Connecting Tokyo’s most Interesting Districts – Kanda
Kanda, is the traditional center of Tokyo, in terms of its ancient establishment in the days when Japan’s capital shifted here from Kamakura. Although the surrounding districts have modernized, not much has changed in the way they operate. Running from Shinjuku all the way to the southern part of Akihabara, is Yasukuni Dori. In the Kanda area it connects some of the most enjoyable districts to walk through: Ochanomizu, Jimbocho, and Akihabara (from west to east). You could make a day out of it, but there is enough to see that you could easily make a week out of it too.
A walk down Meidai Dori (running perpendicular to Yasukuni Dori, to meet Ochanomizu Station at West Exit), will reveal several many-of-a-kind, guitar and rock band related instrument stores. Any instrument typical in the last 20 years or so, and especially the latest and most popular music trends dot the entirety of the 10-minute length of the street and surrounding side streets. Anywhere you go in Tokyo, you are sure to find this ‘many-of-a-kind-ness,’ make itself apparent. In actuality, this state of being takes root in the cultural way of thinking and is as old as time in memorial. The Japanese have a deep cultural sense of group-ness, where a higher value is placed on family and group interdependency, than individualism and self-reliance. This way of thinking is not just Japanese, but is characteristic of the majority of Eastern cultures, and affects every grain of detail in society, right down to the layout of the shops on streets.
Why the music stores sell mostly just the modern stuff is not hard to figure out. While walking along the street, before you even notice any instruments at all, you will have already noticed a few universities closer to the station: Tokyo University of Medicine and Dentistry Hospital (north of the station on Sotobori Dori), and Meiji University on (right-hand of south- bound Meidai Dori) are a couple, but there are also countless graduate schools and academic programs housed in less dynamic buildings all around the surrounding back streets.
If you’re into appreciating subtle beauties in the scenery- the way the man made city falls naturally on the landscape- the Ochanomizu bridges (Ochanomizu Bashi and Hijiri Bashi) that cross the Kanda have a night-time luster all their own. Although chilly out this time of year, the crisp winter moon and noisy glitter of the greater Akihabara beyond the tall arch of the bridges all mirrored off the still-as-a-pond tea green Kanda, are a sight worth seeing if you’re passing through. The ‘hijiri’ in Hijiri Bashi means holy, and ‘bashi’ is bridge. It is named ‘Holy Bridge,’ because at the time of its construction (1928), two places of worship stuck out that can still be found today: the Yushima Seido Shrine at its north end (also the Kanda Shrine across the street), and the St. Nikolai Russian Cathedral at its south end.
Forget Barns and Noble, welcome to bookland, Japanese style. Jimbocho, a piece of street and side streets around the intersection of Hakusan Dori and Yasukuni Dori, at first glance is a street packed with little shops vending nothing but brownish paper covered old books. They are stacked and stuffed into high towering shelves both inside and outside of the shops. For the Japanese literate, Jimbocho is the place for good deals on books. There are also larger book chains that sell a selection of English prints. Sometimes the smaller shops do too. If all else fails, photo or picture books may be the perfect addition to your collection.
Sports and more sports
Continuing along Yasukuni, upon exiting Jimbocho (when you stop noticing so many book stores), the next wave of products and specialty shops is in Kanda Ogawamachi, otherwise known as sports town. It being winter, you will notice abundance of snowboarding and ski supplies, and probably in that order too. Snowboarding has become one of the most enjoyed winter pastimes for the country’s youth. The number of snowboarders on the slopes is increasing with each year. It goes hand in hand with sportswear, which has turned into the latest fashion with young people. As in the case with Ochanomizu’s music shops, Ogawamachi sports town concentrates greatly on what is new and what will appeal to the youth (again, largely because of the colleges nearby). However, this does not put a halt on older generation sports like golf (on the other hand, a sport that has been gaining in popularity among the youth); tennis, and outdoors supplies can also be found in some of the bigger shops. Sometimes smaller specialty shops will have them as well. If you look around under the clutter of surfing and wintersports, you will find them.
Need a rice cooker? A new component for your motherboard? New computer? Or maybe you want to build your own computer or configure your own solar electric system. Akihabara has got it all covered. Japan has long been regarded as the king of technology, new innovation, and quality. For the most part, Akihabara is responsible for this reputation. If it were not for Akihabara, Japan’s first wave of technology, the portable transistor radios (and later the walkman) may have never been realized. It was these transistors and walkmans through which Akihabara put Japan’s technology on its international feet, and got it moving at full speed. Today Akihabara remains the highest technological peak in the world; its shops and department stores continue to turn out the most useful, compact, ingenious, and every now and then oddball gadgets the world has ever seen. Again, Yasukuni Dori runs right through the south end of Akihabara. When you start to see the Yamanote Line green train cars passing in front of you when walking on Yasukuni Dori, just make a left (on Chuo Dori), and you will be delivered to the center of Akihabara. Chuo Dori often shuts down to automobile traffic up around the station on Sundays, making it pedestrian-only.
Take a further look into the back streets around Akihabara, and you will see that it is not all just electronics. No, I’m not talking about the adult comics that go with the Japanese image of otaku (‘computer nerd’). I’m talking about the ancient architecture, the traditional restaurants (unagi, yakitori) and sweets shops (anko, shiruko) in and around Awajicho and Sudacho. These represent the old Kanda, and in them lay the very spirit of the original Tokyo, ancient Edo. Historically, Kanda was the center of old Edo. The majority of those ancient style streets set up with merchants selling the same genre of merchandise, are grouped together in blocks of town. Sudacho happens to be one of the only places in Tokyo with houses built just after the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923. The reason more post-quake buildings don’t exist in the rest of the city is because of the fact that WWII leveled the rest of Tokyo to a desert of destruction. Industries and merchants grouped together characterize and make up the entire Kanda area, from the traditional back streets of Akihabara and the greater Kanda itself, the modernized sports and music mercantile seen in Ogawamachi and Ochanomizu, the second-hand books in Jimbocho, to the electronic empire of Akihabara. Each district gives off its own vibe- wander around into the back streets and the flavor will get stronger.