@FarEastAdvTravl

An Eclectic Selection Of Tokyo’s Top Neighborhoods

By John Saboe | Japan

Feb 01
A tori gate entrance to the Meiji Shrine located right next door to Harajuku-the fashion center for Tokyo youth

A tori gate entrance to the Meiji Shrine located right next door to Harajuku-the fashion center for Tokyo youth

It’s called shitamachi, the old town ambience of Tokyo’s past that has survived and in fact flourishes today in the Yanaka neighborhood, within walking distance of Tokyo’s expansive Ueno Park. You’ll find streets and alleys lined with old style merchant housing. Typically a shop on the ground floor with a living space above.

This neighborhood was virtually unaffected by World War ll bombings and the devastating earthquake of 1923 so unlike many places in Tokyo, some buildings here date back hundreds of years.

Yanaka is included in a trio of neighborhoods called Yanesen, Yanaka, Nezu and Sendagi. It was developed as a temple town during the Edo Period from 1603-1867. People from all over Edo, the former name of Tokyo, would visit Yanaka for sightseeing and worship. If you’re interested in visiting inside the temples arrive well before the closing time of 5pm. There’s also a traditional cemetery where the remains of Tokugawa Yoshinobu, the last shogun of Japan lay.

Don’t be surprised if you bump into a few wild cats on your stroll through the neighorhood. Yanaka is famous for it’s population of stray cats and there are signs of this pride all over with cat cafes, souvenirs and feline references everywhere you look.

Visit the Yanaka Ginza shopping area close by the Nippori station of the JR Yamanote line and you’ll see further evidence of the love for cats. There’s even bean filled taiyaki cakes in the shape of cats instead of the traditional fish form.

Rice crackers, old style fish and butcher shops, traditional wooden and straw rope sandal makers are all around Yanaka Ginza.

It will feel like a time capsule when you leave Yanaka for a district like Akihabara. Otherwise known as Akihabara Electric Town famous world-wide as the center for otaku, people obsessed with anime, manga and gaming. But Akihabara’s history as an electronics shopping district goes back to post World War ll when it was known as the place to buy household electronic items.

Today you’ll see lots of maid cafes in the neighborhood. What’s a maid cafe? I’m glad you asked. It’s a place you can buy a meal and yes a coffee while a young woman in a french maid style costume acts as a servant and treats you like her master. Mainly appealing to fans of anime, manga and video games the first maid cafe not suprisingly opened right here in Akihabara in 2001. Today they are everywhere and attract a wide range of people including otaku, tourists, couples, women and politicians.

As the popularity and futuristic appeal of household items faded in the 1980’s Akihabara shifted it’s focus to computers at a time when they appealed only to hobbyists. These otaku were also interested in anime and manga thus the center of the world for this unique culture was born and thrives today.

If you just want a deal on some electronics accessories or cables it’s a good place to shop. You may get lucky and bump into a robot, maybe even one of the cat persuasion. No getting away from those cats in Tokyo.

Japanese pop culture is famous world-wide and much of it’s fashion is born in Harajuku. There are many familiar international brands here but you visit more for the people watching, the dining and cafes and to observe the interesting way of retailing and marketing. If you’re into street fashion and culture it’s one of the best places in Tokyo to visit. It’s also home to Yoyogi national stadium, site of the 1964 Olympic swimming and diving events and the beautiful Meiji Shrine.

One stop away on the JR Yamanote line is Shibuya station, one of the busiest trains stations in the world and right at it’s door the famous Shibuya crossing or scramble.

This could be the busiest intersection in the world where the lights on all corners turn red and pedestrians dash in all directions sometimes more than three thousand in one light. I would describe it as a controlled frenzy. Much like other busy places in East Asia where people walk in all directions but never seem to bump into each other. Shibuya is where the young and cool hang out shop and party so there’s plenty of people watching opportunities and big screens high above to entertain. You can also wait in line and watch the frenzy from probably one of the most famous and busiest Starbucks locations in the world. In many other countries an intersection like this would be extremely noisy with a sense of impatience but in Shibuya for the size of the crowd it’s relatively calm, quiet, and orderly.

But if you really want to see Japanese order at work visit Ginza the high end shopping district where some intersections have 4 or more traffic guards. Ginza is considered a mature upscale district filled with luxury good brand stores but they can cut loose here too like this band performing on a Sunday pedestrian only day.

In Shinjuku anything goes. This could be the wildest place in all of Tokyo with it’s own Red light district, and the Golden Gai, a strip of little bars and shanty clubs where actors, musicians, journalists and other creative types hang out. I’ll need a whole podcast to explain Shinjuku.

Back near Ginza I met some friends in a bar who helped me out with some more suggestions on what to see and do in Tokyo. I asked Akiko what was one of her favorite places to send people to.

So I was back on the train to Harajuku to visit the Meiji Shrine.

Like Akiko said this Shrine is not dedicated to a god but the former emperor Meiji and his wife Empress Shoken. Construction began three years after his death in 1912. The site once just an iris garden was one of the Emperor and Empresses favorite places to visit.

Meiji Shrine sits on a 170 acres of evergreen forest with 120,000 trees of different species all donated from across Japan when the site was established. It also has two of the largest tori gates or Shinto entrances in the country. Meiji Shrine was finished in 1920 but was destroyed during the Allied Bombings of 1945. The Shrine was rebuilt in 1958.

As with all Shinto Shrines a cleansing ritual takes place before entering the shrine’s main area. If you want to take part pick up the ladle with your right hand filling it with water and pouring some over your left hand. Switch hands and pour water in your left hand, then pour some more cupping your hand and then rinsing out your mouth.

On entering the shrine I saw right away I was in luck as a traditional Shinto wedding ceremony was taking place.

Shinto weddings are not as popular as they used to be in Japan. In one generation they have gone from 70% of all marriages to only 20%. As elaborate as the dress and customs look it is actually quite a simple ceremony with a purification ritual, the couple sharing some cups of sake, some prayers, a dance from a shrine maiden, sometimes rings exchanged and the groom reading some words of commitment.

It is a poetic procession with the bride and groom walking behind the priests, miko or shrine maidens followed by family and close friends. An attendant walks behind the couple holding a beautiful red parasol over them. Sunday morning is one of the best times to watch wedding processions.

Finish off the day in Tokyo with a walk around the Imperial Palace Grounds. Leaving Tokyo Station it’s about 10 minutes to the start at Tatsumi Yagura Keep or gate. This walk is loaded with moats, gates, and fortress walls and a view of the Maranouchi skyline. A brilliant way to watch the sun set in the East and cap off a day that can be an intense, diverse display of culture and tradition in one of the most exciting cities in the world, Tokyo. For Far East Adventure Travel this is John Saboe.

It’s called shitamachi, the old town ambience of Tokyo’s past that has survived and in fact flourishes today in the Yanaka neighborhood, within walking distance of Tokyo’s expansive Ueno Park. You’ll find streets and alleys lined with old style merchant housing. Typically a shop on the ground floor with a living space above.

This neighborhood was virtually unaffected by World War ll bombings and the devastating earthquake of 1923 so unlike many places in Tokyo, some buildings here date back hundreds of years.

Yanaka is included in a trio of neighborhoods called Yanesen, Yanaka, Nezu and Sendagi.
It was developed as a temple town during the Edo Period from 1603-1867. People from all over Edo, the former name of Tokyo, would visit Yanaka for sightseeing and worship. If you’re interested in visiting inside the temples arrive well before the closing time of 5pm. There’s also a traditional cemetery where the remains of Tokugawa Yoshinobu, the last shogun of Japan lay.

Don’t be surprised if you bump into a few wild cats on your stroll through the neighorhood. Yanaka is famous for it’s population of stray cats and there are signs of this pride all over with cat cafes, souvenirs and feline references everywhere you look.

Visit the Yanaka Ginza shopping area close by the Nippori station of the JR Yamanote line and you’ll see further evidence of the love for cats. There’s even bean filled taiyaki cakes in the shape of cats instead of the traditional fish form.

Rice crackers, old style fish and butcher shops, traditional wooden and straw rope sandal makers are all around Yanaka Ginza.

It will feel like a time capsule when you leave Yanaka for a district like Akihabara. Otherwise known as Akihabara Electric Town famous world-wide as the center for otaku, people obsessed with anime, manga and gaming. But Akihabara’s history as an electronics shopping district goes back to post World War ll when it was known as the place to buy household electronic items.

Today you’ll see lots of maid cafes in the neighborhood. What’s a maid cafe? I’m glad you asked. It’s a place you can buy a meal and yes a coffee while a young woman in a french maid style costume acts as a servant and treats you like her master. Mainly appealing to fans of anime, manga and video games the first maid cafe not suprisingly opened right here in Akihabara in 2001. Today they are everywhere and attract a wide range of people including otaku, tourists, couples, women and politicians.

As the popularity and futuristic appeal of household items faded in the 1980’s Akihabara shifted it’s focus to computers at a time when they appealed only to hobbyists. These otaku were also interested in anime and manga thus the center of the world for this unique culture was born and thrives today.

If you just want a deal on some electronics accessories or cables it’s a good place to shop. You may get lucky and bump into a robot, maybe even one of the cat persuasion. No getting away from those cats in Tokyo.

Japanese pop culture is famous world-wide and much of it’s fashion is born in Harajuku. There are many familiar international brands here but you visit more for the people watching, the dining and cafes and to observe the interesting way of retailing and marketing. If you’re into street fashion and culture it’s one of the best places in Tokyo to visit. It’s also home to Yoyogi national stadium, site of the 1964 Olympic swimming and diving events and the beautiful Meiji Shrine.

One stop away on the JR Yamanote line is Shibuya station, one of the busiest trains stations in the world and right at it’s door the famous Shibuya crossing or scramble.

This could be the busiest intersection in the world where the lights on all corners turn red and pedestrians dash in all directions sometimes more than three thousand in one light. I would describe it as a controlled frenzy. Much like other busy places in East Asia where people walk in all directions but never seem to bump into each other. Shibuya is where the young and cool hang out shop and party so there’s plenty of people watching opportunities and big screens high above to entertain. You can also wait in line and watch the frenzy from probably one of the most famous and busiest Starbucks locations in the world. In many other countries an intersection like this would be extremely noisy with a sense of impatience but in Shibuya for the size of the crowd it’s relatively calm, quiet, and orderly.

But if you really want to see Japanese order at work visit Ginza the high end shopping district where some intersections have 4 or more traffic guards. Ginza is considered a mature upscale district filled with luxury good brand stores but they can cut loose here too like this band performing on a Sunday pedestrian only day.

In Shinjuku anything goes. This could be the wildest place in all of Tokyo with it’s own Red light district, and the Golden Gai, a strip of little bars and shanty clubs where actors, musicians, journalists and other creative types hang out. I’ll need a whole podcast to explain Shinjuku.

Back near Ginza I met some friends in a bar who helped me out with some more suggestions on what to see and do in Tokyo. I asked Akiko what was one of her favorite places to send people to.

So I was back on the train to Harajuku to visit the Meiji Shrine.

Like Akiko said this Shrine is not dedicated to a god but the former emperor Meiji and his wife Empress Shoken. Construction began three years after his death in 1912. The site once just an iris garden was one of the Emperor and Empresses favorite places to visit.

Meiji Shrine sits on a 170 acres of evergreen forest with 120,000 trees of different species all donated from across Japan when the site was established. It also has two of the largest tori gates or Shinto entrances in the country. Meiji Shrine was finished in 1920 but was destroyed during the Allied Bombings of 1945. The Shrine was rebuilt in 1958.

As with all Shinto Shrines a cleansing ritual takes place before entering the shrine’s main area. If you want to take part pick up the ladle with your right hand filling it with water and pouring some over your left hand. Switch hands and pour water in your left hand, then pour some more cupping your hand and then rinsing out your mouth.

On entering the shrine I saw right away I was in luck as a traditional Shinto wedding ceremony was taking place.

Shinto weddings are not as popular as they used to be in Japan. In one generation they have gone from 70% of all marriages to only 20%. As elaborate as the dress and customs look it is actually quite a simple ceremony with a purification ritual, the couple sharing some cups of sake, some prayers, a dance from a shrine maiden, sometimes rings exchanged and the groom reading some words of commitment.

It is a poetic procession with the bride and groom walking behind the priests, miko or shrine maidens followed by family and close friends. An attendant walks behind the couple holding a beautiful red parasol over them. Sunday morning is one of the best times to watch wedding processions.

Finish off the day in Tokyo with a walk around the Imperial Palace Grounds. Leaving Tokyo Station it’s about 10 minutes to the start at Tatsumi Yagura Keep or gate. This walk is loaded with moats, gates, and fortress walls and a view of the Maranouchi skyline. A brilliant way to watch the sun set in the East and cap off a day that can be an intense, diverse display of culture and tradition in one of the most exciting cities in the world, Tokyo. For Far East Adventure Travel this is John Saboe.

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About the Author

I am a broadcaster, photographer, writer and videographer with a passion for travel throughout Asia. I love making connections and engaging with people. I am spiritual and seek adventure wherever I go.

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