The one area of present day Taito Ward that largely survived the fire bombings of World War II was the old Yanaka district, which is just north of present day Ueno station. Today the old town of Yanaka is quite the hit with local tourism: people from all over Tokyo is flocking to the area to sample a bit of the old time town charm that has survived. On a visit a few months ago I took these photos of old Edo period buildings, shops and temples.
Yanaka is famous outside of Tokyo as well, for its role in the a good tongue twister:
「なかなか鳴かない谷中のかなかな」Nakanaka Nakanai Yanaka No KanaKana
How fast can you say it? The sentence translates as:
The Kanakana (a type of cicada whose singing sounds like “kanakana”) of Yanaka that doesn’t really sing a lot.
The warmth and the sun is finally back in Tokyo after what has been an extremely wet and quite chilly spring. Today the temperature was well over 20 in most parts of Tokyo and the sun was magnificent. In other words, it is perfect weather to enjoy the walk over the amazing Rainbow Bridge, easily one of the best things to do in Tokyo for free. From April to October the opening hours are extended from 0900 to 2100 (although entrances close at 2030 so be in time!) so you can enjoy the walk from the morning sun to the darkness of the night.
Yesterday I mentioned one of the things that the little village of Rendaiji in Shimoda City was famous for – the hot springs. These hot spring were what ultimately led the village to attract its second great claim to fame, as the hiding place of the great Edo period intellectual Yoshida Shoin (吉田松陰) on his grand adventure to hitch a ride with the US Navy for a study trip to North America.
Yoshida Shoin was born in 1830, the scion of prestigious samurai family who traditionally occupied themselves with training of the Shogun military forces. He got an excellent education and soon develop a fatal wanderlust. In 1851 he applied for permission to study in the north of Japan but committed the crime of leaving before his paperwork had been finished. For this he was stripped of his samurai rank and were forced to leave his family. For a few years he made a living teaching until a he by chance learned of the US Navy Officer Matthew Perry having arrived in Japan. His petition to join the Americans and return with them to study the West was denied but this being Yoshida he was not going to take no for an answer. He traveled in haste to Shimoda where the American ships where anchored but due to a bad skin condition he was forced to stop by in Rendaiji where at night he snuck into the therapeutic hot spring baths to try and get his skin a little better. A local doctor found him and put him up in an old inn, which has been preserved. This blog post is about that inn, which still remains today exactly as Yoshida would have found it in 1853. Feeling better he snuck out again at night, and hid in a cave near the American ships until it was dark enough for him to row out to the ships. The American sailors caught him and forbade him to even deliver the letters he had painstakingly written in the old inn (the inkstone and table still remains). He had no choice but to return where he was swiftly captured by the local garrison. After spending a while in prison in Edo (soon to be Tokyo) he was let out to run a little school where he managed to attract some of the most brilliant scholars and revolutionaries of the time. The shogun sensing that there was trouble brewing began rounding up rebel thinkers and in 1859 Yoshida was one of the many executed. A little while later the shogunate was overthrown and power restored to the Emperor and the civilian government, ending over 250 years of Japanese isolation (and peace). But that is a different story.
The house is an interesting visit, not least the bathroom, and the room where Yoshida hid, which is much tinier than it looks in the photo, the ceiling being so low you have to stay on your knees. Of course most of the information is in Japanese and I doubt they have staff at hand who speak English, especially off season.
Some more photos of the picturesque little village of Rendaiji, formally belonging to the city of Shimoda on the coast of the Izu peninsula to the southwest of Tokyo. The weather was not too good so the photos might look a little drab. I really need to visit again when the weather is more cooperative! Rendaiji only has two claims to fame in the wider public, one of them being the hot springs around the village. These hotsprings, or onsen, are popular with domestic tourists and you can see a staff member of one of them on her way to work in one of the photos. Throughout the towns there are also public fountains with a twist: the water they sprout is boiling hot! Unfortunately I did not manage to get any decent shots of them. More photos to come though!