Note: this post was re-posted from my old website, originally published in November 2016.
Tokyo is humongous so that every person’s travel suggestions might be different. If you have been a faithful reader of my blog, you would have known that I have an acute aversion to crowds. Meaning I would deliberately go out of my way to avoid places with people.
With that being said, this is exactly why I wrote this article. Granted that being in Tokyo I could not be alone at all, but I have tried my best to visit places well-known and not known to tourists alike.
Originally I went to Tokyo because I had to go about my business to the Indonesian embassy for a new passport. Once my business was done with the embassy, I went to Tokyo Institute for Nature Study, located not so far from JR Yamanote line Meguro station. I had no prior expectation about this place other than it is said to boast a huge area of greenery in the middle of Tokyo’s concrete jungle.
When I got in, I was literally surprised by how big it is and how lively it is inside. The place is literally like a section of forest from a nearby mountain that had been moved and shoved into Tokyo. The moment you get inside the walls of the institute, you are no longer in Tokyo. You are somewhere else amid the trees, listening to the wind blowing and many insects chirping.
In the middle of the ‘forest’, I found the swampy area resembling the marshland of Japanese woodlands. It was there where people mostly gathered, usually to take pictures of abundant flowers and insects from up-close. I have to say I had not seen that many butterflies everywhere in Japan before, even though I have been to many hikes! It just shows that this place is sprawling with life because they created the perfect habitat that attracts wildlife.
Look at these pictures of insects!
Out of the institute, I was on my way to Meguro station when something caught my eye. Tokyo Metropolitan Teien Art Museum is located right next to the institute, and it had some special exhibitions from an artist. Never mind about the artist, the architecture-lover in me was excited to learn that the museum once belonged to a member of the imperial family branch, Prince Asaka, and was built in art-deco style. I was intrigued and went inside.
The entrance fee is ¥720 for students if I was not mistaken, but it was well worth a visit in my opinion. Once you get past the spacious front yard of the museum you will come across the main building, the former residence of the said prince. The residence was ordered to be constructed according to the wish of the prince who was strongly touched by the influence of the art-deco movement during his and his spouse’s stay in Paris. It was completed in 1933. The residence, whose overall design was executed by the imperial household construction bureau and whose interior design was done by a known French artist Henri Rapin, was the home of the Asaka collateral branch of the imperial family until they lost their imperial status in 1947. In 1983 the building was opened to the public as a museum.
I felt like a child filled with curiosity inside the building, as the beautiful design welcomed me from the moment I stepped into the entrance. Inside, it was more like a palace or a very fancy hotel than just a normal residence. In every nook and cranny, you would see the intricate details that Henry Rapin had created. It was just magnificent. From the touch of the flooring to the wallpaper or embossed cravings on the wall, to the ceiling and lighting, everything just impressed me. There is no doubt as to why this place is constituted as an Important Cultural Property.
While the main building is mainly a tour with predetermined routes, the annex building has a lovely cafe where you can relax and an exhibition hall where from time to time, various artists’ works will be displayed. Too bad not all of the rooms in the buildings are open to the public, but even with just a short visit, I could experience the brilliance of the design. Another thing, the backyard of the museum is the perfect place to have a picnic.
Around late afternoon I headed to an area famously called “Yanesen”, which is the collective name of Yanaka, Nezu, and Sendagi localities. These areas still retain the atmosphere of shitamachi, the downtown area of Edo-period Tokyo which prospered with shops and ateliers. Yanesen is the ‘backwoods’ of Tokyo, so they say, hidden behind the skyscrapers and busy pace of life in the metropolis.
When you step out from JR Nippori station, you might wonder if you are still in Tokyo. The vicinity feels more like a much smaller town, more like rural areas. In Yanesen you could find various shops lining down a narrow street just like the one in Kyoto. Due to my limited time I only visited the Yanaka part of “Yanesen”, but that alone was enough to make me like the place.
Needless to say, I tremendously enjoyed my time here exploring the many alleys and back streets leading from one neighborhood to another. Locals even greeted me when they saw me with the camera. This is the kind of thing that you might not find in other parts of Tokyo: the friendliness of people.
My exploration in Yanaka brought me wandering in circles. I found a huge tract of a graveyard which happens to be the burial ground for some members of the Tokugawa clan, so it is a good place for a history pilgrimage as well. I found lots of temples here and there, some are especially good-looking and some are just the ordinary.
It was starting to get dark when I came back to JR Nippori station to end my day 1 trip. I was exhausted, yes. The hours spent sleeping on board the night bus from Sendai did not help at all as it just made my whole body stiff. So I had a moderate dinner and headed to my booked capsule hotel around Asakusa, then fell asleep soundly.
That’s it for part 1. Stay tuned for the next part of the story which highlights day 2 and 3 of my ‘rushed’ Tokyo trip.
Some useful information:
Other sites that put Yanesen in the spotlight: