Friday 7 July 2017

Snake Road and the Last Shogun: Tokyo Nostalgia Part 2

The Tsuiji-bei wall made of mud and tiles stretching off into the distance
Kannonji Temple's Tsuiji-bei old mud wall
After visiting the Shitamachi Museum I was curious to see how much of the "old" Tokyo remained today and set off to walk around the Yanaka (谷中 - literally "middle of the valley") area in the Western part of Taito Ward, one of the classic places to experience the atmosphere of days gone by.  A good place to start is Nezu Station (map bottom left) : head north into the small alleyways and see if you can hook up with Snake Road (Hebi Michi =ヘビ道) - highlighted with a yellow rectangle on the map below. I stopped at a small cafe along this route (to cool off with a mango smoothie) and was lucky enough to meet Prof Sakamoto from Tokyo University who gives walking tours of the area. He explained that Hebi Michi - which winds and turns like a snake - was originally a river! He recommended I continue north up Hebi Michi until the traffic lights on 452 and then turn right and head towards Choan Temple/Kannon Temple which would bring me to what he considered one of the Shitamachi highlights - the Tsuiji-bei Wall (築地塀), constructed some 200 years ago from layers of hardened mud and tiles (pictured right). After that a short walk through Yanaka Cemetery - which has Shinto, Buddhist, and Christian graves including that of the last Shogun, Tokugawa Yoshinobu (marked with a red star on the map) - will bring you to Nippori Station (map top right)

So what are the characteristics of Shitamachi? Below I list eight features, adapted from the excellent blog "Exploring Old Tokyo"(which also has walking maps):
  • Nagaya (長屋) terrace (tenement) housing - wooden houses all joined together in a row
  • Very narrow twisty alley-ways (delivery companies use push-carts and bikes here - see the middle picture in the series above!)
  • Small studios and workshops (アトリア) as well as art galleries
  • Flowerpots and plants in the street in front of the houses (not on window-sills)
  • No fences either in front of or between houses
  • Stray cats (though I didn't actually see many!)
  • Lots of shrines and temples
  • Tight-knit, friendly, warm neighbourhood bonds
Many of these features can be seen in the pictures above; the route I took is illustrated in the map below. So what's stopping you - go and explore the "old Tokyo"and feel some Tokyo nostalgia!

Shitamachi Walking Map of Yanaka and Uenosakuragi in Taito City
Shitamachi Walking Map of Yanaka and Uenosakuragi in Taito City (Map data ©2017 Google Zenrin)