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!
In Ueno, just near the the famous pond and the zoo, next to one of the gates belonging to Tokyo University you will find the tiny Sakaiinari Shrine (境稲荷神社), and right behind it the tiny ancient well of Benkei Kagami (弁慶鏡ケ井戸). The well, which has been famous for its sweet and clear water has been around for as long as anyone can remember, and it was certainly there before the Shrine, whose beginnings are lost to history, but which was already established in this spot in the late 15th century. The shrine has its name Sakai (meaning border) for being in the middle of the the border between two old towns or villages. It was built over in the 19th century but dug out again in 1940. The revival of the old well turned out to be a very good thing, as its water helped save the lives of many people who lived in the area during the intense bombing raids of 1945. One of the most famous people said to have been saved by the well’s water was the famous painter Yokoyama Taikan (横山大観).
Unfortunately, few natural spring wells can survive the infrastructure of a modern city and today the water is labeled as not for drinking, although you can still draw it, by the Sun Tiger hand pump installed near the old well head.
Just a few photos I took in Ueno when passing through a couple of months ago. The weather in Tokyo recently has been quite bad, so posting these winter photos is not a crazy as it seems. It sure feels like winter right now! Hopefully the spring will come for real next week. Have a great weekend everyone!
The great pond in Ueno, the Shinobazunoike is famous its many lotus flowers, which have been a feature of the pond since at least the Edo period. I summer it is covered in a green carpet of lotuses, but in winter the dried husks and shells of the flowers form an equally interesting and photogenic space. The pond is also the home of many birds, some of whom are more than happy to serve as models for the passing photographers!