Urban trail around Nippori Tokyo

It’s one of highlights of travels when you walk through trails which are conditioned well in nature or in a country side. However, in Japan, a railway company, Japan Railway East provides events named “hiking from stations” on which we can enjoy exciting urban trails in Tokyo. And this weekend they provided the trail from Nippori station close to our house. Now let’s walk through the trail together!

After we left Nippori station, we headed to the east to Nippori Fabric Town. For those who like sawing, Nippori is well known as a center of small fabric retailers.

Then we went down to the south through Yanaka cemetery and several temples up to Ueno park. Ueno park is a huge park where there are several museum and a zoo. But one of these museums, National Museum of Western Art, attracted big public attention last year since it was registered to UNESCO World Heritage, as one of masterpieces build by a French architect, Le Corbusier.

We turned to the west for a while and came to Shinobazu Pond. The area including Ueno park and this Shinobazu Pond was parts of Kanei-ji temple ‘s land in Edo era from the 17th to mid 19th century. When Edo Shogunate started at the beginning of the 17th century, they tried to build a center of Buddhism corresponding to Enryaku-ji temple and Biwa-Lake in the Western Japan. Now in the 21st century well grown lotus leaves shows the beauty of Buddhism culture.

When we came west up to the corner of Tokyo University, we turned to the north and walked along the wall of the university. In 10 to 15 minutes we arrived at Nezu shrine. As I introduced in this blog in the past, Nezu shrine is famous for azalea flower in bloom in April.

When we walked to the northeast for a while, it’s almost the end of the trail. But we had another amusement before the end. On Yanaka shopping street you can enjoy a variety of sweets which cure your fatigue after the walk.

How was the trail? It’s about 11km and 3 hour walk by walking slowly while enjoying the places on the way.

If you come to Shitamachi, traditional area in Tokyo, please don’t take taxi all the time from one place to another. But please take a walk some time to know how places are connected to each other.

A cafe with passion of young artists

Close to our home there is an area called Yanaka where old and small buildings built in the middle of 20th century still remain. Such scenery let us imagine the beautiful days when Japan was poor but everyone was enjoying their life. And now the area attracts a lot of visitors.

However those who have been living there long felt that even this area changed. And they experienced the situation that a shop or a public bath they had visited one day disappeared in the next day.

Hagiso could have been one of such buildings. It was built in 1955 as a wooden apartment building. And since 2004 it had been used as a shared house by students of Tokyo University of the Arts nearby. But when the big earthquake hit eastern Japan in 2011, the owner of  the building decided to dismantle it due to deterioration.

But for the young artists who lived there it was a place filled with their memory. They asked the owner to let them have an art exhibition in the building as their last memory of the building. Then the exhibition received a lot of  visitors and the owner decided to renovate it as a cultural space, “Hagiso”.

Now the first floor is open to everyone as a cafe “Hagi Cafe” connected to an art gallery “Hagi Art”. At the cafe we can have a good time seeing a well preserved wooden building and works created by young artists.

Such a space makes me feel that a building, a space engraves its history in itself. And the history is a kind of the arts.

When it comes to history in Japan, old cities like Kyoto and Nara attracts foreign visitors. But Tokyo is also a city where creating its own history. I hope the building attract more artists and visitors, and then have more history.

Minor castle in Japan, Ishihama Castle, Tokyo

Among castles in Japan, there are some world famous castles such as Himeji Castle which was registered as one of World Heritages by UNESCO. However, there are much more sites of old minor castles with which we can imagine the history of that place. Ishihama Castle in Tokyo is one of such castles.

Minami Senju in northern Tokyo is a rapidly growing area with more and more high rise apartments for the younger generation.

And with 15 minute walk from Minami Senju station to the east you can see a new symbol of Tokyo, Tokyo Sky Tree over Sumida River.

All the scenery looks so urban and it seems there is no room for old history to exist.  But if we stop just before reaching to Sumida River, there is a small shrine.

It’s called as Ishihama Jinja Shrine. Its own history says the shrine was built in the 8th century, and many samurais worshiped it in the medieval era. And nowadays people who lives in the neighborhood still visit it.

But this place has another face. Some scholars believe it was a site of old Ishihama Castle where one of powerful samurai families in eastern Japan, Chiba family, lived there in the 15th and 16th centuries, which is the age of Japanese Civil Wars.

Chiba family went to ruin during the early stage of the Civil War Age, and they are not shown in the main history of Japan like Tokugawa shogun or other famous samurais.

But now, after 500 years later, such a unknown site reminds me of bravery of old samurai as well as the concept of impermanence which such samurais loved more than big and famous castles do.

Hydrangea is in bloom in Tokyo

Even though Mr. Trump decided to withdraw from the Paris climate agreement claiming that it’s not clear how human activities effect on climate change, I, living in Tokyo Japan, feel each season of Japan became more vague than that in the past.

Late June and Early July is a rainy season in Japan called “Tsuyu” in Japanese. However, this year we didn’t have so much rain yet, rather there were several hot days when we felt summer had come without Tsuyu.

Nevertheless we still have a symbol of our rainy season. It’s a flower, hydrangea (“Ajisai in Japanese”).

In Nippori, the area we live, we see beautiful hydrangea close to temples and shrines. For example on the way from Suwa Jinja, small shrine in the area to Nishi Nippori station, a flock of hydrangea flower is in bloom in the contract to trains.

Ueno Park, a big park close to our home, is famous for flowers in each season, especially cherry blossom in Spring. It also has hydrangea, while the size of flower is smaller than others as long as we found.

The origin of hydrangea is Japan but had been exported to Europe and America as an ornamental flower. The pH of land effect on the color of hydrangea. Acid land turn it blue, while alkaline land turn it red. However even blue hydrangea turns gradually red as it ages.

In the short rainy season the flower makes us enjoy its changing beauty.

Hidaka-ya, reasonable Chinese restaurant in Japan

Recently an American-style Chinese restaurant chain Panda Express, which is popular in the US, opened a new branch in Japan as their second shot to Japanese market after they had closed all the branches in 2010. However, same as the last time, many people is skeptical that the chain can succeed in Japan.

Panda Express takes second shot at Japan

The reason of the concern is the competitive situation of Japanese Chinese food restaurants. In the US Panda Express has been growing as they serve Chinese dishes with reasonable prices quickly compered to authentic Chinese restaurants. However, in Japan there are many other Chinese restaurants with as reasonable pricing as Panda Express or even more reasonable.

A typical example is Hidaka-ya, which operates more than 300 chains in Tokyo and metropolitan area.

In Tokyo the branches of the restaurant are usually located close to main stations where many people come and go. And they have a lot of seats to absorb all the customers even at busy dinner time.

Their main menu is a variety of ramen noodles. In Japan popular ramen noodle restaurants serve their ramen noodles with own special recipes but high prices. On the other hand, Hidaya-ya serves basic ramen noodles with lower prices, which allows us to eat ramen noodles as a fast food.

But in order to keep the customer’s loyalty, they sometimes create special ramen noodles (but with reasonable pricing still) in limited time only. The below photo is their new menu, ramen noodle with thick starchy sauce and mixed vegetables (with dumpling of course).  This is my recent favorite since I can eat plenty of vegetable while ramen noodle is normally considered as fast food with little nutrition.

And they are aggressive to attract foreign visitors to Japan. Rarely as a Chinese restaurant chain, they have a website not only in English but also in English and Chinese. And at the restaurants

http://hidakaya.hiday.co.jp/english/

Moreover while many fast food restaurant chains tend to limit their opening hours in midnight due to difficulty to secure employees who want to work in midnight, many branches of Hidaka-ya in Tokyo still open till 3 or 4 AM. It’s very helpful for Japanese business people who sometimes need to work until midnight while it’s not healthy to eat so late.

In order to lose weight this year, I need to overcome the temptation of Hidakaya’s ramen after work in midnight.

Mt. Mitake, another approachable mountain from Tokyo

When it comes to a mountain near central Tokyo, many people would consider Mt. Takao. However, in 1.5 hours from Shinjuku station, you can access to a less crowded but attractive mountain Mt. Mitake. Let me introduce this favorite mountain of mine.

After you arrive at Mitake station, same name as the mountain, the beautiful stream of Tama river welcomes visitors. There are not only hikers but also many anglers enjoying fishing. I recommend you to walk along the river up to the trailhead while you can take a bus as well.

At the starting point of the trail, like Mt. Takao, there is the cable car service which lifts visitors up to the height of 830 meters in 6 minutes. The service has been operated since 1927.

Once you arrive at the summit station, you can see a lot of small hotels in the summit area. What differentiates Mt. Mitake from other mountains in the area is the fact that there are still many people who come to the mountain to worship gods of the mountain. These small hotels called Shukubo were originally built around 300 years ago for such people but if you have enough time you are welcomed to stay there.

In 30 minutes walk from the summit station along the hotels, you can easily reach the summit with Musashi-Mitake shrine with the height of 929 meters. In the past for the Japanese, the high mountain was the place where the gods lived. And in the medieval Japan, in several high mountains, Japanese indigenous animism synchronized with Shinto and Buddhism, and the original religion called Shugen-do was created. In Shugen-do monks lead the ascetic life in the mountains trying to get supernatural power of the mountains.

On the backside of the summit there are various trails which takes 1 to 3 hours. And I recommend to take a trail called “Rock Garden”, which you can see many rocks with strange shapes in green woods. For example, the rock in the photo below is called “Tengu-Iwa (rock in Japanese)”, since the shape of the rock looks like a long nose of Tengu, monster (sometimes regarded as god as well) in Japanese indigenous religion.

If you have enough courage to climb up to the top of the rock, a small statues of Tengu praise you for your courage.

I recommend Mt. Mitake as the mountain easily approachable from Tokyo, and where you can see many attractive sides of Japanese mountains.

Below is their official website (sorry English is under construction).

http://www.mt-mitake.gr.jp/

Restaurant serving a set of sushi and pasta

In Nippori Tokyo, where we live, it’s not a single case that we find a strange restaurant. This time we found a restaurant which serves a set of a typical Japanese menu and a typical Italian menu, sushi and pasta. Do you think this collaboration would create a synergy?

East to Nippori station, there is an area called Nippori fabric town where there are many shops of cloth and dress material for those who want to make clothes by themselves.

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In this area compared to the number of  cloth shops there are only a few restaurants to supply energy during shopping. But today we found a strange signboard. It said in Japanese “sushi and pasta” with bigger characters than a name of the restaurant.

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We went upstairs to the entrance of  the restaurant. In the first glance it looked like a small sushi restaurant with a sushi counter.

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But when we saw the menu, in fact it said a variety of sets of sushi and pasta. Even though we couldn’t imagine yet how they collaborate, we ordered a set of chef’s sushi selection and spaghetti Neapolitan.

In a few minutes they served spaghetti Neapolitan at first with green tea.

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Spaghetti Neapolitan is a menu of spaghetti which has been popular in Japan in a long time. Many Japanese people believe spaghetti Neapolitan is a kind of spaghetti made in Napoli, Italy. However, this spaghetti with ketchup source, sausage, onion and pimento is made in Japan only as one of typical images of the western food.

Then in another few minutes they indeed served chef’s sushi selection.

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Kinds of sushi the chef selected were normal, not special to collaborate with pasta. So we wonder how two menus influence each other.

In conclusion, there were no synergy, nor marriage between two menus. Each taste of two menus were quite normal. I guess that this restaurant was originally a sushi restaurant, but they started serving pasta with sushi in order to attract women who come the area to buy cloths and want to eat the western food for lunch than Japanese food like sushi.

We believe there are many other strange restaurants here in the northern part of Tokyo…

Halal food in Nippori and Halal Navi

Nippori is an area more diversified than other areas in Tokyo. And there is a certain amount of Muslim population.  For Muslim it’s very important to know if a restaurant or a shop serves halal food or not. Halal means that the food is allowed to eat in accordance with the Islamic law.

There are several restaurants to serve halal food. For example Cous Cous is a Tunisian restaurant which serves halal food. A photo below is cous cous in Tunisian style, which is one of  popular menus.

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Among south Mediterranean cuisines there is much diversity. In Tunisia it’s allowed to drink alcoholic beverage. For example this is Cedratine, sweet and strong distilled beverage made from citrus fruits and produced in Tunisia.

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Halal food is served not only in restaurants but also in shops. Around Nippori station there are many shops to sell halal food. For example, the shop owned by Nepali sells Asian halal food.

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In accordance with such an increasing potential demand of halal food, ROI, a startup in Japan started an smartphone application called Halal Navi to search halal restaurants in Japan.

Halal Navi

On the other hand it’s true that Islamic culture is not understood well in Japan and some Muslim people feel difficulty to live in Japan. I hope the service such as Halal Navi will help them to get accustomed to the life in Japan.

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How Pokemon Go works in Nippori Japan

Finally in Japan, where Pokemon was originally developed, Pokemon Go has been released on past Friday, July 22nd. And of course I have already installed it.

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Our home area, Nippori Tokyo is located relatively in suburb of Tokyo. Nevertheless, I can find a lot of Poke Stops around my home. Compared to my birthplace Shizuoka, the density of Poke Stops in Nippori, where we can get items to proceed Pokemon Go, is much better.

I understand that in the world of Pokemon Go the places for Poke Stops are randomly selected. And in Nippori, typical popular shops in Yanaka Ginza street, which is a main sightseeing spot here, are selected for Poke stops. For example, this tempura shop with a cat on the roof is selected as a Poke Stop. The cat is a symbol of Yanaka Ginza street.

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I think it’s useful to attract more attention from visitors on Nippori as long as such a funny place is selected as Poke Stop. However, I have a little concern on another kind of Poke Stop.

Now this is also a Poke Stop.

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This is Hongyou-ji temple near our home. In Nippori there are a lot of temples and shrines. And not only temples but also sometimes specific statues of Buddha are selected as Poke Stops.

I’m not so religious, but even for me as a Japanese I have a complicated feeling when I find a Pokemon inside the temple and get monster balls from the Buddha statue. And I’m wondering how such religious places are selected as Poke Stops in the US.

Anyway Pokemon Go has just started in Japan. And I’m still motivated enough to try to find another Pokemon in the town!

American style BBQ in Toyosu Tokyo

Compared to the US, there are much less places to enjoy outdoor BBQ in Tokyo. But Toyosu in the bay area is one of such rare spots.

In 5 minutes walk from Shin-Toyosu station of Yurikamome line you can see  the entrance which looks like a BBQ trailer in the US.

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This place The Third Park has a concept to operate an urban outdoor park where we can enjoy American style BBQ with all american equipment. They have even cactus like a desert in Arizona.

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And more than that we can hang out next to high rise buildings in the bay area in Tokyo. It’s a fun to get relaxed in nature, but it’s also a fun if we can get relaxed just next to concrete jungle.

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Due to high cost for parking and narrow roads it’s difficult to have a car in Tokyo. Thus we need to use a train to bring food to a park where we do BBQ, although it’s not realistic to ride a train with raw meat and liquors.

But no problem! At The Third Park they prepare all the foods for you. For example Early Lunch Plan costs 4,500 JPY with a variety of menus; popcorn, assorted seasonable vegetable, American smoke steak, churrasco pork and beer can chicken.

But you don’t know how to make fire? No problem again! They also prepare charcoal and a manual to show how to make fire and to cook BBQ.

Thanks to the practical manual we easily made BBQ like this!

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I want to tell you one point, if you are interested on the place. They prepare almost everything but they have only a single kind of BBQ source. So we recommend you bring other sources you like to eat up all the meat.

Below is the website of The Third Park (sorry only in Japanese).

https://the-third-park.com/