Traditional Tokyo

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redlantern.jpg
manChild.jpgKagurazaka is one of Tokyo's well known "traditional" neighborhoods. Despite encroaching fast food chains and convenience stores, it's still an authentic working neighborhood, not at all staged or quaint. Kagurazaka charms by its utter lack of pretense.

The sloping street leading from the station to the temple is lined with family owned shops and restaurants. The side streets teem with tiny bars displaying red lanterns for signs. Shop owners come out in the afternoon wet down the street and cool things off. Cats roam the alleys.

Many lively precincts like Kagurazaka are fading memories. There was a similar neighborhood feel in Koishikawa, on the other side of the river in Bunkyo-ku, but it has been wiped out by developers who snatched up the old 2-story storefronts and constructed towering luxury condo highrises. Where there used to be three streets of shotengai, now there are 7 or 8 giant apartment blocks. Ironically, they use the neighborhood's former charm as a selling point.

But Kagurazaka holds out for now. Walking through yesterday, we stumbled upon the annual matsuri and watched the awaodori dancers milling around before their performances and all of the spectators dressed in yukata. Although most of the people wearing yukata were women (young or old, but not too many in the middle years), a few men dressed for the occasion, too. A double dose of tradition to tide us over for a while.

3 Comments

You know, Kagurazaka is one of our favorite places in Tokyo to go in the evening or on a weekend. I especially love to prowl around those tiny streets off the main drag.
Oddly, one big draw the place has for me isn't traditional Japanese at all, it's the crepe place, La Bretagne, at the top of the hill...
:-)

This season there are lot of festivals here and there, the day before yesterday a dance(BONODORI) festival was held at a elementary school nearby, yesterday a fireworks display festival was held in the riverbank.
Many people enjoy them wearing YUKATA, JINBEI, HAAPY.

I love Kagurazaka too - and I love the fact that it's a "real" neighbourhood and not a museum piece. But I feel sure that these kinds of neighbourhoods deserve some kind of protection.

Kagurazaka is being "developed" with little regard to the reason everyone loves it. For example, several mega-towers have been built in the area in the past couple of years. It's pretty sad to see the marketing collateral for those apartments. The developers seem to have no sense of irony - waxing lyrical about gorgeous views of the quaint Kagurazaka "rojji" alleyways from the 20th floor of a high-rise block... what about the views from those quaint rojji?

And my bete noire - the Shiroki Ya izakaya - which decided to throw up some huge (maybe 3 meters high) red and white backlit signs. This signage is bigger, brighter, louder than anything else in the entire neighbourhood. It's completely over the top - and once you allow one store to thumb its nose at the character of this special neighbourhood, then others will follow. I'm not suggesting that we need regulations that impede businesses but sometimes business owners need to be reminded that it's the location which brings them so much trade - and it makes good business sense to keep the location attractive.

I believe there's an association of residents who are trying to preserve the charm of the area. I wish they could have some kind of power to guide stores and developers so that Kagurazaka will thrive. But since this doesn't seen to have happened anywhere else in Japan, I can't say I'm optimistic...

JB

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