Sunday, 30 January 2011

Yanaka

Most tourists go to Asakusa, but it is actually the area of Yanaka that has the highest concentration of temples in Tokyo. Perhaps it is the fact that they aren't quite as beautiful as the ones in Asakusa, perhaps it is because the area is largely unremarkable and is wedged in between the railway tracks. But during my visit I saw very few other tourists.

Previously I'd picked up a walking tour guide from the central tourist office and planned to follow it. But first, it was time to go to the graveyard. The cemetery in Yanaka is pretty damn huge. Next to it is a temple which I had a look around before going to hang out with some dead people.

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Some of the gravestones were pretty massive, standing at around twenty feet high. A tad excessive I'd say!

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In the spring this is a prime cherry blossom viewing spot, but now it was a bit barren and chilly. That didn't stop three old guys just hanging out, one of them playing some kind of flute.

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On to the temples and shrines and it was cool to just walk around what is mainly a residential area and check them out.

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One in particular though, I won't forget. I heard some chanting as I went towards the building and it soon transpired there was some kind of ceremony happening. About 15 guys in suits sat one one side and on the other were the two people conducting things. Of course I don't know the exact words for what was going on, so I will just try and describe.

Well I was mesmerised by what was going on and stayed there, at a respectful distance, for about half hour. It seemed the two guys in robes were blessing each person in turn, there was a very lengthy and precise way of doing this involving chanting, flowers and some kind of font at the back. It was awesome to see.

The whole time I was the only person watching. The area was silent, save for the hum and noise from Nippori railway station below.

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Further along, the map took me through the centre of a school where it just happened to be time for sports. Gangs of kids ran around, some sprinting, some doing a long run, some doing press ups and sit ups. There was baseball practice going on, so I watched for a while, being English and all. One kid sat on his own, somewhat disconsolately. I wasn't really sure why or if he was waiting for someone but I did manage to get him to crack a smile.

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Then I went on to the shopping area of the district. It seemed quite a working class and old fashioned area, far removed from the neon of Shinjuku and Shibuya. There were lots of stalls selling different types of food and people doing their shopping.

Turning the corner I saw a sign saying 'Tourist Information - English". Wow! I'd hit gold here and I went to enter the building. Sadly it appeared to be closed. As I was about to walk away a guy ran up to me and explained that this shiny new tourist office wasn't open yet - it was actually opening tomorrow! Talk about a bad beat.

All those leaflets and brochures taunted me from behind the glass.

He was very nice though and we chatted for a few minutes about this area and the UK. He gave me a tip as to where to get some sushi, which I ate on a bench enjoying the mix of tast fish and the chilly winter air.

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