Tokyo Day 5 redeemed: Yanesen

Later Wednesday morning, Matt left for the Google offices and Dick woke back up from his attempt to recover some of his sleep from the night before. My inability to sleep had paid off in plenty of time to research things to do and see in Tokyo. I had decided to scrap my previous ideas of looking at manga or antiques or visiting major shrines, and direct our attention instead to Yanesen, a larger designation for the neighborhoods of Yanaka, Nezu and Sendagi. Dick approved, so we set off.

This turned out to be a perfect plan. 

Now, I’m going to apologize for the changes in font sizing that’s starting to crop up. I can’t seem to fix it on my phone, so it will have to be dealt with when I’m home in Amsterdam.

Out of the station, we skirted a lovely cemetery on our way to Yanaka “Ginza” (Ginza is the major shopping arcade, so calling Yanaka’s local shopping street “Ginza” is kind of funny, since it’s nothing like it). We planned to eat something there. 

I liked the atmosphere already. Locals and a few foreigners like ourselves browsed. It wasn’t crowded at all. There were specialty shops and small food places. We ordered various things from stalls to snack on as we wandered, then settled into a lovely cafe for sweets and tea. The sweets were all chestnut-based, as it’s chestnut season. The tea was a toasted rice tea, and delicious. I loved the tiny ceramic pot that the chestnut syrup was served in for the dessert.

After the sweet shop, we were near the end of the market. I had marked a few places of potential interest on my map, so we drifted in the general direction of a few of them while exploring.

The first thing we stumbled upon was a sign about puppets. I love puppets, so we followed it down a winding street and came upon a workshop and tiny theater. The artist puts on a 30 minute performance every hour if there are at least 2 people to watch it, and we were just in time. 5 of us watched him perform a very funny series of vignettes with his clever small puppets. Although there were many signs requesting “no photos,” he told us afterwards we could take some pictures. For the record, he also custom-makes puppets from life or pictures, and had a great number of them on display. I think he was very gifted. Here’s his website:

We were very pleased with ourselves after that for having been so lucky, and wandered further through the charming streets of this neighborhood. We stopped in miscellaneous shops if they were interesting, mostly just looking around. Known for cats, there were images of cats everywhere, including a store specializing in maneki neko, the beckoning cats. It felt like a Jordaan sort of neighborhood: mostly residential, quiet, older, with shops and schools and tiny gardens in front of houses. It was like a picturesque village in the hustle and bustle of Tokyo. We loved it.

One of the shops I’d most wanted to stop in was Amezaiku Yoshihara. Amezaiku is a traditional candy, where they shape fantastical figures from a gooey candy mass that they color as they work, and harden with flame. I chose an octopus, and the artisan made it to order while I watched. It was fascinating. 

They also had their special Halloween ones on offer, and I resisted the urge to order a black cat, since packing the octopus was likely to be difficult enough. In the end, it was packed in a sake box alongside some other delicate things Matt bought elsewhere later in the trip.

There were many temples, shrines and graveyards in the area. We were walking in one tiny graveyard when the worker cleaning graves thought we were trying to get to the giant golden statue in the next one over. We were not, but did go, in the end. That cemetery, at Tennouji Temple I think, was the final resting place of a famous swordsman and poet, Yamaoka Tesshu, whose name Dick recognized and was very happy to have stumbled upon.

I love the wooden sticks beside all the graves. Dick looked it up, and we think it’s like a sort of message calling spirits to where their bodies are. Please do correct me if I’m wrong.

We were getting tired and receiving messages from Matt and the gang by that point about dinner plans, so determined that with a final meander to visit the cats of Yanaka Cemetery, we would head back. They were absolutely everywhere, and loved attention. A great orange beastie was purring like a tiger while I petted him on his grave marker. 

We took the JR Yamanote line back to our ryokan, where we joined up with Matt before going again to Shibuya crossing to meet up with everyone.

Shibuya crossing is a crazy intersection beside a train station, where when the light turns green, the entirety fills up with people going in all directions. (Actually, diagonal crosswalks are all over Tokyo, which surprised me.)

The gang was camped out in the Starbucks (you can see them in the window), so we went to a robot sushi place around the corner before meeting up with them for a bit of a wander and then drinks.

The bar was actually pretty great. It looked like a temple entrance going down into it, and had a huge wooden table, then another section with sunken tables. We sat at the huge wooden table.

It started raining heavily as we exited the bar, and I really enjoyed all the umbrellas against the lights. Poor Matt, though: he had missed out on most everything through the day, and was really feeling like he wanted to do some wandering and shopping. The rain made that less appealing.

What a great day!