I don't know what other foreigners in Tokyo do on Christmas – eat Kentucky? – but I go walking, and today I headed for Tokyo Sky Tree.
I love this tower. It's clearly visible from this apartment, and I've been watching its progress over the past two years. The last time I walked there was on 19 March, the day after it reached its maximum height of 634 meters (a week after the big quake). Today I went there again, and wow, it's looking great – not only the tower itself, but also the huge commercial complex that surrounds it.
The area buzzes with sightseers, and it's obvious that many new shops, especially restaurants, have opened in the area. Oshiage Station has undergone a metamorphosis; it will be directly linked to the complex and will become the area's main station. Narihirabashi, the other nearby station, remains as small as always.
A suggestion to Tobu Railways, who developed the complex: I know the opening is still five months away, but you’re going to have to make that area more foreigner-friendly. Today I used Exit A2 in Asakusa-dori to get to Oshiage Station. I was halfway through the long underground passage when I noticed a sign in Japanese: "This passage only leads to the Keisei station; if you want to go to the subway lines, please go back and follow this map." I can just imagine a herd of tourists milling around in confusion, or boarding the wrong train, or trying to get help from the station staff …
Ah well. I guess most foreign tourists would visit the commercial complex itself, not wander around trying to find obscure shrines with the help of their 東京散歩下町と山の手のいいとこめぐり53コース book (Tokyo walks, from the low city to the high city, the 53 best courses).
Today's final goal was a tiny shrine hidden in the back streets of Narihira, the suburb to the south of Sky Tree. It's called Oshiage Tenso Jinja (押上天祖神社), and it's achieved unexpected fame thanks to its juxtaposition of ancient and modern: if you contort yourself, you can take photos of the shrine's komainu (lion-dogs) with Sky Tree in the background.
|Click on the photos to see bigger versions.|
Tenso Jinja is a so-called sonsha (村社) or township shrine. It was established in 1356, destroyed in the Great Kanto Earthquake and again burnt down during World War II. It was rebuilt in its current form in the 1950s. The deities worshipped at this tiny shrine are heavyweights: Amaterasu-ōmikami, goddess of the sun and the universe; and Hachiman, the god of war. (Tenso means sun goddess.)
The shrine itself is really nothing special, but the contrast between ancient tradition and hyper-modern technology is startling … and worth a visit.
The other photos were taken between Sky Tree and Kinshichō Station. I walked along Ooyokogawa-shinsui-kōen (大横川親水公園, Big Yoko River Water Park), a canal that runs from Kinshichō Station to Asakusa-dori. Again, it's nothing particularly special – the Yokojukkengawa walk to the east is much more beautiful! – but it's a nice, quiet walk with Sky Tree always in front of you. More information about the park here.
I'm telling this story the wrong way around. I actually started in Kinshichō and finished at Oshiage, but never mind, I never did have a sense of direction. That explains why I was born in Africa but ended up in Japan.