Yanesen – Discover the Streets of Old-time Tokyo
The districts of Yanaka, Nezu, and Sendagi, along the west side of the Yamanote line from Ueno to Nippori, called “Yanesen” (YA(naka)-NE(zu)-SEN(dagi), are famous as a place in Tokyo, where the houses and streets still preserve a historical feel. Wooden houses, which look just as they did in historical times, line the streets, with potted plants standing beneath the eaves and in front of the houses. So it is also an opportunity to catch a glimpse of what traditional urban life was like in Tokyo.
10 minutes walk from Nippori station is the Yanaka Ginza (street). This is a lively shopping street, which is home to more than 60 businesses, from traditional craft goods to general stores and cafes run by young people. Walking around with a korokke (a popular food item which developed in Japan out of the European Croquette) from a street stall in one hand, is also one way to enjoy walking the streets of this traditional downtown area. The sloping road that continues from Yanaka Ginza is called the “Sunset Slope”, and as the name implies, come the evening, the street is bathed in the brilliant light of the sunset, which is a sight not to be missed. Yanesen is also famous as an area where there are many cats. You will even find souvenirs featuring images of cats as a motif.
Taiyaki is a snack in the shape of a fish, called “Tai” in Japanese, which is symbol of good luck. Inside the pastry shell is sweet red bean paste. The Taiyaki sold in Nezu is particularly popular, and usually sells out before midday. After eating Taiyaki, why not proceed on to investigate the Nezu-jinja shrine right beside you, whose vermillion dyed shrine building and torii arch make a particularly beautiful sight.
You can also see many buildings than have been reformed to incorporate a modern sense, while still preserving the traditional appearance that is characteristic of the Yanesen Area. Accordingly, a walking course that takes in buildings of architectural interest is also enjoyable. Among these is SCAI THE BATHHOUSE, which is a Sento (Japanese public bath house) that has been reformed into a unique gallery where the spirit of Japan co-exists with the latest art. As you wander around the Yanesen area, you will certainly come across many old buildings that have been turned to interesting present day uses.
Kagurazaka: an area of stone-paved winding lanes and artistic expression
The Yamanote Line circles around Tokyo in a giant loop. In the center of that circle lies Iidabashi Station, and just to the west of the station lies a hill named Kagurazaka, which gives its name to the area surrounding it. Kagurazaka is an area that is well loved by many people as a place where the sights and feeling of Edo-period Japan are still largely intact. Kagurazaka has been famous since Edo times, when it was a fleshpot, as a center of geisha culture. Even today, there are geisha training schools here, and if you are lucky you may hear the sounds of the shamisen, or encounter a Geisha heading to an evening appointment. The lanes, which are a still paved with flagstones, wind around exactly like a maze. But getting lost is part of the joy of exploring Kagurazaka
To experience more of the atmosphere of Kagurazaka, we recommend visiting “Kakurenbo Yokocho” (Hide and Seek Alley). The stone paved laneway surrounded by the dark wooden fences and traditional Japanese restaurants is the very essence of Kagurazaka.
Climbing the slope of Kagurazaka, a vermillion painted temple, Bishamon Zenkokuji, appears in front of you. The temple has a connection with the family of the Shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu. A little further on, and you will encounter Akagi Shrine, which is located nearby Tokyo Metro Kagurazaka Station, and was designed by the famous architect Kengo Kuma,. The glass-sided modern shrine, boasts a design that combines the virtues of traditional culture with the strengths of modern technology.
Kagurazaka Dori, the road that runs through the center of Kagurazaka is closed to traffic every day between 12 and 1 p.m. and on Sundays between 12 and 8 p.m., so that you can enjoy walking down the street without worrying about passing traffic.
Kamakura: A Samurai Warriors’ Town with 800 years of History
One hour southwest by train from Tokyo is Kamakura. According to history, Kamakura became the head of the Shogun’s government, the Kamakura Bakufu, in 1185, which makes it the oldest warriors’ town in Japan. Mountains, sea, and history all come together in the one place in Kamakura, meaning there are many sights to see, and Kamakura is incredibly popular as a tourist destination. The two locations that symbolize Kamakura are the Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Shrine, which is 10 minutes walk from Kamakura Station, and the Great Buddha of Kamakura at Kotoku-in Temple, 7 minutes walk from Hase station on the Enoshima Electric Railway.
Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Shrine is a shrine that is connected to the famous warrior Minamoto Yoritomo, and a ritual such as Yabusame that the participants shoot arrows at a target from horseback which was started by Yoritomo, is performed even now.
Kotoku-in Temple, houses the Great Buddha of Kamakura, a Buddhist statue made of cast bronze which sits outdoors in a meditation posture and measures 13.5 m high and weighs 121 tons. The presence of the giant statue, which sits peacefully in harmony with nature, through blue skies, flowering cherry blossoms, snow, wind and rain, is overpowering. You can even enjoy the unique experience of entering inside the torso of the statue itself.
22 minutes walk from the west exit of Kamakura Station is a shrine called Zeniaraibenzaiten. It is said that if you wash your money in the spring that wells up in the inner shrine, your money will multiply. You can give it a try, and maybe your luck with money will improve as well.
A unique experience for visitors in Kamakura, is Shisouan where you can be turned into a medieval warrior. It is one of the few places in Japan, and the only one in Kamakura, where you can rent the armor of a Kamakura era samurai from 800 years ago. Walking around Kamakura dressed as a medieval warrior, or another person from that time, is a very special experience without a doubt.
Kita-Kamakura, on the mountain side of Kamakura, is full of many temples set in a beautiful natural scenery: Engaku-ji Temple with its large grounds and red leaves, Kencho-ji Temple, which is a famous spot for viewing cherry blossoms, and Meigetsu-in Temple, which is famous as the “Hydrangea Temple.” In Kita-Kamakura, there are many places where you can experience the beauty of Japan’s four seasons.
The Old Town of Kawagoe, where the culture of the Edo Period can still be seen today
Kawagoe, where many influences of the culture of Edo (the old name for Tokyo) still remain to this day, has been called “Little Edo”, and is a popular sightseeing spot that is easily reached on a day trip from Tokyo. Heading northwest from Tokyo, Kawagoe is just on an hour by train.
Kawagoe is famous for the historical Kurazukuri warehouses that line its streets. Walking 10 minutes north from Hon-Kawagoe Station brings you to “Ichibangai” (Number One Street) where you can see many of the Kurazukuri-style buildings lined up next to each other. This valuable historical streetscape preserves a memory of historical Japan, and as a result it is often filmed in movies and television dramas.
Together with Ichibangai, one thing that could be said to represent the town as the symbol of Kawagoe is the clock tower, “Toki no Kane”. It has been burnt down and rebuilt many times throughout its history. The present clock tower was rebuilt after being burnt down in a fire in 1893. Its bell is rung every day at 6 a.m., 12 a.m., 3 .p.m., and 6 p.m. When the bell rings, turn your ears to this “sound” that has been passed down through many generations.
In Dagashiya Yokocho, there are more than 20 shops selling Dagashi (traditional inexpensive Japanese candy). The sweets these shops sell are very nostalgic for Japanese people. Most of the sweets cost between a couple of tens of yen to a couple of hundred yen, so why not walk around trying a few to see what you like?
Kawagoe is a town with many historical temples and other buildings, but the Kitain temple, which has been designated an Important Japanese Cultural Property, is something really worth seeing. Founded in 830 A.D., the structure was destroyed in a fire 1638, after which it was rebuilt by transplanting in its entirety one of the structures which had previously stood in Edo Castle, and it has remained to this day. The beautiful Japanese garden is also well worth visiting.
Further inside the grounds of the temple is a group of stone statues called the Gohyakurakanzou that are over 500 bodies. All of the statues have different expressions and poses, and there are many statues that are entirely unique, so you will never get tired of looking at them.