Midweek Tokyo Vacation: Yanaka and Odaiba

I officially love local area stay-cations.  Maybe I’m using the word a little too fluidly since we did go to another city and stay in a hotel, but it’s nice to see such amazing sights and sites without requiring a plane or Shinkansen ride!
Day 2 started off with a delicious breakfast at The City Bakery, a cafe SMS and I passed on our walk from Shibuya to Hiro-o the night before.  They had just sold out of the Eggs Benedict so we settled for second-best with assorted pastries and delicious coffee.  Yum!  I had a Baker’s Muffin, a sort-of Monkey Bread-style muffin and a pain au chocolate.  SMS had a Cookies and Cream Stick and a Croque Monsieur.  I just asked him to remind me about the name of the C&C stick and he said, “Delicious is what it was called.”  He’s right.  Everything was awesome.  I’m very sad that my old favorite bakery in Hiro-o Burdigala has now been supplanted from its former ichiban status but life goes on.  I do think that the pain au chocolat may still be slightly better at Burdigala but SMS thinks that’s crazy talk.
In our carb-loaded haze, we headed off to Yanaka, in the Northwest of Tokyo.  We followed a “Tokyo Stroll” recommended by a slightly older version of Fodor’s that I was given the last time I was here.  In the Edo Period, a fair number of temples were moved to this area and they survived both the Great Kanto earthquake of 1923 and the Tokyo Firebombings in WWII better than other areas.  It was a quiet, delightful walk and we had the best time.
Top: SMS in action, bottom L: Seated Buddha seen through the gate R: monk entering side building

First, we went to Tennoji Temple.  There are beautiful temple buildings, a seated bronze Buddha from the 1690s and bronze Jizo statue, guardian of children’s spirits.  It was a beautiful day and such a tranquil space.  SMS took a cute picture of the resident cat that was napping in the sun.  I took a cute picture of SMS taking his cute picture!

Left: Seated Buddha Right: Jizo, with young school children in uniform in base relief
Tokugawa Shogunate Plot Area and nearby blooming Plum Tree

Next, we walked through the Yanaka Cemetery.  SMS took a few photos at the Tokugawa plot area, where there was a small temple.  Next, we walked to the foundation remains of the Tennoji Temple’s Five-Story Pagoda that was burned down by arson in 1957.  I took pictures of the signs because in so many places, temples have burned down but I’ve never seen photo-documentation before.

We briefly stopped by the Kannonji Temple, where we saw the small pavilion dedicated to the 47 masterless Samurai who avenged their master’s death and then committed Seppuku.  This apparently is the plot for a popular Kabuki play.  Not quite my response when I change bosses but still, an interesting monument.

Left: SMS and a temple wall from the 1200s Right: Street in Yanaka

Next, we went to the highlight of our Yanaka Day: the Asakura Museum of Sculpture, Taito.  Asakura Fumio (1883-1964) was a gifted artist and designed his own studio and home.  It is now a museum and really an incredible place.  The modern, black facade that houses the studio and the bulk of the displayed sculptures yields to a very traditionally designed Japanese-style home in the back.  It’s huge!  The house is three stories with several rooms. There is a large rooftop garden with a nice view of the surrounding neighborhood.  The center is a courtyard with a rock garden and small pools designed with five large rocks to represent Confucian ideals.

I highly recommend a visit for several reasons.  First, the sculptures are absolutely beautiful.  What most impressed me was how he could show the age of a person through his/her skin and wrinkles.  It was so delicately wrought, even in such a seemingly rigid medium as sculpture.  His busts and full-size figure works were amazing.  He also had several sculptures of his beloved dog Star and several of his housecats that were perfectly proportioned.

A second reason to visit is that the house is very beautiful and a gorgeous example of traditional Japanese architecture.  It’s very soothing to walk around a centrally designed house with an calming courtyard garden and cool tatami under my feet.  The Fodor’s guide said that the house wasn’t worth much time but SMS and I strongly disagree!

A surreptitious photo from the rooftop garden.  No photos were allowed inside the museum.  Sads.

SMS walked from the museum to Yanaka Ginza, a pedestrian-only, uncovered shopping street.  There were lots of tempting tasty snacks for sale such as croquettes, squid crackers and savory crepe-like pancakes.  The shops were also very cute, ranging from food stands to crafts.  We were starting to speed up our day a little by this point so I would love to go back and stroll a little more leisurely.

Sights we saw on the way to Yanaka Ginza included Tabisurumishinten, a small craft store with a very nice young artist who was selling his book covers, cards and assorted fabrics designed with his hand drawings of cute animals.  There was also a small temple just before the shopping arcade started, but we didn’t see any signs.

Small, unnamed (to us) temple; cute shopping cats!  Yanaka loves its cats!
Our final Yanaka stop was the Nezu Shrine, built in 1706.  It was a gorgeous.  My favorite part was the area that looked like a miniaturized Fushimi Inari with many orange torii gates.  It would be a great place for a photo shoot!  There was also a small pond and a pretty temple although SMS was trying to  hurry me along/losing patience at this point since we wanted to get to Odaiba for sunset shots.
Top: Nezu Entrance Left: SMS looking more Zen than he felt Right: Small Stream
We headed over to Odaiba where SMS spent awhile setting up and taking multiple pictures of the Rainbow Bridge at sunset.  It was very cool because the Tokyo Tower was also visible and the light kept changing not just from the sun, but also the lights on the bridge and tower.  I’ve seen his negatives and the best one is currently being scanned.  He definitely had another winner of a photo session!
Top Left: So that’s where the Statue of Liberty went! Top Right: Tidepool, Bottom: Rainbow Bridge, slightly
higher vantage point than where SMS set up his camera

Finally, we had a delicious dinner at Mamma Luisa’s Table.  It is a great restaurant in Ebisu.  The ambiance was great.  The decor was nice and the patrons very eclectic.  There were English speakers and Japanese and the owner was conversant in several languages.  He’s from Florence originally and the food was a standout.  We were so hungry when we got there but it was worth it- even SMS said so and he hates pushing into the hangry territory!  We had an assorted bruschetta plate, an amazing orange/beet/mozzarella salad, a tagliatelle dish with pork ragout/cauliflower/Brussel sprouts and a pillow-like gnocchi dish that was the best gnocchi I’ve ever had.  I highly recommend the place and I hope to go back soon.

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