Tokyo is a pretty big place. A really big place. Heck, it’s HUGE. There’s so many districts and place, temples, train lines, it’s a major headache to navigate at times and pick up your Lonely Planet guide book and look at the Tokyo section and you don’t know where to start. What to see first, what’s worth seeing and what’s not worth seeing so much. It’s a struggle. And if you go to the Tokyo Tower, do you really want to check out the Tokyo Skytree as well? If you see a performance of Kabuki Theatre, do you also want to see Noh Theatre as well?
Of course, so much depends on the amount of time and money you have in one place. And the bigger the place is, the longer the list will be. And ticking off every site in your Lonely Planet guide not only doesn’t remotely ensure that you’ve seen everything you’d like to, and you have certainly limited yourself to whatever the writers, in their opinion which I promise you is not the same as yours, is worth seeing.
Worse still, do you know that feeling when you go to a place, have a good time, leave and meet someone who went there too and tells you about how awesome something they saw or did was, show you photos and deep inside you are thinking ‘oh really? but I had no idea that was there! I can’t believe I missed that!’
But the truth is simply that it is not humanly possible to see everything, even if you live in a place your entire life I suspect. Last week my in-laws showed me a part of Tokyo I wouldn’t have chanced upon as a tourist I am sure, although it is a touristy kind of place. It may be in the guide, it might not be. I didn’t check.
Tokyo’s sunway system is mad, but it is also efficient, reasonably priced (if you take the right train), and the best way to get around the city. But you may be surprised to find that Tokyo once had a pretty extensive system of trams as well. To some they may be known as ‘street cars’, but for this Melbournite the only appropriate word is ‘tram’.
The Arakawa line is one of a couple left. It begins at Minowabashi and travels 12.2 kilometres to the end of the line in Waseda. It begins by traversing between buildings and houses, you can see people’s ‘backyards’ as you pass. Then it is suddenly in the middle of the road, like the Melbourne trams. It’s pretty reasonable at 170 yen for the full one-way journey, 400 yen for a day ticket. There are a number of interesting stops on the way.
Get off at Sugamoshinden and you will find a famous old precinct of Tokyo, Sugamo neighbourhood. The main street is famous for shopping, and a little way down from the station is the temple Kogan-ji (ji being Japanese for temple). This temple is where people come to pray for a cure to ailments. Here is a story about the temple from http://www.att-japan.net/en/spot/ES000342
‘Kogan-ji Temple is known as Togenuki Jizoson. This temple first opened in 1596 in the Yushima, neighborhood of Ueno, Tokyo. It finally settled in its present location in Sugamo in 1891. The principle Buddhist image of the temple is “Enmei Ksitigarbha,” who is said to miraculously cure diseases and lengthen life. The original story of “Togenuki” or “thorn removal” comes from the story that a long time ago, a housemaid from the Mori family mistakenly swallowed a needle, but when she ate a piece of paper with the image of the deity Jizo on it, she was successfully able to spit out the needle. Now, people still come to visit the temple for such a piece paper which they can put on any painful part of their body, or even eat. The statue standing in front of the main building is “Arai Kannon” or “washing deity.” It is said that if you pour water on and polish with a cloth the same part of the Arai Kannon statue as the part of your body which ails you, your illness will go away.’
Further down the line we alighted at Kishibojin Mae – and found ourselves at the beautiful area of Zoushigaya. The streets were shaded and some of the oldest trees in Tokyo could be found here. We made our way, not too far at all, to the Kishibojin Temple. It is also shaded and quite beautiful, with many people at work maintaining the gardens. A walkway under a number of gates was something a little unique and special, and I had done what was seeming rather difficult to do in Tokyo (after being so easy in Iwate), found a peaceful place where I was the only foreigner.
This temple is famous because apparently those who pray here will be blessed with children and have an easy childbirth. The shrine was built in the Edo period – that’s between 1603 and 1667, and the approach is also famous, it used to have tea shops and restaurants, as well as souvenir stalls. Actually, it does today, although they weren’t busy. A film crew were shooting a scene there the day I visited. At the shrine is a very impressive giant gingko tree standing at over 32 metres. This tree is known as the ‘tree that gives children’.
So if you’re in Tokyo and want to skip the Skytree and other major tourist sites, take a tram on the Arakawa Line. There are many other stops worth getting off at, but we were on a strict schedule! You may find a few secret, hidden corners which reaffirm ‘travelling’ as opposed to ‘touring’.
My Kindle ebook on Japan: Short Journeys: Japan.
See you in a couple of days, I am considering writing a ‘bucket list’ because they are all the rage and secretly I am a conformist. May the journey never end!