Deep into Tokyo’s Roji

///Deep into Tokyo’s Roji
Deep into Tokyo’s Roji 2018-04-04T20:40:07+00:00

May 2016

Walk Leader: Shunji Suzuki
Photographs by: Shunji Suzuki
Text by: Kurita, Fujii, Mitsumoto, Mukoyama, Machii, Ichikawa, Sato, Kobayashi, Furukawa, Kashiwagi, Obana, Kumagai, Shigeno, and Hirano

Kagurazaka and Mukojima are historic and human-scaled neighborhoods of Tokyo. About 80 participants joined us on two walks, which  were coordinated by Shunji Suzuki with help by Prof. Toshiya Yamamoto, Yamamoto Lab members of Meiji University, The Ikimachi Club of Kagurazaka and The Mukojima-Gakkai Association.

Kagurazaka Walk

There are many slopes, as indicated by the name of place. The buildings stand, narrow and deep, giving us a sense of old Edo period Tokyo. Zenkokuji Temple is the birthplace of the fairs and night markets that take place in the area. Wakana is a long-established inn where great writers stayed while they produced their works.

Kagurazaka is in a central urbanized area in Tokyo, yet there are historical alleys and an older atmosphere. The name “Kagurazaka” refers to kagura, the spiritual music dedicated to the Shinto gods of the shrine. In its peak period, more than 600 geisha lived and worked here. Because of modern urban redevelopment, vestiges of the district are being lost. However local residents and NPOs are working to preserve the alleys and make district plans and rules for redevelopment.

On our walk, we observed elements of new and old Kagurazaka. Zelkova trees planted along the main street are rather new and add rich green. In the alleyways, cobble stone and black wood fences keep the taste of the historic neighborhood. Public baths in old wooden houses are still there. There are also fashionable cafes and French restaurant and high-rise condos, and art galleries.

Here are some of the things we saw on the walk:

  • Usually, statues of dogs are placed as guardians at the gate of a shrine, but at Zenkokuji Temple, there are tigers instead.
  • Koshoji Temple, which overlooks the area, used to be a castle that housed the local seat of government.
  • There are many companies in the publication industry concentrated in the neighborhood.
  • A local NPO makes and maintains the black wood fences.
  • Akagi Shrine was recently redesigned into a more modern style shrine by Kengo Kuma.
  • Some of the fashionable restaurants in the area are inside renovated old houses.

Mukojima Walk

We walked through residential, shopping, and industrial areas and along the river and noticed all the different kinds of plant life that grows in the city. Some plants are cultivated by the residents, others grow through the cracks on paved streets. Walking through the streets, we noticed lots of smells, from the flowers to the leather factory. It would be interesting to make a “smell map”! A lot of buildings we saw reflect the lifestyle and technology at that time they were built and traces of urban development projects that were carried out in the area.

Here are some of the things we saw on the walk:

  • At Mokubo Temple, the body of the main Buddha statue is that of a snake.
  • Mukoujima Hyakkaen Garden has water lilies.
  • Sumidagawa and Mukoujima are well known as places to enjoy fireflies.

We also walked around residential area of Kyojima and observed the big before and after of a land readjustment project. Many community housing developments house residents who had to evacuate their properties for road widening. Nearby is the traditional Kirakira shopping district, where the local businesses collaborate to create a sense of place on the street.

We learned about disaster prevention (mainly fire protection) by walking the Hatonomachi shopping street in Mukoijima. The local community has installed rojison, which collect rainwater rainwater from the roofs of private houses for garden watering, fire-fighting, and drinking water. Then we visited the southernmost tip in the Shirahige Apartment Buildings, which were built in the 1970s as firewalls.