Japan is full of rich, historic culture as well as it is a vision of the future. If you are someone who can’t wait to see both sides of Japanese culture you can see both sides in a full day just by walking around a particular area. Ueno, rightly known as the fusion district harmoniously combines the historical culture of Japan while keeping a flare of the future. Around the corner of every historic shrine or temple is something new: squirrel monkey cafe, cat bars, and lots of shopping. But almost nothing can beat the timeless beauty of Tokyo temples.
One thing for tourists to keep in mind when visiting temples and shrines are social protocols. It is customary and respectful to wash your hands in the fountain before entering the shrine area. You do this by grabbing the ladle in your right hand and pouring some water over your left hand, then switching and pouring it onto your right hand as is the tradition. Make sure you do this over the ground and not the pool the water originally came from. Then, once you are standing in front of the shrine either pull the rope to make the bell ring or give two loud claps followed by bowing as a sign of respect to the shrine.
The first stop on my walk was the Nezu Shrine. It is one of the oldest shrines in the whole city of Tokyo, established in 1705. The area surrounding the shrine is filled with cherry blossom trees in the spring and is lush and full of greenery in the summer. It has a string of the iconic red gates to walk through that lead you to the actual shrine inside the park. While these gates are beautiful in pictures for tourists, they hold a far deeper significance. Each gate has a different wish or prayer written in its posts. The messages range from wishing for good health and success to prayers for happiness and bountiful life. It truly is an experience to walk through the row of gates as the sun breaks through the leaves in the trees above. You’ll be led to the actual shrine after passing through, it is a noble structure painted red with gold plating all over. The designs are intricately hand painted and full of color. Also in the area is a koi fish pond and lots of flowers, making this one of the most scenic shrines I’ve been to in the city.
Not too far away near the Ueno Zoo is the Toshogu Shrine. The Toshogu Shrine grabs your attention, even from far away, because the entire front, door, and pillars, are completely foiled in gold. It was built in 1651, making it one of the oldest shrines in all of Japan. Locals often come to this shrine to pray for good luck in life.
Next to the Toshogu Shrine is the Kanei-ji Temple and the five-story pagoda of Kanei-ji. The pagoda is a very traditional structure, one that many tourists think of when they imagine the temples of Japan. As intriguing as it is, no one is allowed inside the pagoda or temple, though there are nice walking paths around so you can fully see the outside of the building. Rows of metal statues line the sides of the temple as well as statues that are said to ward off evil from entering the sacred area.
There is no shortage of history in Ueno, it’s around every corner, old mixed in with the new. But, if you are a history junkie and want to see into the rich history of Tokyo, these are the places to go. Walking around the temples and shrines is inspiring and gave me a greater appreciation for Japan’s long and rich history. Ueno district is a great way to spend one of your days while traveling through Tokyo.