Sunset Streets of Old Tokyo (Yanaka/Nezu/Sendagi)
While most of Tokyo appears to be a modern mega city, some areas are so surprisingly flourishing with breathtaking nature and rich with Japan’s unique culture. Such areas are rare but their scarceness makes them so much more appreciative. I took a photo walk through the Yanaka area, a downtown neighborhood which revels in its Edo period (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edo_period) roots and takes care to preserve its old school appearance.
As I entered the grounds of Nezu shrine, the dirt path leading to the home of one of Japan’s oldest shrines (Estimated at over 1,900 years ago, which is pretty amazing considering how much damage Tokyo took during the air raids of WWII) split into two paths. To the left, I was presented with rusty, ancient doors bearing the Buddhist symbol for “Good Fortune”. What lies behind the doors will remain a mystery as the locks (which appeared to be untouched for years) prevented me from even peeking inside.
Taking the path to the right led me to a path lined with red-torii gates resembling Fushimi Inari Taisha in Kyoto (although much smaller and more of a stroll rather than a hike) (http://inari.jp/en/). The torii symbolize the entrance to a sacred space. Although not quite as breathtaking as the ones at Fushimi Inari, these gates are an opportune spot for some really cool photos and are pleasing to see.
As I followed the torii gate path, wrapping around the shrine to its front, I started to feel as if I had left Tokyo as I realized the absence of people. Discovering a place this peaceful within Tokyo (A city with over 9,000,000 people) is so rare that I was amazed how the beauty of Nezu Shrine has been kept so secret. Nezu Shrine (Unlike the popular Meji Jingu Shrine http://www.meijijingu.or.jp/english/ ) is a perfect place to check out if you are looking for a more serene experience exploring Japan’s shrines.
The sun began to fall as I made my way towards the well known downtown shopping area, “Yanaka Ginza” (Not to be confused with the popular high class shopping district, “Ginza”). I took a narrow, winding path that brought me to the entrance of the shopping street. Many of the houses lining the street remain intact, some even as old as the Edo period. There is also a wealth of greenery which decorates the neighborhood and helps give Yanaka its old school vibes.
Yanaka is also well known for its abundance of temples and shrines. There were so many hidden shrines along my way to Yanaka Ginza that I was unable to stop at all of them (Most of which were open to the public). I suggest you stop by at least a few of them to really soak up the rich culture and aesthetics this neighborhood has to offer.
The walk from Nezu to Yanaka Ginza is full of interesting cafes, architecture, and attractions. I found myself heading towards the Daimyo Clock Museum to check out the collection of clocks made for Daimyo lords during the Edo period when I stumbled upon a very peculiar cafe, Nen-Nekoya (http://nennekoya.com/). If you enjoy the company of cats, this is the place for you. The decor of this place is so delightful; I had to stop by to see what it was all about. Cats once ruled in Yanaka, and although they seem to have gone into hiding more recently, you are certain to spot a few prowling the streets of Yanaka.
Finally, as the sun was just about to set, I arrived in Yanaka Ginza. The main strip was catered perfectly for the neighborhoods residences as well as curious tourists. Everything from super markets, tea houses, restaurants and souvenir shops make this shopping street a fantastic place for just about anyone looking for a unique experience in Japan. Street vendors sold a variety of fried goods (Croquet, tempura, etc…) and drinks (Yes, you can drink beer on the streets in Japan). It’s perfect if you are looking for a quick snack or stop in one of the cafes for a nice mid-day brew (Links are posted at the end of the article).
“Sunset Stairs” & “Fujimizaka”
As I exited Yanaka Ginza, heading toward Nippori station, I was just in time to witness the sun slowly disappear at the “Sunset Stairs”. The street became drenched in the sun’s golden light and my imagination ran wild with images of how Japan must have looked hundreds of years ago during the Edo period. Just north of the stairs is another great photo spot known as “Fujimizaka”(Slope for viewing Mt. Fuji). On a clear day, a silhouette of Mt. Fuji piercing the heavens with the sun’s beauty shining from behind can be clearly seen. For photo-enthusiasts, this is a must.
http://www.yanakaginza.com/shop/sippoya/ (Map etc…)
https://goo.gl/maps/NXXbkHC7Qbn (Google Maps)