Sunday, January 02, 2005


My parents took me to Yanaka, which is "one of the few areas of Tokyo to offer a real glimpse of what life was like in Edo 150 years ago." (Time Out City Guide Tokyo). This is because Yanaka escaped "destruction in both the 1923 earthquake and the World War II air raids" unlike other parts of Tokyo.

My grandfather's grave is located in this area, so my parents often come here. I wouldn't be interested in exploring Yanaka if I didn't live abroad. But, just like Westerners visiting Japan for the first time, anything that reminds me of old Japan fascinates me after living in London for more than two years, because it's so different.

Getting off the train at Nippori railway station, we first visited Tennonji Temple, the oldest temple in Yanaka (founded over 500 years ago). It enshrines Bishamonten, one of Japan's seven lucky gods. In old days, a pilgrimage to all the seven lucky gods shortly after New Year guarantees a good year ahead. As year 2005 will be very important for my career, I thought it wasn't too bad to visit all the seven gods today.

Then we headed for Yanaka Cemetery, where my grandfather is buried. He was a biologist, but at home he was just an annoying grandpa. I still remember I cried when I knew how great he was as a scientist by hearing one of his students speak of his academic contribution.

The next temple was Choanji with Jurojin, another one of the seven lucky gods.

We walked further to the north on Sakura Dori street, arriving at the top of Fujimizaka, meaning a path on the hill where Mount Fuji, the highest mountain in Japan, can be seen. Although other Fujimizakas in Tokyo (there are 16 in total) are no longer the place to see Fuji mountain (because of construction of high-rise buildings), this one still allows you to catch a glimpse of the mountain, though some stupid high-rise buildings hide a third of Mount Fuji.

Walk down on Fujimizaka and turn right. Then we arrived at Shusei-in Temple, which has an impressive statue (picture) of Hotei, yet another lucky god.

Walk further to the north, and we arrived at Seiunji Temple, which enshrines Ebisu, the only god originating in Japan among the seven. It's interesting that ancient Japanese people worshiped gods of different origins (three from China and the other three from India) as a group.

We got hungry by then. We walked back and had lunch at Jinenjo, famous for its 'yakuzen curry', or Japanese-style curry containing traditional Chinese medicines (Time Out Tokyo mentions this place to eat). Three of us ordered yakuzen beef curry. Indians may be offended to hear this, but the most popular curry in Japan is the one with beef. And it was marvelous! I felt happy just by eating this curry. Including a cup of coffee (which was also excellent) after lunch, the price of the beef curry was 1830 yen (9 UK pounds or 16 US dollars). For the same price, I could only get a mediocre lunch in London. Now I don't want to go back...

Becoming full, we walked to the west towards Sendagi underground station. We stopped by at an incense shop, where I bought incense sticks of Japanese cypress, green tea, and cherry blossom. I hope these will help me sleep well in London.

As Time Out Tokyo praises its "highly unusual temple building", we visited Daienji Temple on the way. A Japanese temple usually has only one place to worship in front of the building. But Daienji has two in a symmetric way. My parents hadn't noticed this strange temple before. Big up Time Out crew.

Arriving at Sendagi station, we were already tired of walking. I gave up visiting all the seven lucky gods. We conquered four out of seven. Not too bad, eh?

But I realised I needed to buy an amulet for Yumiko-san. So we walked a little bit more to visit Nezu Shrine, which is famous for azalea bushes blooming in April.

We walked more to the south, arrived at Nezu underground station, and went home by train.

Yanaka may not be very famous as a tourist destination in Tokyo, but it's worth strolling. You'll find many interesting little places here.

Incidentally, we had a beef shabushabu dinner at home, putting and swishing incredibly thinly-sliced beef into boiling soup in a nabe pot for a few seconds, dipping cooked beef into sesami sauce, and eating it. (See here for detail if you want to know more about shabushabu.) Fantastic. This is Japan. I no longer want to go back to London...

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