After a slow day yesterday, we were ready for another long walk through the different neighbourhoods of Tokyo.
We began the day with a to-go coffee in Roppongi as we walked through this international neighbourhood, slowly making our way to one of Tokyo’s most famous landmarks – Tokyo Tower.
I wonder what it is about the Eiffel Tower that has the Japanese in such awe that you can find copies of it in both Nagoya and Tokyo as well as an actual 12 metres high replica in Tobu World Square.
Yes, I know that neither the Nagoya TV Tower nor Tokyo Tower are 1:1 copies of the Eiffel Tower. Tokyo Tower is taller, measuring 332.9 metres and can boast of only two levels and a very bright aviation safety orange and white design. But anyone with eyes can see the similarities and the influence for Tokyo Tower.
I have seen the original several times, and love it for its raw look and the fact that it was only ever built to impress at a time when constructions of this kind were amazing achievements.
Tokyo Tower is well proportioned and stands out in the Tokyo city-scape. While it does not measure up to the original, it is a beautiful piece of construction.
Built in 1958, it predates the 1976 CN Tower in Toronto and the 1969 Berliner Fernsehturm erected by the DDR. It tells the story of a post-war Japan rising in a new capitalist world.
It was planned to be taller than the Empire State Building, which at the time was the tallest in the world, but the plans had to be changed due to funding issues. While the dreams were not completely fulfilled, it stands as a magnificent symbol of modern Japan.
Zōjō-ji Temple and the Garden of Unborn Children
Next door lies Zōjō-ji Temple, the head temple of the Buddhist Jodo sect. It was built in 1393, and moved to where it stands today in 1598 by Tokugawa Ieyasu. It has been the family temple of the Tokugawa clan, and holds a mausoleum. Through time six Tokugawa shoguns have been buried here, but not much remains of their final resting place after parts of the temple and mausoleums were hid during the WW2 raids on Tokyo.
We passed through parts of the surrounding graveyard, and I was particularly touched by the many rows of statues symbolising children. Unknowingly, we had reached Sentai Kosodate Jizo – The Garden of Unborn Children.
The many statues represent unborn children, including miscarried, aborted, and stillborn. Here parents of unborn children can choose a statue and dress it with clothes and toys, as well as stones which guarantee a safe journey to the afterlife. Gifts are also donated to Jizō, the guardian of unborn children, for the safe passage to the afterlife. It is a beautiful thought and way to commemorate and mourn the loss of an unborn child.
Walking through Ueno
After our visit to the Garden of Unborn Children, we took the train to the hustle and bustle of Ueno, getting off at Nippori Station. Walking west of the station, we reached Yūyake Dandan, or in English – the Sunset Steps. These are 36 steps, which opens up to the Yanaka Ginza shopping street.
According to the walking guide I’d found online the shot from the top of the stairs and down onto Yanaka Ginza is a famous view often portrait in television and news papers. So off course I placed myself on the top of the stairs, to capture this famous view of one of Tokyo’s few remaining traditional areas.
The Yanaka neighbourhood was fortunate to survive the bombings of Tokyo during WW2, and much of it therefore still remains the same. Yanaka Ginza is one of Tokyo’s remaining shotengai – traditional shopping streets. Here you will find small food stores selling tea and Japanese delicacies. It has not yet been overtaken by chain stores and supermarkets as most other parts of Tokyo.
We looked in at a few shops, including an old tea shop with the wonderful fragrance of Japanese teas in the air.
We walked up and down the narrow shopping street before taking a small passage into the Yanaka Temple area. As with Yanaka Ginza, the area which houses more than 60 small Buddhist temples survived the bombings of Tokyo.
We reached the area of Nezu, which is known for its small alleys. At a larger road traversing Ueno, we found a ramen shop and a long overdue lunch, before we moved south towards Ueno Park.
Unaware, we ended up at Shinobazunoike, a beautiful pond where we enjoyed gazing at the thousands of water lilies making the place so magical.
In fact Shinobazunoike is made up of three ponds, and it is possible in that way to walk on a narrow stretch of land across the water. In the middle of Shinobazunoike lies Shinobazunoike Bentendo, which must be Tokyo’s most beautifully situated Buddhist Temple.
Ameyoko Shopping Street
We ended our walk through Ueno in the crowded Ameyoko Shopping Street, which runs along the train tracks north of the station. It was previously known as Ameya Yokocho, meaning candy store alley, since sweets and candies were sold here.
The ‘Ame’ in Ameyoko can however also be said to represent a shortening of American, since many black market goods from the US were found here in the years after WW2.
Today it is a busy shopping street selling all kinds of goods. It is a colourful display of various shops and people, and I enjoyed tremendously to observe the many visitors to the shopping street as well as the many salesmen attempting to get their attention.
Enjoying cakes on a stick in Ginza
It had been a long day, but I’d promised Hiroshi that I’d meet up with him and his friends for a beer out in Ginza. We started out with eating Chinese at local joint before heading off for an after work beer at a small Japanese bar. The place was crammed with Japanese business men in black trousers and white shirts standing around drinking beer.
Apart from beer, the bar offered several snacks, and when my friends translated one of them into German cake, I had to know what that was. And it was weird. The German cake came on a stick, and was in no way particularly German. We also had the fortune of getting a blue ice cream which came in a glass of alcohol.
I really love how the Japanese reconstruct everything and makes it so decidedly over the top Japanese.
We went home as the business men started drifting off.