The area around Ochanomizu Station in Tokyo's Bunkyo, Chiyoda and Taito wards, known as Yushima, contains a number of historically interesting sights. The area was a central quarter of old Edo and is associated with education and learning. Tokyo University and a number of other colleges are now located in this fascinating district.
Starting from Ochanomizu Station on the Chiyoda and Marunouchi Subway Lines and the JR Chuo and Sobu Lines, here is a short introduction to things to see and do in the Yushima area.
Turning left out of Ochanomizu Station and walking over Hijiribashi Bridge, the first stop is Yushima Seido on your right. Yushima Seido, across the Kanda River from Ochanomizu Station, was established by the Tokugawa shogunate in 1690 as a Confucian shrine and was made a center of Confucian learning (known as the shoheiko) - one of the earliest institutes of higher education in Japan. The present building dates from 1935 and the courtyard grounds contain a bronze statue of Confucius and other Chinese sages. Turning right here will bring you to the Akihabara electronics mecca of Tokyo.
Just north of Yushima Seido is Kanda Myojin, which in May hosts Kanda Matsuri, one of Tokyo's big three festivals after Asakusa's Sanja Matsuri and the Sanno Matsuri at Hie Shrine.
Kanda Myojin is over a 1000 years old but moved to Kanda in 1616 when the shrine deity came to be seen as the protector of Edo and the fortunes of the Tokugawa regime. The shrine's present vermillion-painted main building dates from 1934 and is known for its hundreds of paper lanterns which decorate the exterior.
Walking north and to the west is Reiunji Temple, which was founded in 1691 and was another important temple in old Edo. The impressive main hall dates from 1976.
Further north still is Yushima Shrine (popularly known as Yushima Tenjin), located near Yushima Station on the Chiyoda Subway Line.
Yushima Shrine's founding in the 14th century is connected with Michizane Sugiwara (845-903), the greatest scholar of his day and is one of many "Tenjin" shrines throughout Japan - the most famous being Kitano Tenmangu in Kyoto, where students gather to pray for passing grades in exams and inscribe ema - small wooden plaques with personal wishes for success written on them.
Moving yet still north is Kyu Iwasakitei Gardens, the former palatial home of the founder of the Mitsubishi Group, Iwasaki Yataro, designed by the British architect Josiah Conder and completed in 1896.
The wooden interior of the house is done throughout in 17th century Jacobean style. There is an attached Japanese-style house and a billiard room reached via an underground passage (unfortunately not able to be passed through by the public).
Conder worked on other commissions for the Iwasaki family in Tokyo and designed the famous Rokumeikan, built in 1883 for entertaining foreign diplomats and bigwigs. The house and gardens are open to the public throughout the year and the entrance fee is presently 400 yen.
Heading north again from Kyu Iwasaki-tei is the small but interesting Sakaiinari Shrine and Benkei Well. The well is associated with the legendary warrior Benkei and his master Yoshitsune. The legend of Benkei and Yoshitsune has some similarities with the story of Little John and Robin Hood. Benkei is the simple, strong, warrior monk with unserverving loyalty to his leader Yoshitsune. Yoshitsune and Benkei meet on a bridge in Kyoto, where, at this stage of the story, Benkei is a brigand robbing of their swords people who cross the bridge.
A sword duel commences and Benkei is beaten by the more agile Yoshitsune. Thereafter Benkei pledges allegiance to Yoshitsune and embarks on a life of adventure. By the way, the plaque at the well tells of the comfort the water brought during the American air raids in World War II.
Turning west from here brings you to Koanji Temple, a small neighborhood temple, which is built in the style of a traditional Japanese warehouse or kura. The temple dates from the Edo period and the design of the temple with its thick outer walls and strong shutters is meant for protection in the event of fire.
South of here is another small temple, Rinshoin Temple, aka Bodaiji Temple, (built in 1624) which contains the grave of Lady Kasuga (died 1643), who was the wet-nurse to Iemitsu Tokugawa - the third Tokugawa shogun. The temple was hedged with trifoliate orange trees (karatachi) and was given the local nickname of "Orange Tree Temple".
Heading west again brings you to the main campus of Tokyo University in Hongo, Bunkyo Ward. Tokyo University (Todai), the nation's most prestigious, was founded in 1877 and the extensive campus grounds are a pleasant place to stroll, especially at the weekend. The campus contains some notable historic features such as Sanshiro Pond (previously Ikutokuen) and the Akamon (Red Gate).
The campus was formerly the Tokyo residence of feudal lords (daimyo) from Kaga (present-day Ishikawa Prefecture), which was centered on the domain capital of Kanazawa. Feudal lords were obliged to keep a residence in Edo and visit the capital every other year under a system known as (sankin kotai, basically so the shogunate authorities could keep a watchful eye on them. The Sanshiro Pond, was considered one of the most beautiful gardens in old Edo. The name Sanshirô comes from a novel of that name by Natsume Soseki set around Tokyo University.
The Akamon (Red Gate) also dates from the time of the Maeda estate. The gate was built in 1827 for Yasuhime, the daughter of Shogun Ienari Tokugawa, for her entrance into the Maeda household in 1828. The gate, which underwent repair in 1961, is registered as an Important Cultural Property.
The grounds of the campus are planted with ginkgo trees, known for their endurance and longevity, and the ginkgo has become the symbol of the university.
Over half of all Japanese university students study in Tokyo, and Ochanomizu is a popular place for many of these students to live. Besides Todai, other universities in the area are: Nihon Denki University, Meiji University and Nihon University. Unsurprisingly, many book stores have sprung up around them. The Kanda second hand book district is across the Kanda River, south and west of Ochanomizu Bridge. Numerous large book publishers also have, or used to have, their headquarters in the area.
Turning back towards Ochanomizu Station on Hongo-dori, the first major left turn before the Tokyo Garden Palace Hotel takes you along "Soccer Street" to the Japan Football Museum. The modern museum presents a retrospect of the 2002 World Cup held in Japan and Korea through video and football artifacts, including jerseys and other memorabilia from the successful tournament. The museum also reveals the history of soccer in Japan and includes a gift shop with official merchandise and original soccer goods of the Japan national team and J-League teams.
JFA House 3-10-15, Hongo Bunkyo-ku, Tokyo
Admission: 500 yen. Hours: Tues-Fri 1pm-6pm; Sat-Sun 10pm-7pm
The Tokyo Water History Museum is on the other side of Hongo-dori from the Japan Football Museum. A must for drainage and sewage buffs along with the Tokyo Water Science Museum in Koto-ku, which is also administered by the Tokyo Metropolitan Government's Bureau of Waterworks. The 3-storey museum traces the history of Tokyo's water system from the Edo Period to the present day. Admission is free and the museum is open from 9.30am-4.30pm every day. Tel: 03 5802 9040.
From here it is a short walk back to Hijiribashi Bridge and Ochanomizu Station past Tokyo Medical and Dental University Hospital. The bridge, built in 1928, looks its best when lit up at night, but there are nice views down to the Kanda River and of the odd passing barge from it during the day. Ochanomizu Station was one of Tokyo's subway stations affected by the Aum Shinrikyo sarin gas attacks in 1995, as the area is close to several government buildings.
Just across from Hijiribashi Bridge and Ochanomizu Station is the Nikolai Cathedral, a Russian Orthodox church completed in 1891. This Byzantine-style church with its green onion dome was another building in the area originally designed by Josiah Conder. The church is officially known as the "Resurrection Cathedral of the Orthodox Church in Japan", but takes its usual name from Archbishop Nikolai, who was the church's first administrator until his death in 1912. The church is open for services on Sundays.
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Saturday, October 21, 2006
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