Treading outside Tokyo City

With much anticipation, we went back to Japan in early May.  It helped that airlines and Japanese hotels came out in full-force to announce special offers and of course, we took advantage of them.  Rarely does one get to fly to Tokyo at S$398 a person!  Unfortunately,  the weather that greeted us was dismal – of the five days we were there, four days were spent somewhat in-doors, trying to escape the heavy drizzle! Nonetheless, the fifth day proved a glorious day for walking and taking photos.

Our wonderful concierge at the Mandarin Oriental encouraged us to visit Yanaka in the Nippori district, an area just a short 25 minute train ride from the Nihonbashi area. We heeded Adam’s advice and were not disappointed!  Yanaka is one of the oldest parts of Tokyo that saw little damage in World War II.  Built during the Edo period as a temple town, the best way to discover Yanaka is to walk.  We exited JR Nippori Station at the NorthWest exit and just walked along the road that took us past our favourite Senbei (rice cracker) shop.  Apparently, this family run shop is hundreds of years old.

As you continue walking down the main road, you’ll come to a set of steep steps.  I saw many young mothers do what this particular young mom did – push her bicycle with kiddie up the steep slop!  Yanaka Ginza now greets you!

The main shopping thoroughfare yields many family run businesses, with some going back centuries.  Pottery and craft shops line the shopping thoroughfare and many of them have an artisanal feel to them.

There are also a number of Izakaya or small eating places in which you could stop by and have a cold drink and a snack.  What struck me was that the people here are very relaxed and displayed a neighbourly feel that I had all but forgotten.  Little children play in the street with Grandmas and Mamas looking out for them; cats loll about and also perch themselves up on rooftops while pet owners take their dogs out with them to the shops.

It was a real delight to bear witness to this scene in modern Tokyo.  The picture of a city (to me, any way) is a place that just has room for business.  Nice to see a different mix for a change, and one where you don’t have to travel miles to see a difference.  I guess you need scenes like this to understand how to move forward, how to be civil, how to…live life.



Well, this might be a little ‘touristy’ but it does show us what life was like in a bygone era.  The ‘rickshaw’ or ‘jinricksha’ was the mode of transport.  In fact, this particular mode of transport was prevalent throughout South-East Asia as well.  In Singapore/Malaysia/Vietnam, you get the man peddling the rickshaw.  The old days also saw shops place samples of their products outside their premises to attract would be buyers.  We came across this shop displaying wooden mobiles outside his shop that swayed ever so delicately in the gentle wind.

In fact, the shop signs themselves were fascinating.  Here are some photos of shop signs I took of a hair dresser, tea/pottery shop and a tailor.

I’ve also included something a little ‘modern’ in the form of the neighbourhood supermart which had the cute little sign outside its premises.  Nothing like having a different perspective of a city.  From what I can see, the Japanese are trying to get back to life as usual after the tsunami and taking one step at a time with their nuclear issues.  I am sure they will find the right solution to the latter problem.  If you have energy after this walk, visit nearby Ueno which has a lovely park, zoo and more Izakaya and an outdoor type food market.