JSPS Quarterly
No.49 2014 autumn

Introducing Japan: Tokyo

By Dr. Maja Veselic

Yoshida Castle

With her research assistant and friend Aina in front of the King of Sento in Tokyo

Needless to say, Tokyo offers a wealth of opportunities for sightseeing and all sorts of entertainment. Still there are a few places where one can enjoy the bustling yet relaxed old-town shitamachi atmosphere. The best-known place for a nostalgic walk is probably in the area of the Yanaka, Nezu and Sendagi neighborhoods. I like getting off the train at Nippori station, strolling first through the lovely Yanaka cemetery before making my way through the narrow streets towards the Nezu Shrine, stopping for shopping and snacks as I walk along.

Tezutsu hanabi

Enjoying Uyghur cuisine

Another neighborhood that retains a traditional atmosphere is Kagura-zaka. It is famous for the geisha houses that were plentiful there in the early 20th century. Now, the neighborhood also has a strong French feel to it. Because a French-Japanese school used to be located nearby, many French people settled in the area. When you peek into the bistros and restaurants through their terrace windows or read their French-Japanese menus, you might wonder whether you have been transported to Paris.

My favorite part of Tokyo is, however, my “hometown” Koenji. This residential neighborhood is famous for its vintage shops, music venues, alternative politics, street performances and, perhaps, most of all for its Awa Odori festival, with its frenzied dancing through the streets by the performers cheered on by throngs of enraptured onlookers. The festival has been held yearly at the end of August since 1956, when urban migrants from Tokushima Prefecture first started preforming their traditional dance here. Nowadays, troups come from all over Japan and hundreds of thousands of visitors flock here to enjoy the festive atmosphere, the delicious street food and, of course, the three hours of uninterrupted music and dance on each day of the weekend.

Tokyo on the map of Japan

I would like to recommend two more interesting places. Silkroad Tarim is an Uyghur restaurant, opened by an Uyghur man. Uyghur cuisine, which consists of a mixture of Central Asian and Chinese dishes, has become very popular all over China. While the excellent meatand- pumpkin pies are typically Uyghur, the delicious lamb kebabs and noodles are similar to those prepared in regions closer to central China. After you have eaten too much—and believe me, you will—you can go for a long walk to Vowz, a small bar unique for the fact that it is run by a Buddhist priest. It is a place where you can drink cocktails with religious names against a background sound of sutra chanting and receive spiritual counselling should you wish. This might be a bit of a shock even for those familiar with the particularities of Japanese Buddhism, but it is one of the experiemental attempts to bring Buddhism and Buddhist priests closer to the everyday life and concerns of ordinary people.

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JSPS Quarterly No.43 2013