January 8th 2019:
In the morning, went to find some of the places related to Katsushika Hokusai’s life, having had the fun of printing one of his most iconic works the other day. It turned out that Hokusai’s grave was in a neighbourhood very close to my hotel, so after a February Café cheese toast I wandered over – took a little tracking down, as GPS can’t say which side street you should use to access the site from!
It was nice to walk the little backstreets of Asakusa for a change – too often travelling between the landmark spots relies on either metro or the wide main streets. Hokusai’s grave is in a small temple courtyard, very simple. The weather had been so unseasonably warm of late, the tree at the gateway was actually bearing blossom already. As I walked on, happened upon the Pelican bakery that provided the café with its awesome bread.
Next stop was the Hokusai museum in the Sumida neighbourhood where the artist lived all his life. He was so dedicated to his art and spent so much time on it, he would no concern himself with trivial things like house cleaning. It’s said that when the house became too dirty, he would just move – and that he had lived in around 90 different places in his 90 year life. I like him even more now.
Walked there along the banks of the Sumidagawa, some nice reproductions showing how it would have looked in Edo times. The museum was very impressive – the general exhibition showed just how prolific he had been as an artist, including whole books of sketches about how to draw – some read like guides to modern cartooning, and indeed Hokusai is viewed as the creator of manga which ultimately became the Western cartoon tradition.
A while ago, I had found an interesting story in the Japan Times, about an architect and academic that led walking tours of Tokyo’s forgotten landscapes. As Tokyo evolved from the Edo era town into the massive metropolis we see today, parts of its topography have been preserved, with steeply sloping streets showing where rivers once ran:
“Yet a closer look at the topography of the yamanote turns up a more complicated picture: The yamanote itself is perforated by rivers that run toward the bay and rivulets that end in swamps and pools. The result is an undulating unevenness, a series of hills and valleys. It’s a topography that sets Tokyo apart from other Japanese cities, and most cities in general.”
So I decided to follow one of the routes mentioned in the article.
Steep street down from Shinanomachi station led into a quiet little neighbourhood. The river was still there – just buried, you could occasionally hear rushing water as you passed manhole covers. Long winding route before finally a steep ascent back onto one of Tokyo’s main streets.
Decided I couldn’t leave Tokyo without a visit to Akihabara. Came in via a Metro station I wasn’t familiar with, and on the walk over to Hitachino Nest Brewing Lab happened across something I’d read and seen video about – the creepy vending machine corner!
A street corner, with a whole cluster of the ubiquitous vending machines seen all over Japan. But actually inside the dingy corner building as well as outside. At first they seemed ordinary enough, with the usual drinks. Then a row of toy trains on the top shelf of one…. Large plastic beetles in cans… the cans of food (soup and oden)… and finally the boxes. Many, many boxes, each with what appears to be a short story on the outside, and no indication of the contents. One YouTuber dared to try one out, and found that it just contained a box of vegan crackers. Weird? You betcha!
Some excitement on the next street, as the driver of a lorry carrying a shipping container realised in time that he was about to drive under a railway bridge which would be too low for his load… cue lots of police and traffic cops running around excitedly.
Hitachino beers awesome as ever.
Last orders at Campion Ale. Got chatting to a couple of guys, Alex from England, George from Romania, both studying Japanese at a language school. Alex’s girlfriend has been working in Tokyo for a while, so he’s decided to move here as well, 6 months in. George just wanted a complete change of scenery after working in Israel, looking to work in the same design related field once he has enough Japanese under his belt. Like the couple I met in Aso, this is more food for thought. Need to hit those Japanese textbooks once I’m home and start seeing what the possibilities are.
Walked about 14km today. Legs a little tired to say the least…