This past week, we had a couple of days off from school. My housemate and I decided we wanted to get away from the hustle and bustle of big city Tokyo for a little while, so we searched through our guidebook for a quiet place we could go. We happened upon the perfect location, a little section of Tokyo called Nezu, also known as a slice of old Tokyo. Nezu is a quiet section of the city that is popular for the Nezu Jinja, or shrine, and for having one of the oldest and largest cemeteries in Tokyo. We took the train there, which let us off near a section of Tokyo University. It was much quieter than other parts of Tokyo that we have visited, with mostly small artisan shops and a lot of greenery.
After wandering a bit, we discovered the Nezu Jinja, which was our first destination. The entrance was marked by a huge gate with lanterns hanging from the top beam. We passed through the gate and down a small stretch of road lined with trees, at the end of which we reached a large opening with a bridge, a few ponds, and the shrine. There were several other visitors there, mostly Japanese, and many of them were couples or elderly people. It was a little cloudy that day, so it wasn’t too hot. Actually it was the perfect temperature to go strolling about. Everyone was having a leisurely time and it was very peaceful.
We spent the first part of our visit observing the pond, which had many large and impressive koi swimming around, as well as a handful of red-earred slider turtles, and a few box turtles, all with shells covered in moss. They were basking casually, some stacked on top of each other. Then we found a somewhat hidden pathway, which led to a long stretch of brightly colored orange shrine gates about the size of doorways. They sheltered the path one after another, creating a sort of orange gate tunnel. It looked like there were hundreds of them. We walked through the tunnel, which led us to some smaller shrines before reaching the end, which was gaurded by stone statues of dogs that had been well-worn by time. After that we observed an elderly Japanese man ride up to the pond on his bicycle and feed slices of bread to the turtles. It seemed like it was his daily ritual.
Feeling hungry, we wandered side streets for a cafe or bakery. We found a very cute one and ate pastries with coffee and tea. I was happy to find the bakers were very kind to us, even with our poor Japanese. Sometimes I worry that Japanese people will be offended by my poor language skills, but that hasn’t happened yet. They always respond patiently and politely.
After that, it took us a while to find the big cemetery. It was a bit of a walk away. On the way there, we fond a small art gallery that had been converted from a 300 year old bathhouse. It happened to be showing a Japanese aritst I really admired, named Tadanoori Yooko. I was happy to find an art gallery because I’ve been wanting to go to some. Eventually we found the cemetery, where we spent a lot of time just meandering through the gravesites. There were a lot of cats there, of all different types and sizes, all looking pretty rough around the edges. We found the burial site of the last shogun there, as well. It was very impressive. On the edge of the cemetery, we fond another little shrine. This one had large meadows of healthy looking, green grass, and well-tended shrubs, as well as a giant copper statue of a buddha. We spent some time relaxing there, watching a groundskeeper tend to some water lilies. A tiny old woman came to sit on the bench next to us, and spoke to us in Japanese for a while. Maybe it was half to us, half to herself. She seemed to be completely oblivious to the fact that we were foreigners, which for us was a really nice change. We left when it started to get dark and just took the train home.
I’d say it was a very zen type of day, a different type of Tokyo and Japan than what I’ve experienced so far. If you visit Tokyo, it’s important to see all the different sides of it. There’s the big city and the crazy nightlife, as well as the peaceful, old neighborhoods. Next I think I would like to travel outside of Tokyo, to somewhere more rural, and see how the lifestyle is there.