Tuesday, 8 April 2014

Yanaka - The Only Place I Know That Combines Train Spotting, Shrines, Cats, Sculpture, Master Craftsmen and Sewing in Pleasing Proportions

It seems very odd that I have been a regular visitor to Nippori's fabric district (using the East exit of the station) without ever wondering what I would find if I used the West exit. It turns out the answer is Yanaka! A small area of West Tokyo between Nippori and Ueno. The first things you come to when you visit are two Temples. The first is Hongyoji which has been there since 1709.
Hongyoji Temple, Yanaka
Hongyoji Temple, Yanaka
Hongyoji Temple, Yanaka
The sticks on the graves in that last photo are called Sotoba and are essentially a kind of memorial stick showing that the ancestor is still being honoured and remembered by the family. The temple will add a new one each year on payment of a small something.

Next up is Kyoouji.
Kyoouji Temple, Yanake
There were two buildings within it. I wish I knew more about what they are, but the one below had amazing carvings on it, including the dragon.
Kyoouji Temple, Yanake
Kyoouji Temple, Yanake
While this one had the ritual hand washing place just to the left.
Kyoouji Temple, Yanake
The long, colourful rope at the front is for bonging the gong.

A little further along and you get to some steps, at the bottom of which is an amazing traditional bamboo shop - the initial incentive for my visit. I made a rather purse shattering purchase which I shall come to later. Most people were making instead for the busy, traditional shopping street which is at the bottom of the steps. It looks traditional at first glace but a lot of the shops are for tourists - and japanese tourists at that since many menus and signs were only in japanese.
Shopping Street in Yanaka
The area is famous for wild cats (I only saw two domestic ones while I was there) so everything is a little cat themed.
Shopping Street in Yanaka
See the little black puddle bottom left in the picture below? Meow!
Shopping Street in Yanaka
This shop was selling cats' tails, which is a traditional cake/sweet. They looked like tubes of sponge or possibly wafer filled with something but closed at both ends. The menu was only in japanese so I woosed out.
Shopping Street in Yanaka

As well as the shopping and religion, there is an *amazing* house called the Asakura Museum of Sculpture.
Asakura Museum of Sculpture
It used to be the house of Asakura Fumio (brilliant sculptor) and he designed every aspect of the house himself. Since his death in 1964 it has been a museum. Not only is his sculpture amazing (Rodin is the only person I can think to compare him to) but the house and garden is amazing too and you get to see the majority of it. Basically - this is the most beautiful venue I have been to since arriving in Tokyo. Unfortunately photos were not allowed indoors but there are some on the website here which is in English.

For the train spotting element we need to go back to the exit of Nippori station. The West exit comes out on a bridge which happens to span across about 8 sets of train tracks including the ones used by the latest bullet trains. When I first arrived there were some grown men with cameras but on my way back to the station it was a few very excited little boys.
Trains at Nippori Station
The bridge itself was rather beautiful having pictures cast in hexagons across it with sakura flowers in between.
My creation

Once I arrived back home I very excitedly got ready to striptease my purchase of its beautiful packaging.
Wrapped purchase
Traditional Woven Bamboo Flower Vase
Traditional Woven Bamboo Flower Vase
Squeeeee! The little vessel is to go inside to hold the water and flowers. You see, just as this whole japan-venture was taking shape I was developing an interest in weaving. I got this book (amazon link)...
...and got quite excited by the whole thing despite living in central london where grass is the only natural material you get. I then found out I would likely be off soon and gave it to my cousin who actually lives in the country. Since arriving in Tokyo I've frequently got excited by the basket weaving scene over here where there are several Living National Treasures (a lovely idea I think) who are Masters of the art. Googling led me to this shop in Yanaka and hence my visit. I hadn't actually meant to buy anything though. Or at least, nothing like this. 
Traditional Woven Bamboo Flower Vase
Traditional Woven Bamboo Flower Vase
Traditional Woven Bamboo Flower Vase
Traditional Woven Bamboo Flower Vase
I love it so much! I bought the flower especially. 

My only move towards actually giving basket weaving a go is Pinterest and some 100 Yen shop weaving strips. What I would love is to be able to make one of the handbags I saw in the shop today for...£300. I know some people (only two really) who would think £300 was cheap for a designer one-of-a-kind handbag but I am not someone who spends so much on them. The craftsmanship is amazing though. I stayed in the shop for ages carefully not drooling on the vases, baskets, creations and whatnots before coming back a second time to make my purchase, much to the delight of the lovely man there. 

Overall I would definitely recommend a half day in Yanaka for anyone visiting Tokyo. Plus it leads you straight into Ueno Park if you continue on instead of turning back as I did - and the Park is very beautiful with Tokyo National Museum (which I blogged about a few days ago) on another edge of it. I suspect the only people who wouldn't find something to interest them in Yanaka would be angsty teenagers, but then surely no one would waste Tokyo on a teenager. And if they did they should simply point them in the direction of Harajuku and arrange to meet them later. 

2 comments:

Mairead Hardy said...

Another wonderful insight into life in Japan. Those shrines look amazing, and your purchase is stunning. A terrific souvenir of your stay.

jan said...

I have really enjoyed all your posts Alex. just beautiful. thank you for sharing!
xo jan

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