Yanaka - Nippori
Between Nishi-nippori and Ueno station is Tokyo's most well preserved district of the 'old world', Yanaka. With literally dozens of well preserved temples and shrines scattered about, old paved streets and many pre WWII buildings you feel instantly immersed in old Tokyo.
However, it's not all bonsais and temple gates, for the surroundings are generally decrepit, old and dirty. Many of the buildings are rusting and weather-worn, which will become apparent after a short stroll through the area.
A glance at some satellite imagery (MSN Maps) will reveal that this area has a preponderance of graveyards accompanying their respective temples, completely aside from the sprawling Yanaka Graveyard.
The journey starts off at the JR Nishi-Nippori Station with following the cities narrow winding backstreets (see our MSN Bing Map for directions), between rows of weathered two story apartments and homes. Overhead you'll see old school power lines circa 1960. Pots of flowers and herbs line the streets, just above the gutters, the residents making use of every possible square inch of space.
After a few minutes of navigating the back streets you'll find on your left the venerable Suwa Shrine. Heavily shaded by a preponderance of Oak trees, this Shrine is very dark, which augments the already aged atmosphere of mossy stone and weathered wood.
The main temple hosts two particularly interesting features, a pair of stone gargoyles with the most enthusiastically vicious countenances
This unmistakable Gate stands out like a beacon against its neighboring shrines and temples. Painted vermillion red and accented with teal green it bears resemblance to the gate at Kanda Myojin. The gate houses two guardian statues, one on the left and the right.
The Temple's imposing dark wooden gate is well weathered and even battle-scarred, for if you take a moment and inspect it searchingly you'll notice thumb-sized holes scattered about. These were no doubt the work of high-caliber muskets, capable of blasting through four inches of hardwood. If you’re patient you'll find at least 20 such bullet holes.
The Temple itself is sunny and well kept, with a long promenade from the gates to the Temple.
Back at the intersection where you find the Kyou-ji, this time follow the street downwards, as it takes you in a gradual descent into the Yanaka Ginza Market. While modest in size (smaller than Sugamo Market) this market still pulls in crowds of people and offers much in the way of the cultural experience, from the hand-carved wood shop-selling wooden toys and tools, to stands with sweet potatoes being baked on a bed of hot rocks (a local favorite).
The fun continues with music being played over a PA system that follows along the market, don't be surprised if you hear a ukulele and some reggae guitar.
Once you reach the end of the market, if you turn around and walk all the way back up, and keep walking up, past the intersection with the Kyou-ji temple and just before the rail road tracks, take a right into the green area up the steps, you will walk straight into the massive Yanaka Cemetery, but worry not there are no ghoulish ghouls.
Among the graves of citizens you will also find an entire section devoted to the Tokogawa Shogun's family, this offers a unique look into the past from over 200 years ago. Located in the North East section of the Cemetery you'll find the breath-taking Tennoji Temple
Not only does the Tennoji host a massive Buddha statue, but also some of the most finely kept and aesthetic grounds in this part of Tokyo. Almost resembling a garden, you'll want to have a seat and a sip of tea and admire the beauty, but unfortunately no such service exists.
Another treasure can be found by going over to the Zenshoen Temple; a giant golden Buddha statue over twenty feet high. This and the Tennoji rank as the top sites to see in the area. Even on an overcast day the golden Buddha glistens in the light. It’s hard to resist just standing there for minutes, admiring its grandeur.
JR Yamanote Line - Nishi-Nippori Station.