SHIROKANE / TAKANAWA
Minato Ward is conveniently located in the center of Metropolitan Tokyo, which explains why the embassies from 75 countries and regions can be found in this area. Minato features symbolic areas of “Modern Tokyo”such as Roppongi and Azabu, as well as historic temples, shrines, streets, slopes and hills, and is surrounded by lush greenery.
In this issue we are introducing the area of Shirokane/Takanawa to the southwest of Minato Ward. The Tokyo Metro Namboku Line came into service in 2000, and Shirokane-Takanawa Station has good access to spots such as Shibuya, Ginza, and Daiba. Why not browse the fashionable shops and cafes or go for a walk through historic areas?
Shirokane-Takanawa Station directly connects to Shirokane Aer City, a multi-purpose complex with shops and restaurants. It also has a small square suitable for taking a rest. This area is ideal for taking a short coffee break. After some refreshment, you may wish to walk around the Shirokane area, cutting through the next station, Shirokanedai.
Five minutes’ walk from the station will take you to Seisho-ko, officially known as Kakurin-ji Temple (established by Nichien, the priest of Nichiren Buddhism, in 1631). This temple houses a memorial tablet of Kato Kiyomasa, a prominent warrior and feudal lord who served the Toyotomi and Tokugawa Clans, from the Azuchi-Momoyama Period (the 16th Century) to the beginning of the Edo Period (the 17th Century). The statue has been worshipped as the “honorary Seisho-ko of Shirokane.”The Seisho-ko Festival is held on May 4th and 5th every year and many stalls that are open at night line the streets.
Walking down Sakurada-dori Avenue from Seisho-ko, you will come to Meiji Gakuin University. The campus is lively with students. Dr. Hepburn, the first chancellor of the university, is well known for the transliteration of the Japanese language using the Roman alphabet and the compilation of the first Japanese-English dictionary. The university was founded in 1886, and there still remain some old western-style buildings in the campus today. The Imbrie Pavilion, although built by Japanese carpenters, is an especially valuable structure with features of late 19th Century American residences.
Happo-en, a complex comprising a wedding banquet hall and restaurants, is located along Meguro Street, three minutes’ walk to Shirokanedai Station. The term happo is Japanese for “eight directions.”The hall was named “Happo-en”after the fact that guests can command beautiful views in every direction. The site was once the retreat of Okubo Hikozaemon, a famous feudal lord during the early Edo Period, known as a government advisor. Its Japanese-style garden of 50,000sq.m is well worth seeing. The garden shows its seasonal beauty; cherry blossoms in spring, azaleas in summer, moon viewing and beautiful leaves in fall, and snow landscapes in winter. (The garden is exclusively for the use of guests at the facility.)
Three minutes’ walk from Shirokanedai Station, there are fashionable shops, cafes and restaurants, found along “Platinum Street,”which connects Meguro-dori and Gaien-nishi-dori avenues. Stylish women who enjoy shopping and lunch on this sophisticated street have been nicknamed “Shiroganese” and thrust into the spotlight by the media. It seems as though the time goes slowly here… some walk their dogs, others enjoy chatting over tea on open terraces. In the hot summer, the cool shade of the lush gingko trees along the street gives passersby comfort, while in the autumn the golden color of those trees attracts visitors’ attention.???
Go further to the west along Meguro-dori Avenue and you will come to the Institute for Nature Study, an urban oasis in the Shirokane area with 200,000ha of lush greenery. You will be surprised to suddenly find a forest along this main street. However, what is more surprising is the size of the park. The garden has been designed for the conservation and observation of nature, and is kept as natural as possible. Admission is limited to 300 people at a time. Each visitor must wear a ribbon, received at the entrance, so that the staff can ascertain how many people are in the park at any given time. Visitors enjoy this urban oasis in various ways, observing flowers and leaves, listening to birds sing, sketching or taking photographs, and so on. Since the area is designated as a National Natural Monument, even taking a leaf or a stone from the facility is prohibited.
The adjacent Tokyo Metropolitan Teien Art Museum used to be a mansion of a member of the Imperial Family. Later, it served as the official residence of the Foreign Minister, or as a State guest-house, and finally was made open to the public as a branch of the Tokyo Metropolitan Museum in 1983. The main building was built in the utmost luxury of the Art Deco style, which was taking the European art world by storm at the time of construction (1933), and is designated as one of Tokyo’s tangible cultural assets. The garden consists of three areas: a lawn plaza, a Japanese garden, and a western-style garden. Various flowers can be appreciated here in every season. A garden admission ticket is available for 200 yen.
Go north along Platinum Street, and you will come to the Shirokane Kitazato-dori Shopping Street. Terraced houses built in the Taisho and early Showa Periods (the early 20th Century) that survived the war still remain. The rows of houses here now contain restaurants and bars. Many of these establishments are of the bar counter style. You can enjoy a drink, while indulging in the nostalgia of history.
Go to the east along Shirokane Kitasato-dori, and you will find the Kitasato Institute. Dr. Kitasato Shibasaburo is a renowned Japanese physician and bacteriologist, known as “the Father of Japan’s Bacteriology.”He made many medical achievements, including the world’s first cultivation of tetanus bacillus. He founded the Kitasato Institute in 1914. Today there stand the Kitasato University and the Kitasato Institute Hospital, where future doctors are working hard for the advancement of Japanese medicine.
After walking, why not take a rest at Shirokane Oriental Therapy Center, just one minute from Shirokane-Takanawa Station. They will provide massages and acupuncture to relieve the day’s fatigue in completely private rooms. Enjoy some relaxing moments here while drinking original herbal teas.
Head up Gyoran-zaka Slope from Shirokane-Takanawa Station and you will arrive in the Takanawa area. Gyoran is Japanese for “fish basket.”In the middle of the slope stands Gyoran-ji Temple, and the slope was named after it. The principal object of worship at the temple is the Buddhist Goddess of Mercy, which is the image of a maiden with a fish basket.
As you ascend Gyoran-zaka Slope, you will come to the Isarago Intersection, which continues down to Isarago-zaka Slope. This time, why not turn left and walk on to Mitadai Park on the right (150m ahead). There, the replicas of the ancient people’s residences and 4,000-year-old clay images are restored and displayed. A layer of shells unearthed here has been preserved, and visitors can imagine life in those days by observing it.
As you journey down Isarago-zaka Slope, you will see Sengaku-ji Temple on the right. This famous temple was established in 1612 by General Shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu (1543-1616) as a Soto Sect (zen) Buddhist site. Speaking of Sengaku-ji, the famous Asano Takuminokami is buried here, as are samurai warriors from Ako. These are characters in the kabuki play Chushingura (The Story of the Loyal Retainers), which is based on the Genroku Ako Incident where a feudal lord, Asano, attempted to kill Kira Kozukenosuke after being humiliated by him in the Edo castle; this led to Asano’s hara-kiri suicide. Later, Asano’s 47 samurai subordinates attacked and killed Kira at his residence to avenge their lord’s death. This story is well known and has been adapted in kabuki, movies, novels, etc. Because of this, a large number of people come to pay visits to this temple. Gishi Festival is held on December 13th and 14th every year, and is crowded with tens of thousands of people.
There are many temples and shrines along Route 1 (Dai-ichi-keihin), on which the Toei Asakusa Line Sengakuji Station is also located. Takanawa Shrine, located between skyscrapers and high-rise residences, is very small but has a history of some 500 years.
Next, make your way further to the south in the direction of Shinagawa. The Japanese garden surrounded by the three hotels of the Prince Hotel Takanawa group is a must-see spot if you happen to be staying at one of said hotels. At the time of the renovation of the former Takanawa Prince Hotel in 1971, the garden replaced an old swimming pool. This garden features seasonal beauty, including cherry blossoms in spring, colorful carps swimming in the pond, and Japanese traditional structures such as a teahouse.
Epson Shinagawa Aqua Stadium is a city aquarium featuring performances by dolphins and sea lions, constructed inside the Shinagawa Prince Hotel in 2005. Consider adding this destination to your nighttime strolling route.
Enjoy walking around the civic center of Tokyo, appreciating both its history and its modernity.