One of the most famous streetcrossings in a city full of famous streetcrossings is the Sukiyabashi in Tokyo’s famous Ginza district, Chuo Ward. The history of this place and its name starts in 1629 when a stone bridge was built over the outer moat of the Imperial palaces. While the palace remains, the moat was refilled in 1929, three hundred years later, and the bridge was dismantled. Most of the material used in the bridge ended up on another bridge several hundred meters away in Harumi Street but the place name lived on, even though there was now no water nor any bridge. The old moat now serves as the border between Chuo Wards and Chiyoda Wards. Due to the exciting location between the Imperial power to one side of the bridge and the modern entertainment district of Ginza on the other side, the place became famous among Tokyo people. Several department stores and newspaper offices also moved to the location and after the war it was the rallying point of right wing politicians, especially the famous Satoshi Akao who used to give daily soap box speeches on the street corners in Sukiyabashi for several years after the war.
Today the area is more well known being the starting point of many visits to Ginza, and for the shopping that can be found there. I especially recommend the corner shop selling photographic equipment (with a focus on Nikon lenses), easily one of the most well stocked lens stores in the country and popular with locals and tourists alike. Many of the photos on this blog has been take with equipment from that store!
In 1982 Sukiyabashi got a new landmark, when the pointed roof brick building housing a police box was unveiled. People usually notice the strange roof decoration, noticing the likeness between it and a sewing pin! The story goes that when the design street crossing was handed in, the architect had forgotten to pull the pin that stuck the roof to the building on the little paper model, and by the time the model got officially approved it was too late to change the model and resubmit it, so the construction had include the pin on the roof and there it remains to this day. I rejected the story as an urban myth when I first saw the building many years ago, but know that I know more about Japanese bureaucracy I tend to believe it. The story is also mentioned on Wikipedia and has been the subject of many a dropped jaw on TV quiz shows. The official name of the Koban (Police Box) is rather long, 築地警察署数寄屋橋交番, or Tsukijikeisatsushosukiyabashikouban, but we usually just call it Sukiyabashi Koban or Machibarkoban (Dressmakingpin Koban). Still, it is only the second most famous Koban in Tokyo!
In the last photo you can see the void that was left after they tore down the 56 year old Mosaic Ginza Hankyu department store. It is quite a treat to see the other side of the block, where the older buildings of Hibiya can be glimpsed for the first time in many years! Right now there are several older tall buildings being torn down in Ginza, opening up new vistas and views that exists in the space of a few months before being filled again. Take the chance to see this Ginza while you have the chance!
It’s not very new anymore but I still make a point to go up to the top floor every time I pass, the new tourist information building in front of Asakusa’s famous Kaminarimon, the entrance gate to the huge Sensoji temple. I took these photos at the Sanja festival earlier this month, just as the dozens of omikoshi, portable shrines, leave the temple through the main street and spill out on the big scramble street crossing. It was fun to see it all from above, as I have been down there in the middle of it all many times, trying not to get trampled by the rickshaw pullers, the busses, the police cars and the omikoshi! I think it was the first time I ever saw an omikoshi from above like this.
The semi-annual matsuri, or festival, of the grand Kanda shrine (神田明神) is one of Tokyo’s largest in terms of physical area covered. The whole procession takes over nine hours of walking in from Ochanomizu station in the northwest to far beyond Sutengu in the south east and it goes on for several days. It is similar in style to the Sanno Matsuri but with over 200 omikoshi attracting thousands of participants. I spent my Saturday at the festival, together with the pouring rain from morning all until morning the next day. When I took these photos in front of the Suitengu shrine the procession had already been walking for seven hours and must have thoroughly soaked. Luckily the peak of the festival which took place they day after saw fantastic weather, hot and sunny. I was out of town though so I missed it! Let’s hope that the weather is better next time around, in May 2015.
One of the things I always get asked when taking foreigners on their first trip around Tokyo is the numbers and figures put up on all police boxes around the city. I am sure you have seen them if you have been in Tokyo, the traffic accident reports of the previous day. Here is a larger “monument” in Hibiya showing the number of fatalities in traffic accidents in the metropolitan area the day before, zero. The last photo is from the side of a police box (a koban) in Omotesando, showing the fairly average numbers of zero fatalities and 120 injuries. Not bad considering that the city has almost 13 million residents and twice that again during the daytime. Japanese are big on reducing traffic accidents and several times a year they have special traffic accident awareness weeks where volunteers do their best to make people act more safely in traffic.