The weather forecast suggested it would rain all day, but when I arrive at Tokyo Station, it is dry, and I even see a small patch of blue sky. I decide to go to Nippori, an old neighbourhood in Tokyo I had wanted to visit since a long time. Nippori station seems quite busy, but as soon as I take the north exit, I am the only one walking up a steep, narrow street. It brings me directly to the Tenno-ji, or Heaven King, Temple. Even though the temple is obviously not one of the big, impressive and famous temples of Tokyo, it belongs to the important Tendai sect of Buddhist tradition in Japan. On its premises, there is plenty to explore. Small Buddhist figures carved out of stone, flowers, carefully cut trees, wooden buildings, and a neatly shaped courtyard. The main draw is, however, the sitting Buddha, cast in bronze, after the much larger one in Kamakura, back in 1690. The prayer hall is locked, and I can only peek through a small window in the wooden sliding doors.
Outside, teenagers are on their way to school with brightly coloured backpacks, chatting to each other while walking down the road. I am not on my way to school, but cross the road instead, and enter Yanaka cemetery. The Nippori neighbourhood has not been bombed during the Second World War, and as a consequence, not only its old houses are still standing, but so are the old tombs. The cemetery turns out to be surprisingly large, and I roam the lanes lined with mostly greyish graves, frequently adorned with fresh flowers. There are trees, but winter is coming to an end, and most of them are just brown, and do not add life to this place of the dead. There is a constant sound of running trains, and often, of black crows flying overhead. Yanaka cemetery is intersected by several roads, and on the northern side, I come across several larger tombs. One of them has circular tombs, and belongs to Tokugawa Toshinobu, the last shogun of the Edo shogunate who died in 1913. There are also stray cats around: this large, quiet open space must be paradise for them.
At the other side of Yanaka cemetery, I enter the neighbourhood itself. Bustling and crazy Tokyo seems to be far away: the streets are so narrow that in some of them, cars cannot even pass each other, the houses are often made of wood, and old, and instead of glitzy shopping malls, there are small stores, often selling stuff for a niche market. One of them is dedicated to cats, and roaming through it, I am amazed at how much you can make out of cats. The owner is a friendly guy, speaks some English, and points out that the cemetery behind is full of cats. Cruising through the neighbourhood, I come across many small Buddhist shrines, all of them very quiet, most of them with small cemeteries themselves. At times, one shrine sits right next to the other. At one of them, I am puzzled about what I see. Two brand new minivans are parked outside, and a kind of priest in a traditional Japanese dress seems to be blessing them with a wooden pole with metal pieces dangling from its top. Inside, three well-dressed men are seated, heads bowed. When the priest comes in, he performs all kinds of rituals: he plays the big drum, sings, swings the same metal pole device over the heads of the men who do not utter a word. At the end of it, the men walk up, laugh, and drive away, while the priest closes the temple, and retreats in a wooden shack at the side of the temple. I assume this to be a ceremony to bless the new vans, and am once again reminded that even though the objects may be new, Japan still is a country where traditions are very important. Just a few minutes walk away, I step on a train again, and am back from Traditional Tokyo to Metropole Tokyo.
Personal travel impressions both in words and images from Nippori (Japan). Clicking on the pictures enlarges them and enables you to send the picture as a free e-card or download it for personal use, for instance, on your weblog. Or click on the map above to visit more places close to Nippori.
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