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JR Ueno Station is Tokyo's version of the Gare du Nord: the gateway to and from Japan's northeast provinces. Since its completion in 1883, the station has served as a terminus in the great migration to the city by villagers in pursuit of a better life.
Ueno was a place of prominence long before the coming of the railroad. After Ieyasu Tokugawa established his capital here in 1603, 36 subsidiary temples
were erected surrounding the Main Hall, and the city of Edo itself expanded to the foot of the hill where the main gate of the Kan-ei-ji once stood. Some of the most important buildings in the temple complex have survived or have been restored and should not be missed.
A short walk from the north end of Ueno Park, Yanaka is one of Tokyo’s most charming neighborhoods. It began as a temple town in the Edo period when the city moved a number of prominent temples here to save them from the rather frequent fires that broke out in more populated parts of town. The sheer abundance of temples (more than 70 in a small area) makes for an excellent walk. Most temples are found on the streets to the west of Yanaka Cemetery and south of Yanaka Ginza, a colorful shopping street where merchants cater to locals with groceries and daily goods. Wander down the winding backstreets to enjoy the surprise and sense of wonder as you turn a corner to find a quiet temple garden or a Buddhist service in session. Over time, craftsmen made the neighborhood home, and galleries and cafés have joined the traditional wooden houses and temples, giving the area a feel of being tourist-friendly without being overdone. In October, the area hosts the Yanaka Geikoten, a three-week-long art-and-craft festival when artisans open the doors to their workshops, and galleries hold special events.
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As late as 1960, the area between Meiji shrine and the Aoyama Cemetery to the east was so boring that the municipal government zoned a chunk...