When most tourists or foreigners hear “Tokyo,” they often think technicolor neon and ultra-modern convenience, but expats who live here know that Tokyo is a huge, diverse, variety-pack of cultural offerings, and some of the most beautiful examples of historic Japan can be found in North Tokyo, in the original downtown area known as Yanesen.
Yanesen (谷根千) is comprised of three town: Sendagi (千駄木), Yanaka (谷中), and the home of one of most important Shinto shrines in Tokyo: Nezu-jinja (根津神社).
Nezu Shrine was originally erected about 1900 years ago in Sendagi by the Emperor’s son, Yamato Takeru no Mikoto, then later moved to Nezu as a symbol of the fifth shogun Tsunayoshi Tokugawa’s choosing of his successor. Construction is thought to have been completed in 1706.
The 6,600 square meter grounds feature over 50 varieties of azaleas and is home to the the annual Tsutsuji Matsuri (azalea festival) held in April and May. Lush greenery provides a tranquil backdrop for the long torii (鳥居) pathway that leads you around the grounds (note: the torii are really low to the ground–you might have to duck as you walk through!). Traditionally, the long torii walk is thought to symbolize the entrance from the secular space into a sacred one.
Once out the other end, enter the shrine grounds and marvel at the beauty of the Shinto architecture. The manji (counter-clockwise swastikas) covering the shrines date back to pre-Sanskrit time and are a symbol of luck and well-being.
After drinking in the calm at Nezu-jija, stop by Cha Cha (two doors down from the shrine entrance) for lunch or dessert. A lovely cafe with a delicious menu and traditional Japanese treats.
Nezu-jija is just one of many historical spots in Yanasen which goes to show that Tokyoites don’t have to go far to take in gorgeous nature, history, and culture of Japan.
Address: 1-28-9 Nezu, Bunkyo-ku, Tokyo
Access: Five minute walk from Chiyoda Nezu Station