Archive for the ‘Eastern Tokyo’ Category

tokyo: a stroll from yanaka to ueno   4 comments

Saturday, June 24: I can never resist a walk that’s all mapped out, a route just begging to be followed.  Today, I set out to explore a neighborhood I missed when I went to the Ueno area of Tokyo soon after I arrived in Japan.   The City Walk comes straight from the pages of Lonely Planet Japan: ‘Strolling Yanaka,”  and I opt to do it in reverse from the way it’s laid out in the book.

I start by going to Sendagi Station and looking for Yanaka Ginza, a mid-20th century shopping street. It’s easy to find; I simply follow the crowds. Soon, I’m walking under the archway at the street entrance.

Yanaka Ginza

At 175 meters long and 5-6 meters wide, the street is packed with 70 shops (Go Tokyo: Yanaka Ginza Shopping District).

Though compact, the district is chock-full of restaurants and shops selling yukata, souvenirs, flowers, fans, Hello Kitty paraphernalia, fruits and vegetables, flip-flops, baskets, pillows, housewares, and anything else a person could want.  Jovial folks snack and drink beer while sitting on overturned milk crates.  It’s quite a festive atmosphere.

shops in Yanaka Ginza

Yukata in Yanaka

Yanaka Ginza

produce for sale in Yanaka

produce in Yanaka

Yanaka Ginza

straw sandals

menus in Yanaka

Yanaka archway

bicycles in Yanaka

cute shop with bicycle in Yanaka

Yanaka Ginza

Yanaka Ginza

shop in Yanaka

At one point along the street, I find a small hole-in-the-wall that sells okonomiyaki, a Japanese savory pancake containing a variety of ingredients.  I haven’t yet tried one yet, because I’ve read that most of them contain squid, which I despise. I type into my Google translate app on my phone: “Can I get one without squid?” and show it to the shopkeeper.  He shakes his head no, so I move on.  Instead, I stop at a little bakery that sells slices of pizza and get one to carry with me.  I munch on it as I walk down the road, even though I know it’s considered rude to eat while walking in Japan.  I have no choice, however, as all the milk crates are occupied. 🙂

Yanaka Ginza

exotic merchandise in Yanaka

At the far end of the street, I climb the Yuyake Dande, literally “Sunset Stairs,” until I approach Nippori Station.

Yuyake Dande, literally the “Sunset Stairs”

baskets for sale

shopfront in Yanaka

I take a sharp right at the train tracks and walk along them until I reach the entrance to Yanaka-reien, or Yanaka Cemetery. Here, the paths are well-manicured and wide, presenting a good trail for a tranquil stroll. The grave of Tokugawa Yoshinobu, the last shogun of the Edo period, is located within the cemetery, according to Japan-guide.com.

Yanaka-reien

According to Lonely Planet Japan, Yanaka-reien is “one of Tokyo’s most atmospheric and prestigious cemeteries.”

Yanaka-reien

gate at Yanaka-reien

small shrine at Yanaka-reien

Yanaka-reien

Yanaka-reien

Yanaka-reien

Yanaka-reien

Yanaka-reien

Yanaka-reien

Yanaka-reien

hydrangea in the temple area of Yanaka

I continue on my walk toward Ueno Park, taking several detours to visit some of the temples in the Yanaka area.  It’s hot and humid today, so I’m sticky with sweat and my mouth is dry.  Thank goodness for all the vending machines on street corners. I buy one of my favorite flavored waters and continue walking, dipping into the various temples along the way.

Yanaka temples

Yanaka temples

Yanaka temples

Yanaka temples

Yanaka temples

Yanaka temples

Yanaka temples

Yanaka temples

Yanaka temples

Yanaka temples

Yanaka temples

Yanaka temples

Yanaka temples

Yanaka temples

Yanaka

Yanaka temples

Yanaka temples

Yanaka temples

Yanaka temples

Yanaka temples

Yanaka temples

Yanaka temples

hydrangeas in Yanaka

temple area of Yanaka

After leaving the temple area, I cross over Kototoi-dori and continue my walk through neighborhoods on Sakura-dori until I reach Ueno Park.

pink house on the way to Ueno

I pass by the Tokyo National Museum thinking that if I have time while I’m in Japan, I really ought to visit the museum.  I also walk past Rinnoji Temple, also known as Rinno-ji Ryodaishi-do, a Buddhist temple on the outskirts of Ueno Park Tokyo; it was originally a part of the cathedral of Kaneiji Temple and was called Kaizan-do or Jigen-do, according to GoJapanGo.com.

Rinno-ji

Within minutes I’m on an overpass looking down on the extensive rail tracks converging on Ueno Station.   My goal is to get to Ueno Station and find a tapas restaurant my friend Graham has told me about.  I don’t know the name of the restaurant, so I put “tapas restaurant” into Yelp and find one called Vinuls. The app says it’s near Ueno Station, which is where Graham said it was.  I then put the name into Google Maps and let the app lead me to the restaurant.

Ueno Station

I find Vinuls Spanish Bar & Restaurant right outside Ueno Station.  It is so easy!  It’s hot, so I sit inside at the bar and order a glass of cold wine and two small plates, one with prawns and one with tomatoes topped with garlic and olive oil.

Vinul’s

Vinul’s

Vinul’s

My young Japanese waiter, who is attending high school in Tokyo, tells me in perfect English that he lived for a long while in Barcelona and so also speaks fluent Spanish.  He’s friendly and confident; I find when I encounter Japanese people with a command of English, they seem very confident; whereas those with little English ability are very shy in the face of a foreigner.

tapas at Vinul’s

Vinul’s

After enjoying my wine and tapas, I walk across the street to Uniqlo, a discount fashion store much like Zara or H&M.  This is only a small branch of the store, but the clerk tells me they have a big store at the end of the adjacent shopping street, Ameya-yokocho.  Purely by accident, I thus find one of Tokyo’s popular open-air markets. This market got its start as a black market after WWII, when American goods were sold here.

Ameya-yokocho

These days, the market is crammed with vendors selling fresh seafood and produce, Hawaiian shirts, jeans and camouflage clothing.  There are also small restaurants and watch shops.

Ameya-yokocho

I’m surprised at these small markets to find so many Hawaiian shirts being sold.  I think they are so passé, but I find many Japanese young men, and even young women, wearing them.  Even some of my students wear them to class.

Hawaiian shirts at Ameya-yokocho

seafood at Ameya-yokocho

Ameya-yokocho

fresh seafood at Ameya-yokocho

seafood for sale at Ameya-yokocho

produce at Ameya-yokocho

produce at Ameya-yokocho

At the end of the shopping street, I see the huge Uniqlo store across a major intersection, so I wait until the traffic passes and cross over.

Tokyo taxi

At Uniqlo, I get in a bit of trouble buying a couple of shirts, although they’re not very expensive, about $15 each. However, right after leaving Vinuls, I also stopped into another more expensive shop and bought two other tops.  I won’ t say how much those cost. 🙂

One thing I can say about Japan is that it’s a very consumer-driven society, and as a person who has a weakness for shopping, I have a hard time resisting the enticing goods for sale! 🙂

Total steps today: 15,754 (6.68 miles)

the wisteria festival at kameido tenjin   7 comments

Sunday, May 7:  Today, on the last day of the Golden Week holiday, I visit Kameido Tenjin Shrine on the east side of Tokyo. I would have never heard of this place if it weren’t for Yukie, a Japanese woman who I’ve been following on Instagram for several years,  She posted some pictures on Instagram of this beautiful shrine and its Fuji-matsuri, or Wisteria Festival, which runs from late April to early May.  I wrote to ask her about it, and she told me about the festival and sent some of her fabulous photos.  Even though I live far to the west of Tokyo and the shrine is to the east, I decide to go anyway, on the last possible day.  Most of the wisteria are sadly past their prime, but there are a few that are still in bloom.

Kameido Tenjin Shrine is associated with the 9th century scholar, poet, and politician named Sugawara no Michizane (845-903). By the late 9th century, Michizane was appointed governor of Sanuki province and other important posts by the Emperor Uda. After he was accused of plotting against the throne at the beginning of the 10th century, he was banished from the city and demoted to a minor post in the island of Kyushu (Taiken Japan: Kameido Tenjin Shrine – An Impressive Shrine Worth a Visit)

Gate to Kameido Tenjin Shrine

Several years after Michizane’s death, a series of catastrophes — droughts, fires and the death of a son of Emperor Daigo — were attributed to the banished politician’s angry spirit. To appease his spirit, a Shinto shrine was built in Kyoto dedicated to him; it defied him as Tenjin Sama or the god of study.

Kameido Tenjin Shrine was one of many shrines built in Japan to enshrine Michizane.  Built in 1646, the original shrine was largely burnt down by Allied fire bombing in World War II. What is seen today is mostly reconstructed and restored with concrete, metal and other modern materials. For centuries, pilgrims have come here to pray to the god for success in examinations (Taiken Japan: Kameido Tenjin Shrine – An Impressive Shrine Worth a Visit).

Kameido Tenjin Shrine has several drum bridges, or highly arched pedestrian bridges. The bridges reveal a circle or a full moon reflection over still water and thus are also known as a moon bridges. The steepness forces visitors to slow down, purifying their minds before entering the shrine.

The three bridges that approach the shrine supposedly represent the life of a person. Otokobashi, “men’s bridge,” represents the past (Visiting Japan.com: Kameido Tenjin Shrine, Tokyo – where wisterias bloom in spring).

Drum bridge, or Moon Bridge

Drum bridge at Kameido Tenpin

wisteria

wisteria

more wisteria

wisteria over a bridge

wisteria heaven

trellis of lavendar

one of the ponds

ponds and trellises

Shioyaki is a snack of baked fish served on a stick.  The mackerel (saba), a common catch off the coast of Japan, is seasoned only with salt to enhance the flavor of its flaky meat. Saba shioyaki can often be found being grilled up at festival street stalls (The Culture Trip: 14 Amazing Japanese Street Foods).  I don’t try one of these today, but they look interesting. 🙂

Shioyaki

Shioyaki

drum bridge at Kameido Tenpin

dried fruit snacks

a drum bridge seen through the trellises

drum bridge and trellis

The view of the Tokyo Sky Tree from Kameido Tenjin juxtaposes the traditional against the modern.

The Tokyo Sky Tree as seen from Kameido Tenpin

foliage and blooms

wisteria trellis

strands of blossoms

I don’t take a picture of the middle bridge, called Hirabashi, which is a long flat bridge along among the wisteria trellises. It represents the present.

The last bridge is Onnabashi, or “women’s bridge,” which represents the future (Visiting Japan.com: Kameido Tenjin Shrine, Tokyo – where wisterias bloom in spring).

drum bridge

little shrine

Kameido Tenjin Shrine

serene being

I love the colorful ema at Kameido Tenjin, especially the ones that depict the drum bridge, shrine, wisteria and plum blossoms.  I’m not sure who the characters on the other ema are.

Kameido Tenjin ema

wisteria ema at Kameido Tenjin

Kameido Tenjin Shrine

People are rubbing the big bull sitting near the shrine, but I’m not sure of his significance.

taking the bull by the horns

My Japanese friend, Yukie, tells me these are origami cranes signifying peace.

origami cranes

Though I can’t get a front seat at the drum performance, I’m able to enjoy it from a back view.

drum performance at Kameido Tenpin

drum performance

drum bridge at Kameido Tenjin

drum bridge at Kameido Tenjin

drum bridge at Kameido Tenjin

choco bananas

more dangling blossoms

ponds and shirnes

wisteria arbor

wisteria arbor over pond

more wisteria

another drum bridge

another trellis

wisteria banner over a restaurant

drum bridge revisited

another view of the drum bridge

After walking around the shrine and enjoying all the sights and sounds, I grab a pancake.  I believe it’s okonomiyaki, a savory pancake; this one is stuffed with pork.  I’ve heard of these pancakes, but usually I hear of them with cabbage, pork and other toppings.  However, this one has no toppings, so I’m not sure this is a true okonomiyaki. I do admit it’s good!

My intention is to go directly home because I’m tired out from my Golden Week adventures, so I head back to metro, seeing this cute dog enjoying the fresh air out of the sunroof of the car.

a dog in love with the sunroof

colorful alley

Once I get on the metro and see how easy it would be to hop off at Omote-sando Station, 11 stops along the Hanzomon Line and right on my way home, I decide to get off to visit the Nezu Museum.  I’m really glad I do!

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