During the Edo period after the end of the Civil Wars one of the ways that peace was kept was to have the ruling provincial lords to live close together in the capital where the Shogun could keep an eye on them. The Daimyo (provincial level lords) live in grand walled estates called Yashiki, the grandest of which was like a miniature city within the city while the smallest was merely a large house with a garden, a wall and sometimes a ceremonial moat to separate it from the city. Many of the Yashiki also had dedicated shrines where the people who lived there could pray. After the Edo period ended the old Yashiki system was abolished and most of the grand Tokyo estates were broken up into smaller pieces or turned into parks or gardens. The shrines sometimes remained though, and to this day it is possible to find several of these scattered around central Tokyo to show where a grand estate house once stood. I have heard there are 16 of them but I am not sure.
I found one of these Edo Yashiki shrines in Tokyo’s Asakusa district, the Taro Inari Jinja (Shrine). This used to be the estate shrine of the Tachibana House of the Yanagawa clan, who ruled souther Fukuoka province on the Island of Kyushu. The estate and the shrine was established here around 1660. This is the only remains of the old estate, even though some of the lots are still in the hands of the original noble family members who seem to be in the hotel business (not sure on this one).
The thing that made me notice this shrine however was the fact that the Torii, the red gate in front of all shrines and holy places, has actually been incorporated into the neighboring building when it was erected, a torii shaped hole has been made in the building wall itself! No matter how crowded Tokyo gets, you can’t really ask the Gods to move!
At the Sanja Matsuri this year I was in time to catch a performance by the Furisodesan, a group of performers in the style of geisha, dancing and entertaining at the kagura (shrine stage) of the Asakusa Shrine just next to the famous Sensoji temple. The beautiful young women visit restaurants and entertainment houses to perform for the clients but sometimes they also give performances for the public, like on this festival. They were certainly hugely popular with the crowds at this sunny festival day!
The little bar/cafe on top of the tourist information building in front of the Kaminari temple gate is probably one of Asakusa’s best kept secrets hiding in plain sight. Surprisingly reasonably priced for such an epic location, you can do worse than ending up here if you are one of the millions of foreign tourists visiting Asakusa this year.
Tokyo is one of the most crowded capitals on Earth but in the middle of it all there is still opportunities to see a little bit of non-human nature. A while ago I was walking through Tokyo’s famous Asakusa district and saw these pets taking their owners for a walk through the city. Cats are commonplace, both in trams and roaming the streets on their own, seeing a pig though, was the first for me! A few foreign tourists tried to communicate with the pig but he was incredibly focused on the food his owner was enjoying.
Apart from pets there is a surprising amount of wildlife in the city. Even in the most central parts we have Palm Civets, Raccoons and cats. In the outskirts we have foxes, rabbits, kites and eagles and still within city limits but in the most remote areas we have bears, badgers and boars!