An Old Town Full of Nostalgic Flavor

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Tokyo Weekly ~Local Page: 23 Wards

An Old Town Full of Nostalgic Flavor

The Nezu/Sendagi neighborhood of Bunkyo Ward is a stone’s throw from Hongo, the hometown of Tokyo University, where Ougai Mori and many other great literary figures once lived. The area is also known for the nostalgia of an old Tokyo town. It’s often called “Yanesen,” which is an acronym for the Yanaka neighborhood in Taito Ward, Nezu and Sendagi.

Nezu Station, on the Tokyo Metro Chiyoda Line, is the closest station to Nezu. Upon leaving the station, walk along Shinobazu Dori to visit Nezu Shrine, whose name contains the name of the town. Nezu Shrine is one of the “Ten Great Shrines of Tokyo,” and the old shrine is believed to have been built by Yamato Takeruno Mikoto. The current shrine pavilions were built by Tsunayoshi Tokugawa, the fifth shogun in the Edo period, and subsequently moved here from the former site in Sendagi (according to the website of Nezu Shrine).

Nezu shrine gate

Passing the splendid torii (shrine gate) and front approach, I found myself standing in a very spacious precinct, neatly maintained and surrounded by abundant trees. Many of the pavilions and structures within the premises of Nezu Shrine are designated as important cultural properties and are certainly worth seeing. The “Stone of Literary Figures” in the precinct, aptly named in honor of great literary figures, is said to have been sat upon by Ougai Mori, Souseki Natsume and other famous writers as they pondered ideas for their books. Also situated in the precinct is Otome Inari Shrine, which is lined on both sides by the toriis donated by worshipers. It was fun to stroll along the long rows of medium-high toriis. Nezu Shrine is also the venue of the Azalea Festival in spring, when visitors flock to view 3,000 azaleas of approximately 50 varieties. I felt very relaxed amid the lush greenery and clean air, which made me want to breathe deeply. I couldn’t believe I was in the middle of Tokyo.

The annual Reitaisai Festival (the most important annual festival of the year for shines) will be held on September 21 and 22, and there will be a chance to see one of the great portable shrines donated by the sixth shogun, Ienobu Tokugawa. The festival at Nezu Shrine is counted as one of the “Three Great Festivals of Edo” together with the Sanno and Kanda festivals.

Nezu shrine

I left Nezu Shrine and soon encountered what is called the “Obake Kaidan (Ghost Stairway)” consisting of 40 or so steps. It’s also known as the “Ghost Slope.” The name “Ghost” was given because the number of steps differs according to whether one is ascending or descending. I went up and down the stairway counting my steps, and the numbers were really different. I tried not to think too much about the reasons, but I suddenly felt that the playful mind of my childhood had returned to me.

Ghost stairs

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