On the JR Yamanote Line, alight at Nippori Station to see a slice of Old-style Tokyo, a rare find in a city that’s constantly renovating and renewing everything. You can easily spend half a day here, as the area is teaming with preserved temples and shrines and pre-war buildings. It’s also a reasonable walk from Ueno Station, so you can check out Ueno Park and Ameyoko Street afterwards.
Here’s a few pictures highlighting some of the spots I visited in Nippori:
YANAKA CEMETARY. What interests me about this cemetery or perhaps Japanese cemeteries in general is that they aren’t sad or scary places at all. There are beautifully paved and landscaped streets so cars, bikers, joggers, and dog-walkers can pass through. It feels very much like a park or any other place that is integrated into the community; not at all like a creepy blemish that lowers the surrounding property values, lol.
My friends and I all marvel at the Japanese’ ability to market at shrines and temples! I’ve purchased so many 100-yen fortunes and poems, though I’ve resisted buying any 500-yen Ema (wooden plaques on which you can write wishes to Shinto gods). Above you see some wooden Sotoba, which took some research to figure out what they are. The iconography seems rather complicated, something about 5 different sections, so I will refer you to wikipedia for that one. ;D
Whether or not it’s accurate, my friend told me these wooden Sotobas are basically prayers and rather expensive because they are hand painted in calligraphy by Monks. If you are wondering why there are so many, my friend said you bring a new one each season (Japanese marketing, I tell you!).
ZENSHO-EN TEMPLE. Most recommended spot in the area is Zensho-en Temple. It’s got a really big golden Buddha, which has been a rather unique thing for me. I feel most Buddhas I see are made of stone.
I touristy-ly decided to imitate the Buddha’s hand gestures for a photo-op, but decided to follow-up and look up the meaning behind the hand gestures. Touching the index finger is referred to as Vitarka Mudra and means transmission of knowledge with no words; the circle formed by the fingers facilitates a constant flow of information. I don’t know what touching the middle finger means, lol.
I also looked up why Japanese deities wear red caps/bonnets and bibs! Looks so cozy and cute, but why, Japan? The internet provided a thousand different theories, but I’ll summarize a bit despite my uncertainty to justify the 45 mins I spent reading up on this.
First off, these are Jizo Statutes; Jizo being the guardian of children and travelers. Dressing the Jizo statues seems to be tied to building up some type of ‘credit’ in the Buddhist afterlife. This part is going to sound insane because I’m not Buddhist and understand very little about the religion, but it seems parents who lose their children do it because their deceased children have to face judgment, but parents worry because their children haven’t had enough time to build up afterlife credits due to dying so young, so the children’s souls end up naked in some river, and parents dress Jizo statutes in the hopes that Jizo will dress their naked children? #soVERYsorry. I wish I knew what all of that meant, but internet = information overload sometimes and I’m a bit lost. Help?
TENNOJI TEMPLE. Although I am hard to impress after seeing so many giant Buddhas throughout Japan, I will still recommended Tennoji temple in Yanaka/Nippori if you’re in the area. It features yet another giant (but not sooo giant) Buddha and generally nice grounds.
YANAKA GINZA MARKET. There is a main street in Yanaka/Nippori that sells a bunch of street food and cute souvenirs. From my visit, there wasn’t a ton of eateries outside of Yanaka Ginza, so I recommend finding something to eat here.
There is a shop, though a bit expensive, that is located in Yanaka Ginza near Nippori Station that sells customs Hanko, the Japanese signature seal stamps with cute designs added!! You can buy simple ones from the 100-yen store, but these custom ones are like 2600 yen or something (about $30 USD), eep!