Typhoon in Tokyo
Who would have thought that a few hours ago it was still chucking it down with rain? The typhoon had passed overnight and we woke up to a sunny hot day, a big contrast to our arrival in Tokyo.
I had craved Japanese style thick toast for over two weeks now and finally found a café around the corner from our Airbnb which served a breakfast set with thick toast and fried eggs, I do not know where my obsession about thick toast came from but I just love it. For those who have not tasted it , the toast is about 4cm thick golden on outside and soft in the middle, hard to get right if you do not have the Japanese style of western bread.
Our first stop for today, before heading to Yanaka to explore the an almost forgotten part of Tokyo, was Nishi Nippori station. We exited the underground station on the north side and were right on Shimogoinden Bridge, which is above one of the busiest train crossings in Japan. Jerome had always had a big passion for train and this was meant to be one of the prime spots in Tokyo for Shinkansen and train spotting.
He didn’t have to wait for very long and the first Shinkansen passed underneath us. We were soon joined by some other smaller children and a geeky teenager, who had all came for exactly the same reason – high speed train watching. We spent about half an hour watching the trains go by.
Then, mainly due to the heat, moved on to Tennoji temple and Yanaka graveyard, both were an oasis of calm in this busy city. There were trees that provided us with plenty of shade and a place to sip a cooling drink from the vending machines. At Tennoji we saw a large seated Buddha statue, which resembles the big Buddha of Kamakura. We only visited Kennoji temple but there are around 70 other temples in the area that wait to be explored.
Visiting a Cemetery
You may wonder why we chose to visit a cemetery? Yanaka-reien is one of the largest cemeteries in Tokyo, there are over 7000 souls buried here. Some of them famous Japanese people, Tokugawa Yoshinobu, the last Shogun of Japan and novelist Ichiyo Higuchi found their final resting place here. To see and experience a different culture includes all aspects of their life, including death. Yanaka-reien is very different to European cemeteries and should not be missed when visiting the area. Even children will be fascinated by the maze of little paths winding past the stones and the many offerings from oranges to origami on the little alters by the graves.
Asakura Choso Museum
After our stroll past the graves we headed right along a small one-way street lined with little shops and restaurants. Here we stumbled onto the Asakura Choso Museum. Asakura Fumio, a famous Japanese artist lived and worked here most of his life. He extended the original building in 1935 and started teaching his disciples in this modern annex in sculpturing. The house reminded me of the Villa Choussakei in Setoda, as it combined both modern and traditional architecture into one. We started walking through the house in the modern part where we could see his study and many of his sculptures. We then moved on into the traditional part of the house, which was built around a beautiful, tranquil Japanese garden.
Inside the Museum
On the second and third floor we found rooms where Asakura entertained his guests and on the rooftop a small garden with an amazing view of Tokyo, all the way towards the Skytree. We were glad to have accidentally stumbled onto this gem of a museum in Yanaka, Jerome loved the cat statues, which were showcased in the Orchid room. Unfortunately we weren’t allowed to take photos inside the museum.
Shopping in Yanaka Ginza
We then walked on to Yanaka Ginza. Here we found plenty of shops, which still have retained their warm atmosphere away from big chain stores. It seemed to be a popular shopping street with many locals. We stopped to have a Yanaka cattail, basically a doughnut in form of a cattail with different fillings. Jerome ate a banana one and I had chocolate. They were yummy and a funny treat, Jerome went back for more later in the day so they must be good!
Shops and Boutiques
Yanaka Ginza still seemed to be stuck in a few decades ago, which made it very different to the other areas in Tokyo we had visited before. The shops have a personal touch with a focus on crafts and lots of street food. It is a great place for getting lost and exploring, never knowing what else you might stumble onto. Jerome loved the funny old hardware stores with interesting household items, and the old fashioned wooden toys in some of the little boutiques.
Soba Noodles for Lunch
Our stomachs were rumbling and I had marked a Soba restaurant 鷹匠a few blocks further away. The restaurant makes its own Soba noodles, we chose from the two varieties, one is coarser, the other softer buckwheat noodles. We had them cold, Zaru style with tasty dipping sauce and some wasabi. Jerome is often not very keen on Soba or Ramen but he ate them, perhaps the walk made him hungry?
Exploring the Back Alleys
After lunch we made our way slowly back through the back alleys, disturbing cats and looking at the myriad of house styles, to Nishi Nippori station where we got the metro back to Hiroo.
Not far from Yanaka lies Ueno Zoo, which is an option for a detour on the way back into downtown Tokyo if you have time. We always loved seeing the red pandas there. Or perhaps a stroll in Ueno Park with the Swan boats on Ueno park lake is another option to extend the day.
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