The Yanaka Course and Nishi Nippori

In January, my cousin who visited from Amsterdam went to the area of Tokyo called Nishi Nippori. She recommended the place to me as she found the place tranquil and wonderful a site with many temples, shrines and houses preserved from the old time. I tried looking up the area in the guidebook and the Internet, but the former yielded nothing and the latter came up with only a scant result. So, equipped with nothing, I set out yesterday to go to the area blindly.

I was accompanied by a friend who had been wanting to explore an area called Yanaka, which, according to his reading, hosted a number of temples, shrines and houses that dated back from the Meiji era. I told him that I would be happy to accompany him on his exploration at another time.

Boy, were we both surprised when we ran into a map of the area to find out that what each of us had been looking for was actually the same, exact thing, except that he wanted to approach it from one end (the Sendagi Metro Station – Chiyoda Line) and I from the other terminus (the Nishi Nippori JR Station – Yamanote line). What lay in between these two stations was our interest all along!

During the Edo period, temples and shrines were pushed out of the city to avoid the frequent fires that ravaged the central area. With Japanese homes and building constructed mainly of wood and rice paper (for the partition screens), they became a willing ally to the fire that could lick and burn them at a much faster rate than the incense burnt at the temple to appease any naughty and arsen-minded gods. As a result, the temples and shrines here were also kept rather empty in the interior to lessen the problems with fire.

Temples in the outskirt of town also doubled up as a means of fortification. A lot of people could hole up within the temple to protect themselves from invaders. The so-called invaders, however, usually turned out to be locals who flocked to the area for some tranquility and beauty, according to the Frommer guidebook, which seemed to be the only one so far that had any information on the Yanaka trail.

This site also was least affected by the great 1923 Kanto Earthquake, as well as spared from bombing during the World War II. There were many temples and cemeteries on our first journey here.

The day’s heat and humidity was the only reason we decided to end our sojourn. We would treat this as an introductory survey as we both planned to return here to do more observation and to snap more pictures. We wonder if the unavailability of information is meant to spare the site from tourists pouring into the area, making this haven of tranquility a well-kept secret … Ssssshhhh!


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