Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Yanaka, Tokyo

The Yanaka section of Tokyo has seen little major redevelopment, and because it escaped major damage from both the 1923 Kanto earthquake and Allied bombing during World War II, it retains a wonderful old-world charm. After emerging from the Nippori subway station, B. and I walked to Tennoji Temple, founded more than 500 years ago.

This Buddha, who is obviously undergoing some work, was constructed in 1690. He deserves a facelift after all this time...

We walked through Yanaka Cemetery. There are more than 7,000 graves, and many notable Japanese figures are buried here.

Unbeknownst to us at the time, Yanaka is known as a "city of neko" (neko means "cat"), and we saw many of them sleeping on the warm gravestones in the cemetery.

Then we visited Choanji--dedicated to the god of longevity--established as a pilgrimage site in 1669. There were many more graves with prayer sticks (I wish I knew their proper Japanese name) placed on them, as well as these little statues.

We stopped in at Midori-ya, a shop run by a father and son who make exquisite baskets from bamboo; we didn't buy anything...

We walked down to Yanaka Ginza, a charming shopping street filled with a mix of modern and traditional shops. Some of the shop signs were very sweet...

Below is the beautiful sign for a shop called Isetatsu, founded in the eighteenth century and run by the Hirose family for four generations. They sell all manner of paper, but their specialty is chiyogami, made from their own designs with woodblock printing. The proprietor showed us a piece of chiyogami and then a reproduction of a self-portrait by (I believe) van Gogh--in the background, pasted to the wall, was the exact same patterned chiyogami. Amazing. I bought some much more inexpensive but no less beautiful washi.

After a refreshing iced coffee, we walked to Daienji Temple, mostly closed for renovations, but we did see the first of many statues in Japan wearing these red caps and red bibs.

Our final stop (other than for a most necessary cup of azuki bean ice cream) was Nezu Shrine, a Shinto shrine built in 1706. The little dog was there to be blessed (we think); excuse the blurry photo, but he was just too cute to pass up. He's sitting in front of a giant straw circle that you walk in and around, making the infinity sign, for good luck. There were many red-orange torii (gates)--a common sight at Shinto (and sometimes Buddhist) shrines. When we got to Kyoto, we saw many many more... a future post!

1 comment:

Robin said...

Awesome photos. Can't wait to see more. I think there's a Flickr page in your future. :-)