One of the most famous “Temple Shrines” (temples that also functioned as shrines – it is a long a complicated story about the role of Japan’s two major religions Buddhism and Shinto) in Tokyo is the Toyokawa Inari Tokyo Betsuin in Tokyo’s Moto Akasaka district (near both Nagatacho stations and the famous Akasaka Mitsuke stations). Erected as a branch office of the main Toyokawa Inari in Aichi Prefecture, it has been tremendously popular from the day it was opened in 1828 to this day. During the years after its founding, the temple shrine was moved and the buildings rearranged, one of them being one of my favorite buildings in Tokyo; the tiny Okunoin (奥の院). It looks very much like an ordinary shrine from the outside, except that it is strikingly white (which is quite unusual), but on the inside it looks like any rural temple complete with buddhist art and statues. During the Hatsumode season this year (early January) the Okunoin building was opened to the public and I got my first chance to poke around outside. I would have loved to spend more time in here but lots of people were lining up outside waiting to get in so I had to be quick with my camera.
The Tokyokawa Inari Bestuin is very popular with celebrities and if you have a chance it is a great spot to go for the New Year’s celebrations, from about half an hour before midnight on the 31st to the Coming of Age day in early January.
The New Year’s Holidays are a little peculiar in central Tokyo. Many (if not most) Japanese spend the holidays traveling somewhere, either abroad or back to their parents or relatives around Japan. This means that Tokyo is a bit more deserted, a bit quieter than usual around the New Year. Quite a few shops are closed as well, which makes it even less interesting for people to go into town. This does not deter tourists though, and walking around for example Ginza or Omotesando at night on the 31st or 1st is a bit like being in a tourist theme park, no locals and no shops open.
Still, window shopping is an acceptable pastime during these times, so I joined the tourists and did a bit of walking around on the relatively people free sidewalks and streets of central Tokyo.
Here are some photos of Omotsesando at night, not around New Year’s though.
Earlier this year saw the start of an interesting commercial preservation project in Tokyo’s Yanaka/Ueno area. Three traditional houses built in 1938 were renovated and turned into a joint restaurant/shop project, with a cafe, a tiny beer hall and a clothing shop (amongst others). The three buildings surround a tiny courtyard/garden and gives a great insight into how life looked in the old Ueno area 70-80 years ago. When I visited it had been open for a few months but were still quite crowded with a steady stream of foreign tourists and locals visiting the shops. The idea, to preserve old buildings and make them commercially viable is fantastic, and instead of turning this little corner of Tokyo into a parking lot (as was the original plan) it is now a bustling tourists attraction employing a dozen people or more. Ueno Sakuragi Atari is well worth a visit! You can find much more information, photos and access information on their official website. The renovation aspect of the project has its own Facebook page as well. Very interesting if you are into architecture!
This post will not be remembered for its aesthetic values, but it might be useful for tourists in Tokyo over the eager to get some Christmas shopping done! Feel free to disregard if commercialism is not your thing! If you are into character goods, seasonal souvenirs and christmas shopping for young and old children, I recommend giving the shopping arcades beneath Tokyo Station a visit. There are lots of tiny promotional stores down there with lots of peculiar toys and characters, some famous (Like Pikachu wearing a train officer’s hat), while some are very not famous outside of Japan. I took these snap shots last year passing through the arcade, but I think similar shops are open this year’s Christmas as well!