First 48 in Tokyo

My first two days in Tokyo have been busy ones! I’m having a great time, and glad to have chosen to stay in the Asakusa area, as it’s convenient to so many things I want to do.

PHOTO: Good Morning, Tokyo! A glimpse of the Skytree from my room.

One of my favorite activities so far has been a tour of Yanaka, a quiet, artsy district in Tokyo that evokes the Edo period. I took a tour with a wonderful native as my guide, and she answered my million and one questions about Japan. I was fortunate to be her only guest that day.

Yanaka is just northwest of Asakusa. It is largely residential, and has more than 70 temples and shrines, which is more than any other area in Tokyo. I visited Nezu Shrine, the last wooden shrine standing in the area, and its rarity and beauty have made it one of Japan’s cultural assets.

Yanaka has extensive, historic cemeteries that traditionally served aristocrats and the very wealthy. The last Shogun and some of his family members are resting here. The cemetery is beautiful and I learned about the differences between Buddhist and Shinto burial sites as well as ideas about death. For instance, Buddhists believe in a cycle of death and rebirth that continues until a person achieves nirvana. Shinto tradition holds that after death, a person’s kami (soul) passes on to another world and watches over their descendants. This is why ancestor worship is still an important part of modern-day Japanese culture. Modern Japanese often mix elements of Buddhism and Shintoism into their family traditions.

Since it’s now winter here and the trees are still bare, there is an appropriately gloomy aspect to the place, punctuated by the flapping and cawing of giant crows (Japanese crows – or ravens? – are the biggest I’ve ever seen).

Yanaka is also very arts-centered and is home to Tokyo University of the Arts. There are many art galleries, small museums, and shops that sell curated handicrafts, foodstuffs, and tea. Japan excels at curated, niche products of the highest quality. My guide showed me a tiny shop selling washi, litho-printed with super-saturated inks. I bought some paper (of course), and soon I’ll share some things I make with it so you can see it up close.

Yanaka is well worth a trip if you are in Tokyo. There are several charming cafes, and I stopped at one near Nezu Station, called “Ryu’s Cafe.” She makes the most incredible cabbage roll I’ve ever tasted – really! If you visit, be brave and tuck into an inviting cafe or shop and you may discover something wonderful.

I’ve done a ton of shopping, mainly geeky stuff like buying arts and crafts supplies/toys, and also buying a paring knife and getting my old knife professionally sharpened.

I will go into more depth about all my shopping in a post in a day or two, but I will start by briefly sharing my knife-buying experience, which was a huge item to buy on my checklist.

I’m staying close to Kappabashi-dori, or “Kitchen Street.” It’s famous for its abundance and quality of kitchen supplies, plastic food shops, and especially knife shops.

At Kappabashi, I visited the knife shop Washin-Dou and hoped they could help me find a “companion” paring knife for my larger santoku, and I also needed them to give the expert touch to sharpening my old blade. *(Washin-Dou has an Instagram account, but not sure about a website.)

The service at Washin-Dou is amazing, and they explained the most important aspects of the knife I was looking for. I ended up buying a very beautiful carbon steel vegetable knife with a wooden handle. This blade will last a lifetime with proper care. I bought my santoku here more than eight years ago, and I use it daily. I highly recommend this shop if you need a quality kitchen knife. In my opinion, Japanese knives are the best in the world.

PHOTO: already in love with this world-class kitchen knife. I have two from this shop.

I have much more to share about my shopping and site-seeing experience. I’ll post a bit more when I take a break from “doing.” See you again soon!

PHOTO: array of plastic food at Kappabashi

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