different rides and games. As for me, I definitely enjoyed experiencing what simple joys must have been like in shitamachi -- old town, low town Tokyo.