OCHANOMIZU / JIMBOCHO
The platform of JR Ochanomizu Station is located in the valley running alongside the Kanda River and it has long been said that locals in the Edo period (1603-1867) enjoyed the views of the wooded valley year round.
Across the river is the Hongo-daichi bplateau which houses the Tokyo Medical and Dental University while ‘this’ side of the valley is known as the Surugadai-plateau. Although the two plateaus are now separated by the valley, they once ran smooth and uninterrupted under the name of Mount Kanda until the Tokugawa authorities created the valley to control water flow and to protect the northern part of the then Edo Castle as they developed the Eastern capital’s river traffic routes. As a result, Kanda River was created with the name of “Surugadai” coming from the fact that many of the Tokugawa retainers from the “Suruga” domain moved to this area after Tokugawa Ieyasu died. From that time on, Surugadai remained a largely residential area alongside Bancho and Kojimachi until the upheaval of the Meiji Restoration.
Soon after 1868, however, the area was transformed into an area more popular with students as the price of the land was less expensive than elsewhere. Schools and hospitals were constructed one after the other and the former samurai residential area rapidly went to ruin. In the latter half of the 19th century, Meiji University, Nihon University and a law school (that went on to become Chuo University) were all established in the area.
The Ochanomizu Exit of Ochanomizu Station
When a spring producing high quality water was found in the precincts of a temple near the site of the current Juntendo Hospital, it was dedicated to the Shogun. Ochanomizu, meaning water for tea, was named after this spring and evidence remains by way of a monument near the police box across from the station.
The area from JR Ochanomizu Station down to the Surugadaishita intersection is always crowded with today’s youngsters – whenever today may be – as Nihon University, Meiji University, Tokyo Medical and Dental University, Athenee Francais, Sundai-yobikou (a prep school) and numerous other schools are all located nearby. There are many general music stores, guitar shops, secondhand musical instrument places and many more offering the latest in new and used electric guitars, keyboards and drums as well as folk instruments such as tambourines and the ocarina. Looking around for records and music books from yesteryear is never easy but always fun.
Kaede dori (Maple Street) and Tochinoki dori (Chestnut Street) are lined with a number of beautiful trees – species specific as their name suggests. The interestingly named Onnazaka (female slope) and Otokozaka (male slope) lead down from Tochinoki dori to Sarugakucho and 100m east of Otokozaka, with a turn to the right brings you to Kinkazaka slope and the rear of Meiji University. Ochanomizu Elementary School (formerly: Kinka Elementary school) and known as the school novelist Soseki Natsume attended is in this area.
Kanda Koshotengai (Kanda Secondhand Bookstore Town)
The district from Surugadaishita to Jimbocho houses a large number of bookstores selling both new and secondhand books and is known around the world; an impressive 140 stores are to be found in the 500m between these two locales. Incredibly cheap paperbacks and more expensive rarer books are sold side by side. The Furuhon Matsuri (Secondhand Book Festival) is held at the end of October each year and attracts large crowds of book fans. Most bookstores are on the northern side of the street to avoid direct sunshine and the original use of the streets – as a samurai residential area during the Edo period – has long since been wiped out. Since the Meiji era (1868-1912) many schools have moved in, scholars and students have followed and the need for books for these masses resulted in the overwhelming number of stores, publishing companies and printers we see in the area today.
When tired of looking for books, why not take a break in one of the many alleys housing retro cafes and open one of the books you may have picked up. Iwanami Hall, close to Jimbocho Subway Station, opened in 1968 and is now one of the older yet better established of mini-theaters showing films made in Third World nations in addition to ‘social’ films not shown elsewhere.
There are many sports shops along Yasukuni dori from Surugadaishita to Ogawacho and scores of people come here daily to purchase ski, snowboarding and outdoor sports goods.
Nicholai-do and Yushima Seido
Walking from Yasukuni dori to Ochanomizu, when ‘climbing’ up the Ikedazaka slope, turn right and you will see the famed Nicholai-do. Today, sunshine still shines in through its stained-glass windows and candles still illuminate the icons within. Nicolai-do’s formal name is Holy Resurrection Cathedral and was initially built by Josiah Conder in 1891; the same architect who designed Rokumeikan Hall. The current building was reconstructed after the 1923 Great Kanto Earthquake and this fine example of a Byzantine cathedral has its own 35m high dome equipped with a bell gable that swings into action thrice daily.
Hijiri Bridge is located at the Eastern end of JR Ochanomizu Station. An arch bridge that stretches over the Kanda River, it was constructed in 1927 during a period of reconstruction following the Great Kanto Earthquake. Its simple but elegant shape aroused much interest when it was constructed and it was named “Hijiri” (meaning sacred) because it is located between Yushima Seido Temple and Nicolai-do Cathedral.
When crossing the bridge, Yushima Seido appears on the right hand side. Originally a private school built in 1930 by Hayashi Razan; a Confucian scholar, the mausoleum of Confucius was moved to here by order of the 5th Shogun, Tsunayoshi. Itself and several other buildings in the area were referred to as “Seido” and later this complex developed into Shoheizaka Gakumonjo School under the control of the Tokugawa government with the aim of attracting the best students from all over the country. The temple was once the head temple of Japanese Confucianism, one of the ideological cornerstones of the Tokugawa regime and was the only national university established during the Edo period that went on to form part of the current Tokyo University although the buildings were destroyed in the 1923 quake. The present building is a 1935 reconstruction and isn’t far from a large statue of Confucius in a small but dense wooded area. The building, in terms of size and style is more Chinese than Japanese.
If you move to the rear of the temple and cross Hongo dori, Kanda Shrine, commonly referred to as Kanda Myojin, will come into view. In contrast with the dark Yushima Seido, Kanda Shrine is a bright red color – fitting for the home of the Kanda Matsuri Festival – one of both Edo and the nation’s three main festivals.