A Walk Through Everyday Tokyo
The central shopping street Yanaka Ginza is crammed with mom-and-pop stores and small eateries that feel as if they’ve remained unchanged since the Meiji-era novelist Natsume Soseki called the area home. Wander off Yanaka’s main street and you will soon be lost in a winding maze of back alleys that lead past quiet temples and shrines, many eventually skirting the sprawling Yanaka Cemetery, a beautiful spot in cherry blossom season. The last of the Tokugawa shoguns is buried here, as are many other colorful characters in Tokyo’s history.
Walking southeast from Yanaka, it is a fairly short walk to Ueno Park. (Or you can walk to the Nippori Station and take the Yamanote Line to Ueno.) Here you'll find the city’s biggest zoo, an ancient temple, and plenty of green spaces, but the main reason the park stands out are the museums that dot its grounds. On the north end, Tokyo National Museum holds an unparalleled collection of Japanese and Asian artifacts, dating from as far back as the Jomon period. Moving south, the National Science Museum is a great hands-on stop for kids, while at the southern end of the park the Shitamachi Museum does a wonderful job of revealing the history and development of Tokyo’s working-class areas. Across the road from the park’s southeast end, the vendors of the bustling Ameyoko street market sell everything from knockoffs to fine teas. Stop at one of the small eateries for lunch.
Leaving Ueno and walking east, the next highlight is Kappabashi. In the early 1900s, merchants selling culinary wares began to converge on this half-mile-long street, and it is now where Tokyo’s restaurant trade goes to stock up on everything from disposable chopsticks to hanging lanterns. Among the 170 shops here are several that specialize in the plastic replicas of food that many restaurants display in their windows. The most famous of these, Maizuru, near the southern end of the street, has been selling realistic mock-ups of sushi, pints of lager, and the like for more than 50 years.
East of Kappabashi’s southern end is Asakusa. At the heart of this district is the mighty Senso temple complex, with its grand five-story pagoda, giant gateways, and colorful street stalls. A several-minute walk west of Senso’s main temple building is Hanayashiki, a tiny amusement park that’s home to Japan’s oldest roller coaster and many other retro rides. In the streets south of Hanayashiki are historic theaters like Engei Hall, which, like Hanayashiki, serve as reminders of Asakusa’s prewar days as Tokyo’s premier entertainment district. The yakitori-ya that spill out on the street around here are great places to grab some grilled chicken and a beer and rest your feet.
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